From The Guide: Wordless Picture Books

dematons_hollandTruly 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.

—Katrina Hedeen
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
the woods.

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.

From the March/April 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Illustration. These reviews are from The Horn Book Guide and The Horn Book Guide Online. For information about subscribing to the Guide and the Guide Online, please click here.

Horn Book
Horn Book

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


Community matters. Stay up to date on breaking news, trends, reviews, and more.

Get access to reviews of books, ebooks, and more