Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The Pleasure of Wordless Picture Books

I'm going through books, getting ready for when my young readers are back from vacation. I have found that one of the most successful category of books to use with younger kids is wordless picture books. They provide kids with a way to tell a story in their own words, eliciting language and using imagination. Here are four I plan on permanently adding to our small Wordless Picture Book Library now that they have been read and enjoyed by my young readers.  

A Day for Sandcastles by JonArno Lawson,
illustrated by Qin Leng
Candlewick Press, 2022, 48 pages

A family - mom, dad, and three siblings - arrive by bus to spend a warm summer day at the beach. Pails and shovels in hand, older brother, middle sister and a toddler are ready to build a sandcastle at the water's edge. Proud of their first small castle, it is quickly washed away when a wave comes in. And so they begin again, and again, and again. Each sand castle meetings it own beachy fate. But the siblings never give up, working together as a team. What I love about this book is not just the message of teamwork and perseverance, but the feeling of being at the beach that each illustration brings. The ink and watercolor illustrations are detailed and while the focus is on the three siblings, there is the usual beach activity all around them - people swimming, others walking along the shoreline, people reading under umbrellas, kids playing ball - all captured on one and two page spreads, some with smaller, close up montages. And who hasn't encountered pesky seagulls while eating lunch at the beach, or the wind blowing someone's hat away. This day at the beach was anything but static. I could feel the sea breeze and the feeling of it blowing sand into my hair, and smell the sun screen, and the tide coming in as the day worn on and the position of the sun changes. This is a beautiful wordless picture, (and for me, nostalgic) day at the beach and I can't wait to see what my Kiddos have to say about it.     

All Around Bustletown Nighttime
written and illustrated by Rotraut Susanne Berner
Prestel Publishing, 2022, 14 pages

Welcome back to Bustletown! Previously, we read book about Bustletown throughout the seasons, and no matter what time of the year it is, it is a pretty busy, busy place. It is, after all, a wimmelbook. Is Bustletown just as busy at night as it is in the daytime? This book follows the same format as the previous books, beginning with a home where everyone is getting ready for bed, and the kids are camping out in the backyard. But, there is still activity on the street. The bus is still running, the gas station and the train station are open, just not quite as busy as in the daytime. The market is closed, and there is a sleepover for kids at the Cultural Center. But, uh oh, someone is trying to break into the bookstore. Luckily, the police have just arrived. The department store is closed, but there a window shoppers out for an evening stroll. Cara and John are out and strolling through the pages, but where are they going at night? It seems the Park Cafe is open and there are lots of people enjoying a meal with friends, plus they can watch the fireworks lighting up the night sky. Bustletown has a different look to it at night than it has during the day, but readers will meet the same people and see the same places as in the earlier books, giving all the Bustletown books a nice continuity. The illustrations are just as charming and colorful as before, but with a dark blue nighttime sky. And each of the two page spreads are elaborately detailed and each page connects to the one before and after it, providing lots of stories that kids can make up as they read their way through Bustletown, making this a great interactive book. 

The Depth of the Lake and the Height of the Sky
written and illustrated by Kim Jihyun
Floris Books, 2021, 24 pages

In her afterword, the author says she hopes this book will help readers connect to nature much the same way she did one summer and experience the same serene feeling she felt. In this story, a young boy, his parents, and their dog leave their bustling city behind and drive to the countryside to visit his grandparents. Soon after arriving, the boy and his dog go for a walk on a winding trail in the forest behind the house. The further they walk, the more the boy notices the wonders of nature around him. Eventually, he and the dog discover a lake with a dock, and the boy dives in, exploring the wonders of underwater nature. Afterward, boy and dog lay on the dock to dry off before heading home at the end of the day. What is remarkable about this wordless picture book how the author manages to convey so much in each illustration, all of which are done using writing ink and a slow-drying blending medium in a palette of grays and whites, with only touches of blue. Each image is filled with details, whether it is the street where the family lives, or the lushness of the forest with it varied flora, the long late afternoon shadows over the countryside, or a sky filled with stars. My only problem was that the boy went swimming alone in the lake. I have drummed it into my Kiddo's head to never ever swim alone, and had to give the same warning to my young readers when we read this book. Otherwise, it is a brilliant wordless picture book that really elicited lots of talk among my kids.     

The Dog Walk
written and illustrated by Sven Nordqvist
Floris Books, 2021, 32 pages

Follow a young boy in a red cap as he takes his Grandmother's big white dog for a jam-packed adventurous walk in this wordless fanciful Wimmelbook. Pulled along by the dog, the two ride a train to places where there are tree houses piled one on top of the other, people from different time periods, people and animals of exaggerated size (both large and small), and all kinds of animated objects, among other  imaginative things. Boy and dog climb mountains, cross tropical seas, explore toy and antique shops, visit overgrown villages and castles surrounded by moats, and a town where only cats live. The sights the boy and dog see are wildly imaginative, at times fun, at other times rather dark. And just like that, they return to Grandmother's house at the end of their adventure. I was a little hesitant about reading this to my young readers, but they loved exploring the pictures and I guess they've watched enough silly things on TV that they had no problems making up stories about the boy and dog on each page after they found them in all the chaos, all of them brilliantly illustrated using watercolor, acrylic, and ink.  

What are some of your favorite wordless picture books?


  1. Chalk by Bill Thomson is a go-to that is always enjoyed, as is Skunk on a String by Thao Lam. I personally love Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson.

  2. What a wonderful set of wordless picture books, Alex! I made note of A Day for Sandcastles—you make it sound like such a vivid, evocative read. The Depth of the Lake and the Height of the Sky also sounds like a beautiful story! Thanks so much for the thoughtful reviews!


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