Wordless Picture Books: A List
So I was at the New England chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators this weekend. It turns out, this is the largest regional chapter in the States. And viewing the 700+ attendees myself firsthand I can certainly believe it. Many thanks, then, to Josh Funk, Sera Rivers, & Marilyn Salerno for inviting me.
Lots of folks came up to speak to me after my talks, but one in particular is the inspiration for today’s post. She mentioned to me that she’s hoping to work with a program offering books to refugee children, and she wondered where she should go for wordless book recommendations. She’d searched around but at this time there’s no blog that specifically reviews and recommends wordless (or, as they call them in Britain, “silent”) picture books. There is, however, a Silent Book Contest out there that is given annually. That’s pretty good, but it does tend towards the European side of things, so if you’re looking for American fare where do you go? I thought it over and told her that I could probably whip up my own list, if she wanted. This is by NO means meant to be a complete list of recommended titles, but if you’re looking for good, high-quality books of this sort, it might be a nice place to start. Here then is the list. Enjoy!
Recommended Wordless Books
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
A book told in pictures. Not a “picture book” in terms of its length or intended audience (this adheres closer to the graphic novel world in many ways) it is still the best book about the immigrant experience I’ve ever read. No list of wordless titles would work without it.
A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka
A co-worker of mine correctly predicted that this book would win the Caldecott in the year of its release. At the time I pooh-poohed the notion. This slim little thing? The wordless one? But sure as shooting she was right. If I’d had half a brain I would have had her purchase me a lottery ticket too.
Bee & Me by Alison Jay
This isn’t Alison Jay’s first run around the park, if you get my meaning. She’s been perfecting the wordless form for years and this book has the extra added touch of including information about real bees as well.
BirdCatDog by Lee Nordling
The line between wordless picture books and wordless comics is tenuous at best. In this book we follow three animals as they interact, only the storylines and featured on top of one another. It’s almost cinematic in the end.
Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug by Mark Newgaarden and Megan Montague Cash
The book so nice they made a series of board books and sequels to accompany it. I’ll always love the first the most, though. If only because it gets so sweetly nightmarish towards the end.
The Boys by Jeff Newman
You know, I adored this book. I really did. And I feel like it didn’t get enough attention at all when it was released. It’s possible I just identified too closely with it. After all, it’s about a kid who’s comfortable with adults and not kids, so he starts acting like the elderly guys in the park to avoid his peers. That may as well have been the story of my childhood.
The Chicken Thief by Béatrice Rodriguez
Okay, so I know plenty of folks would call this “Stockholm Syndrome for Kids” but doggone it, I love this book. I mean, can YOU think of a book where the fox wants the chicken so badly because he’s in love with her?
Fish by Liam Francis Walsh
Hmm. Can a book be considered wordless if there is one, great big, glaring word in the text? Survey Sez: Yes.
Float by Daniel Miyares
This was Daniel’s debut, wasn’t it? Extraordinary. It’s little wonder that the book garnered Caldecott buzz. A different committee and it might have been so.
Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle
Boy I liked this body-positive tale of dance and finicky birds. Idle has done other Flora books since, but this one will always be nearest and dearest my heart.
Flotsam by David Wiesner
I decided to be economical in my Wiesner inclusions. After all, he sort of pioneered the form in recent years. This one was gutsy and risky, but he pulled it off.
Fox’s Garden by Princesse Camcam
I just adored this odd, unspeakably lovely book. A grand winter’s tale.
Goodnight, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann
Where have you gone, Peggy Rathmann, our nation turns it’s lonely eyes to you. Woo-oo-oo . . .
Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley
Come for the shocking attention to detail. Stay to see how Ms. Dudley does hummingbird wings. Clever doesn’t even begin to encompass it. Plus this is one of the sweetest of the stories I’ve included here today.
Here I Am by Patty Kim, ill. Sonia Sanchez
Kirkus called this book “The Arrival for kids” and they weren’t wrong. Again it’s a book about how immigration affects an individual, but this time it’s clearly a picture book intended for younger kids.
Geisert may be considered an acquired taste for some, but for folks that love technical acuity combined with just the slightest hint of eccentricity, this book is for them.
Journey and the other books by Aaron Becker
Oh, I just adored this series! My kids are big fans of the Avatar: The Last Airbender series, and these books really spoke to them beautifully. Good for any kid that insists on reading books with a “bad guy” as well.
The Land of Lines by Victor Hussenot
Loved this. It’s what you hand your doodler kids. Someday those doodles might become comics of their very own.
The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
The ultimate ultimate.
Mirror by Jeannie Baker
Jeannie Baker is another author/artist that found her footing in the wordless realm. Now if someone would be so good as to convince her to move to America from Australia so that she can start winning a few awards, I’d be grateful.
Moletown by Torben Kuhlmann
A bit of a change of pace for Mr. Kuhlmann, who likes to make these epic picture books like Lindbergh and others. This book is sort of like a smaller, sweeter Lorax tale.
Once Upon a Banana by Jennifer Armstrong, ill. David Small
Well, I absolutely adored this when it came out. David Small shows off how adept he is at created complicated scenarios that Buster Keaton would be proud of.
The Only Child by Guojing
I know I keep talking about The Arrival, but this story of a lonely child also reminded me of Shaun Tan’s classic.
Pinocchio: The Origin Story by Alessandro Sanna
For anyone who’s ever thought, “I like wordless books, but where can I find one that’ll make me feel like a genuine lead-headed fool for not comprehending all its intricacies at first glance?”
Pool by JiHyeon Lee
This Korean import really drives home how many of the books on this list hail from other countries. Or maybe it’s just that American publishers much prefer overseas titles that don’t have any words.
The Red Book by Barbara Lehman
It’s good to mention this book now since the sequel will be publishing later this year.
Shadow by Suzy Lee
Man, can you image what it would have been like if I’d printed this entire list and then just completely forgot about Suzy Lee? A nightmare scenario.
Sidewalk Circus by Paul Fleischman, ill. Kevin Hawkes
I always like to include a few oldies but goodies on this list for good measure. Keeps the blood pumping.
Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith
One of my favorite books of the past 5 years. It holds up and will continue to hold up for years to come.
A Small Miracle by Peter Collington
Tuesday by David Wiesner
Aaaaaaand there’s the second Wiesner book. I know he’s done more. I just wanted to put a spotlight on my favorite favories.
Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell
Wordless books win Caldecotts all the time, by the way. Just sayin’.
Wonder Bear by Tao Nyeu
He’s kind of like the Cat in the Hat, only better hat. The monkey in this story, however, could give Thing 1 and Thing 2 a run for their money.
Zoom and Re-Zoom and The Other Side by Istvan Banyai
The books in this series are probably the closest you can get to silent adult picture books. Yet for all that, kids just adore them. Go figure.
What favorites did I miss? Add them here.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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