31 Days, 31 Lists: Day Three – 2017 Wordless Picture Books
You know what’s funny? Last year I fully intended to do a wordless picture book list, but wasn’t able to find enough books. This year I was going to do nursery rhymes, and then found a complete and utter lack of them. But wordless? Not a problem! Wordless appears to be back, to the point where there are even picture books making fun of wordless books (I’m looking at you Be Quiet! by Ryan T. Higgins).
Now I should preface this by saying that when I attended Bookfest at the Bank Street College of Education this year, there was a panel filled with the creators of wordless books, moderated by Stephen Savage. Stephen chafed against the restrictions of the designation, asking at one point “would you call a symphony ‘wordless music?’ ” Indeed I’ve seen these books called “textless” rather than “wordless” which is a distinction that strikes me as purposeful and a bit opaque. So for the purposes of today we’ll call these little gems of 2017 “wordless” (even if it isn’t strictly true in one or two cases).
Wordless Picture Books
Bee & Me by Alison Jay
I think that there’s a danger in dismissing Alison Jay when you see that she has a new book. Her style does change a bit (I see no craquelure in her latest endeavor) even as her color palette does not. She goes even farther afield in terms of storytelling as this book has a distinctly conservationist edge (saving bees, naturally).
Boat of Dreams by Rogério Coelho
If 2017 teaches us anything it is that wordless books are far easier to find in imports than homegrown products. And why, you ask, might this be? Is it a reflection of what our artists want to make, or is it an indication that our publishers are uncomfortable, even at this point, with wordless material? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that Boat of Dreams has great, grand aspirations. Critics often use the term “dreamlike” to describe children’s books that don’t make a whole heckuva lot of sense. Fortunately, the descriptive term accurately applies here. Coelho does a great job of storytelling, even as you question the reality of what you are seeing.
Find Me: A Hide-and-Seek Book by Anders Arhoj
And this one’s Danish. You see what I mean? It is also, and I mean this sincerely, one of my favorite books of the year. I mean, just look at the front and back covers alone. But Betsy, you say, how can you call this wordless? There is clearly text at the very beginning (or is it the end?). Pooh, says I. There’s a minute bit of text, but the bulk of the book is wordless. And if you haven’t seen the cubicle sequence (which is visible in this interview with the creator) please do. It could make your day.
Owl Bat, Bat Owl by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick
Wordless books for the youngest readers are just as important as the sophisticated creations we see produced for savvy 10-year-olds. Now Ms. Fitzpatrick’s book has a pretty clear cut, common, simple message. Mainly, seek the company and friendship of those outside your comfort zone. This book probably won’t win any big complicated prizes, but when it comes to good storytelling for the younger readers, there are few books on this list to compare.
Red Again by Barbara Lehman
Lehman’s sequel to The Red Book comes 13 years after its predecessor and starts precisely where the last book left off. Did we need a sequel? I don’t see why not. In many ways, Ms. Lehman’s book feels the most European out of the American lot. Once again she’s playing with close-ups and comic panels. For many young readers, they’ll encounter this book first, and be none the worse off for it in the end.
Lines by Suzy Lee
One of these days, Suzy Lee, one of these days we’re just gonna all pitch in and buy you a house in Sacramento or something and then you’ll HAVE to come to America to live. Then, at long last, we’ll be able to give you one of those Caldecott Medals you so richly deserve but can’t get without that whole residency angle. In lieu of that plan, let us instead enjoy your elegant consideration of color, form, line, and expression (to say nothing of the fourth wall, which you have a tendency to batter like a heavyweight champion on a training dummy).
Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin
And speaking of Caldecott contenders, here’s one. Perfectly, utterly wordless, this is a tale of temptation and, ultimately, grace and forgiveness. I was just reading my kids Water in the Park, illustrated by Ms. Graegin, the other day and was once again struck by how adept she is at conjuring up accessible worlds on a page. The same is true here, and with the book’s heart and use of color (which bears no little resemblance to MGM’s Oz flick) there are many that think it’s Medal chances are . . . well . . . golden.
Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli, ill. Mariachiara Di Giorgio
Here’s an easy one. Look at this cover. The one with the crocodile holding up two different neckties with his yellow shirt, trying to determine which one is best. Now if you look at this jacket and don’t feel even a twitch of a smile on your face, perhaps this is not the book for you. An Italian import (naturally – what other nation could conjure a croc this stylish?) consider pairing this book with the graphic novel Bolivar by Sean Rubin. Both involve reptiles in big cities, making their way in the world. A trend that may be saying more about the world in which we live than we might think.
Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell
So why include this book, a title that certainly contains animals sounds, and not, say, Mine! by Jeff Mack which has only one word? Cordell himself explained the reason in a recent talk I attended. As he pointed out, he views his book as wordless simply because the animal sounds are part of the art, rather than a separate element added later. It’s an interesting point, and certainly true of Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion and the Mouse, a book that is often referred to as “wordless”. After all, if a word is supposed to be audible, can it really be said to be a visual word in the first place? Deep, man.
Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:
December 1 – Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Wordless Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – CaldeNotts
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Picture Books
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – Translated Picture Books
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Poetry Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Comics for Kids
December 21 – Older Funny Books
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Fiction Reprints
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
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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