I was browsing for books to use with my undergrad class on multicultural education and happened on Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein and illustrated by Ed Young. I was immediately drawn into this unusual book that combines collage techniques, with a narrative story and haikus by Basho and Shiki. It is truly an amazing book that I re-read just for the delight of the language, thoughtfulness, and illustrations. In addition, the book reads in an unusual format – it opens up for top to bottom reading, rather than traditional left to right.
The main character is a cat names Wabi Sabi, who wants to know what her names means. However, no one, not even the cat's master, could explain the meaning of wabi sabi. So the cat began to ask all the creatures around her and each give her a different explanation – Snowball, the cat; Rascal, the dog; and a bird, who tells Wabi Sabi to seek out Kosho, the wise monkey. In her travels, Wabi Sabi encounters the bright lights of the city, the cool beauty of the forest, the warmth of friendship, the pleasure of not hurrying, and the joy of returning home. This all is wabi sabi.
Wabi sabi, according to the end pages, is an ancient Chinese philosophy that shaped Japanese culture to emphasize simplicity over extravagance. The format of the book wonderfully illustrates this philosophy.
Here is an interview with the author and illustrator -Wabi Sabi http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ca2Ly4Vpb5Y
There's a great educators guide at Hachette Book Group.
In the past, I've taught ancient civilization and used calligraphy painting and haiku techniques to help children understand these cultures. This would have been an amazing book to enhance these units. In addition, it helps me be mindful of the beauty that is inherent in the simplest of things – the dew on the grass, the redness of berries, and the foam on my coffee. All these things are beautiful in themselves.