Sidewalk Flowers by JoArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith
As she heads home with her father who is distracted by his cell phone call, a little girl dressed in vibrant red picks wild flowers. Along the way, she takes a moment to smell each of them, creating a bouquet of bright colored blooms. The flowers grow unnoticed by the others on the street in this urban setting, but the little girl spots them all growing out of sidewalk cracks. When the girl and her father reach the park, she notices a dead bird on the sidewalk and leaves some of the flowers there with the bird. A man sleeping on a park bench is given a sprig too. Then she decorates the collar of a friendly dog with more flowers. As they reach home, the little girl gives each of her family members flowers, leaving a trail of them on their hair and heads. The final flower is used to decorate her own hair at the very end.
This wordless picture book is immensely lovely. The story arc really works well and has moments of sophistication that create a vibrant urban world for this girl to live within. As she gathers the flowers, other beautiful parts of the city that would have been overlooked too light up with color or are captured in small moments. From the display of bright fruits in the market to the pigeons on the street, each small piece adds together so that readers “see” the beauty of the city along with the young protagonist.
The art is expressive and lovely. The city is shown in black and white against which the red girl pops like a bright ruby. Portions of the city are done in color, like flowered dresses and the small flowers that the girl gathers too. Then when the girl starts sharing her flowers, the entire world becomes colorful and bright. It is a dynamic shift in the middle of the book, showing the power of generosity and community.
Subtle and powerful, this picture book celebrates seeing the beauty in everyday life and sharing it with others. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Before After by Matthias Aregui and Anne-Margot Ramstein
The passage of time is captured beautifully in this wordless book that shows one example after another of before and then after. The book is a delightful mix of concepts with examples from nature, pop culture and plenty of humor. An acorn before becomes an oak tree after. A small ape before becomes King Kong after. Ingredients become a cake and a few pages later the cake is eaten and left as crumbs. But what came first, the chicken or the egg. This book takes a wry and balanced view of that debate by showing both in sequence. One never knows what the page turn will bring, and that’s part of the appeal in this clever and funny book.
Wordless books are often short, but this book is nice and thick, the entire book offering lots to think about and plenty of chuckles along the way. While it may seem to be more for preschoolers, older elementary aged children will get more of the references in the book like the chicken and the egg and King Kong. They will also appreciate the passage of time visually on the page as ice melts to water. Additionally, some of the images are more complex with a cow becoming milk but also becoming a picture of a cow. Very meta.
For children with reading difficulties in elementary school, this would be a great book to start discussions. It is also a wonderful way to wile away some time looking at an outstanding example of wordless art that delights. Appropriate for ages 5-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle
This is a delightful wintry follow-up to Flora and the Flamingo, a book that stole my heart when it came out. With clear connections to the ballet of the first book, this second book has Flora on ice skates swirling with a penguin. Flora puts on her skates and the penguin climbs out of the water and the two glide together across the page, through different flaps to lift, landing synchronized jumps side-by-side. But then the penguin disappears back into the water and Flora is left skating alone. The penguin returns with a fish for Flora, but Flora tosses it back into the water. The penguin is entirely angry and dejected, so Flora figures out how to repair the budding friendship.
Idle tells so much in her wordless books. Who knew that a penguin could communicate so very clearly with the tip of its head, the tilt of its wings and the set of its shoulders. Flora too communicates her feelings clearly on the page to great effect. It’s a book that explores friendship, dance and the joy of winter play.
The illustrations are top notch, they invite the reader to glide along with them. The flaps on different pages are ingenious ways to have readers participate, culminating in one amazing jump the two characters do together. They amazingly leap right off the page, or perhaps it’s the book that leaps out to catch them. Beautiful, icy and pure joy.
Another magnificent offering by Molly Idle, this book will be embraced by fans of the first and will make a great holiday gift. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Hunters of the Great Forest by Dennis Nolan
Released October 28, 2014
This wordless picture book is the story of a group of hunters who head out from their small village one day and into the forest. Bringing only a handful of items with them, the group must face large rocks, mountains and enormous trees. It quickly becomes apparent that the hunters are tiny people as they are forced to run from buzzing dragonflies and then from a hungry toad. After escaping those creatures, the hunters must then flee from a bird and a chipmunk. Sneaking out later from their hiding place, the hunters discover a girl sitting by a campfire roasting marshmallows. But even though they have food to bring back to their village, the dangers are not over for our intrepid group of hunters.
Wonderfully detailed pictures make this a spectacular picture book to share. The journey of the hunters makes for a page-turning delight filled with dangers, mishaps and surprises. If you pay close attention to the illustrations, some of the surprises can be predicted with clues about the next page. For example, you can see the toad’s legs in the corner of the page before the toad is fully revealed after the page turn. This makes for a book that reads as a continual stream of story, rather than individual images strung into a story.
I applaud Nolan for including plenty of little female hunters on the journey as well. There are young and old little people too. And even better, if you watch, it is not the women who need rescuing on the journey. In fact, the older of the little women carries the spear the entire journey and seems ready to use it at times.
Join the hunters on their quest for the elusive marshmallows in this journey through a forest filled with dangers of all sorts. It’s a jolly read that is sure to please. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.
The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee
In a wordless picture book, Frazee captures what happens when a young clown falls off of a circus train and is rescued by a lonely farmer. The desolate and flat landscape is unbroken until the bright circus train passes. The farmer is clearly reluctant to take in the bright little smiling clown, but he does anyway, taking him by the hand back to his tiny house. There, the two of them sit together, share a meal and eventually wash up and the clown washes off his face paint. Now it is the little clown who is worried and sad, his smile removed with the water. The farmer sits with him as he tries to fall asleep. Along with the light of dawn, the farmer starts to cheer up the little clown with silly faces and antics. Soon the two are living a mix of their two lives: eggs are gathered and juggled, hard work is shared, and the two head out on a picnic together. While on the picnic, they hear a train coming and it is the circus train filled with clowns. But somehow, the ending is not sad as the little clown returns to his family and the farmer returns to his farm, both changed forever.
I’m not sure how Frazee manages to convey so much in a wordless format. She uses symbolism, like the face paint for removing barriers, the connection of the characters through held hands, and their very different hats being removed and shared and eventually exchanged. It’s lovely and heartfelt and very special.
I’ve seen this book on a lot of people’s top book lists for the year, and I completely agree. It’s a gem of a book that has such depths to explore. The wordless format might imply a simple story, but here readers will find subtlety about friendship, caring for others, and building connections.
A masterpiece of wordless storytelling, this is a radiant picture book made to be shared. Appropriate for ages 2-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.
The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett
This follow up to The Boy and the Airplane features a girl who is longing for a new green bike that she sees in a shop window when walking with her little brother. But she doesn’t have enough money for it, even after emptying her piggy bank, digging through pockets in the laundry and looking under the couch cushions. She even tries selling lemonade and her toys. That autumn, she has another idea to make money and finds someone willing to pay her for raking leaves. She continues to do chores for them through the winter and into the next summer. Finally, she has enough money for the bicycle. But when she gets to the store, the bike is gone. Don’t worry, her hard work will pay off in the end!
Pett has a touch for wordless picture books. The subtle humor throughout also helps make the book very readable and approachable for children. They will relate to the longing for a new toy and through this book will learn about the power of resilience, hard work and patience.
Pett’s subjects could easily veer into saccharine qualities, but that is nicely avoided thanks to his deft timing throughout the book and the way that the sweet endings come with real sacrifice and work on the part of the characters. His illustrations have a vintage feel but also a modern cartoon aspect. Done in sepia tones, the dark green of the bike pops clearly on the page.
A wordless book for slightly older preschoolers, this book is a rewarding read. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Fossil by Bill Thomson
Thomson, author of Chalk, returns with a book that once again mixes fantasy with photorealistic art. In this picture book, a boy is walking along the water with his dog. He finds an interesting rock but then trips and the rock goes flying and breaks open revealing a fossil inside. As he picks it up and discovers the fossilized fern inside the rock, ferns start to grow around him. His dog digs up another rock and when the boy breaks that one open, a huge dragonfly comes to life. The dragonfly lands on another rock and readers will see the claws on the fossil before the shadow appears. With his dog in danger, the boy has to think fast about how to save him.
Done in a wordless format, Thomson’s art is the real draw here. His photorealism makes for images that are worth lingering over. He also uses unique perspectives throughout the book, such as the image on the cover. The books has the universal appeal of a sandy shore littered with large stones and drenching sunlight. That same sunlight somehow becomes threatening once the dinosaur appears, almost spotlighting the danger and creating deep menacing shadows.
Vivid and beautiful, this book offers a dynamic take on fossils and prehistoric life. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner
The masterful Wiesner returns with another near-wordless picture book. Mr. Wuffles is a cat who disdains most of the toys his master gets him. Then one object gets his attention, a little metallic spaceship. But this is not a toy! It is filled with tiny aliens who are battered by being flung around by Mr. Wuffles. Their equipment is damaged and they have to leave their ship and head out looking for help. But Mr. Wuffles is close behind them and who can the aliens turn to for aid?
This is a magnificent picture book that turns from a normal cat picture book into something much more interesting. Wiesner has created a book that bridges genres effortlessly. He also has created a wordless picture book that never seems to be missing them. His story flows organically and is never forced. It has touches of humor throughout especially where Mr. Wuffles himself is concerned. I particularly enjoy the rows of untouched toys with price tags still attached that he walks past.
Wiesner’s art is as strong as ever. He pays attention to details both in the human home and later when the aliens arrive. The juxtaposition of the aliens with the insects of the home is particularly well done. The addition of cave paintings as communication is a delight.
Beautiful and funny this is a wordless masterpiece. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Journey by Aaron Becker
This stunning wordless picture book tells the story of a young girl who is very lonely. Her parents are busy doing things and she has no one to play with. Then she discovers a red crayon on her bedroom floor and draws a door on her wall that she can open. She finds herself in a forest light with strings of lights, a river running by. Her red crayon is in her hand, so she draws a boat that she can use to travel down the river. Her incredible journey is just beginning and you will want to be along.
Done first in sepia tones with bursts of red, the book quickly changes to full color once the girl opens the magic door into another world. Happily, this is not a world that readers will have visited before. It is a dynamic mix of steampunk, fancy castles, and wondrous creatures.
Becker’s art is incredible intricate, inviting closer inspection. Just the castle alone had me gazing for some time to see it all. HIs art is also very beautiful. The depth of color is lovely, particularly the colors of the sky and the landscape.
Beautifully done, this book is a gorgeous testament to the power of creativity and the amazing places that great art can take us. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
You can see some of this incredible journey on the book trailer:
Reviewed from library copy.
The Hole by Oyvind Torseter
Released August 27, 2013.
This Norwegian import is an almost-wordless picture book that will surprise and delight. It is the story of a rounded-nosed creature/person who discovers a hole in his wall in the apartment he just moved into. But when he tries to see where the hole is coming from, he discovers that it is only on one side of his wall. The hole moves to the floor and trips him, so he calls for expert help. He manages to catch the hole in a box and takes it to a laboratory for scrutiny. Finally, the hole is gone from his apartment. Or is it?
With a hole punched right through the book, you know it is a stationary thing. But the art makes it shift and move around the illustrated space to great effect. Torseter has a great sense of pacing here with tension building as the reader knows of the hole before the main character sees it. They are also very aware of the fact that the hole never really went away too. As the hole is taken to the lab, Torseter shows us the scenes he passes through, each with a hole but a different one.
Entirely playful and a truly wondrous look at the world, this book will have you reading it again right away. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.