by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
If a friendly panda in shorts suddenly appeared in my neighborhood handing out sage advice—like Stillwater in Zen Shorts—I would definitely have a few situations, both small and big, I’d like to run by him:
• How best to stay calm and put things in perspective when small things get under my skin—such as when our incorrigible cat Luna refuses to stop drinking out of our kitchen faucet.
• How best to help all the teachers we work with at Scholastic Book Clubs assuage their students’ current anxieties, and how best to help all their students find a way to lose themselves in a good book until we return to a more predictable school schedule.
• How Scholastic Book Clubs can help restore a sense of common purpose and joy in our country—working together on common goals, such as literacy for all.
My daughter works in travel, and I am the lucky beneficiary who gets to tag along with her to check out possible destinations for her clients. We have been to Myanmar, Japan, India, and Bhutan…each of which has its own expression of Zen.
At Scholastic Book Clubs, one of our most influential authors, Jon J Muth, expresses (the concept of) Zen through his beloved character Stillwater, who readers first meet in Jon’s Caldecott Honor–winning picture book, Zen Shorts.
In Zen Shorts, three siblings—Michael, Karl, and Addy—find a giant panda bear named Stillwater in their backyard. Stillwater spends time with the children and tells them each a short Zen parable, giving them a kernel of wisdom to meditate on.
Each parable is illustrated in a distinctly inky black-and-white style reminiscent of brush calligraphy—which Jon studied in Japan.
“Muth’s latest is both an accessible, strikingly illustrated story and a thought-provoking meditation.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
This week, we are doubly excited that in addition to Zen Shorts being featured as Scholastic Book Clubs’ Book of the Week, Zen Shorts, Stillwater’s calming wisdom will be seen by millions more on the Apple TV+ web series Stillwater, which you can begin streaming this Friday, December 4!
In the show, Stillwater will give advice to the neighborhood kids in the form of short stories, much like he does in Zen Shorts.
David Vozar was also struck by how special Zen Shorts and the character Stillwater are from the first moment he read the book:
I think the Scholastic Book Clubs team has outdone itself this week by putting together wonderful resources to help students explore new points of view and hopefully introduce some much-needed calm, a sense of perspective, and peace.
• Join the Book Boys as they meet author-illustrator Jon J Muth in a fun, classroom-friendly video
• Watch a Scholastic Book Clubs–exclusive interview video with Jon J Muth to discover what experiences from his own life inspired Stillwater and Zen Shorts in Behind the Scenes
• See how one kindergarten teacher from Brooklyn uses the parables in Zen Shorts with her class to explore stories within stories in Book Talks
• Encourage your students to imagine their own afternoon with Stillwater in a free, downloadable describe-and-draw activity in Cooked Up from a Book
Something I personally loved about Zen Shorts was Stillwater’s story about his Uncle Ry, who would give presents on his birthday to “celebrate the day he was born.” I’d like to think that as Scholastic celebrates its 100th birthday this year, we are doing the same for our teachers. Sending you the very best wishes from Scholastic Book Clubs—we all hope you enjoy meeting Jon J Muth, watching the new Stillwater show, and reading and rereading the gorgeous and life-changing book that started it all.
If you have a moment, please let me know how you’re feeling—DM me on Instagram @judynewmanatscholastic or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Order the Book of the Week from Scholastic Book Clubs