Zen Ties Children’s Book Review for Book Sharing Monday

Cover of "Zen Ties"

Cover of Zen Ties

It’s Book Sharing Monday from Smiling Like Sunshine! We read a lot of books in this family and I love hearing from other parents when they come across a book that their kids liked. So, I’m going to be adding weekly posts about books that my kids recommend. Feel free to share any you’ve come across that might be a nice complement to the one I’m reviewing

Zen Ties

by Jon J. Muth

I have to admit, I was surprised my kids like this one. I thought they might be bored part way through as the plot and message aren’t entirely obvious. There isn’t a lot of action or definition to the book.

But, I think that is what held their attention and got them excited to pull this off the shelf repeatedly.

The giant Panda, Stillwater, is waiting at the train station for his nephew, Koo, who will be visiting him for the summer. He greets him by saying, of course, “Hi, Koo!”

We find out that Koo enjoys speaking in haiku. I enjoyed exposing the kids to this form of poetry, which they have seen a few other times, but are still a bit baffled by it. We enjoyed talking about what the words mean. Nat (5yo) said that, “the words made pictures for me.”

The message of the book is how we are all interconnected and that all we need is a little open-mindedness to care for one another. It’s subtle, but powerfully done and, while my kids miss the nuances, they did get the message. Again, I was surprised that even my 3yo was able to say that it was important to care for our neighbors after reading this book.

Stillwater tells his friends, the neighborhood kids, that he would like them to accompany him and Koo on a visit to an older woman who lives down the street. At first, the kids are unhappy about this because Miss Whitaker yells at them to stay off her lawn. But, they help Stillwater prepare some soup to share. The children notice that Miss Whitaker isn’t mean, she is just alone and not feeling well.

The oldest boy has already spoken with Stillwater about being nervous about an upcoming spelling bee. It turns out that Miss Whitaker used to be an english teacher. She helps with the spelling bee preparations while the other kids clean, paint, and hang their art around her home.

By the end of the book, everyone has done something kind for the others, and they are all pictured around a table enjoying tea, and wearing red ties together (get it?)

I am describing the plot, but really how each person changes their perspective is shown in small ways through the art and words hinting, but never speaking them directly. I think part of the reason it works so well is that the author illustrated and wrote the book, which allows it to fully express the message he is communicating. It is a different approach than most children’s books. One that I think is quite effective, made even more so by the contrast to the other “message” books we read.

Zen Ties Panda Poses

My sons’ favorite part of the book has to be inside the covers, though. They love grabbing a small stuffed animal and reenacting each of the poses. Sometimes they say they’re doing jujitsu; sometimes it’s tai chi; sometimes yoga. I’m happy no matter what they call it.

Zen Ties Panda Poses

Activities to create with this book:

  • Create a zen garden: Gather a shallow bin or cake pan, some sand or rice, shells, small rocks, and fork. Place the shells and rocks on the sand/rice. Use the fork to slowly smooth and create patterns in the sand/rice around the objects. Then they can destroy the designs and begin again.
  • Recreate one of the pages in the book by tying a balloon to a rock so that it is at mouth height. Sit in front of the balloon as use your breath to move the balloon.
  • Have a tea party. Put on some red ties and, if you know how, make some real or imaginary apple tea. Practice serving one another and telling stories. Or have a spelling bee over tea.
  • We also had fun using flashcard words to create haikus. I traced the outline of the flashcards in haiku form on a piece of paper, then they placed any words they wanted in them. We read them and talked (mostly laughed) about what the poems meant.
  • Some panda printables and activities to use with this book from First School

Here is a short (under 3 minute) introduction to the book by the author, Jon J. Muth

Posted with WordPress on my BlackBerry while NAK in the dark (enjoy the typos 😉


Have you read any good books lately? I’d love to hear from you.

6 thoughts on “Zen Ties Children’s Book Review for Book Sharing Monday

  1. Pingback: Styling Librarian: Celebrate Peace through books! « The Styling Librarian

  2. I love the panda poses. I was thinking my son would be a little young for this book now, but I think he’ll grow into it. At his age now, 21 months, he’ll enjoy the panda poses (he loves mimicking my yoga practice) even if he doesn’t grasp the meaning of the book for a few more years. Those are the best kinds of books – the kinds that can grow with the child. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Thank you for commenting, Jenn. I’d say wait, but I was wrong about how my sons would like the book. So, I’m probably wrong about this, too. If you do read it together, I’d enjoy hearing what happens

  3. My kids love Muth’s Zen Shorts. We’ve read Zen Ties and it wasn’t as big a hit, but that was a while back so it might be time to revisit it. Thanks for reminding me about this one! And especially for the activity suggestions!

    • Thank you for stopping by, CJ. We have that one on reserve, along with “Zen Ghosts” from the library and are eagerly anticipating it. Well, I am at least. My boys are heavy into the Halloween books right now, of course.

I love comments and try to reply to each one. I look forward to connecting with you. Namaste

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