Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wordless, But Not Silent

When we started our New York Times book project, I knew I better check as many of the Wordless Books out at one time as I could or I would lose my nerve - the literary version of ripping the bandaid off a wound or holding one's nose to take a bit of broccoli.  One night after dinner everybody piled on the big bed and I "read" books to Boo while Bean sprawled on the end of the bed looking at books from the stack on her own.  For the most part, I was pleasantly surprised (but I was glad there were only about 20 altogether.)

*Because I view this as a library project, all the links are to listings at the Santa Cruz Public Library.  Some of these books are simply good reads, while others are good sources for homeschool subjects.  I have highlighted this at the end of the entry, if necessary.  I will also note books that the 2 year old liked but the 8 year old didn't (and vice versa.)

Anno's Journey
Written and Illustrated by Mitsumasa Anno
I think all of Mitsumasa Anno's books are beautifully illustrated and lead the "reader" into a world that is both magical and real.  I highly recommend any and all you can find. Unfortunately, many of his books just don't grad my kids' attention.  The details in Anno's JourneyAnno's U.S.A and Anno's Fleamarket are so minute that it is hard to describe a story they can hold onto.  His math books are another story.  Boo loved Anno's Counting Book so much that I snapped up a used copy.  Bean spent an afternoon working out the math problem that makes up Anno's Magic Seeds in chalk on the patio.  She also enjoyed Anno's Mysterious Multiplying Jar.  Anno's Math Games I, II, and III can be hard to track down (we found I and II at our homeschool resource center and II and III at the library) but worth the effort.  Bean and I went over and over these until she finally worked through them all and had enough.
Homeschool Connection: Anno's math books are all great for lower elementary level math, especially for kids who don't like workbook computation. 

The Bear and the Fly
Written and Illustrated by Paula Winter
This wasn't available at our library and I haven't found it anywhere else.  If anyone knows of this book, please let me know and tell me what you think.

A Boy, a Dog and a Frog
Written and Illustrated by Mercer Mayer
This story is perfectly illustrated and needs almost no narration.  Really, the title says it all.  That said, Boo (2) loved it and it's charms were lost on Bean (closer to 8 than 7).

Written and Illustrated by Elisha Cooper
We've had a used copy of this book for some time, but I don't know whether this book is mis-categorized, or whether we have a different version because it is definitely not wordless.  Cooper uses just enough words and just enough pictures to show how a building goes up.  Both my kids are drawn in as the book goes from empty lot to finished building. The words are few and written in synchronicity with the illustrations: words march around the outline of the page to describe how the building is framed; as the walls go up, so do the words.
Homeschool Connection: This would make an excellent companion to What it Feels Like to Be a Building to begin a unit on architecture. (I wish I'd been clever enough to think of that a year ago.)

Changes, Changes
Written and Illustrated by Pat Hutchins
I was actually excited to see this book because we've seen an animated version from the Scholastic Video Collection (we got many of them form Costco) and I just thought it was darn near the best use of wooden blocks I'd ever seen outside a nursery school classroom.  Both kids enjoyed the book version, but I missed the 70's music score that sounds like a marimba recorded in a coffee can.

Written and Illustrated by Quentin Blake
You can check this out for yourself, but Bean and I looked at it in the library and decided the titular clown was the kind that gives clowns a bad name among children and Blake's thin drawing style didn't give us enough else to work with - it didn't make it into the library bag.

The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher
Written and Illustrated by Molly Bang
The entry in the The New York Times Parent's Guide to the Best Books for Children described this as "eerie" and "startling" so I wanted to preview it at the library and give Bean the right of refusal.  I kind of regret this since she promptly pronounced it too creepy.  It didn't make it into the library bag that day, but I think I will give it another chance on the sly.

Written and Illustrated by Joan Steiner
This series of books, which is filed in the "Indoor Amusements" section of the Dewey Decimal System, creates two-page worlds made out of found objects.  I could imagine some kids spending hours looking at the pictures, but Boo paid no attention and Bean was only mildly interested.  I think it was hard for them to tell what some of the quaint objects were.  Still, I like this as a good quiet-time book to be pulled off the shelf occasionally for independent viewing and I would pick up a used copy if I stumbled upon it.

Paddy Pork
Written and Illustrated by John S. Goodall
The Guide actually listed Naughty Nancy, but since our library didn't have that, we checked out two Paddy Pork books, Creepy Castle and The Life of a Farm by Goodall.  They all have the same format: wordless pages with beautifully painted illustrations which tell the story on a series of pages and half-pages, which cleverly change the action.  The Paddy Pork books were mentioned in the Guide, and Boo liked those.  Bean and I especially liked The Life of the Farm, which takes place over several centuries on a pastoral piece of land somewhere in Europe.

Sector 7
Written and Illustrated by David Weisner
This book about a boy wandering into the cloud factory is kind of weird and kind of beautiful, but feels like it's missing something.  Bean kind of liked it and Boo kind of didn't.  Forget that though, and let this book lead you to the other wordless picture books by David Weisner in the the JEasy section of your library.  Flotsam is an especially wonderful visual fantasy.  I would even buy a new copy of it, just to have around for those times when children or adults need to get lost in something definitely weird and definitely beautiful.

Written and Illustrated by Raymond Briggs
For the sake of the project, I made myself narrate this frame by frame to Boo one evening at bedtime.  And you know, this tale of a boy and his snowman was charming.

Will's Mammoth
Written by Rafe Martin and Illustrated by Stephen Gammel
Our library only has copies of this book about a boy and his wooly mammoth at outlying branches so it took us a while to get to it and by the time we read it we were deep into the Picture Book section of the Guide.  We were finding so many sublime treasures among the picture books that Will's Mammoth fell flat for us and failed to get anyone's attention.  Maybe if we had read it in that first night of wordless book bliss...

Written and Illustrated by Istvan Banyai
This book and its sequel, Re-Zoom, are exactly what wordless picture books should be: beautifully illustrated, mind-stretching, and captivating.  Bean and I loved these, but Boo lost interest after the first perspective-jump.

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