Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wabi Sabi

Title: Wabi Sabi
Author: Mark Reibstein

Illustrator: Ed Young
Copyright Date: 2008
Genre: Fiction/poetry
Theme: Japan, names, animals, philosophy, aesthetics, poetry 
Grades: 2-4
Awards: the 2008-2009 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature


One day in Kyoto, Japan, a cat name Wabi Sabi became curious about what her name meant. When her owners struggle to explain what wabi sabi means, she embarks on a journey around her home to find the answer. She talks to her friends and neighbors, but when she asks the meaning of her name they say, "That's hard to explain" and so she continue to travel to places ranging from the busy city to the quiet pond to an ancient Silver Temple. 

What does Wabi Sabi's name mean and why is it so hard to explain? Read this book to find out.

Pre-reading Activity
Before reading this story, you can discuss with your students about how names can have meanings behind them. Maybe they are characteristics you hope the person will have, for example the name Hope. Maybe someone was named in honor of someone special like being named after a family member or other important person. Have the students share the meaning or stories behind their names if they know them, and possibly bring in a baby name book to do some research on the meanings and origins of some of the names in your room. This will get the students excited to learn about themselves and help them understand why Wabi Sabi wants to learn about her name.

Post-reading Activity

This book utilizes the poetry form of haiku to help tell the story and even contains a section in the back talking about the history and examples of classic haiku poems. After the reading, you can have your class practice writing haikus about experiences in their lives. By looking at their life through the lens of wabi sabi (finding the beauty in simplicity and imperfections) they will have a greater appreciation for things they took for granted.

In art class, students can try to create art pieces in emulation of illustrations in the book. By combining different found materials, such as cloth, scraps of paper, leaves, etc., they can make pictures of beauty. 

Author and Illustrator

Wabi Sabi was written by Mark Reibstein and is his very first picture book. He has lived in many places around the world including California, Hawaii, New York, Thailand and Japan. There really was a cat named Wabi Sabi, that Reibstein was friends with for ten years while living in Kyoto, Japan. Now Reibstein teaches English, writes and lives in California. (Source: book jacket and here)

Ed Young served as the illustrator on this and over eighty other children's books and is the author of seventeen of his own. He grew up in China and Hong Kong, before moving to the United States. He has taught at many schools including the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Yale University, the Pratt Institute, and has received many awards and nominations for his work in children's literature. He currently lives and works in New York. (Source: here)


I found this book to be wonderful. I loved the artwork and alteration between prose and poetry throughout the book. I liked how the haikus were given a context in the story so that the images they painted made sense and had a purpose. I've only seen them covered in classrooms in isolation, which makes it hard for students to understand the purpose of writing them (they make it a counting syllables games instead of focusing on creating sensory experiences . I also enjoyed how this book taught a different aesthetic philosophy, something I rarely see picture books or any children's literature try to tackle. I loved this book.

If you are interested in purchasing this book, go here.

If you would like to see an interview where the author and illustrator explain the concept of wabi sabi and talk about the art work, click here.

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