Reviews for Zen Ties

Booklist Reviews 2008 February #2
Muth follows his Caldecott Honor Book Zen Shorts (2005) with another quiet, contemplative story about Stillwater the giant panda and his three young friends, siblings Michael, Karl, and Addie. This title introduces Stillwater's young nephew, Koo, who arrives for a visit and quickly befriends the neighborhood kids. Together, the group accompanies Stillwater to the home of an elderly neighbor, Miss Whitaker, who has always terrified the children: "She hates us! . . . Every time we walk past her house, she shouts!" says Michael. Gradually, with Stillwater's kindhearted example, the kids come to enjoy spending time with Miss Whitaker, who, in turn, helps Michael prepare for a spelling bee that he has been dreading. Unlike Zen Shorts, this meandering story doesn't include Zen koans, but the overt messages about compassionate action knit smoothly into Buddhist teachings. Koo, whose name makes a pun ("Hi, Koo!"), speaks in poetry that sometimes feels distracting and forced, but the gorgeous watercolors, full of depth and expression, will draw children back into the gentle tale of intergenerational (and interspecies) friendship. Copyright 2008 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2008 Fall
In this companion to Zen Shorts, giant panda Stillwater, his haiku-spouting nephew Koo, and some neighborhood children help a crabby elderly neighbor, who, in turn, helps one of the kids cram for a spelling bee. Tranquil watercolors cover lots of logistical and emotional ground. The do-goodism is heavy-handed, but repeated readings reveal a complexity to the book. Copyright 2008 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2008 February #1
In this companion to Muth's Caldecott Honor-winning Zen Shorts (2006), the wise and gentle Giant Panda Stillwater and his young friends are joined by Stillwater's young nephew Koo. This time, the friends tackle two problems: Michael's nervousness over an impending spelling bee and an irascible elderly neighbor, Miss Whitaker. The plot is predictable: With some friendly attention from Stillwater and the children, Miss Whitaker will turn out to be more vulnerable than nasty and, as a former English teacher, will help Michael overcome his spelling anxiety. The pleasure, as always, is with Muth's irresistible storytelling, both visual and textual. In most of the delicate, finely detailed watercolor paintings the towering figure of Stillwater dominates. In others, the frail figure of Miss Whitaker dressed in red and purple with a magnificent fluff of white hair carries the most visual weight. The story's theme of intergenerational kindness is tender, and the text is infused with bits of haiku, wordplay and small lessons that charmingly avoid didacticism. A welcome return. (author's note) (Picture book. 4-8) Copyright Kirkus 2008 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 November #3

Stillwater, the giant panda who taught Zen parables to siblings Karl, Addy and Michael in Zen Shorts, continues to combine his slow-moving grace with genuine spiritual tranquility. This time, Michael faces a daunting spelling bee, and Stillwater, first seen wearing a necktie, introduces the three to Miss Whitaker, an elderly neighbor whose crabby outbursts have frightened them. Stillwater's inward eye sees through her anger to her fear and loneliness. She turns out to be a marvelous spelling coach ("Just like plants, words have roots," she tells Michael. "Roots of words can teach you to spell"), and when Michael wins a red ribbon, the pictures show the whole group sharing his victory with their own red ribbons--the "Zen ties" of the title. (Zentai is Japanese for "the whole" or "the entire," as in "all of us together.") A subplot featuring Koo, Stillwater's nephew, drifts a bit; he's a cute little panda who punctuates the action with Zen-influenced haiku (and allows Muth another pun: "Hi, Koo!"). Muth's brush is as sure as ever; Stillwater's big, blunt paws and hunched-over listening posture are irresistible, and Miss Whitaker's delicate face and snow-white hair beautifully counterpoint the vignettes of youthful play. From a religious tradition that makes no theological demands and that will be unfamiliar to most readers, Stillwater offers a model of pure saintliness, and children will instantly respond to him. All ages. (Feb.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2008 April

Gr 1-5-- Giant panda Stillwater introduces Addy, Michael, and Karl, first encountered in Zen Shorts (Scholastic, 2005), to his young nephew, Koo. After playing together, he suggests that they make soup for ailing Miss Whitaker. The children initially protest because she shouts at them whenever they pass her house, but they comply. Even when they deliver the soup, tidy her house, and draw her pictures, the old woman doesn't soften substantially. Stillwater, who is insightful enough to recognize harshness as a sign of Miss Whitaker's loneliness and fear, encourages Michael to approach her for help preparing for a spelling bee. It turns out she was a talented English teacher and when he follows her advice, he wins a ribbon. Much more is going on here than Stillwater's quiet message that there is more to people than outward appearances. Koo speaks in loosely structured haiku, and as explained in his author's note, this affords Muth an opportunity to engage in wordplay. Miss Whitaker's change of heart is foreshadowed in a close-up of her examining Karl's painting after she had previously dismissed the children's efforts. All of the characters are "tied" together in the Zen wisdom they have attained and symbolically in the red ties they wear to celebrate Michael's spelling success. From the lovely large watercolor illustrations that include Stillwater and Koo doing Tai Chi on the endpapers, to the lesson presented without sentimentality, this is a rich and wonderful offering.--Marianne Saccardi, formerly at Norwalk Community College, CT

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