I read a lot of picture books in any given year. A whole heapin’ ton to be precise. The more I read, the more I appreciate the economically worded ones and, in particular, the altogether wordless ones. I have no doubt that it’d be easy to screw these up, but the well-done ones (hello, Suzy Lee!) are a delight. They invite child readers to look more closely at the world around them.

Did you read the last Seven Impossible Things column at Kirkus?

This is on my mind this week as I look at my piles of 2011 picture-book releases. I note those with little to no text and those having (in many, but not all, instances) highly stylized graphic illustrations, which strive to convey the book’s message in the most eye-catching and unclouded way. I think it’d be fun to take a look at some. Join me?

book coverYou can count on Caldecott Honor recipient Barbara Lehman to take you on a flight-of-fancy with her surreal, conceptually clever and unpredictable wordless adventure tales, celebrating imagination and friendship with visually striking cartoon art. In her latest release, The Secret Box, a young boy from long ago hides a box of treasures under a floorboard. Years later, that building is a school, and a trio of boys finds the box, following the map inside to a surprise destination, one filled with children from many points along the timeline. Readers see the adventure will repeat itself for future children, thanks to the magic box. Lehman leaves room for the child reader to piece out the story puzzle in many directions, something I always like to see in picture books.

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book coverbook coverWe have Seven Footer Kids to thank for bringing many overseas titles here to the States. Two of their latest titles celebrate the less-is-more concept in picture books. Woof Meow Tweet-Tweet from French graphic designer Cécile Boyer was awarded the Opera Prima Mention (much like an Honor) during the 2010 Bologna Children’s Book Fair (when it was Ouaf Miaou Cui-Cui, decidedly more fun to say) and will be published in the U.S. next month. Boyer represents animals in this book as the words for the sounds they make, what the Bologna jury called a fresh “assembly of lines, signs and things.” These are simple, unadorned shapes on uncluttered backgrounds, and the animal sounds make this one an enjoyable choice for beginning readers, in particular.

 

Also from Seven Footer Kids and not to be missed is the very fun Animals Home Alone from Loes Riphagen, originally published in the Netherlands. A wordless romp offering many laughs for observant eyes on repeated readings, it chronicles what happens when you leave pets home alone. (Pair it with Bruce Ingman’s When Martha’s Away from Candlewick, though not a wordless tale, for some straight-up fun for pet-loving children. What? You thought your cat slept all day? Ahem.)

 

In the category of altogether wordless and worth your time is Fox and Hen Together from French illustrator Béatrice Rodriguez. The sequel to last year’s acclaimed The Chicken Thief (if you didn’t see that one, run—don’t walk—to your nearest library or bookstore), the story follows up on life with Fox and Hen. This is no ordinary day in the life of this now-cohabitating couple: This breathless, action-packed saga involves no less than a big, grabby bird and a relentless sea monster, but all ends well. Rodriguez’s wry, warm cartoon art needs to be seen, and I’ll have some at 7-Imp next week.

Fox and Hen, one in a series from Enchanted Lion Books called Stories Without Words, is preceded by Arthur Geisert’s Ice, originally published in France (though Geisert is American). It’s worth seeing for the return of Geisert’s legendary pigs (2006’s Oops) and his meticulous illustrations, but also for the stunning flying contraption these pigs conjure up—all in their effort to beat the heat and find some ice.

In the wordless Bee & Bird (Roaring Brook), to be released in May, Craig Frazier uses rich, unflinching hues and elemental shapes to depict the travels of a bird and a bee, showing the youngest of readers that perspective alone can alter the very definition of a landscape.

 

 

book coverLast, but far from least, is Hervé Tullet’s Press Here (Chronicle), which has received lots of love from bloggers and professional reviewers alike. This is a concept book so simple that it’s brilliant. Tullet, using only red, yellow and blue dots, invites readers to engage with them (press them, shake them, blow on them), making this 2011’s best Group Storytime Read. Ridiculously fun this one. It celebrates imagination and magic, giving the child reader all the power to drive the adventure. And what could be more fun than a book that welcomes loud clapping?

 

What are some of your favorite wordless, or nearly wordless, tales to recommend? I’m all ears.

Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books. When forced to count, she thinks it's more like between 400 to 500 features of book creators over the past five years. Julie received her Master's in Information Sciences at UT, with a focus on children's librarianship. She is currently writing about the untold tales of children's literature, along with Elizabeth Bird and Peter D. Sieruta. Tentatively titled Wild Things!: The True, Untold Stories Behind the Most Beloved Children’s Books and Their Creators, it will be published by Candlewick Press in 2012.