Synopses & Reviews
"Michael," said Karl. "There's a really big bear in the backyard."
This is how three children meet Stillwater, a giant panda who moves into the neighborhood and tells amazing tales. To Addie he tells a story about the value of material goods. To Michael he pushes the boundaries of good and bad. And to Karl he demonstrates what it means to hold on to frustration.
With graceful art and simple stories that are filled with love and enlightenment, Jon Muth and Stillwater the bear present three ancient Zen tales that are sure to strike a chord in everyone they touch.
"Muth, who has retold traditional stories such as Stone Soup and Tolstoy's The Three Questions, and played up their spiritual elements with his elegant watercolors, here introduces three Zen stories from Japan. He frames the trio of tales within the context of a suburban household. Three siblings befriend a giant panda when his red umbrella blows into their yard. Speaking 'with a slight panda accent,' he introduces himself as Stillwater, and charms Addy and Michael though Karl, the youngest, is still 'shy around bears he [doesn't] know.' Each day one of the children goes to visit Stillwater, revealing something of him- or herself. The panda chooses an appropriate Zen fable for each child, illustrated with rough-edged, Chinese-style brush-and-ink paintings on duotone pages, to play up the story-within-a-story structure. In the first, Stillwater tells Addy about his Uncle Ry, who disarms a robber by treating him like a guest (older readers will pick up from the closing author's note that 'Uncle Ry' is shorthand for the Zen hermit Ryokan Taigu). In the next, a wise farmer demonstrates that good luck can quickly turn to bad luck and back again (a tale Ed Young also retold in The Lost Horse). In the last, a monk learns how to stop brooding and live in the present. Readers will fall easily into the rhythm of visits to Stillwater and his storytelling sessions, and many more will fall in love with the panda, whose shape and size offer the children many opportunities for cuddling. Ages 4-up." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Muth's latest is both an accessible, strikingly illustrated story and a thought-provoking meditation....[T]he peaceful, uncluttered pictures, like the story itself, will encourage children to dream and fill in their own answers." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Beautifully illustrated in two distinct styles....Appealing enough for a group read-aloud, but also begging to be shared and discussed by caregiver and child, Zen Shorts is a notable achievement." School Library Journal
"Muth's watercolor illustrations...are serene, airy and grounded in ethereal washes of gentle color. The children are satisfyingly childlike in their bearing, and Stillwater's every pose is marked with balance, geometry and lighthearted visual pleasures..." The New York Times Book Review
"Limpidly beautiful watercolors and a wry, puckish gentleness mark these three Zen stories....Every word and image comes to make as perfect a picture book as can be." Kirkus Reviews
Gillian Engberg (Booklist, Mar. 1, 2005 (Vol. 101, No. 13))
Like The Three Questions (2002), Muth's latest is both an accessible, strikingly illustrated story and a thought-provoking meditation. Here he incorporates short Buddhist tales, "Zen Shorts," into a story about three contemporary children. One rainy afternoon, a giant panda appears in the backyard of three siblings. Stillwater, the Panda, introduces himself, and during the next few days, the children separately visit him. Stillwater shares an afternoon of relaxing fun with each child; he also shares Zen stories, which give the children new views about the world and about each other. Very young listeners may not grasp the philosophical underpinnings of Stillwater's tales, but even kids who miss the deeper message will enjoy the spare, gentle story of siblings connecting with one another. Lush, spacious watercolors of charming Stillwater and the open neighborhood will entrance children, as will the dramatic black-and-white pictures of the comical animal characters that illustrated Stillwater's Zen stories. Muth doesn't list sources for the tales, but his author's note offers more commentary about Zen. Stillwater's questions will linger (Can misfortune become good luck? What is the cost of anger?), and the peaceful, uncluttered pictures, like the story itself, will encourage children to dream and fill in their own answers. Category: Books for the Young--Fiction. 2005, Scholastic, $16.95. K-Gr. 3. Starred Review
Horn Book (Horn Book Guide, Fall 2005)
Three Zen stories are woven into a contemporary frame story when Stillwater, a talking panda, meets three young children. The panda narrates a story to fit each child's mood. The "shorts" are illustrated with quick black brush strokes, white forms, and pale backgrounds, while the children and Stillwater live in a tranquil watercolor world. An author's note provides background information. Category: Picture Books. 2005, Scholastic, 40pp, 16.95. Ages 4 to 9. Rating: 3: Recommended, satisfactory in style, content, and/or illustration.
Kirkus Starred Review
Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2005 (Vol. 73, No. 3))
Limpidly beautiful watercolors and a wry, puckish gentleness mark these three Zen stories, one for each of three children. Michael, Karl and Addy discover a giant panda in their backyard. ("He spoke with a slight panda accent.") His name is Stillwater, and he tells Addy the tale of his Uncle Ry, who gave the robber who could find nothing to steal in his house his own tattered robe. (The robber, in the black-and-white illustrations that mark the three stories, is a raccoon.) When Michael comes to visit, he climbs a tree to sit with Stillwater, who tells the story of the farmer's luck. Karl comes to visit carrying too much stuff for Stillwater's wading pool, and hears just the right story for him. The pictures are as full of peace and solace-and humor-as the text: The title page has the panda dancing in a pair of oversize shorts; the cake Addy brings for tea has a stalk of bamboo in it for Stillwater; Karl and the panda bow to each other at the end of their day. The Buddha lurks in the details here: Every word and image comes to make as perfect a picture book as can be. (author's note) 2005, Scholastic, 40p, $16.95. Category: Picture book. Ages 5 to 9. Starred Review. © 2005 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved
Timnah Card (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April 2005 (Vol. 58, No. 8))
Addy, Michael, and Karl meet Stillwater the giant panda when he enters their yard to retrieve his breeze-blown umbrella. In their subsequent one-on-one visits to Stillwaters house, the siblings enjoy short stories from the Zen and Taoist practices told by Stillwater. Though the childrens interaction with Stillwater instigates the telling of each story, these tales connect only tenuously with the frame narrative,
When Stillwater the bear moves into the neighborhood, the stories he tells to three siblings teach them to look at the world in new ways.
With graceful art and simple stories that are filled with love and enlightenment, Jon Muth and Stillwater the bear presents three ancient Zen tales that are sure to strike a chord in everyone they touch. Full color.
About the Author
Jon J Muth has written and illustrated many enchanting picture books, including his Caldecott Honor Book ZEN SHORTS and its sequel, the NEW YORK TIMES bestselling picture book ZEN TIES. Other beloved titles from Jon include THE THREE QUESTIONS, GERSHON'S MONSTER by Eric Kimmel, and THE CHRISTMAS MAGIC by Lauren Thompson. Muth lives in upstate New York with his wife and five children.