Wabi Sabi, By Mark Reibstein, Illustrated by Ed Young


This is a children’s picture book but can be enjoyed by several age groups including adults on several levels. I have been busy working on a Readers’ Advisory Project of books for 5 to 8 year olds for the past couple months. Of all the books I have looked at, I love this one the most. Perhaps I like to root for the underdog. The art in this book is stunning in a very unusual way. It is collage from all kinds of found objects. The artist Ed Young actually did one set of art for the book, apparently left it on the stoop at his publishers and someone stole it! I hope they have very bad karmic repercussions!

Ed says in the book trailer that, as a positive experience, he had to examine again what was really important to portray in the book and start fresh. Fortunate he has photos of the original art that we can look at, but that will never replace the original pieces of art for him. He won several awards for the art in the book including the Asian Pacific Award and the New York Times Award for the 10 Best Illustrated Children’s Books for 2010. I am disappointed that it did not win more awards. All you have to do is go to over literary blogs to see how overwhelmingly positive people were about this book.

The book is about a cat in Kyoto, Japan, called Wabi Sabi. She goes on a quest to find out what her name really means. You will find lots of other books about Wabi Sabi. It is hard to explain (that is what almost everyone prefaces their remarks with), but it is a Zen or Taoist concept of simplicity, of seeing the beauty in nature, in the simple, the imperfect, the asymetrical. Imagine a simple rustic tea house where instead of fine porcelain, the pottery is rough, unglazed, but naturally beautiful.

The book is designed to open like a Japanese book, has Japanese characters along the edge of the page which are Japanese haiku by Basho and Shiki. They are translated at the back of the book where you see the Japanese characters, the phonetic translation and then the English translation by a haiku scholar. The illustrations are rough and beautiful. You want to run your finger over them because they look like they are raised from the page.

In my humble opinion, this book would make a wonderful gift for an art teacher or for a budding young artist. My daughter who wants to be a children’s writer and illustrator immediately was drawn to it. I have travelled in Japan several times and both love Japan and love the book.

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About KLevenson

I am Teacher Librarian at Piedmont High School in the San Francisco East Bay. I am a part time reference Librarian I for the San Francisco Public Library. I have a Masters in Library and Information Sciences from San Jose State and a Teacher Librarian credential in addition to my teaching credential in Science. My first MA was from Harvard in Archaeology. My students teach me something new every time I am with them!
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