Kek, an African refugee, is confronted by many strange things at the Minneapolis home of his aunt and cousin, as well as in his fifth grade classroom, and longs for his missing mother, but finds comfort in the company of a cow and her owner. (Young Hoosier Book Award, 2009-2010, 6-8 Nominee)
“Here is a story of loss and discovery. Lou is old and alone, living on a small farm in the middle of a Minnesota winter. Kek is young and lost, new to America from a Sudanese refugee camp. Lou thinks she has nothing left, but discovers she alone has what Kek needs. Kek thinks he knows nothing useful in this new life, yet he brings a little happiness to all he meets. In caring for Lou’s old cow, Kek reclaims the wisdom of his old life. Kek tells us that “you will have lived just half a life if you never love a cow.” Venture into this sweet story for a glimpse of the wonder of a cow and how it changed a life.”
When Stillwater the bear moves into the neighborhood, the stories he tells to three siblings teach them to look at the world in new ways. To Addie he tells a story about the value of material goods. To Michael he pushes the boundaries of good and bad. And to Karl he demonstrates what it means to hold on to frustration.
“When Michael, Addy and Karl meet Stillwater, a panda with his paws full of Zen wisdom, each are made trustees of an ancient tale….
Addy, kind and curious, brings Stillwater a cake, and in return, hears of the neighboring bear’s enlightened uncle Ry, who awakened one night to the rummaging of a robbing raccoon. The robber is startled, but Ry’s pity for the pilferer brings him to offer the thief his robe, which is all that fills the empty house; a peaceful demonstration of value. The next day, among the boughs of a tall tree, Michael is told the of “The Farmer’s Luck” and after, Karl, the youngest, is aided in his frustrations through the telling of “The Heavy Load”.
Written and illustrated by Jon Muth, Zen Shorts, a 2006 Caldecott Honor book, is gentle in its message and wonderfully enlivened by delicate watercolors on every page. Neatly shelved in the children’s section, an all-age treasure awaits, inviting passerby to share in a peaceful moment with three Zen shorts.”
Recommended by: Kevin Kirkpatrick, Garfield Park Branch Library
If you like Zen Shorts you might also like these three books also by Jon Muth. In The Three Questions a boy asks his animal friends three questions: “When is the best time to do things?” “Who is the most important?” and “What is the right thing to do?”. Zen Ghosts and Zen Ties again feature the wise Zen stories of Stillwater the bear:
After orphaned twelve-year-old Michael Pine, who seems headed for trouble, meets old Lem Gulliver, he finds new purpose as protector of the Lilliputians who live in Lem’s back garden, even if that means saving them from one another. Author: Carter Crocker
“Michael Pine is always in trouble – he’s headed right for the Young Offenders Institution if he messes up again. Then one night he hears strange singing and discovers the Lilliputians, tiny people (the size of your thumb!) with tiny animals, living in a garden surrounded by a tall stone wall. At first, Michael can’t believe it, but pretty soon he is visiting them every day and helping out in their village. When weasels and other humans attack the Lilliputians, Michael must turn his life around if he is going to save them.”
If you like Michael’s adventure with little people, try the original story, Gulliver’s Travels, which will tell you how Gulliver came across the Lilliputians in the first place. Also try The Borrowers, The Minimoys and The Littles – more little people with large adventures living in our regular-sized world:
Afraid that she is crazy, thirteen-year-old Mia, who sees a special color with every letter, number, and sound, keeps this a secret until she becomes overwhelmed by school, changing relationships, and the loss of something important to her. Author: Wendy Moss
“Mia has a secret. Because of her secret, she feels different and alone, as do many people at age 13, or 17, or 38. Mia’s brain works a bit differently in that she sees colors when she hear sounds or reads words or does math. Mia talked about it for about a minute when she was in 3rd grade. She thought that everyone was like her. That did not turn out well. Kids laughed. There was whispering behind her back. She found herself alone.
Fast forward to eighth grade. Mia finds a name for “it” online and she finds actual people online that have similar experiences. Suddenly, she is not the only one.
Now, Mia lives in two worlds: an online world where she can talk about everything and the “real” world which still is not easy on people who seem a little different. How much can Mia reveal without negative consequences? Are her abilities a blessing, a curse, or something in between? Who can you tell who are and not leave anything out?”
Recommended by: Tamara Baumgartner – Lawrence Branch
If you have ever felt like Mia…different…and you liked reading her story you might also like these books about other kids who also have to figure out how much of their “differentness” to share with others.
“Imagine if you will, a world defined by safety. School busses can’t start until you strap yourself in, you’re not allowed to exercise because you might fall down, you live in molded plastic houses with no interesting corners, and your parents track where you are by cell phone. This is the Addition.
Henrietta Gad-fly isn’t a particularly remarkable girl (at least according to her class ranking), and she lives in one of the few remaining old houses on the very edge of the Addition. When she finds a Wild Housecat and a bunch of old books in her attic, things in her predictably safe world start going frighteningly (and excitingly) wrong. All the strange events point to a mysterious creature called the Wikkeling that only Henrietta and her friends can see. Will they solve the mystery of the Wikkeling before it’s too late? Read the book and find out!” Author: Steven Arntson
Recommended by: Emilie Lynn, East 38th Street Branch