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.
Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley
This debut picture book started life as a self-published work. As such, it was the cream of the crop, because it is also one of the best wordless picture books of the year, bar none. Hank is a little bear, or some sort of bear-like creature, who happens upon an egg on the ground in the forest. Looking around, he locates the nest that it must have fallen from, but even though he tries several different ways, is unable to reach the nest to return the egg to safety. Night falls and Hank keeps the egg warm at his campsite all night long. In the morning, he returns to the nest and finds the mother bird there. An ingenious solution gets the egg up to the nest and before long, Hank is rewarded for his kindness.
This wordless picture book has a charm that is hard to put into words. Dudley has handcrafted all of the items on the page, from the brown leaves that blanket the floor of the forest to the unfurling green fronds of fern that add to the hopeful feeling of the book to Hank and the trees that surround him. All are photographed with a great sense of detail and also a wonderful depth of field that make it all seem real and true.
Beautiful and charming, this little book is sure to become a favorite. Time to curl up with your own little bear and enjoy. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Flood by Alvaro F. Vila
This wordless picture book shows the impact of a flood on a family. The book starts with a sunny day at a house along the river. The children are playing outside, the house is wrapped by a picket fence, and the windows are being replaced. It is idyllic, beautiful and peaceful. The storm front arrives along with the rain. Sandbags are brought to the house and the family builds a wall of them to protect their home. The new windows are boarded up and the family leaves their house behind. Water quickly surrounds the house and soon it breaches the sandbags, rushing violently into the house. The waters recede and the house is left, broken and damaged, filled with mud and muck. But all is not lost, as the family rebuilds.
Though wordless, this book tells a powerful story of family, floods, loss and rebuilding. The illustrations range from those colorful images of the perfect family home to images of destruction. Vila captures the violence of these storms and the water itself. There are several images that are very powerful including the first glimpse of the large storm front coming across the landscape to the close up of the water entering the home. These natural images have a beauty to them but also a sense of foreboding.
This is a wordless book that will work well with a range of ages. It is a timely read as well as weather systems grow more powerful and more families are facing natural disasters. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Inside Outside by Lizi Boyd
This lovely wordless book explores the changing seasons in a subtle and engaging way. The book starts on the inside of a house with a young boy and a little black dog. The boy is planting seeds in pots while the dog watches and two white mice play. Through the die cut windows, you can see the snowmen in the yard. Turn the page and you are outside with those snowmen, the birds eating the seeds. Turn again and you are inside once more, this time able to glimpse flowering trees out the window. The plants in the pots are green and growing too. The boy is hanging pictures on the walls about birds and snowmen melting. Keep turning and the seasons change, marked by activities, the pictures on the walls, and what you can see through the windows.
There is a wonderful organic feel to this book, partly thanks to the textured brown paper that serves as the background for all of the images. That feel is also helped by the color scheme of greens, blues and terra cotta. The die cuts are used very skillfully throughout, offering glimpses from inside to outside and back again. The wordless nature of the book makes it a universal story, ideal for being shared with families who may use another language at home.
Filled with small details that will have children looking back at previous pages when they discover something new, this book is perfect for lingering over on long trips or snuggled in someone’s lap. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Owly & Wormy, Bright Lights and Starry Nights by Andy Runton
When the first Owly book came out years ago, I made sure to get it into the hands of my own reluctant reader. Unburdened by the need to read words, he immediately took to both Owly and Wormy. I’m happy to say that the series has continued to be just as good as that first book. Runton has started to do more picture book versions as well and this is one of those. In this book, Owly and Wormy go on a trek out of the woods and up to a hill where they will be able to view the stars better. Along the way, they get caught in a rainstorm and take refuge in a cave. There are strange and frightening noises and their telescope has disappeared! It will take real bravery and no fear of the dark to figure out what happened.
This wordless picture book relies on its illustrations to succeed. Happily, Owly and Wormy have a warm friendship that is evident from the very first page. Add the dash of darkness, the storm and a really dark cave and you have a real adventure. All of the content is ideal for the youngest independent pre-readers who will enjoy having a graphic novel of their very own.
Runton takes fear of the dark and the unknown and turns it into a chance to make new friends and see new things in this strong addition to a great series. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.