The Paper Boat by Thao Lam (9781771473637)
Inspired by her own family’s refugee story, this wordless picture book shares the story of a family fleeing Vietnam. Ant crawl around the food on the table in Vietnam, lured into a bowl of sugar water. A little girl saves the ants from the trap and prevents them from drowning. Meanwhile outside the window, tanks and soldiers appear and the family flees into the night, separating from one another. The little girl and her mother hide in the tall grass, narrowly avoiding the searching soldiers. The girl notices a line of ants leaving the grass. They follow the ants and discover the shore where they wait for the boat to carry them away. In the meantime, they make a paper boat from a food wrapper that is used by the ants to escape across the water too. In a new country, the family gathers around a table together, the ants arrive as well.
Lam’s art is exceptional. She has created a detailed world of harrowing dangers in her depiction of Vietnam. Just having the money and papers mixed with bowls of food on the family table indicates a family ready to flee. The loving family provide moments of connection even as they flee, caring for the spirits of the little one among them.
The most powerful piece of the book is when the ants venture onto the sea in their small paper boat. Some ants perish on the journey, hunger is an issue, and they barely survive, in the end swimming to the safety of the shore. That allegory allows the dangers of the journey to be shown in detail but through ants rather than the direct loss of the characters. It’s powerful and also appropriate for children to begin to understand.
This important wordless picture book tells the refugee story with empathy and strength. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Owlkids.
All Around Bustletown: Winter by Rotraut Susanne Berner (9783791374154)
Large picture-book-sized pages made of board book stock invite even the youngest of children to explore Bustletown. In these busy pages, the life of an entire village plays out. The wordless format lets each reader make up their own stories about the people in town. Some of the story arcs include an escaped parrot, a lost key and wallet, a cat on a jaunt around town, buying a Christmas tree, and heading to ice skate with a friend. It’s a delightful mix of Where’s Waldo chaos with real stories about a diverse little town.
A German import, readers will enjoy the distinct European feel of the setting in the book. Care was taken to be inclusive with the members of the town, including people of different skin colors, faiths and abilities. The busyness of the pages is at just the right level, making it a pleasure to find the character you are searching for, rather than a frustration.
Bright and friendly, this wordless picture book is great fun to explore. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Prestel.
Fly! by Mark Teague (9781534451285)
Baby Bird has spent his time having worms delivered right to him in the nest by Mama Bird. So when Mama Bird coaxes him out onto the branch, he throws a bit of a fit. It’s a tantrum big enough to get him out of the nest finally, but it also makes him fall down down down to the ground. Mama Bird encourages him to try to fly back up, but Baby Bird has other ideas. Maybe Mama could carry him or perhaps a hot air balloon? Mama bird warns him that he won’t be able to come along when they migrate to Florida if he can’t fly. Baby Bird thinks that maybe a bike, skateboard, car or train might work even better than flying. Mama Bird next tried to scare baby into flying by talking about dogs, cats, and owls. Owls! Mama Bird may just have convinced her silly Baby Bird to take flight.
Teague’s wordless book is a joy. He cleverly uses speech balloons on the page but fills them with images so that children can “read” this themselves very easily. The conversations between mother and baby are clear and very funny. In particular, Baby Bird’s ideas and jokes will have little ones giggling along. The frustration of Mama Bird is also very clear on the page, her motherly glare is one that most children will recognize from personal experience. Full of great illustrations that tell a complete and compelling story.
A great wordless book that really takes flight. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane Books.
Stormy by Guojing (9781524771768)
The author of the award-winning The Only Child returns with another lovely picture book. In this wordless picture book done in graphic-novel format, a woman discovers a puppy sleeping under a bench at the top of a hill. When she tries to approach the dog, he runs away, returning to hide under the bench after she leaves. On her next visit, the woman brings a ball for the dog, then pretends to ignore him. He slowly moves out from behind the nearby tree and sniffs at the ball, picking it up but not returning to the woman. The third visit has the two of them beginning to play fetch together. This time, the dog follows the woman home, but she doesn’t see him. When a huge storm appears, she heads into the deluge to save him but he isn’t where she thinks he will be.
If you look at the lighting and beauty of that cover, you will have a sense of the incredible illustrations throughout this book. Guojing beautifully paces her story, showing the patience and time it takes to create a sense of safety and trust between the woman and the stray dog. There are achingly lonely moments at night, the dog alone, the dog with just his ball, the dog outside her window. Guojing gives those moments space in the book to just be there, haunting and lovely.
A great wordless picture book about building trust and finding a home. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade Books.
Sign Off by Stephen Savage (9781534412101)
At night, the images on street signs come to life and jump right off their signs! The deer on the sign munches some leaves. The tractor on the caution sign plows up some dirt as he drives past. The wheelchair sign uses the car parked in its spot to zoom down to the street. The worker on the sign makes a sandcastle out of the dirt pile. Road crossing signs become a place for romance. Children at play, actually play. As dawn arrives, all of the animals and people from the signs get together at a street light sign and greet the day in their own special way.
This wordless picture book takes the concept of toys coming to life at night into a different two-dimensional story. Savage cleverly uses them in silhouette to show what is something from a sign. The real life backgrounds are done in full color, so the black silhouettes pop against them. Each sign is interesting and their activity at being freed is unique to them. The story is simple and the presentation fascinating.
A playful and interesting book for a road trip or just staying at home. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
Inside Outside by Anne-Margot Ramstein and Matthias Aregui (9781536205978)
This visually stunning book is the return of the creators of Before After. This book focuses on the opposites of inside and outside and also on the relationship between the two. Using only images, the book explores what it means to be “inside” and what it means to be “outside.” At times the book will fool the reader, allowing them to think they are outside when they are actual in, something revealed by the next picture in the pair. Images of a submarine window, which is on the cover of the book, reveal a pairing of the outside really being the vast ocean not the peek through the window. A setting in a snow globe may feel outdoors, but it’s actually caught inside the dome of the globe. These are just a few of the exciting opposites shared here.
So gorgeously designed, the modern illustrations in this book have a harmonious feel to them as readers progress through boats caught in storms, ocean life, and even pounding hearts. Each turn of the page is a delight and a surprise as readers try to figure out which is inside or outside and why. The art is filled with sharp lines, bright deep colors, and offers interesting perspectives on the subject matter just to fool the eye.
A brilliant wordless book meant to exploration. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick.
Imagine by Raul Colon (9781481462730)
This wordless picture book invites readers to be inspired by fine art in a playful yet profound way. A boy skateboards over to the Museum of Modern Art. He views several paintings that make him stop and look. Soon the paintings have come to life with the boy entering the scene and the characters in the paintings entering the real world. Together they all traverse New York City and have several seminal experiences together. They climb the Statue of Liberty, ride the Cyclone, take the subway, and even stop for a hotdog. After a visit to Central Park, they return to the museum. On his way home, the boy is inspired to create a mural on a blank wall near his home, inspired by the three paintings.
Don’t miss Colon’s Author’s Note at the end of the book where he speaks to the power of fine art to inspire young artists. Colon saw master artworks later in his life and was still inspired by them, yet he wonders what impact seeing them as a child would have had. Colon has created a picture book that is a tribute to the power of art and the ability for it to inspire creativity and new ways of thinking. It is also a tribute to New York City as they tour around the sights and enjoy a day on the town.
In a wordless picture book, the onus is on the art to carry the entire book. As always, Colon’s art is inspiring itself. His use of texture through lines and softening by using dots makes his work unique in the picture book world. His illustrations glow with light, whether they are interior images or out in Central Park.
An exceptional wordless picture book, this one is a must-have for libraries. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
Red by Jed Alexander (9781944903114)
A wordless riff on the traditional Little Red Riding Hood tale, this picture book offers an initial title page that will show immediately that it’s a different sort of story. With a huge wolf holding wrapping paper in his mouth and Grandma waiting for him arrive, the tale then moves to a very little Red Riding Hood being stopped by the large wolf on her way in the woods. Other animals appear with presents, ribbons and even a cake. The wolf delays Red until the other animals and Grandma are ready and they surprise her with a birthday party! The day ends with Red riding off on the wolf merrily.
The illustrations use pops of red and pink to show the elements of the party and Red’s cloak. Otherwise they are filled with black and white ink drawings featuring a grinning rather devious wolf, rabbits and badgers, and one determined little girl.
A winning new take on a traditional story. Appropriate for ages 2-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Cameron Kids.
Be Quiet! by Ryan T. Higgins (9781484731628, Amazon)
Rupert the mouse has decided to create a wordless picture book. Unfortunately though, his friends just keep making noise and ruining everything. The two other mice even talk about not talking and keeping the book wordless. They try to help make strong illustrations, but don’t quite understand the concept. Then they start bringing new ideas into the illustrations: vegetarian vegetables, potatoes, superheroes, and even some high brow art. They try miming because they know that is silent, but it still doesn’t stop them chatting. Rupert finally loses it in the end with hilarious results.
This book is so funny that it will have readers laughing out loud. Higgins, author of Mother Bruce, has a great sense of comedic timing, adding just the right commentary by the mice at the best moments. The series of different illustrations is wonderfully funny as are Rupert’s reactions to the other mice. There is a natural quality to their conversations that make it all the more believable that they simply are unaware they are still talking to one another.
The illustrations are exactly what one would look for in an artistic picture book that is wordless, which makes the premise all the more funny. Set in a lush natural area, there are woods, running brooks and other elements. The three mice are cleverly drawn, each distinct from one another in color and attitude.
This is a natural read aloud that will be a wild one to share with a preschool group. Brace yourself for lots of laughs. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.