zenshortsI have been having a blast reading Jon J. Muth’s Zen Shorts to my first graders. I’m doing Caldecott Award and Honor books with them this month, and I’ve spent the whole class period this week just on this Honor book from 2006.

And the kids absolutely get it. They picked up on the meaning behind the short Zen stories Stillwater the panda tells Michael, Addy, and Karl. We talked about what the stories mean in our own lives, we asked each other why we thought Uncle Ry gave away his only possession to the robber, or why the old monk carried the spoiled woman across the mud. They understood better than some adults would, I think.

And at the end of the book I read to them a little from the Author’s Note, which explained in a very simplified way what “zen” means, and we did sort of a meditation game. We tried to clear our minds, and we locked our eyes on the first thing we saw. I asked them questions to get them focusing: How long do you think this item has been in the library? Do you think it ever gets lonely? Has it been held by lots of kids? If you’re looking at a person, what do you think their room looks like? Are they nice? Do you think they have a favorite color? And on and on. I gave them time to really think about the questions, and I could really see when they were concentrating on their one thing. Then I said it was time to let it go and not think about that one thing anymore, and we shook our heads to let it go. We talked about being so mad sometimes that we have to go sit by ourselves until we’re not mad anymore, and how that’s like meditation.

It was incredibly fun to teach, and they really loved the book.