Books Without Words
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"The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher"
Written by Molly Bang
Illustrated by Molly Bang
(Simon & Schuster, 1984)

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"Zoom"
Written by Istvan Banyai
Illustrated by Istvan Banyai
(Viking, 1995)

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"Re-Zoom"
Written by Istvan Banyai
Illustrated by Istvan Banyai
(Viking, 1995)

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"R.E.M."
Written by Istvan Banyai
Illustrated by Istvan Banyai
(Viking, 1997)

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"The Other Side"
Written by Istvan Banyai
Illustrated by Istvan Banyai
(Chronicle Books, 2005)

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"The Adventures Of Polo"
Written by Regis Faller
Illustrated by Regis Faller
(Roaring Brook Press, 2002)

An absolutely brilliant, magical book... This fab fantasy from France is a wordless picturebook that stars Polo, a cheerful, indomitable cartoon dog with a flair for improvisation, bravery and boundless curiosity... The story starts with Polo walking out of his house -- a large oak tree on a tiny ocean island -- and setting out on an adventure with his trusty backpack and umbrella. From there it's a wild, wonderful ride where one thing leads to another: Polo climbs a ladder to the sky, is scooped up birds, imprisoned in an iceberg and climbs to the moon, where little green men welcome him into their mushroom-strewn underground world... Like Crockett Johnson's "Purple Crayon" series, the "Polo" books play on visual free association -- one inventive flight of fancy piles on top of another, although author-illustrator Regis Faller has crafted something much longer than any of the "Crayon" books, a large, bold graphic novel that clearly comes out of the European comicbook tradition, as bold and expansive as any of the "Tin-Tin" novels. Polo is a marvelous reading experience, and it expects as much from its readers as it gives back. Adults can guide children through the narrative, commenting on each panel, or summarizing entire pages, creating the narrative as they go along. Children can also spend hours alone, pouring over the panels and making up stories of their own. Faller has a wonderful intuitive grasp of fantasy and fantastic thought; his storytelling and graphic style are simply delightful... And, gee, are these books fun! Fantastic, exciting, perilous things happen on every page, but Polo never comes to any harm, he just has a great time and makes lots of friends. Highly recommended! One of our favorite books. (A+)


"Polo And The Runaway Book"
Written by Regis Faller
Illustrated by Regis Faller
(Roaring Brook Press, 2007)

Polo's back, and so are the little green men: one of them sneaks into Polo's bedroom and steals his new book, starting a chase that takes them across the oceans, up into the sky, into a weird, white Limbo and into a cloud kingdom with a delicate princess who becomes Polo's friend. Picking up other friends along the way, Polo crosses deserts and rides clouds, frees a genie and climbs a giant dandelion, like Jack climbed the the beanstalk. Finally, after seventy color-filled pages, he catches up to the little green guy, who is reading the runaway book to a group of his friends. Polo sits down to listen, and when the story is over, the green guy gives it back to him. (Since there are no words, you can insert an apology here, if you want. Another brilliant, breathless rollercoaster ride filled with fantastic, just-for-fun adventures. My kid will look at this book for hours by herself, but also loves when we read it together. Can't wait for more of these to come out in America -- so far it's just this one and the equally-fabulous Polo And The Runaway Book. (A+)


"Changes, Changes"
Written by Pat Hutchins
Illustrated by Pat Hutchins
(Simon & Schuster, 1971)

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"Looking Down"
Written by Steve Jenkins
Illustrated by Steve Jenkins
(Houghton Mifflin, 2003)

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"The Red Book"
Written by Barbara Lehman
Illustrated by Barbara Lehman
(Houghton Mifflin, 2004)
A fantastical story -- told without text, so you have to make up the narration -- of a schoolchild who finds a magical red book that opens a window into a world of imagination and constantly-shifting changes of perspective and geography. It's derivative of Istvan Bayani's Zoom, which was written earlier and (in my opinion) is more intricate and engaging. (Not that Bayani invented infinity books, or anything -- I just like his book better.) Anyway, this is okay, but it's a little awkward, not all of the transitions are that easy to follow. (B-)


"Rainstorm"
Written by Barbara Lehman
Illustrated by Barbara Lehman
(Houghton Mifflin, 2007)

Another entry into the booming crop of wordless, sequential-art picturebooks... This tells the story of a lonely rich child who lives in a large house by the sea, attended by servants, lavished with toys, but still bored and lonely. One day he stumbles across a mysterious key, which he tests in all the locks of the house, finally coming across a large chest that, as it turns out, is actually a hatchway into an underground passage that leads to the lighthouse island across the bay. Once there, the boy meets several friendly children -- locals -- who play with him all day, and later come to his place to play with his toys. The story is okay, although the art has a couple of rough spots: once sequence, where the children stop playing and point first to the setting sun and then to the rich kid, is confusing. It turns out they are inviting him to flip the switch and light the lighthouse beacon, but it takes Lehman four pages to show this, and visually it looks as if they are saying, "hey, look, the sun is going down -- I accuse you of something!" Overall, though, a nice book, a decent entry into a growing trend. (B)


"Little Star"
Written by Antonin Louchard
Illustrated by Antonin Louchard
(Hyperion, 2003)

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"Up Above, Down Below"
Written by Sue Redding
Illustrated by Sue Redding
(Chronicle Books, 2007)

A cool, visually-oriented book for kids to trip out on. Each two-page spread is split in half, with some action on the surface (a picnic, a stage play, people rush to work) being mirrored below with what happens underfoot (ant hives, stagehands, the subway, etc.) The manga-ish artwork features people and creatures with big, round eyes, jam-packed with lots and lots of detail, with a hefty dose of humor: rabbits tap into watermains to fill a pool, the ants play poker and watch tv on a pilfered iPod (with giant-sized cheetos on the hive floor, no less...) and so on. The text is somewhat peripheral - one pass through this with an adult and most kids will just grab it for themselves and space out on it for hours. Very nice! (B+)


"The Boy, The Bear, The Baron, The Bard"
Written by Gregory Rogers
Illustrated by Gregory Rogers
(Neal Porter Books, 2004)

A nice entry into the wordless picturebook genre... Chasing a lost ball, a modern boy slips into an abandoned theater and, walking through the dusty stage curtains, finds himself magically transported into the past, where a cranky William Shakespeare chases him around a lively, riotous Elizabethan London. There's a caged bear as well, and a lot of action before things get back to normal. A fun romp, and potentially a good supplement for any grade school explorations of Shakespeare and his times. (B+)


"Rain"
Written by Peter Spier
Illustrated by Peter Spier
(Doubleday, 1982)

A wordless book that shows two kids -- a brother and a sister -- whose backyard play is interrupted by a sudden downpour. They run inside, get dressed for wet weather and then back go out to play all day in the rain. Then they come back in when the sun goes down and snuggle up all dry and warm... and when they come out the next morning, the world is sparkly and filled with dew. Spier's artwork became much more sophisticated in later books, but this is still pretty nice, particularly if you are a rain-lover (or want to raise one!) (B)


"Tuesday"
Written by David Wiesner
Illustrated by David Wiesner
(Clarion, 1991)

An early Wiesner book, in which frogs fly on enchanted lily pads, having a grand old time buzz-bombing unsuspecting humans across the landscape... The magic fades away as mysteriously as it began, leaving pond algae and lilly pads aplenty for the bewildered populace to puzzle over. It's goofy, mostly just a lark and an extended visual gag... But if you like flying frogs, this is the place to be! (B-)


"June 29, 1999"
Written by David Wiesner
Illustrated by David Wiesner
(Houghton Mifflin, 1992)

A young pre-teen girl named Holly Evans has a science experiment gone wrong, at least that's how it seems when, a few months after she sends some potted plants attached to hot air balloons up into the sky with a slow-drip of super-food feeding each one, giant veggies start to sail out of the sky. Holly is sure the skyscraper-sized celery stalks and mammoth squash must be hers, at least until new foods -- plants she didn't sprout -- begin to float down from the heavens as well. Turns out there are other astro-farmers out there as well, and in typical Wiesnerian brilliance, the panels that show all this kooky chaos are super-detailed and super-silly as well. A great trip-out book, with a clearer, more conventional narrative arc that some of Wiesner's other work. (A-)


"Flotsam"
Written by David Wiesner
Illustrated by David Wiesner
(Clarion, 2006)

David Wiesner, the king of the trip-out books, returns with a wordless fable about a boy who finds a mysterious magical camera that washes up from the bottom of the ocean. The camera still has some film in it, and when the boy develops the negatives, he sees a fantastic vision of a hidden world, with robot fish and treasure chests, mermaid cities and octopus villas -- as well as portraits of other children who have had the camera, stretching back over the decades. The boy takes a picture of himself, holding the infinity photo, and casts the camera back into the sea, for the whole cycle to start anew. Visually sumptuous and amazingly detailed, this will captivate the attention of children and adults alike. Ppssibly the best of Wiesner's books (so far...) Pretty darn cool! (A+)




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