Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth

“Zen shorts” are short meditations. They are ideas and concepts for us to turn over and think about-often developing our intuition and challenging us to change how we examine ourselves, our habits, our desires, our beliefs, and our concepts.

The book “Zen Shorts” by Jon J. Muth is just that- a collection of shorts tied together with one main story that encourage the readers to ponder things that are sometimes hard to grasp, or too easy to miss.

zen shorts by jon j. muth

A Look At The Whole

Profound and beautiful, this book is about three siblings named Michael, Addy, and Karl, who befriend a Panda named Stillwater. Each one goes to visit him on separate occasions, and to each of them he tells a story.

To gentle, generous Addy Stillwater tells a story that comes from Zen Buddhist Literature centuries old about a very poor man who gives gifts to a robber.

To straightforward Michael he tells a story that has roots that stretch back thousands of years about a farmer who knows that luck is not to be judged, or predicted.

To a frustrated Karl, the youngest, he tells a story about a monk who is carrying a burden long past.

Stunning watercolor fills the pages with peaceful pictures, wise words flow. It sounds like a book adults might love but would leave children in its philosophical dust. Not so. Jon J. Muth reaches out in a quiet way that children will be able to grasp onto the ideas in the story, ingest them, and think them over. It’s a book that at the end a child may not be jumping up and down saying ‘read it again! Read it again!’ but rather sitting quietly, maybe frowning a little, questions that you cannot answer on the tips of their tongues. When they’ve thought enough, they will probably come back to the book.

Setting all ideas of deep and meaningful theme aside, the characters in this book are lovely and entertaining, particularly Stillwater, who you can’t help but wish you had as a neighbor yourself.

A Small Part

I suppose I am biased towards Zen Shorts. I was raised with a father who practices Zen Buddhism. I grew up watching him meditate on a daily basis, listening to his peaceful stories and the sound of the singing bowls that filled our house, learning to view the world through quiet eyes that saw the wonders in all that goes on around us.

I also got impatient and squirmy when he encouraged me to meditate as well (like before doing math homework Dad, really?) and sometimes his ability to remain unruffled and calm even in the face of my most nasty temper tantrums infuriated me.

But I am grateful to this day for all of those experiences, and even more grateful after reading this lovely book that allows us to appreciate the more ‘zen’ aspect of life (there aren’t many Caldecott winning zen shorts out there you know.)

For basic reasons, such as being a lovely story with wonderful characters and beautiful illustrations, I recommend Zen Shorts. For less straightforward reasons, such as the sense of peace and questions it raises, I insist that you read it.

“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is the creation of our mind.”


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