31 Days, 31 Lists: Day Three – 2017 Wordless Picture Books

You know what’s funny? Last year I fully intended to do a wordless picture book list, but wasn’t able to find enough books. This year I was going to do nursery rhymes, and then found a complete and utter lack of them. But wordless? Not a problem! Wordless appears to be back, to the point […]


You know what’s funny? Last year I fully intended to do a wordless picture book list, but wasn’t able to find enough books. This year I was going to do nursery rhymes, and then found a complete and utter lack of them. But wordless? Not a problem! Wordless appears to be back, to the point where there are even picture books making fun of wordless books (I’m looking at you Be Quiet! by Ryan T. Higgins).

Now I should preface this by saying that when I attended Bookfest at the Bank Street College of Education this year, there was a panel filled with the creators of wordless books, moderated by Stephen Savage. Stephen chafed against the restrictions of the designation, asking at one point “would you call a symphony ‘wordless music?’ ” Indeed I’ve seen these books called “textless” rather than “wordless” which is a distinction that strikes me as purposeful and a bit opaque. So for the purposes of today we’ll call these little gems of 2017 “wordless” (even if it isn’t strictly true in one or two cases).

Wordless Picture Books

Bee & Me by Alison Jay


I think that there’s a danger in dismissing Alison Jay when you see that she has a new book. Her style does change a bit (I see no craquelure in her latest endeavor) even as her color palette does not. She goes even farther afield in terms of storytelling as this book has a distinctly conservationist edge (saving bees, naturally).

Boat of Dreams by Rogério Coelho

BoatofDreams COVER_03.cdr

If 2017 teaches us anything it is that wordless books are far easier to find in imports than homegrown products. And why, you ask, might this be? Is it a reflection of what our artists want to make, or is it an indication that our publishers are uncomfortable, even at this point, with wordless material? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that Boat of Dreams has great, grand aspirations. Critics often use the term “dreamlike” to describe children’s books that don’t make a whole heckuva lot of sense. Fortunately, the descriptive term accurately applies here. Coelho does a great job of storytelling, even as you question the reality of what you are seeing.

Find Me: A Hide-and-Seek Book by Anders Arhoj


And this one’s Danish. You see what I mean? It is also, and I mean this sincerely, one of my favorite books of the year. I mean, just look at the front and back covers alone. But Betsy, you say, how can you call this wordless? There is clearly text at the very beginning (or is it the end?). Pooh, says I. There’s a minute bit of text, but the bulk of the book is wordless. And if you haven’t seen the cubicle sequence (which is visible in this interview with the creator) please do. It could make your day.

Owl Bat, Bat Owl by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick


Wordless books for the youngest readers are just as important as the sophisticated creations we see produced for savvy 10-year-olds. Now Ms. Fitzpatrick’s book has a pretty clear cut, common, simple message. Mainly, seek the company and friendship of those outside your comfort zone. This book probably won’t win any big complicated prizes, but when it comes to good storytelling for the younger readers, there are few books on this list to compare.

Red Again by Barbara Lehman


Lehman’s sequel to The Red Book comes 13 years after its predecessor and starts precisely where the last book left off. Did we need a sequel? I don’t see why not. In many ways, Ms. Lehman’s book feels the most European out of the American lot. Once again she’s playing with close-ups and comic panels. For many young readers, they’ll encounter this book first, and be none the worse off for it in the end.

Lines by Suzy Lee


One of these days, Suzy Lee, one of these days we’re just gonna all pitch in and buy you a house in Sacramento or something and then you’ll HAVE to come to America to live. Then, at long last, we’ll be able to give you one of those Caldecott Medals you so richly deserve but can’t get without that whole residency angle. In lieu of that plan, let us instead enjoy your elegant consideration of color, form, line, and expression (to say nothing of the fourth wall, which you have a tendency to batter like a heavyweight champion on a training dummy).

Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin


And speaking of Caldecott contenders, here’s one. Perfectly, utterly wordless, this is a tale of temptation and, ultimately, grace and forgiveness. I was just reading my kids Water in the Park, illustrated by Ms. Graegin, the other day and was once again struck by how adept she is at conjuring up accessible worlds on a page. The same is true here, and with the book’s heart and use of color (which bears no little resemblance to MGM’s Oz flick) there are many that think it’s Medal chances are . . . well . . . golden.

Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli, ill. Mariachiara Di Giorgio


Here’s an easy one. Look at this cover. The one with the crocodile holding up two different neckties with his yellow shirt, trying to determine which one is best. Now if you look at this jacket and don’t feel even a twitch of a smile on your face, perhaps this is not the book for you. An Italian import (naturally – what other nation could conjure a croc this stylish?) consider pairing this book with the graphic novel Bolivar by Sean Rubin. Both involve reptiles in big cities, making their way in the world. A trend that may be saying more about the world in which we live than we might think.

Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell


So why include this book, a title that certainly contains animals sounds, and not, say, Mine! by Jeff Mack which has only one word? Cordell himself explained the reason in a recent talk I attended. As he pointed out, he views his book as wordless simply because the animal sounds are part of the art, rather than a separate element added later. It’s an interesting point, and certainly true of Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion and the Mouse, a book that is often referred to as “wordless”. After all, if a word is supposed to be audible, can it really be said to be a visual word in the first place? Deep, man.


Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:

December 1 – Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations

December 3 – Wordless Picture Books

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Alphabet Books

December 7 – Funny Picture Books

December 8 – Calde-Nots

December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

December 10 – Math Picture Books

December 11 – Bilingual Books

December 12 – International Imports

December 13 – Books with a Message

December 14 – Fabulous Photography

December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

December 17 – Older Picture Books

December 18 – Easy Books

December 19 – Early Chapter Books

December 20 – Graphic Novels

December 21 – Poetry

December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

December 29 – Novel Reprints

December 30 – Novels

December 31 – Picture Books


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.




Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones


Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones


Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

Get connected. Join our global community of more than 200,000 librarians and educators.