Zen Shorts (Hardcover) by Jon J Muth. Scholastic, 2005.
ISBN: 9780439339117. pp: 40.
Ages: 5-9, gr: k-4



Three children discover a really big bear with an umbrella in their backyard who introduces himself as Stillwater. As they individually go to visit this bear in the next few days, he tells each of them a short zen story.


  1. Use the book as a read-aloud the first time through. After doing so, go back through the book (reading it again if necessary) paying close attention to the illustrations, comparing them to the text. Discuss what you think of the illustrations. Also, do you notice anything unusual about any of the illustrations? For example: the page of Addy and Stillwater eating cake — do you notice anything about what Stillwater is doing compared to what he says in the text? (He tells Addy it is good cake but he is not even eating the cake — he’s really eating the plant.)

  2. When they first meet Stillwater, Addy had to introduce Karl because he "was shy around bears he didn’t know." What do you interpret this to mean or what does it make you think?

  3. Research and read about the author, Jon J. Muth. Find a comic or a painting of his that you like. In your journal, write a sentence or two about the author (birth place, where lives, etc.). Journal about why you chose the particular comic or painting as your favorite. Write about what you think/ feel when you look at the painting.

  4. Small group discussion-
    Karl told Stillwater that he was mad at his brother, Michael, for telling him he couldn’t bring over his swimming stuff and for always telling him what to do. Do you think Karl told Michael how he really feels? What do you think Karl could’ve done differently instead of just being mad about it? Or, do you think he did the right thing by going straight to Stillwater to tell him about it? Why/ why not?

  5. Research information on Japan (and the US if needed) and children that are your age. Make a large chart like the model below. Fill in the chart for the different categories comparing living in Japan and living in the United Stages. When filling in each box, make sure that for Japan you put what the typical boy and girl your age would like or what it is like for them (and required of them), and for the US put what it is like for the typical boy and girl your age while including some of your favorites. What are the differences you notice between the two countries? Do children in Japan have more or less choice in any of these categories than the US?

    Japan U.S.
    Type of government
    Anything else?
  6. Read through the three mini stories (or lessons) that Stillwater tells to the children. Read each of these mini stories separately from the rest of the book and do not look at the illustrations for them. Pick the story that you liked the most or had the most meaning to you. Picture the story in your mind and make a painting of what you see. When you are done, write your own little mini story to go along with your painting.

  7. In groups of four decide who is going to be which character. Once the characters are assigned to each group member, read through the story a few times reading the part of your person. The first time through read your lines without using any movements. Your voice is very important and the key to conveying the feelings and emotions of your character correctly. Once you feel each group member has successfully conveyed these feelings with only the voice, read through the story again using only movements and facial expressions. Once you feel that each group member has conveyed the feelings correctly with only movements and facial expressions, read through the story using voices and movements and facial expressions. When each group has finished practicing this, the groups take turns presenting (acting out the story) to the other groups. Note: props are not to be used for the acting; members/ groups must rely solely on their voices, movements, and facial expressions.

  8. Read comments about the book written by 4th and 5th graders. Although you won’t be able to send it, write a letter to one of the students responding to what he/she says about the book.

  9. The book starts out by Karl yelling to Michael that there is a really big bear sitting in their back yard holding an umbrella. The bear (Stillwater) tells the three children about his umbrella blowing all the way from his own backyard and that he simply came to get it. The children introduce themselves. This is how they met Stillwater. Rewrite a different beginning to the story making up another way Addy, Michael, and Karl met Stillwater. Make sure when you rewrite it, to remember that your new beginning has to connect to the story and be appropriate to start it.

  10. Study the chart about the eight types of bears. If possible, take a field trip to the local zoo to see the different bears. Take any notes and pictures you want while on this field trip. Pick one type of bear to study. Research your type of bear finding both information and pictures. Once you have found adequate pictures and information, make a poster to present to a different class that has not already studied bears.

  11. Read the "Author’s Note" in the back of the book. What does the book say Zen is? What is your own definition of meditation? Read, again, the part where the author says what "Zen shorts" are. Why do you think the author talks about Zen and meditation and what these "Zen shorts" are? Where can they be found in the story? When you find these places, discuss the importance of these "Zen shorts" (the mini stories) in the story. How can they be applied to your life?

  12. Define the word "Buddha".

  13. After discussing meditation, listen to a musical selection (the music will be Japanese relaxation/ meditation music). Pay attention to the flow of the music. What feeling do you get from listening to it? What is the rhythm? What instruments do you hear? In small groups of about three, you will be given a different selection of the same style of music. Each group will not have the same piece of music. As a group, make a dance to go along with your piece of music. Make sure your choices in movements convey the feeling of the music and follow along with the flow and rhythm (beats) of your song. When all groups are done, present your dance to the rest of the groups.

  14. Zen Ties (2008) is a sequel to Zen Shorts. What are the similarities between the two books?

About the Author


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Zen Shorts. Accelerated Reader: Quiz #86638 EN; Book Level 2.9; Points= 0.5
Reading Counts: Reading Level 2.4; Points= 2.0
Lexile Level 540
Guided Reading Level K
DRA 24
word count= 1190
Flesch/Kincaid 2.9

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