Have you ever shared a picture book with your child and by the time you reached the end, you’ve thought, ‘Even I could have written a better book than that’? There have been plenty of these moments for me over the years, particularly when a book only has a few words on a page, if any at all. However, sometimes you come across an author who is so skilled in the art of minimal words that you fall in love with their work.
In this 3-in-1 review, I’m so pleased to share about the nearly wordless works of David Wiesner. Wiesner is an author/illustrator and three-time Caldecott Medal winner. His books often tell a story without the use of words, instead using images to evoke a sort of dream like world where it is up to the reader to determine the plot. The pages are often filled with panels of illustrations, much like those found in a comic book.
My son and I were first introduced to Wiesner when we ‘read’ his book Tuesday, a story in which 6 words are used to tell of the fantastical journey of frogs who are suddenly imbued with the magical ability to fly. They lift off on Tuesday evening around 8pm and float around town on lily pads that take them through the open window of a home, where they watch TV next to an elderly woman who’s fallen asleep in her chair.
Then they hover outside of a man’s window, where he just catches a glimpse but can’t believe his eyes! They pester a dog who tries to chase them but quickly realizes he’s made an error. But slowly, the magic begins to wear off and the lily pads and frogs fall to the ground. They slowly hop back to their pond as the town wakes up, trying to make sense of the mess all around. The book ends with the words, ‘next Tuesday’ with the shadows of pigs flying against the backdrop of a barn.
After the success of Tuesday, I checked out Mr. Wuffles!, a Caldecott Honor book. This story begins with a black and white cat’s owner trying their best to interest him in a new toy. Like most cats, Mr. Wuffles shows absolutely no interest whatsoever, instead stalking away past several toys on the floor including a silver spaceship. At first, he doesn’t seem to take notice of it and the creatures hiding inside breathe a sigh of relief that they haven’t been discovered.
Or have they? Yep, Mr. Wuffles has spotted the alien-like beings hiding out inside the metal craft and begins to bat it around. The aliens tumble around inside until Mr. Wuffles grows tired of his game, falling asleep with his back to the toy. After much discussion, the aliens decide to make a break for the safety of a cabinet pushed against the wall on the other side of the room. They think the coast is clear but… Mr. Wuffles spies them! Just as he’s preparing to swat them with his paw, he’s overcome by a fluttering ladybug.
As the cat fights off the offending insect, the aliens make it to safety. Under the cabinet, they find a band of ants who have also taken refuge there. Together, the new friends hatch a plan to launch the alien craft out of an open window. The plan is nearly foiled but with the use of teamwork, they are able to escape and the ants return to the safety of their home under the cabinet.
Mr. Wuffles! is certainly a challenge, as not only are there very few words, but the aliens and ants each speak in their own indistinguishable languages that will need to interpreted by the reader. But it was the fun of making up our own story that really made this book enjoyable for both me and my son.
Like Tuesday, Flotsam is also a Caldecott Medal winner and it’s not hard to see why. It tells the wordless story of a child who finds an old-fashioned underwater camera while spending time at the seashore. He finds a roll of film inside and takes it to a one-hour photo developer. My son was amazed that this was once the only way to see your photos. When he gets the photos back, he’s amazed at what they reveal.
A wind-up style toy fish swimming among a school of identical, living fish; a fully furnished living room belonging to octopi; a city of seashells perched on the backside of a sea turtle. All of this is mind blowing enough but they aren’t the most astonishing images captured by the camera. The boy looks closely at the picture of a girl holding up several other photos to the camera. In those photos are other kids holding up photos of kids and so on and so on.
He gets out his magnifying glass to look closer but it’s not strong enough to see the smallest details in the photo. Instead he uses a microscope and is amazed by what he sees next. At 10x magnification, he sees a boy in 1960s style clothing, holding up a photo. At 25x, a boy in 1950s apparel. At 40x, a girl with a 1930s style haircut. At 55x, a girl dressed in the style of the 1920s. And in the last visible photo, at 70x magnification, a boy posing for the camera at the turn of the 20th century.
As his day at the beach winds down, the boy takes his own photo using a new roll of film. He holds up the last photo in the roll he discovered. He then hurls the camera into the ocean as hard as he can, where it is then carried on the fins of a dolphin, the head of a squid, by a team of seahorses. The last few panels of the book show the camera was up on a shore dotted with palm trees, where it is pulled from the sea by another child.
As you can probably discern from the length of this entry, I think David Wiesner’s work is wonderful and well worth the effort it takes to create your own words for the illustrations. Give any of these three books a try and I guarantee that you’ll be a fan, too.