Thursday, August 19, 2010

Words can't describe...

I've long loved wordless picture books. There's something special about the joint act of storytelling between the reader and the illustrator/creator without the barrier of actual words. Within a wordless picture book, any child, no matter her reading abilities, can read: and even more satisfying, can tell the story to her grownups.

Wordless picture books can be as straightforward and humorous as Tomie DePaola's Pancakes for Breakfast, wherein a woman lacking the ingredients for this tasty morning staple finds a way to have pancakes one morning. They can be a simple day in a boy's adventures, as in Mercer Mayer's A Boy, A Dog, A Frog, and A Friend. Or they can be imaginative, even abstract, like the flying frogs of Tuesday by David Wiesner or the mind-bending perspective changes Zoom by Istvan Banyai.

The newest wordless picture book I've fallen in love with is a seemingly simple tale of friendship and love. But on second, third, twentieth reading, Beatrice Rodriguez's The Chicken Thief is so much more. Every time I see a George alum or customer particularly fond of excellent picture books, I show them this book and pose a question after the reading. (I'll give you the question after I summarize. SPOILER ALERT!). One day, a fox sneaks up on a group of various animal friends at their home in the woods, and makes off with their friend chicken. The animal friends chase the fox and chicken through the woods, over mountains and under tunnels, while the chicken and fox remain always a step ahead. Each night, the fox and chicken seem friendlier than a kidnapper and dinner might seem to be; one night they even play chess. When the friends finally catch up with the pair, the chicken gestures (because, as I have pointed out to a co-worker, in this make-believe land, the animals are still animals and don't, you know, talk) that it wants to stay with the fox, and the other animals go back over the mountains and through the woods back home. (END SPOILER!). Now I ask - is this a love story, or an example of Stockholm Syndrome? I've had a good discussion with the entire staff on this, and while most people swing toward "Love story, obviously!", a few (including our book buyer) do consider the second possibility. (Maybe they also consider that I'm a little loopy, but this is everyday knowledge here).

I hope this makes at least one person look twice at wordless picture books. Without someone explicitly telling you what is certainly happening, and therefore excluding what possibly may be happening, the act of reading becomes that much more interactive and open-ended. Sure, we know that the chicken stays with the fox, but do we know how they remain together, as friends, partners, kidnapper and sympathetic kidnappee, diner and dinner? How we choose to interpret these relationships can speak volumes about us readers, and as people.

So come in and tell me what you think! I'll be waiting.

1 comment:

Elissa said...

The Horn Book Guide thinks Stockholm syndrome.