31 Days, 31 Lists: 2022 Wordless Picture Books
The older I get, the more and more I love those wordless books. They cross boundaries. They cross time. They’re a method of communication that cannot be tied down. And this year I was delighted to find a wide range of the things. Some are from America. Some from overseas. And each and every last one of them (on this list anyway) worth discovering.
Love wordless titles? Then check out some lists from previous years:
2022 Wordless Picture Books
All Around Bustletown: Nighttime by Rotraut Susanne Berner
Bustletown has appeared on my 31 Days, 31 Lists before, and little wonder. They’re utterly charming! Imported from Germany, this is part seek-and-find, and part Anno’s Journey. In this story you are proceeding to the right, to the right, ever and always to the right. Your companions as you do so vary. There’s a fellow on a bike (identified as Frank on the back cover). There’s Cara and John, a couple taking a nighttime stroll. The book goes from the country to the city. As with other European imports I always worry about a lack of diversity, but this book at least has a variety of people (though not at the beginning). There are fun references to classic children’s books (spend some time looking at the book covers in the library where a sleepover is taking place to see how many you recognize). Just use this book to take a trip to Germany! It’s the cheapest fare you’ll find.
A Day for Sandcastles by JonArno Lawson, ill. Qin Leng
Lawson’s such an interesting guy. I know of few other picture book authors that have been able to establish themselves as the foremost wordless picture book writers (not illustrators) on the contemporary market. He and Qin Leng paired together last year with the lovely Over the Shop, and now they’re back with a single idea. Kids. At the beach. Making sandcastles. Sounds simple, no? And it is, but there’s an interesting drama to it. Any kid familiar with the damaging effects of the incoming tide on juvenile sand architecture will be able to relate. Heck, kids who’ve never seen a beach a day of their life will relate, since this is a classic story of frustration and a kind of weary inevitability. Tide and time wait for no kids. A good, gentle picture book beach read.
The Depth of the Lake and the Height of the Sky by Kim Jihyun
A wordless South Korean import celebrates nature, wilderness, and traipsing about on your own. Using a technique of writing ink and a “slow-dry blending medium”, it’s funny to think that when you get right down to it, this is a black and white picture book. Such things are rare on the market when they’re homegrown, so I wasn’t surprised to hear that this came from overseas. When Jules Danielson featured this book on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast she mentioned that its original title in Korean was merely “Last Summer”. So somewhere along the lines, someone at Floris Books had the wherewithal to give this book this luscious, loving title. As someone who, as a kid, loved bumming around woods by myself, this book tapped into that feeling beautifully. My favorite moment comes after the kid has been swimming and he simply lies on his back, on a dock, on a sunny day. You get this two page spread of what it looks like when the sun is directly ahead that is this remarkable example of how human hands can paint ink to look like light. It’s marvelous. If I could frame any sequence from this book, it would be that one. A gentle, wonderful example of accomplished wordless storytelling.
Field Trip to Volcano Island by John Hare
The third in the John Hare science fiction picture book series. I’ve read Field Trip to the Moon and Field Trip to the Ocean Deep before and I liked them fairly well. But out of all the books that Hare has done, I think that this one might be my favorite. Why? Honestly, I think he gets a lot more emotional heft and heart out of this story. In this tale a group of kids are wearing their protective hazmat suits and visiting an actual active volcano. One kid, however, is quite taken with the flowers that manage to grow in these harsh conditions. When the child accidentally stumbles on a family of, for lack of a better word, lava monsters, he’s touched by their sadness over being unable to hold the flowers. The solution is as clever as it is touching. Maybe it’s just that Hare does a more touching lava monster than he does an alien, but I really felt this one. A lovely little title without a word on the page.
Finding Fire by Logan S. Kline
Is it at all strange that, having learned that Neanderthals, at least, often sported red hair, it was kind of nice to see red-haired Homo Sapiens in this wordless adventure? I’ve always been intrigued by the lesser-respected (but still very much in demand) genre of wordless action picture books. These truly bridge the gap between books for younger readers and graphic novels. And, certainly in this case, it feels as though it’s only the page count that keeps this book from ending up in the comics section of the library. I was surprised to see that Kline doesn’t, apparently, have any animation experience. The book certainly feels like a Pixar short at times (and that’s a big compliment coming from me). In the story, a boy sets off to find fire and finds a friend along the way. A pretty cool bit of storytelling with ingenuity at its core.
Forever Home: A Dog and Boy Love Story by Henry Cole
There are a few picture book author/illustrators that do exceedingly well when they engage with a wordless format. Henry Cole is amongst them. It’s been so interesting to watch his career over the last few years. Recently he’s been really into black and white, pen-and-ink books that use color as an important accent that’s pertinent to the plot. This story, interestingly enough, is explained at the end, when Cole discusses its inspiration. Even so, kids shouldn’t have a difficult time following along. In this tale a dog needs a home and a boy desperately wants a dog. His dads aren’t particularly convinced, however, since his room is a pigsty and there are chores to be done. Determined, he sets out to do all the chores and, as an extra added measure, takes a leash on a walk, rain or shine. I particularly liked the leash walking scenes. A heartfelt little thing with a dog right up there with the fellow 2022 doggie picture book Hot Dog.
Gold by Jed Alexander
Three bears set out on their bikes while a little girl in yellow beelines for their house. In this wordless play on the Goldilocks fable, prepare to have expectations of all sorts upset by a story that redefines what a family can be. Also prepare to be utterly charmed or, at the very least, subtly impressed. We see a lot of books that are skewed takes on Goldilocks (look at the bottom of this list to see Bee Waeland’s The Three Bears and Goldilocks) and you kind of get a little sick of them after a while. This book upsets not simply storytime expectations but cultural expectations about who can and cannot be a family unit. I was immediately charmed by the San Franciscan setting and the fact that the bears’ bike helmets are so ridiculously small on their huge heads. Then you get to the beautiful use of the color yellow throughout. And of course the mess Goldilocks makes could be attributed to a child trying to “help”. Mr. Alexander already tried something like this with his previous book Red but I think that was just a warm-up for this little number. Completely, utterly, wonderful (and wordless!).
Kunoichi Bunny by Sara Cassidy, ill. Brayden Sato
Now if we’re going to get technical about it this book isn’t really wordless. It has words on signs and words that describe actions (like “Roll” and “Fling”). Plus our heroine is calling out, “Kunoichi!” on a regular basis. But you wouldn’t need to speak a word to understand what is happening. Now the plot written could have rendered this book good or bad, based solely on the quality of the illustrations. Fortunately, Brayden Sato appears to have been an absolutely perfect choice. Throughout the story, a girl in a stroller with her dad uses her bunny to, essentially, save lives and prevent injuries and I am NOT even kidding about that. She stops another kid’s stroller from tumbling out a bus door, prevents cats from fighting, and even redirects a baseball on course to beam a child in the head. Best of all, while her aim is spectacularly true, I found it all plausible enough. Kids, of course, will love seeing someone their age or even younger engaging in superheroics. The fact that the art is thoroughly charming doesn’t hurt. Apparently Sato has a webcomic called All That You Are. Guess what I’ll be reading next?
Once Upon a Forest by Pam Fong
One little marmot is determined to use its small garden of baby trees to help undo the damage wrought by fire. But will the little trees be able to survive? Marmots to the rescue! Sometimes a book looks so cute that it’s suspicious. You begin to question its intentions. Can you really be any good if you look this sweet? But don’t be fooled by our wordless marmot friend here. This is a critter with a job to do, and the book does a mighty fine job of showing how gardening can combat deforestation. I love the selective use of green from scene to scene. It’s not preachy, but it does a good job showing how hard work can make a little difference. Not a miraculous huge one. Just a tiny spot of help.
Three Bears and Goldilocks by Bee Waeland
Goldilocks has broken into her last house. A wordless retelling of the classic fairy tale, with some justice sprinkled at the end. Insofar as I can tell, this is a wordless Canadian import. It’s the classic story, clearly, but with a little twist. It’s interesting to ponder how much a child that didn’t already know the story might take from this particular retelling. Waeland is having a lot of fun with these visuals. The nose-picking scene alone takes you a second or two before you quite realize what’s going on. Extra points for the awful muddy footprints around the house (and the Goldilocks drool on the pillow). And don’t worry. No one’s getting eaten here. Just brought their just desserts.
Want to see other lists? Stay tuned for the rest this month!
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 3 – Simple Picture Book Texts
December 4 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Funny Picture Books
December 7 – CaldeNotts
December 8 – Picture Book Reprints
December 9 – Math Books for Kids
December 10 – Gross Books
December 11 – Books with a Message
December 12 – Fabulous Photography
December 13 – Translated Picture Books
December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 15 – Wordless Picture Books
December 16 – Poetry Books
December 17 – Unconventional Children’s Books
December 18 – Easy Books & Early Chapter Books
December 19 – Comics & Graphic Novels
December 20 – Older Funny Books
December 21 – Science Fiction Books
December 22 – Fantasy Books
December 23 – Informational Fiction
December 24 – American History
December 25 – Science & Nature Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers
December 29 – Best Audiobooks for Kids
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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