Jon J Muth's 2008 book Zen Ties is a follow up to his Caldecott Honor Book, Zen Shorts . Stillwater the panda gets a visit from his nephew Koo (who only speaks haiku!) The lessons taught in the story is our interconnectedness with one another and caring for each other....oh, and also reusing paper cups!
The two pandas meet with the three siblings from Zen Shorts, Addy, Michael and Karl. They all get to know Stillwater's elderly friend Miss Whitaker who the children had previously thought of as their mean and grouchy neighbor. In the end they find she is actually very kind and caring. She was an ill, lonely and scared elderly woman and the children soon learn that with a little love, caring and patience, her true personality shines through.
The other lesson in the story is when Stillwater tells Koo to keep his disposable cup to reuse later. Here the author was inspired by the teachings of Soen Nakagawa Roshi (1907-1984) who once led a retreat where students were told to reuse their disposable cups all week during his teachings. At the end of the week the students all kept their cups calling them "precious." He is an important figure in bringing Japanese Buddhism to the West through beautiful teachings of art and poetry.
The luminous watercolor illustrations of the characters are bright and lots of fun. Jon Muth is so talented and I love that he is bringing fresh ideas and art to picture books for children.