10 to Read: A World of Wordless Picture Books

Translator and picture-book connoisseur Laura Taylor chooses 10 wonderful wordless picture books from around the world:

By Laura Taylor

Wordless picture books open up a world of discovery to readers, offering them an introduction to diverse illustrative styles and a multitude of stories. They encourage adults and children to explore images in detail, fire up their imaginations and take on the role of narrator. As Nicolette Jones, Children’s Book Editor for The Sunday Times noted in a recent campaign by publisher Tiny Owl, wordless picture books ‘also have the advantage of inclusivity: they reach speakers of any language, the very young and those who find reading difficult.’

Wordless picture books are a versatile and valuable resource across settings. In 2012, IBBY launched a Silent Books project to create a library of books that could be accessed and enjoyed by refugees from Africa and the Middle East and local children on the Italian island of Lampedusa. There are now three collections of Silent Books, comprising a total of almost 250 titles from a range of countries.

Here is a much smaller list of 10 wordless picture books by creators from around the world. Which ones have you read? Which ones would you add?

A Boy and a House by Maja Kastelic [Slovenia]

A young boy follows a cat into an old apartment block. As they make their way through the different rooms, he finds a series of drawings before reaching the attic where a surprise is in store.

A simple storyline combined with gorgeously detailed illustrations with a nostalgic feel. A Boy and a House was selected for the 2015 White Ravens list.

The Only Child by Guojing [China]

Inspired by Guojing’s experiences of growing up as an only child in China, this critically acclaimed book follows a young girl’s adventures with a stag who has befriended her.

Illustrated with soft pencil drawings, The Only Child is an evocative read about loss and loneliness, comfort and companionship.

Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli and Mariachiara Di Giorgio [Italy]

Mr Crocodile is an archetypal commuter with a set morning routine (alarm, tie, breakfast, crowded public transport) and a most unusual job.

An original, entertaining tale with an abundance of details to explore and characters to meet in every watercolour spread. A 2017 IBBY Silent Books honour book.

The Little Barbarian by Renato Moriconi [Brazil]

Dragons, one-eyed giants, a ferocious sea monster, a nest of venomous snakes – they are all here. But the little barbarian and his trusty steed show no sign of fear or worry until the action is over. A rip roaring read with a surprise twist at the end!

Author/illustrator Renato Moriconi received Brazil’s prestigious Jabuti Award for Best Children’s Illustrations in 2014 for this book.

Follow the Firefly/Run Rabbit Run by Bernardo P. Carvalho [Portugal]

A wordless picture book that can be read in both directions! First, follow the firefly as it searches for a flashing light, then race back to the start with a runaway bunny.

Colourful, hugely fun title from the co-founder of Portuguese publishing house Planeta Tangerina.

Chalk Eagle by Nazli Tahvili [Iran]

Using a little chalk, a young boy draws an eagle and himself and the two of them fly out of a busy city and into a land of adventure and imagination.

Features stunning screen-printed illustrations by award-winning Iranian artist Nazli Tahvili, whose husband used to draw eagles on the rooftop of his house when he was a child.

While You Are Sleeping by Mariana Ruiz Johnson [Argentina]

A young child is fast asleep but, inside and outside, the world is humming with activity. Fantastical elements creep into vibrant urban scenes, and story-time creatures embark on a magical journey before the child awakes on a new day.

Winner of the 2015 Silent Book Contest at the Bologna Book Fair.

The Chicken Thief by Béatrice Rodriguez [France]

A fox steals a chicken and runs off into the forest with a bear, a rabbit and a rooster in hot pursuit. When the trio eventually catch up with their feathered friend, they discover that fox and chicken have fallen in love.

An amusing tale with watercolour illustrations full of movement and quirky details.

Pool by JiHyeon Lee [South Korea]

A young boy meets a young girl at a swimming pool and together they explore an underwater world populated with weird and wonderful creatures.

This New York Times Notable Book is a quiet celebration of friendship, discovery and imagination.

The Umbrella by Ingrid and Dieter Schubert [Netherlands]

Readers will experience the excitement of adventure in this title by well-known creative duo Ingrid and Dieter Schubert.

A little dog finds a bright red umbrella and is whisked into the air, across lands and oceans. He meets an array of animal characters and successfully navigates some tricky situations before returning home.

Laura Taylor is a translator from French to English, writer and mother of two young children. In May 2017, she set out to research, read and review picture books from every country in the world. She blogs at www.planetpicturebook.com and tweets @plapibo.

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