Monday, January 14, 2013

Wordless Picture Books

As a children's bookseller, I get to spend a lot of time with picture books.  Talking about them with Boswell shoppers is one of the great joys of my job.  Wordless picture books are some of my favorite to recommend; I appreciate their ability to both stimulate imagination and effortlessly tell a story and sometimes many stories.  Imagine my delight when I told the staff about this blogpost idea and Daniel suggested I talk to an editor from Scholastic.  David Saylor has edited a whole slew of picture books, including the glorious wordless adventure, Where's Walrus?.  Read our email interview below. (Thanks to Nick Berg for helping me come up with questions.)  Check in again next week when I report on the staff's favorite wordless picture books.
Boswell: Has there ever been an instance when an author has written a story and the editor/art director/publisher thought it better to print it as a wordless picture book? If so, is there, perhaps, an example that you might provide? 

DS: The best example I can think of is WHERE'S WALRUS? which started as a book called THE HAT. The original story (with words) was quite different and involved a young girl befriending a walrus who had been mistaken for a person. But after struggling with that version for quite some time, Stephen Savage and I decided that it was best to get back to the lighthearted beginnings of the story that centered on funny images of a walrus hiding in plain sight amongst various people by wearing different hats. As it evolved into a wordless picture book, then everything suddenly fell into place and the book felt just right. 

Boswell: Any advice you might provide to any authors or illustrators looking to create a wordless picture book? What is the best way to submit ideas, stories, or artwork?

DS: The only advice I can think of is that since the story must be told with the artwork, the artwork has to have a strong narrative quality. Most artwork in picture books has more or less narrative qualities, but a wordless picture that furthers the narrative must work as both a piece of artwork and as a way to propel the story forward. They have to be perfect in both ways. 
The only way to submit a wordless picture book is to have a full dummy of the book in sketch form, so that's what I prefer to look at. And I can't think of a wordless picture book that was "written" or "conceived" by an author who wasn't also the illustrator, though I suppose that's possible. 

Boswell: What do you think distinguishes wordless picture books from those with words, besides the obvious? 

DS: I love images that tell a story, and so for me, what makes a wonderful wordless book is one where you wouldn't want or need words to complete the experience of "reading" the book. 

Boswell: What are your top 5 favorite wordless picture books?

DS: Wow, this is hard because there are so many wonderful wordless picture books to choose from, but for today, my choices are: 
Where's Walrus by Stephen Savage
Unspoken by Henry Cole

The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Tuesday by David Wiesner

The Boy, The Bear, The Baron, The Bard by Gregory Rogers

Many thanks to David Saylor for his thoughtful answers!  You'll see books in common with David's favorites on the lists from the staff next week.  Thanks for reading,

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