I’ve long enjoyed the power that can be contained in a wordless picture book. These books fit the genre most literally– the pictures tell the story without the benefit of accompanying text. Sure, these make for a very different read aloud experience, as they invite the readers (who, remember, are often not quite literate just yet) to tell the story in their own way, in their own words. Today I want to share some thoughts on five wordless books nominated in the picture book category of the Cybils Awards, and I encourage you to check out these books yourself, as well.
1. Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle — Flora stands at half the height of the graceful flamingo, dressed in her pink one-piece bathing suit and large flippers. It’s clear from the beginning that Flora longs to move in the beautiful ways of the flamingo, though the flamingo’s attitude toward her is less than warm at first. The images of the two dancers side by side are gorgeous and full of similar lines and movement, and the occasional flaps invite readers to view slight shifts in the duo’s dance. Emotions are conveyed exquisitely through expressions and poses, and there are many different possible narratives just waiting for young storytellers to create.
2. The Boy and the Airplane by Mark Pett — A little boy receives an airplane as a gift and on its trial run it makes an unfortunate landing on top of the roof. His heartfelt efforts to retrieve it call into play a ladder, a lasso, and a pogo stick among other things, but he doesn’t find any success… until he thinks a little bit more… long-term solution. There’s a sweetness to this story that might not ring as sentimental with young children as it will with grown-ups, but my gut tells me that they’ll still find a gentle humor to the outcome.
3. Bluebird by Bob Staake — My kids and I have come to love Staake’s books for their zany wackiness, so last summer when we saw this one on the library bookshelf, it was placed into our bag without a second glance. I have to admit that I was taken aback by the more serious and touching tone in this one, and I wish I had read it on my own before sharing it with my children. We still had a meaningful conversation even without much preparation, and I anticipate that this book will help support talks between parents and children for many years to come. Though it was not what I’d come to expect from Staake, I truly treasure the reading experience this book provided for me and my kids.
4. Journey by Aaron Becker — In a muted palette of grays, we meet a young girl whose very being screams “I’m bored!” In each illustration, one red item pops off the page, first a scooter, then a kite, then a ball, and finally a marker. It’s that last item that transforms the girl’s world. In the spirit of Harold, just with a different hued drawing implement, the girl creates an adventure that brings her to amazing heights and faraway lands and tests her strengths in the face of sacrifice and friendship. There are more layers to the storyline and illustrations here than in the other wordless books listed so far.
5. Here I Am by Patti Kim and Sonia Sánchez — A wordless picture book with the feel of a graphic novel, this nominated title is definitely the most complex of this bunch. Telling the story of an immigrant child coming to terms with his new home through pictures calls for detailed illustrations that show a multitude of emotions, and this book hits all the right notes. The confusion and wonder in a new environment are portrayed perfectly in these drawings, and each piece of illustration invites a long look. The placement of multiple illustrations on each page, sometimes outlined in separate boxes and other times not, requires a level of literacy development to understand left to right tracking to make sense of the progression of the story. The story itself introduces a deep topic of great emotions and struggles, making this best understood by an older picture book reading audience, or perhaps even beyond.
Have you checked out any nominated picture books yourself? If you’ve got young children in your life, the Cybils Awards lists can be a fabulous resource for finding books to enjoy for your next story time.
All opinions offered here are mine alone, and do not represent the Cybils Awards.