31 Days, 31 Lists: 2018 Wordless Picture Books
Its use is universal but its respect, nil. Consider the multiple uses of the wordless picture book and its capabilities. How else can you make all children love reading, regardless of their comfort with words? Wordless picture books are pooh-poohed in the same way as comic books. Sequential art is considered, by some, a lower form of literature. Yet as defined by Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics, comics (and in many ways, wordless picture books) could be defined as “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.” To correctly read a wordless picture book, a reader must employ a certain level of deductive reasoning to connect the images in a book and create a comprehensible story. Heady stuff, no?
But it can be much simpler than that. Wordless picture books offer a hand out to children for whom English is not a first language. They’re a way of luring in kids who say they “don’t like reading”. They’re also (as was perfectly articulated in last year’s magnificent Be Quiet! by Ryan T. Higgins) killer awards bait.
Here are the 2018 wordless books of a higher caliber.
2018 Wordless Picture Books
Door by JiHyeon Lee
An import from South Korea. You’ll see that a fair number of wordless books in a given year do come from other countries. It’s not hard to understand why. A translator of children’s literature once sat me down and explained at length the sheer amount of work that goes into a picture book translation, particularly when you’ve a publisher dealing with something beyond the usual Spanish/German/French. JiHyeon Lee isn’t unfamiliar to American audiences, though, as she debuted Pool three years ago (also wordless) and this has much of the same gentle quality. In it, a boy goes through a magical door but his experiences in this particular wonderland are accepting and open-minded. All the reviews of this book I read used the word “inclusion” to talk about how the creatures accept the boy. In the end, the padlock is left open. Timely.
The Fish and the Cat by Marianne Dubuc
More of a Canadian import this time. I had a co-worker this year that was just gaga for this book. Think David Wiesner’s Tuesday meets Sylvester the Cat. In it, a fish goes for a high flying adventure with a hungry puddy-tat in hot pursuit. The Kirkus review provided some additional background, saying, “Originally entitled La mer and only now seeing publication in the United States, it won Quebec’s 2008 Prix Lux/Grafika award for illustration.” And with a hefty 92-page count, it’s on the longer side of today’s lists.
Found by Jeff Newman, ill. Larry Day
I’m a big time Jeff Newman fan, so it struck me by surprise when I saw him paired with another illustrator as usually Newman does his own work. Here we have a classic Henry Huggins situation. Girl finds dog. Girl loves dog. Girl sees dog’s face on a LOST poster. What to do? Notably her decision is her own, as you don’t see so much as a hair of a parent in the tale. I like pairing this cover with the cover of the previously mentioned Door too. They’re not all that dissimilar.
The Great Chicken Escape by Nikki McClure
Nuns chasing chickens.
Sorry, you need more than that? Okay.
Alaskan nuns chasing chickens.
I Got It! by David Wiesner
Wiesner could perhaps be called the king of the Caldecott-winning-silent-book-format. Between Tuesday and Flotsam (to say nothing of the Honors given to Freefall, Sector 7, and Mr. Wuffles) no other illustrator has won so often with so few words. His latest tale is far more down to earth than previous flights of fancy. I don’t think it’ll necessarily get any Caldecotts this year, but as wordless books go, it would be a crime not to include it.
I Walk With Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoët
“The wordless pages and small, toylike figures make this a good choice for young children who can work out for themselves what has happened, what Vanessa’s new friend does, and why it works.” That was what PW said of this book by husband/wife team Kerascoët. It’s a wordless anti-bullying tale, and few will fail to see what it’s getting at. Some people are saying it’s a “call to action” which I rather like. I’d pair it with the other anti-bullying picture book Super Manny Stands Up by Kelly DiPucchio for a storytime of personal responsibility in the face of bullies.
Imagine! by Raúl Colón
One of my favorites of the year. Mr. Colón has outdone himself here. A semi-autobiographical tale of a boy so inspired by art that he creates his own. Sometimes I read a book about NYC and it doesn’t feel like the artist has even visited. In this book everything makes sense. The subways lines are correct. The streets, the sights, practically the smells are authentic. Also, I appreciate that the paintings that come to life in MOMA aren’t the usual suspects. Hope it gets some award love soon.
The Little Barbarian by Renato Moriconi
Each year my library produces an epic list of the 101 Great Books for Kids. This year’s list is extraordinary, and this book came just a hair’s breadth close to appearing there. My librarians, I was gratified to see, just loved it. It’s possibly the simplest book on this list, but well worth the price (and even the height, which will be the bane of shelvers everywhere for a while). I envision this as a wordless book that kids will be most gratified to read on their own. Over. And over. And over. Sly, funny stuff.
Petals by Gustavo Borges, colors by Cris Peter
There is a reason that I quoted Scott McCloud at the beginning of this post, and it has much to do with the wavery line separating comics and picture books. No two books in 2018 typify this better than this book and the next on this list. Petals is an interesting case. I feel as if the bulk of us missed it this year, and that’s a real shame. It does a jolly good job handling grief, trust, and loss, but with an uplifting note at the end. Plus it has a crow in a tux. Consider him an avian brother-in-arms to The Sweep in Jonathan Auxier’s book of the same name.
Small Things by Mel Tregonning
Don’t judge a book by its cover. I did and came very close to missing this title because I found the big-eyed child cover a little too Margaret D. H. Keane for my tastes. In this posthumous wordless book (that Shaun Tan had a hand in helping to finish) the specter of childhood anxiety is rendered visible. Our main character is being eaten alive, but only in tiny pieces here and there. Worries actually gnaw away at him, making it hard for him to make friends or even sleep. It’s only when he finally sees that he’s not alone and that many other children suffer in the same way that things change a little for the better. There is an afterword that provides details about childhood anxiety and also contains a link to resources, so that’s reassuring. Split into panels, some will argue that this is a comic and place it in the graphic novel section of their libraries. That’s not a wrong thing to do by any means. It’s just notable. A book for older readers, but still in a picture book size and format.
A Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker
Like Wiesner, Becker has made his name with silence. In this book, he shoots for the moon. A golden stone travels through time, going through a variety of different iterations, until it finally helps one girl let go of someone she loved. And like Wiesner this year, I wouldn’t rank it above Becker’s previous wordless series. It’s nice to see someone unafraid to go big in a picture book, though. Becker takes risks and I think that’s worth celebrating.
Wallpaper by Thao Lam
Not to be confused with The Yellow Wallpaper. I think this is the only wordless collage picture book I saw this year. The book’s message is about making new friends, but it goes about teaching this in as lush a manner as possible. The publisher’s description mentions “a herd of art-deco sheep” and that’s just a tiny sliver of what Lam’s cooked up. I think I’ll top this off with yet another PW quote (they were on fire this year!) when they said, “Lam’s rich visual storytelling illuminates the way that children’s internal lives help them move through loss and anxiety.”
Interested in the other lists? Here’s the schedule of everything being covered this month. Enjoy!
December 1 – Board Books & Pop-Ups
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 Books for Kids
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – Translated Picture Books
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
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
Filed under: 31 Days 31 Lists
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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