Zen Ties

Last updated Monday, August 26, 2013

Author: Jon J. Muth
Illustrator: Jon J. Muth
Date of Publication: 2008
ISBN: 0439634253
Grade Level: 2nd    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Sep. 2013

Synopsis: From Publishers Weekly
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.

Note to readers:
•  Explain what a haiku is, as there are a few in the book (check the author's note at the end of the book).
•  The haikus in this book are italicized.

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  Have you ever seen a panda bear?
•  What does zen mean?

•  What does bow mean? What does it mean to bow?
•  uplifting - to raise moral, spiritual, cultural, etc. levels
•  spelling bee - a contest in which players are required to spell words accurately
•  explain the "roots of words" - core meaning of a word
•  What is zen?

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  What is a haiku? Have you ever written a haiku?
•  Why did Koo want to keep his cup? Because he didn't want to waste? Is he helping to save the environment? Do you recycle? What other things do people do to help the environment?
•  Have you ever been nervous about a test or spelling bee?
•  How did Miss Whitaker help Michael?
•  How did the kids help Miss Whitaker?
•  When you are sick, what does your family/parents do to help you feel better?
•  When you know someone is not well what could you do to help them feel better?

Craft ideas:
•  Write a haiku & attach to your artwork.
•  Make pandas with cut out pieces black & white paper. With white paper, cut a large circle for the body and a smaller circle for the head. With black paper, cut legs, arms, ears, and eyes. Attach all the parts together, then draw or use google eyes. Can also cut out colorful circles for balloons & attach with pipe cleaners (or yarn if using a larger piece of paper for the background).
•  Make a card (such as a get well card) to give to someone you know to brighten their day. Draw your favorite animal with balloons or flowers on the cover.

Special activities:
•  Practice slow tai chi movements, like Stillwater and Koo on the inside cover of the book.
•  Have a fun spelling bee contest using some of the words from the book. Or you could give each kid a scrap of paper & have them write a word from one of their recent spelling tests. Mix the words up, draw a word & ask if anyone would like to spell it aloud (or on paper if they are more comfortable).

*Note: These craft ideas are just suggestions. You can use them, but you don’t have to use them. You can expand upon them, or add your own twist. Remember, though, that the focus of your time should not be on the development and execution of a craft; the focus should be on the read-aloud and the enjoyment of the book!