Thursday, May 14, 2020

All Around Bustletown - Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall conceived and illustrated by Rotraut Susanne Berner

All Around Bustletown - Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall - are a series of delightful wordless giant-sized board books that follow the adventures of adults, children, animals, birds, and even objects as they go about their day.

The illustrations are charming, bright and colorful, elaborately detailed, and with the definite feeling of an old-fashioned German storybook, not surprising since they were originally published in Germany. In fact, in German, these would be called Wimmelbücher, wordless picture books of everyday scenes that are chockablock with details and each scene is connected to the others by the setting. In this case, that would be Bustletown. The detailed images that are just teeming with activity are why these books have been compared to Martin Handford's Where's Waldo books.

What I found to be really nice about these books is that there are recurring characters from book to book and each of the two page spreads give readers a cross-section view inside buildings that is reminiscent of the back of a dollhouse, and a panoramic view of what happening in the outdoor images. Each book follows the same format - starting from home (as you can see from the illustrations below) and then on to the city with stops at a farm and garage, then a small fish store and a large train station, turn the page and you arrive at a school under construction across the street from a cultural center, keep going and the center of town offers all kinds of stores and activities, this is followed by a visit to a department store for some shopping and finally a visit to a beautiful busy park. Of course, everything has a different look and feel to it thanks to the changing seasons. And yes, there is a kind of sequencing to the books. In the Winter book, the school is nothing more that a foundation. In the Spring and Summer books, readers can follow the progress of the school's construction, until the Fall when it finally opens.

And though the four All Around Bustletown books have a Where's Waldo feel to them, the books don't have a specific task attached to them, like finding a hidden object/Waldo in all the hustle and bustle. Instead, these books promote not only observational strategies, but also introduce young readers to story telling skills. And my kids had no trouble following the recurring characters. Cornelia Rémi, an expert on the Wimmelbuch, considers them to be a form of playing, an idea I particularly like. So, since we had all four books, we placed them on the floor in seasonal order, beginning with winter, like this (you can click them to make them bigger):
Conveniently, the back of each book highlights and names the main characters, so that each of my kids could choose a character to follow through each book and then each season, making up stories based on that was happening and what the character was doing along the way. What appeared to be chaos on each page began to become more ordered as they made up stories and gave purpose to each character. That was really a lot of lively fun and since there are more citizens in Bustletown than I have young readers, everyone got more than one character to story about.

All Around Bustletown - Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall has turned me into a big fan these wonderful interactive books. Each one has eight panoramic pages filled with activity and people, and reflecting the holidays of the seasons. And based on my experience, they are guaranteed to keep kids busy for quite a while. And at a time when many of us can't go out and about the way we used to, maybe a visit to Bustletown is just the ticket.

These books are recommended for readers age 4+
These books were gratefully received from Media Masters Publicity

Cornelia Rémy has written an excellent article on the Wimmelbuch that you can read HERE or in Emergent Literacy: Children's Books from 0 to 3, edited by Bettina Kümmerling-Melbauer, pp. 115-139.


  1. Thanks for the recommendation. Sounds interesting book.

  2. Oh, I would have loved theses books as a kid! I've never heard the term 'Wimmelbuch'. Thanks for introducing it; I'll check out Rémy's article.

  3. This series of books sounds like a lot of fun. I loved books like this when I was little and still enjoy them now. So much to observe! Thanks for sharing. :)


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