Monday, March 10, 2008
In Zen Shorts, Jon J. Muth distills two Zen Buddhist and one Taoist tale into short, gentle stories for small children.
Stillwater, a panda bear, moves into the neighborhood of Michael, Addy and Karl. Each one of the brothers and sister visit Stillwater on a different day, and each one hears a story. Addy hears the story of Uncle Ry, who surprises a robber by offering him a gift. Michael hears the story of a farmer who knows that good and bad luck may go together. And Karl hears the story of a monk who knows not to carry the burden of anger.
The stories cause you to contemplate, which I suppose is the point. They are gentle reminders that we can live outside of our natural tendencies. Zen Shorts leaves you with a sense of peace, which sounds a bit trite, but I say whatever helps me stop for a moment to think is a blessing. I'd be very curious though how older children receive these types of stories.
The artwork is a lovely combination of traditional and modern. Each tale is in black ink on a different colored backdrop, while the larger story is in beautiful watercolors. Muth received a Caldecott Honor for the art, and you'll understand why when you see it.
There is an information page at the back which lends a little more insight into the tale. You find that the panda's name, Stillwater, refers to looking at the reflection of the moon in still water. I think the title, Zen Shorts, could refer to the fact that there are short tales within the book, or to the fact that the panda bear is wearing shorts on the cover.