From School Library Journal
Gr-2–4—This ambitious picture book tells the story of a cat living in Kyoto with her master. Curious to discover her name's meaning, Wabi Sabi travels across Japan, seeking advice and explanation from a variety of sources. In an introductory note, readers learn that the name comes from a concept centered on finding beauty through simplicity. As the feline discovers that she is ordinary yet wonderful, she comes to understand the meaning of her name. It is a complex idea, and the cat's journey is an effective way of presenting it to elementary school readers. The book reads from top to bottom, like a scroll, and contains a haiku and line of Japanese verse on each spread. Young's beautiful collages have an almost 3-D effect and perfectly complement the spiritual, lyrical text. While the story of Wabi Sabi's journey will hold some appeal for younger children, this is a book to be savored and contemplated and will be most appreciated by children old enough to grasp its subtle meaning. Translations are provided for the Japanese text as well as notes on haiku and the history of wabi sabi to place the whole lovely package in context.—Kara Schaff Dean, Walpole Public Library, MA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* What’s Wabi Sabi? In this story, it’s the name of a brown cat, but in Japanese culture, it’s a feeling that finds beauty and harmony in “the simple, imperfect, natural, modest, and mysterious.” When visitors come to Kyoto, they ask the cat’s owner the meaning of her name; Wabi Sabi hears it’s hard to explain, so she sets off on a journey to find the answer. Each animal she visits gives a piece of the complicated puzzle. Some of the allusions are beautiful: “The pale moon resting / on foggy water. Hear that / splash? A frog’s jumped in.” Still, the cat is confused. But the more she looks, feels, and sees, her new affinity for the simplicity of nature and the elegance of what is brings her to her own poetry—and understanding. Reibstein and Young have created a magnificent offering that is the embodiment of Wabi Sabi, incorporating all the elements listed above. Remarkably, the well-paced story is also ethereal, bringing readers, like its protagonist, to the edge of comprehension, then letting them absorb all that has come before to make their own connections. In this endeavor, the text is aided by Young’s amazing collages. So lifelike are they that children will reach out to touch, and then touch again, not quite believing the art is one-dimensional. The format, which has readers opening the book lengthwise, allows extra room for embellishments like haiku by poets Basho and Shiki written in Japanese on the page and translated in an addendum. A glorious piece of bookmaking whose subject and execution will reach a wide age range. Grades K-3. --Ilene Cooper