Book List

Best Wordless Picture Books of 2018

A heartwarming call and response.

GRACE FOR GUS

Based on a short film by Bliss’ son, Alexander, this nearly wordless graphic novel follows a seemingly quiet second-grader through an eventful 24 hours.

The narrative opens in Grace’s diverse classroom, where her teacher, a black man, reminds students about contributing to the “Buddy Fund” to purchase a companion for Gus, the guinea pig. The light-skinned protagonist sports a black pageboy and wears round glasses; they are opaque except when she greets Gus, at which point a double-page–spread close-up shows the affectionate creature reflected in her lenses. After dinner with her two dads (both pale-skinned), Grace grabs her violin case and sneaks out her bedroom window, the Manhattan skyline visible in the distance. The multitalented heroine busks for tips in the subway station, draws caricatures on Fifth Avenue, and performs pole gymnastics on the train home. Children and adults will enjoy perusing the sequential panels, designed in various sizes to control the pace. There is plenty to discover and chuckle over, from cartoon and literary characters (Charlie Brown, Nancy, Tintin) and cultural icons (Vincent van Gogh, Alfred Hitchcock, Donald Trump, Patti Smith) to physical comedy, humorous book titles, and clever signs (“Rump Tower”). Dramatic diagonals, beautiful contrasts in lighting, and a joyful vibrancy pervade the scenes drawn in ink by Bliss and digitally colored by Young. There is much rejoicing at the overflowing classroom coffers—and the goal for Gus is realized.

A heartwarming call and response. (Graphic fiction. 5-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-264410-7

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

An unhurried pace and graphically arresting scenes build suspense and wonderment in equal measure, providing space for...

THE FISH AND THE CAT

A wordless chase: in this 92-page visual narrative, a somewhat bemused cat pursues a domestic fish.

It all begins in a house. The compositions are rendered in black and gray except for the crimson fish—and later, strategically placed matching birds. The feline approaches the fishbowl and stirs the water, swirling it faster and faster. Its smile is impossible to decipher: threatening or playful? What appeared to be small fish fins now become wings; the swimmer ascends and soars through the window. The hunt begins over tiled rooftops, past diaphanous laundry, and into a leafy, stylized forest—where a red bird is given a scare until the pursuer realizes the mistake. Following the fish to the moon, the cat traverses stars like steppingstones—a captivating image. The penultimate setting is a tunnel through which the fish escapes, flying into the sea. Tentatively pawing the water, the hunter is left to stare into the sunset—and readers to interpret its feelings. Though Dubuc has created many books since, this 2007 title was her first. Originally entitled La mer and only now seeing publication in the United States, it won Quebec’s 2008 Prix Lux/Grafika award for illustration. Dubuc’s designs range from a whimsical wallpaper pattern that suggests paw prints to tiny lines on a gray background that create a pulsing force field around the stars.

An unhurried pace and graphically arresting scenes build suspense and wonderment in equal measure, providing space for reflection and tantalizing questions. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: April 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61689-505-1

Page Count: 92

Publisher: Princeton Architectual Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

A story of adventure and friendship without the boundaries of words, which becomes more personal and satisfying as a...

WOODROW AT SEA

An anthropomorphized young elephant goes to sea and makes a friend in this wordless picture book.

Woodrow, a young elephant dressed in a red T-shirt and gray shorts, paddles off in a small boat from his island home (cleverly steadying his telescope with his trunk). Because Edwards tells the story through the pictures exclusively, readers are left the space to imagine why Woodrow is setting off on his adventure—an invitation that continues throughout the story. After Woodrow rescues a marooned, compass-carrying mouse, the two set off for the mouse’s home on a different island. They have adventures, including a stormy rescue of Woodrow by the mouse and friendly sea creatures, and in calmer seas, they sing. The visual literacy here is notably creative. The mouse sings pink notes, Woodrow sings blue notes, and half-pink, half-blue notes extol their duet. Edwards’ watercolor-and-ink illustrations are deceptively simple without fancy visual angles or digital effects—but it is this simplicity that creates and supports the story’s authentic, heartfelt ingenuousness. A lively, intelligent variation of full-page illustrations, double-page spreads, and spot vignettes keeps the pace active. At the story’s end, the mouse is warmly welcomed home, they exchange compass and telescope (binding friendship), and Woodrow travels back to his own family.

A story of adventure and friendship without the boundaries of words, which becomes more personal and satisfying as a consequence. (Picture book. 2-8)

Pub Date: April 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-77278-029-1

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Pajama Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

Young and old alike will enjoy pondering what messages lurk in—and spill from—this captivating journey from street to sky,...

A BOY AND A HOUSE

A young boy follows a cat through an unfamiliar apartment.

The plot of this wordless import from Slovenia is straightforward. Intrigued by a cat he sees slipping into an open door, a boy in a striped shirt enters an apartment building and follows the friendly feline up to the attic. Along the way, he finds a series of drawings and, eventually, discovers a potential friend. The atmospheric illustrations provide a complex counterpoint, with quirky details that reward multiple viewings and offer unexpected glimpses of (possibly) familiar objects for readers of all ages. Created in watercolor and making use primarily of blacks, browns, and reds, the pictures evoke an old-fashioned, Old World setting perfectly. Shadowy rooms and stairwells reveal books, artwork, toys, and creatures both benign and mysterious. Some adults may find the idea of an unsupervised child entering an unknown building disconcerting; others may find the illustrations somewhat creepy. Young viewers will be too busy poring over the intriguing components of each densely designed double-page spread to worry. Of particular interest, most likely, will be the pair of mice that appear throughout. Carrying out their own quixotic quest to crack a walnut, they ultimately put it to humorous use as pictured on the colophon.

Young and old alike will enjoy pondering what messages lurk in—and spill from—this captivating journey from street to sky, dark to light, solitude to companionship. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-77321-055-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Annick Press

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

A unique and visually stunning approach to the classic dilemma of making new friends.

WALLPAPER

An enticing corner of wallpaper on the endpapers serves as a metaphor for turning the first page of this book: Readers will find wonders to discover inside.

A brown-skinned, dark-haired girl reluctantly moves to a new home. As she unpacks in her new room, she hears a conversation outside her window. A mixed-race group of kids is playing in a treehouse, but the girl hides when they see her, too shy to say hello. Suddenly, from an upturned corner of wallpaper nearby, a bird peeks out. The girl pulls the paper back, releasing a flock of birds, and steps into a peaceful, colorful, flower-filled world. When a monster arrives with a STOMP, he terrifies the protagonist, who pulls back more wallpaper and escapes into world after world. Their chase leads to an unexpected imaginary friendship inside this magical universe—and to the courage to create new, real friendships outside. Paper-collage illustrations lend texture and depth to this fantastical story, with individual elements providing layers so real readers will want to lift them up and peek underneath. Simple shapes (triangles for trees) and careful attention to detail make complex emotions visible and real for young readers. The hand-lettered title adds to the accessibility and childlike qualities of this book.

A unique and visually stunning approach to the classic dilemma of making new friends. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: April 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-77147-283-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Owlkids Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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