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Mr. Wuffles! and Journey: Compare and Contrast

balanceWhat does a wordless picture book about an imaginary world have in common with a mostly wordless book about a cat’s encounter with aliens?  Whether these two books — Journey and Mr. Wuffles! — have anything in common is an interesting question, but that is exactly what the Caldecott committee will have to consider. It might not be these two books, specifically, but people on the committee will have to do just this: vote for three books (one first-place vote, one second-place vote, one third-place) and NOT vote for all of the others.

And you, dear blog friends, will have to make similar choices in just a few days, when we open up our polls right here on Calling Caldecott. YOU will  have to say yes to a black cat and no to a train and a critter looking for a sock  or a dog named Daisy, or yes to Mandela and no to Einstein. It pains me to remind you of this, but there it is. You (and the lucky folks on the real committee) will Have To Choose.

So, how do these two beloved books compare to each other?

Both create an imaginary world that any self-respecting child will want to explore.

Mr-Wuffles-300x245Mr. Wuffles! introduces the readers to a world of tiny aliens, showing them to be quite human in their wants and needs, if not their costuming. On second thought, I would love to spend my days in a warm bathrobe, and I bet many kids would too! Watching the cat play with the toy-sized, talking spaceship seems normal when seen through Wiesner’s lens. The details  are the thing here: ladybug diversion, ants helping the aliens, nod to Lascaux cave paintings, one giant Cheezit, Rube Goldberg apparatus for cutting a marble… The illustrations tell the tale and are simple enough to understand the first time through yet compelling enough to return to over and over. And each return visit brings another “aha!” moment.

becker_journey_170x152And Journey. From the embossed (or is it debossed? or impressed?) hot-air balloon on the black cloth cover to the nod to Harold and his purple crayon, it’s hard to resist this book. The reader is gently moved into this world by a little girl on her red scooter on the title page. Using the tiniest pen-and-ink brushes, Becker uses straight horizontal and vertical lines to show just how boxed-in the girl feels. Even on the beginning pages with the three separate images, it’s all straight lines. But the world the child enters, with her red chalk as the link, is amazing, isn’t it? That piece of chalk creates other vehicles to other worlds, and the reader has no choice but to drink in all of these images. The images become more rounded and detailed, and the colors move from sepia to green to red and all the way to purple.

There is a LOT more to each of these books, of course, and the committee members will have many more books to talk about. But, when the voting starts, each person will be allowed just three votes: first, second, third.

If you had to choose, which of these two would get your first-place vote?


Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.



  1. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    Wiesner focuses in on miniature but full-blown civilizations, bringing us down into a whole, thriving world behind the radiator, whilst Becker takes the girl out of her small, constricted reality into an expansive, sky’s-the-limit imaginary universe. Two adventures with opposite trajectories. But each masterfully evoked and depicted.

    Considering these two books head-to-head also brings to the foreground the fact that Wiesner has won the Caldecott Medal THREE times (with two Caldecott honors) while Journey is Aaron Becker’s debut picture book (which I *still* find hard to believe). That information is completely irrelevant to the actual committee, of course…but talk about different ends of the spectrum!

  2. Robin Smith says:

    In Mr. Wuffles, I love when we see the cat carefully watching the world that lives behind the radiator. A similar magic is woven whenever the chalk is used in Journey.

    And, though the Caldecott is not awarded for popularity, both books are beloved by the child audience.

  3. It’s a tough choice for the committee though I will say in the mock Caldecott I participated in Journey was picked as the winner, and Mr. Wuffles was not even an honor. I see Journey winning and Mr. Wuffles maybe getting an honor, but I also believe that Mr. Tiger Goes Wild and Torotoise and the Hare is a great contender as well.

  4. Robin Smith says:

    Oh, Alyson–I have NO IDEA what will happen. Who knows, maybe the committee has a few tricks up their collective sleeve.

    I just know that coming up with just three titles is going to be very very tough!


  5. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    Thanks, Alyson, and just to be clear, we are not trying to imply that the Caldecott voting will come down to these two books! We’re planning to revisit a few more possible contenders as well.

  6. I know! It’s so difficult. I was the only person who advocated for Mr. Tiger Goes Wild or Tortoise and the Hare.

    One of my dreams is to one day be on the committee, though it’s probably so extremely stressful, I really would not want to be them this year!

  7. Sam Bloom says:

    JOURNEY grows on me each time I look at it. Those full-page spreads are just breath-taking. But I’m starting to think that MR WUFFLES trumps it in terms of visual storytelling; the arc of MR WUFFLES feels stronger to me. I’m not sure how that fits into the criteria (still haven’t committed that to memory, unlike the Newbery which will be etched in my brain for all eternity), but it leads me to prefer MR WUFFLES just barely. However, if I was sitting at the Caldecott table I could very easily be swayed over to JOURNEY.

  8. Before we began our Caldecott reading this month, I preferred MR WUFFLES. But interactions and observations with students these past two weeks have helped me appreciate JOURNEY more. I love all the surprising details, perspective, and dark humor in Wieser’s book. JOURNEY felt familiar (in a ho-hum way) from my first reading and it makes me kinda sad. But so far, my students prefer JOURNEY. Perhaps Becker’s book is just easier to read, but I suspect there’s more to it than that. I think they are drawn to (pun intended!) the simple yet fantastical story and his use of color. So now I’m totally on the fence with these two books and could probably be convinced of either or neither!

  9. I like MR. WUFFLES, but I do not see it even winning an Honor. As Martha has asserted Wiesner has won three medals and two Honors (one of his wins, THE THREE PIGS was wholly undeserved, though the other two books he won for especially FLOTSAM are masterpieces) and I seriously doubt the committee -who do well know the score on that matter- will go to the well with him set again. This is a highly competitive year, and considering some of the great books like JOURNEY, A SPLASH OF RED, STARDINES, LOCOMOTIVE, THE MATCHBOX DIARY, KNOCK KNOCK, THE MIGHTY LALOUCHE, ON A BEAM OF LIGHT, THAT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA and BATTLE BUNNY among others, they really do need to take a break honoring Wiesner. MR. WUFFLES is real nice, but not with his best work. The younger kids are confused with it, as I’ve learned numerous times, and it really isn’t a particular attractive book. I do like it, and I bet I will like it more as time goes forward, but JOURNEY is the superior book in my opinion.

  10. Angela reynolds says:

    Mr Wuffles because it shows a real cat not a cartoon. This has a better story line. There are more details shown, helps develop the story. More appealing storyline for a younger audience.

  11. Angela reynolds says:

    PS, these comments are from the High School class that I’ve een working with. We are voting on our Mock Caldecott right now!

  12. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    I must speak for my experience on many committees: yes, we all know the history of the award, but the chair will ALWAYS stop any discussion of who won what in previous years. We ONLY talked about the books on the table. No comparing to an artist’s other work in other years. The phrase, “let’s return to the criteria in front of us,” is enough to remind us to get back on track.

  13. My personal preference is for MR. WUFFLES, but I can see how I might be swayed in group discussion to JOURNEY. The art in each is distinguished in different ways, and the humor in MR. WUFFLES appeals to me — I always go for the funny books, and the image of Mr. Wuffles looking over the edge of the windowsill, claws digging into the woodwork, when the space ship flew away made me laugh out loud the first time I read it. JOURNEY feels somehow derivative to me (I’ve described it as “HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON meets David Macaulay, but in color,”) but perhaps I am not being fair to the book, as it is quite lovely.

  14. Jonathan Hunt says:

    I’ve read lots of comparisons of JOURNEY to HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON and the architectural drawing of David Macaulay, but the books this one reminds me of the most are Barbara Lehman’s, that is, THE RED BOOK, MUSEUM TRIP. RAINSTORM, TRAIN STOP, and THE SECRET BOX.

  15. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    Yes, Jonathan, and I think especially The Red Book, which also features a magical, transporting object (here a book) and a lonely boy and girl who meet each other thanks to the magical object.

  16. Good points! I always thought that THE RED BOOK was the primary inspiration for David Wiesner’s later masterpiece FLOTSAM, which is my view is the three-time winner’s greatest book of all.

  17. Robin: I hear ya on what you said above about the voters pulling back from using previous wins as criteria.

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