cover image ZEN SHORTS


Jon J. Muth, . . Scholastic, $16.95 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-439-33911-7

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. (Mar.)