Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Zen Shorts

Zen Shorts

Jon J. Muth
Picture Book
For ages 6 and up
Scholastic, 2005   ISBN: 0439339111

Michael, Karl and Addy have a wonderful new neighbour - a Panda bear called Stillwater who has a wayward red umbrella and who turns out to be a delightful storyteller. Each of the children goes to visit Stillwater on different days and each of them has a wonderful time with him. Abbey brings the bear a gift and Stillwater gives her one in return, he tells her about his uncle Ry who gave his last robe to a robber who broke into his house. Uncle Ry had such a big heart that he wishes he had had something better to give the "poor man."

When Michael goes to visit Stillwater, he finds the bear sitting in a tree and they talk about luck, good and bad, and how one can never be sure how luck is going to turn out. What may seen to be good luck may turn out to be something unfortunate. Stillwater tells Michael a story to explain this idea.

Then it is Karl's turn. He arrives at Stillwater's house loaded down with pool paraphernalia and in a bad mood because of an argument that he had with his brother that morning. Though Stillwater and Karl have a wonderful time together, the little boy simply cannot let go of the anger that he carries in his heart for his brother. Stillwater tells him a story and shows him what a waste of time and energy it is to carry resentment and anger around with you long after the cause of the disturbance is over.

Each of Stillwater's "Zen Shorts" shows the children something special about their world, something simple and yet profound. This simplicity extends to Jon Muth's wonderfully spare yet powerful watercolour and ink illustrations.

This book is one which readers of all ages can enjoy and which gives the reader something new to appreciate every time it is read. At the back of the book, the author explains more about Zen and how he was inspired to create this extraordinary title.