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Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Top 100 Picture Books #52: Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth

#52 Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth (2005)
36 points

This book was important for me to read. When I am lonely or sad or struggling, I come to Stillwater as if he is a friend. “I know how that is,” said Stillwater. “But there’s always the moon.” – Emily Myhr

Need I tell you? Beautiful in all respects. – Cheryl Phillips

Right now my daughter is at that phase where sometimes the pronunciation of a word will strike her as funny.  The other day that word was “panda”.  She just couldn’t get enough of it.  Pandas show up periodically in works of literature for children but the iconic ones can be sometimes hard to conjure up.  Stillwater is one of the few that folks can sometimes name off the bat.  And why not?  This 2006 Caldecott Honor winner

On her Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac Anita Silvey has a lovely write-up of the book.  At one point she says, “In an Author’s Note, Muth explains Zen Buddhism and his sources for these stories from Zen Buddhist literature and Taoism. In this book he has introduced young readers to an entirely new way of looking at the world—just as Stillwater introduces these three children to a different way to perceive reality. The text, that lingers long after the book has been closed, is accompanied by Muth’s stunning watercolor and ink art. Relying on Muth’s childhood fantasy of having a real panda as a friend, Zen Shorts takes readers into sophisticated concepts, but those as young as three years old have appreciated Muth’s blend of realism and spirituality.”

Okay.  You have to see this.  It’s kind of an adorable booktalk produced by Scholastic.  All professional and stuff.  I was amused.  They also provide all kinds of questions to ask kids.

PW said of it, “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.”

Said School Library Journal, “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.”

Booklist gave it a star saying, “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.”

Still, the highest praise probably came from Kirkus, saying, “The Buddha lurks in the details here: Every word and image comes to make as perfect a picture book as can be.”

And the most baffling but fun praise came via a The New York Times review, “Muth attributes the third to a Taoist tradition, but for me it calls to mind most vividly the popular picture book Fortunately, by Remy Charlip, with whom Muth has also worked. In any case, the cultural blurrings won’t reduce the pleasure with which this book is received, and most children would surely vouchsafe Jon Muth the pleasure of a one-handed round of applause for his elegant tale.”

There has been a stage adaptation, you know.  You can’t see much of it here but what you can see looks swell:

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. At last summer’s National Book Festival, Jon Muth said that he had one more Stillwater book planned. He had done Spring, Summer and Fall, so he needed to Winter (and he drew an great picture of Stillwater sledding). Well, I made the mistake of telling my 2nd graders that, and at least once every few weeks they ask me if the Winter Stillwater book is out yet!