Truly accomplished picture book art not only works with and complements a text but also expands on the story, sometimes even offering an alternate version — or stepping in completely when there are no words at all (as with the three wordless Caldecott Honors this year). With sweeping panoramic vistas, zippy gouache cartoons, photos of meticulous handicrafts, and more, the illustrations in these wordless (or nearly wordless) picture books from the last year, appearing in the fall 2013 and spring 2014 issues of The Horn Book Guide, narrate stories, create drama, and inspire thought all on their own.
Assistant Editor, The Horn Book Guide
Dematons, Charlotte Holland
56 pp. Lemniscaat 2013 ISBN 978-1-935954-28-6
Gr. K–3 In a series of twenty-seven oversize, wordless, and meticulous picture book spreads, French illustrator Dematons celebrates her adopted country. Sure, you’ll find a windmill or two and some tulips among the images, but what’s most impressive here is the sheer amount of human drama, architectural detail, and intricacies of land- and cityscapes to be found in each picture. Brueghel would be proud.
Dudley, Rebecca Hank Finds an Egg
40 pp. Peter Pauper 2013 ISBN 978-1-4413-1158-0
Gr. K–3 In this wordless offering, Hank finds an egg in the forest and spends the book’s length trying to figure out how to return it to its nest. His noble efforts are shown through impressive staged photographs in which Dudley has hand-crafted every element, from Hank (he resembles a stuffed animal) to the leaf blanket with which he warms himself in
Judge, Lita Red Hat
40 pp. Atheneum 2013 ISBN 978-1-4424-4232-0
PS In this almost wordless book, a frisky bear steals a girl’s knitted hat and starts a wild chase with some other animals. It’s just a tangle of yarn when they’re done, but no matter — the girl knits another hat, plus garments for the animals. The illustrations create plenty of page-turning momentum, and the occasional comment (“Wut-whoa”) or sound effect (“Shwooop”) adds humor.
LaRochelle, David Moo!
32 pp. Walker 2013 ISBN 978-0-8027-3409-9
PS Illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka. The story is simple: a cow takes the farmer’s car for a joy ride with disastrous results. It’s simply told with one word: moo. The active gouache illustrations depict most of the drama of the cow’s wild ride, while the single-word text conveys meaning through different fonts, sizes, and graphics. Nonreaders will delight in “reading” this on their own.
Pett, Mark The Boy and the Airplane
40 pp. Simon 2013 ISBN 978-1-4424-5123-0
Gr. K–3 A little boy’s beloved toy airplane gets stuck on the roof, so he plants a seed in the ground, which, like him, grows, until he’s an old man who climbs the tree and retrieves the toy, before passing it on to a little girl. This inspiring wordless book’s refined pencil and watercolor art keeps the focus where it should be: on the wonder of organic change.
Thomson, Bill Fossil
32 pp. Amazon 2013 ISBN 978-1477847008
Gr. K–3 While walking on the beach, a boy discovers a fossil that releases some prehistoric magic that puts his dog in danger. The gripping wordless story that follows is told through Thomson’s hand-crafted photorealistic illustrations, which the publisher emphasizes “are not photographs or computer generated images.” The smooth images are too painterly to be mistaken for photos, but it’s remarkable that they are without technological enhancement.
Timmers, Leo Bang
40 pp. Gecko 2013 ISBN 978-1-877579-18-9
Gr. K–3 Facing pages show one animal-driven vehicle on the verge of colliding with another. An illustration following the inevitable “bang” (the text’s only word, save a single “eeeeeeeeeeeeee”) reveals the unique result of each (gentle) crash: e.g., truck tires end up around the neck of a sports car–driving giraffe. The surprise-strewn art culminates in a glorious collision with — what else? — a paint truck.
Villa, Alvaro F. Flood
32 pp. Capstone 2013 ISBN 978-1-4048-7535-7
Gr. K–3 In this wordless book, painterly spreads show a family of four at its river-flanked home preparing for a storm, learning of the storm’s projected severity, leaving the house, returning to find it wrecked, and working with others to restore it. This harrowing but immensely moving account is less about nature’s capacity to destroy than about people’s capacity to rebound and help.