Wabi Sabi
By Mark Reibstein
Illustrated by Ed Young
Little, Brown
ISBN: 9780316118255
Grades 4 and Up
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“Wabi Sabi” is a book you have to see and hold – a review doesn’t do it justice. From its beautifully grotesque illustrations (and I mean that as a compliment) on luxuriously thick paper to its unusual layout filled with poetic text, “Wabi Sabi” is laboriously detailed in every way. Lovingly created, the biggest challenge facing this book is finding an audience that will read it, understand it, and appreciate it.

Wabi sabi means finding beauty in the ordinary, and that is the theme here. From start to finish, the writing slips back and forth between poetic text and outright poetry in the form of Haiku. The story follows an ordinary brown cat, named Wabi Sabi, as she attempts to discover the meaning of her name. Turns out that it is difficult to explain. Our feline protagonist asks her master and other pets before receiving advice to find a monkey named Kosho. Wabi Sabi seeks out Kosho, who, through his actions, teaches the cat the meaning of her name.

Ed Young’s (“Lon Po Po”, “Seven Blind Mice”) heavily textured illustrations are amazing. Layers of paper collage and fabric are combined with watercolor and found objects (such as leaves) to set an earthy tone. Arranged (a la “Tops and Bottoms”) with the spine at the top, the book operates much like a wall calendar, providing tall spreads to work with. This, combined with the large size of the pages gives Young the opportunity to do some striking things with perspective.

Younger children may pick this up for the artwork, but the theme and poetic text will be difficult for many kids to enjoy. This fact makes it hard for me to recommend it as a K-6 must-purchase, but its potential in the classroom for teaching poetry makes it a good one to have on hand. Any way you look at it, “Wabi Sabi” will surely stand out as one of the more memorable picture books of the year.

Watch an outstanding interview with author Mark Reibstein and Illustrator Ed Young:

(Thanks to BookVideos.tv for the clip)

Also reviewed by A Fuse #8 Production, Kids Lit.

Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.