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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Wordless Picture Books

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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Wordless Picture Books are great for pre-readers and for making inferences in the primary grades. They’re also helpful for ESL readers to access stories, giving them  ready-made tales to add words to.

The wonderful paper illustrations in Wallpaper, by Thao Lam, show a girl moving in to her new house. From a treehouse outside her window, a group of kids wave at her. Too shy to wave back, she ducks down into her room, only to discover the wallpaper is peeling. She curls it back to reveal a bird—a whole flock of birds, that lead her into a jungle. There, she meets a monster, who chases her through layers of strange wallpaper worlds. She confronts and befriends the monster, until she’s confident enough to return to the real world and confident enough to make real friends. (Pre-Kindergarten and up)

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Book Cover Anthony and the Gargoyle

In Anthony and the Gargoyle, by Jo Ellen Bogart, illustrated by Maja Kastelic, a sequence of photos show Anthony’s parents in Paris—meeting, becoming pregnant with Anthony. When his favourite rock cracks open to reveal a baby gargoyle, he starts to connect the dots as to the gargoyle’s origins, particularly when the creature gets excited at a picture of Notre Dame Cathedral. Anthony shares all things French—Chanel No. 5, Victor Hugo, French pastries—with the creature. His great aunt, who lives in Paris, sends a letter; she’s sick and Anthony and his parents must visit, allowing Anthony to sneak the gargoyle back to its rightful place atop the cathedral. A story about both reunion and having to say goodbye. (Grade 1 and up)

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Letters to a Prisoner, by Jacques Goldstyn, illustrated by Angela Keenlyside, is about the power of letter-writing. A man walking with his child is taken away to prison for seemingly no reason other than stating his beliefs (shown by red circles in speech bubbles). He suffers behind bars, until a bird drops a letter through the window and gives him hope. Even though the guard rips it up, more letters arrive from across the globe. They are destroyed and burned, but the ashes carry messages around the world, garnering more and more letters. Finally the prisoner is released and reunited with his child. Together, they write letters. (Kindergarten and up. This is also an introduction to Amnesty International for older students.)

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Woodrow at Sea, by Wallace Edwards, is about an elephant who waves goodbye to his family, and heads out in a rowboat with just his telescope. He meets an unlikely companion—a mouse stranded in the ocean after his teacup boat capsizes. The two brave adventurers battle a huge wave by working together until the mouse is safely delivered to his family’s island. Both have a great tale to tell their respective disbelieving families. (Preschool to Kindergarten)

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The bright pictures of Friends, by Geraldo Valerio, tell a sweet story of a beachgoer who isn’t catching any fish with his hook. The protagonist changes tack, making fun faces, thereby attracting  the attention of a mermaid (and a frog companion for the little frog in every picture). Together they swim around, playing in the sea, friends forever. (Pre-Kindergarten to Kindergarten)

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At the Pond, also by Geraldo Valerio, uses colour in a symbolic way, making it a good book for drawing inferences. A boy ventures through a blue-grey forest, leading a dog with a golden leash. He encounters a host of long-necked white geese, with the same bright yellow on their beaks. He sets the dog free and slips onto one of the geese’s backs. But when he puts the chain around its neck, the colours again go grey and there are tears. Only when the leash is completely left behind, does the forest fill with colourful flowers and animals. (Pre-Kindergarten and up)

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The use of colour in Sidewalk Flowers, by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith, is also meaningful. A young girl in a red hoodie walks through a black and white city with her father. She finds and picks flowers in overlooked urban spaces — in cracks in the sidewalks. She lays a bouquet next to a dead bird, beside a homeless man on a park bench, behind a dog’s collar. Back home, she gives some to her mother and siblings, before walking out into a field of flowers. (Kindergarten and up)

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Helen’s Birds, by Sara Cassidy, is the story of a little girl who befriends her neighbour—an elderly bird lover. Together, they fill the old woman’s bird bath, hang several different types of bird feeders, and find a nest with babies. As the seasons change, there’s an ambulance, then a ‘For Sale’ sign appears on the neighbour’s lawn, and eventually the house is demolished. After a lonely winter, the girl finds renewed energy to create bird feeders of her own, filling the neighbourhood with bird song once again. (Kindergarten and up)

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Sonata for Fish and Boy, by Milan Pavlović, begins with a boy playing a violin on a park bench. At the sound of music, a fish jumps out of the water. Boy and Fish swim through the air, above the city, past musicians and dancers, high amongst the birds, floating with the planets. They come back to earth as small as dandelion seeds, and find their way to a concert of groovy animal musicians. The setting turns to autumn with a full circle ending as a man (the boy full grown?) finds the violin on the park bench and plays until a fish jumps into his loving arms. A meditation on the power of music and its ability not only to expand limits but also to unite. (Kindergarten and up)

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On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press.

May 26, 2022
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