Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, Art by Ed Young, 2008.
Wabi Sabi is a Japanese folktale title suggested in the January 2013 issue of Book Links magazine. I am happy that I found Wabi Sabi, because when I look for picture books, I'm often thinking of something for storytime and funny, colorful titles often catch my attention first. I had previously missed this serene, lovely book with the beautifully melded elements. It will be great for quiet one-on-one reading time that will help both adult and child experience the world in a different way.
In this story, a little Japanese cat called Wabi Sabi wonders what her name means. As she asks her master and her animal friends, including a wise old monkey, a picture slowly emerges for her and by the book's end she understands.
I have not been familiar with the concept of wabi sabi, so allow me to quote from the book:
"Wabi Sabi is a way of seeing the world that is at the heart of Japanese culture. It finds beauty and harmony in what is simple, imperfect, natural, modest, and mysterious. It can be a little dark, but it is also warm and comfortable. It may be best understood as a feeling, rather than as an idea."
As the kitty learns the about the meaning of her name, so does the reader. This is expressed through the book's artwork, the story itself, and the English and Japanese haiku that appears. The book is intended to be turned vertically and read two pages at a time, each double spread showing another step in Wabi Sabi's journey to know about her name.
Haiku poetry in Japanese characters is featured throughout, written by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) and Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902). It runs as a vertical decoration for each spread. At the book's end, each haiku's author and translation is given, like this one by Shiki:
"for me leaving
for you staying
Haiku in English, written by the author Mark Reibstein is also used as part of the story's narration. For example, when Wabi Sabi speaks to her friend Snowball, the white cat tries to express the concept of wabi sabi:
"An old straw mat, rough
on cat's paws, pricks and tickles...
hurts and feels good, too."
This adds yet another dimension to the book for the reader to enjoy.
Caldecott award winner Ed Young has illustrated more than eighty books. In Wabi Sabi, his collage art is made of natural materials and aged human-made objects. The pictures convey texture that makes the reader want to touch them, like the rippled paper that makes the frog pond or the fluffy bits on the cat's ears and chest. Photographs of real pine needles, autumn leaves and backgrounds of chipping paint are a part of the collage illustrations.