This week we’re reading a collection of books full of haiku — traditional, science based, and silly; there’s something here for everyone!


Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young

Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; ages 5-6)

What is Wabi Sabi? Before its story begins we are given this explanation:

“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, imperfect, natural, modest, and mysterious. It can be a little dark, but it is also warm and comfortable. It may best be understood as a feeling, rather than an idea.”

But it is also the name of the beautiful, mixed-media cat donning the book’s cover. Eager to understand the meaning of her name, this cat travels from her home and across Japan in search of answers. Each animal she encounters seeks to explain the complex and nuanced concept of wabi sabi; and each provides a clue spoken in haiku. The haiku’s meaning is captured in gorgeous accompanying collage art. Through contemplation of these haiku and observation of the world, Wabi Sabi comes to understand the meaning of her name. The book then closes with sections discussing haiku and the history of wabi sabi. Each page also has decorative Japanese haiku written by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) with translations for each at the end of the book.

Overall, this is a beautifully executed book that would be an ideal introduction to a unit on haiku. The engaging narrative expertly weaves prose and haiku to guide young readers toward understanding these complex and nuanced concepts. And the opportunity to read authentic (albeit translated) haiku by a haiku master is priceless.


Curious now, Wabi Sabi wondered if her friend Snowball could explain the meaning of her name to her. Snowball, who had been napping, stretched, yawned, and sighed. “That’s hard to explain.” She blinked. “It’s a kind of beauty,” she added after a minute, her eyes closing again. As though dreaming, she went on: “An old straw mat, rough on cat’s paws, pricks and tickles . . . hurts and feels good, too.”


Very glad to have the tea and company, she said. “Thank you. My name is Wabi Sabi.” “That’s wonderful!” the monkey replied. Encouraged, she asked. “Do you know what that name means?” “Well, that’s . . . ” he began. “I know, hard to explain,” she said. But he went on: “The pale moon resting on foggy water. Hear that splash? A frog’s jumped in.”


“Simple things are beautiful,” she heard the monkey say as he poured more tea for her. Looking down at the tea in her bowl, seeing herself plain and beautiful, she whispered, “Now I understand.”



Earth Verse: Haiku from the Ground Up by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by William Grill

Earth Verse: Haiku from the Ground Up by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by William Grill (Candlewick Press; ages 7-9) is a fascinating blend of haiku and geological science.

Written in two parts — the first haiku and the second expository — this book covers geological concepts relating to Earth, Minerals, Rocks, Fossils, Earthquakes, Volcanoes, Atmospheric & Surface Water, Glaciers, and Groundwater. Each of these topics is represented by symbols used to coordinate the haiku and its associated scientific discussion. The haiku are realistically illustrated with colored pencil drawings that create both detail and a lovely impressionistic quality through the use of three main colors. Suggestions for further reading close the book.

Haiku, science, and art — each superbly executed — expertly intersect to create this exquisite book. It is no exaggeration that this is one of my favorite books. We’ve read it cover to cover several times, and each reading offers new insights. Packed with potential for lessons about haiku, science or illustration, it is an educational powerhouse that would be treasured in any classroom.

CANDLEWICK PRESS • TEACHER TIPS (provided by the publisher)

  • Ask students to write their own haiku about a feature in their local environment — a lake, river, mountain, valley, and so on.
  • Eight symbols provide visual reference for the poems, guiding readers to the information at the back of the book. Have each student choose four of the symbols and write haiku about those scientific topics.
  • Have students select a poem and write several sentences explaining the science it describes.
  • The illustrator mainly uses three colors to illustrate the book. Talk about this art style and the blending of colors to give the illusion of many colors. Ask students to choose only three colors to illustrate one of their haiku.

silica, ghost-like, drifts into wood and shouts, “Boo!” — petrified forest ||nestled in sandstone, Maiasaura shields her young fossil family


mountain stream rushes, ancient river meanders — hare and tortoise race ||a flat stone, skipping, casts circles across the lake, lassoing the fish||sediment-filled waves tumble in a frothy foam . . . a gull wears sand socks ||no bucket needed. the sea builds its own castle . . . flowers bloom on dunes


hold fast, stalactite, everlasting icicle, stone bed for a bat || stalagmite! reach high! catch the ceiling’s drip, drip, drip, grow up from the ground




If It Rains Pancakes: Haiku and Lantern Poems by Brian P. Clery, illustrated by Andy Rowland

If It Rains Pancakes: Haiku and Lantern Poems (Poetry Adventures) by Brian P. Cleary, illustrated by William Grill (Millbrook Press; grade level 2-3) is a lighthearted introduction to these poetry forms.

The book begins with an introduction to haiku that ends with encouragement for readers to write their own. It also notes that the book takes a less traditional approach to haiku topics. Twenty delightfully fun haiku and their associated illustrations then follow. An introduction to lantern poems then precedes fifteen equally entertaining lantern poems and their illustrations. The book then closes with a list of books and websites for further reading.

Packed with playful poetry and illustrations, this book is great fun to read and always results in laughter. Its playful take on traditional forms of poetry makes it highly engaging for young readers while clear and succinct textual introductions make it a great teaching reference. The overall result is an excellent book for those teaching poetry and a super fun read for everyone.


APRIL Yellow tulips rise as if they’re awakening from winter’s slumber.


NATURE Brown leaves, curled and dried. Acorns; straw; and rich, brown dirt. I should clean my room. || THE MIND Memory is like a room where tiny boxes hold our yesterdays.


Sneeze—ah-CHOOOO—hurricane out of my nose blows.


Bees—flying, hardworking honey makers—buzz. || Cat: “Feed me.” “Pet me too.” “Feed me. Pet me.” “Now.” || Hug: a gift that is best when you return it.