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Kids' Q&A

Mark Reibstein

Describe your latest project.

My latest project is the picture book Wabi Sabi, illustrated by Ed Young. Wabi-sabi is a way of seeing the world that is at the heart of Japanese culture. It finds beauty and harmony in what is simple, natural, modest, and mysterious. It can be a little dark, but it is also warm and comfortable. It may be best understood as a feeling, rather than an idea. My picture book Wabi Sabi is an exploration of Wabi-sabi from a Westerner's perspective. In it, a cat named Wabi Sabi goes on a journey to discover the meaning of her name. Even though it is a picture book, I think and hope people of all ages will enjoy the story and the incredible art by Caldecott Medalist Ed Young.

  1. Wabi Sabi
    $7.98 Sale Hardcover add to wishlist

    Wabi Sabi

    Mark Reibstein
    "A glorious piece of bookmaking whose subject and execution will reach a wide age range." Booklist (starred review)

    "Reibstein's plain yet poetic harmoniously with Young's deceptively simple, vertically oriented collages of natural and manmade materials to create their own wabi sabi. Simply beautiful." Kirkus Reviews

    "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..." School Library Journal

What fictional character would you like to date, and why?
Miranda, The Tempest — good-hearted and generous, she's someone who knows how to be by herself, but also loves people. She doesn't carry too much baggage, despite having an overbearing dad. If Ferdinand's any judge, she's also a knockout.

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
I was a cab driver in NYC for a few years at the end of the '70s and start of the '80s. In addition to some famous actors and musicians, I once picked up Grace Paley and some other writers, just released from arrest for protesting at city hall. One of her friends sat in the front with me, and we spoke of the unexpected joys of city driving. Some people in my cab liked to talk or cry, complain or sing. Manhattan was always heart-swell-gorgeous at the start of my shift, the sun rising behind me as I rolled in from Queens.

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
One of my favorite books is The Bat-Poet. My mother, a poet, read me this book by Randall Jarrell, a poet, and this opened up poetry for me. Jarrell makes it clear that poetry may not be for everyone, but that sensitivity to beauty, a little oddness, and a love of words all have their rewards. Jarrell sets the bar for me with kids' books: depth, elegance, and subtlety belong in them. My daughter's favorite book, Jarrell's Animal Family, is magic realism at its lyrical best. Both are illustrated with Sendak ink sketches. Jarrell proves that great literature never condescends, and that kids can appreciate that as much as adults do.

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.

How to prepare your mind to become a singer. An attitude of openness, inwardness, gratitude; plus meditation, fasting, a little suffering, some rupturing of the day-to-day ties with the social fabric. I quote again from the Papago: "A man who desires song did not put his mind on words and tunes. He put it on pleasing the supernaturals. He must be a good hunter or a good warrior. Perhaps they would like his ways. And one day in natural sleep he would hear singing. He hears a song and he knows it is the hawk singing to him of the great white birds that fly in from the ocean. Perhaps the clouds sing or the wind or the feathery red rain spider on its invisible rope."
—Gary Snyder, The Old Ways

Another favorite passage:

"All this comes," thought Nekhlyudov, "from the fact all these people — governors, inspectors, police officers, and policemen — consider that there are circumstances when human relations are not necessary between human beings. All these men... thought not of men and their duty towards them but only of the office they themselves filled, and considered the obligations of that office to be above human relations. That is the whole matter...if once we admit — be it only for an hour or in some exceptional case — that anything can be more important than a feeling of love for our fellows, then there is no crime which we may not commit with easy minds, free from feelings of guilt."
—Tolstoy, Resurrection

Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
When I went to Japan 15 years ago, I thought I would write something about sumo wrestling. I had become a fan while watching it on TV during the years I was living in Hawaii. My detached amusement grew into respect, followed by an intense interest in Japanese culture. I planned a bicycle trip down the west coast of Japan. When I arrived in Kyoto, I decided that I wanted to stay there for a while rather than Tokyo, which would have been the best location if sumo was to remain my priority. Kyoto tended to draw Westerners who were more interested in learning about the arts and history of Japan than in just making money or experiencing its modern urban life. It was in Kyoto that I met an American woman studying tea ceremony, and she was the first to tell me about wabi sabi.

Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration and talk a little about their work.
Frank Zappa: he was Emerson's poet and ageless genius, defying convention, borrowing from and synthesizing different genres (jazz, rock, classical) to compose arresting and original works. And he played a mean guitar.

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman: the sound of soul itself: deep, warm, resonant, and vulnerable.

K. D. Lang: lyricism = power.

The Dutch and Hudson Valley landscape artists, Hokusai and Hiroshige: all those guys were attuned to the moods of clouds, sky-tints, trees, and highways. They captured moments that blow you away (if you're out there and looking) and then are gone.

Frank Lloyd Wright: I love what he did with space.

Pelé, Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, Takanohana: I love what they did in space.

Gloria Foster: an actress who spoke thunder and flashed lightening, right there on stage.

Kurosawa, Fellini, Bergman, and Kubrick: the triumph of uncompromised aesthetics.

Michael Moore and Jon Stewart: art for sanity; light and levity in a dark time.

Dogs, cats, budgies, or turtles?

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.

These are my top five relating to Japan. They either sparked my interest in going there, or intensified my appreciation of the Japanese culture and sensibility, both classic and modern, once I was there:

You Gotta Have Wa by Robert Whiting

Japanese Inn by Oliver Statler

One Hundred Poems from the Japanese by Kenneth Rexroth

Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

÷ ÷ ÷

Mark Reibstein is an English teacher and writer who has lived in New York, California, Hawaii, Japan, and Thailand. Now Mark and his daughter live near San Francisco with their good friend Arlo, who is also a cat. Wabi Sabi is his first picture book.


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