It’s a tried-and-true storytelling adage: Show, don’t tell. The wordless picture books featured here follow that advice in literal fashion. Plot points are laid out and events unfold via pictures alone. As a result, each book reveals something new about the possibilities of storytelling and the ways in which the pieces of a narrative fit together, all without the typical verbal directives and prompts. Perfect for budding brains, these books will challenge youngsters to make their own connections and draw their own conclusions.

IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE

David Wiesner’s delightful new picture book, Mr. Wuffles!, is filled with detailed illustrations that speak for themselves. A black-and-white feline with imposing yellow eyes, Mr. Wuffles can’t be bothered with commonplace cat toys. He’s unimpressed with the fake fish urged on him by his owner, and he ignores a row of playthings so new they’re still wearing price-tags. Polka-dotted mice, a ball with a bell inside it—Mr. Wuffles is not amused.

That changes when he notices a curious object—a small round-ish item made of metal with a strange slot near its top. Mr. Wuffles claws it and paws it until it starts emitting smoke, and then—in classic cat fashion—he turns his back on it and takes a nap. But the intriguing object isn’t a toy—it’s a spaceship filled with tiny green aliens. Mr. Wuffles’ rough treatment of the craft has left the crew a bit queasy and, worse, caused their equipment to go on the fritz. Repairs must be made! The little gang of greenies disembarks, and—hoping to evade Mr. W.—tiptoes across the living room floor. Beneath a radiator, they find a bunch of friendly bugs who are all too familiar with the feline terror outside. Bugs and aliens bond, an escape plan is formed, and the craft is soon back in the air. Mr. Wuffles watches helplessly as his toy sails over the sill of an open window and out of reach.

Expertly illustrated in watercolor and India ink by Wiesner, who’s a three-time winner of the Caldecott Medal, this off-the-wall story is a visual feast. Some of the pages are cut up into panels, providing the author with extra room for play. Wiesner’s illustrations successfully capture the essence of cat (Mr. Wuffles’ eyes look more alien than those of the aliens themselves), and he cleverly provides the extraterrestrial travelers with their own lingo—a code young readers will have fun trying to crack. An irresistibly amusing tale from start to finish. 

PASSAGE TO ANOTHER WORLD

Every picture tells a story in Aaron Becker’s beguiling new book, Journey. This lavishly illustrated tale features a daring heroine who—thanks to the power of a simple crayon—learns that magical worlds are just a dream away and surprisingly easy to access. All that’s required is a little imagination.  

On a humdrum day when no one seems to have time for her—mom’s chatting on the phone; big sis has her head in a book—Becker’s lonely protagonist retreats to her room, where she spies a bright red crayon on the floor. Inspired to take action, she uses the crayon to draw a door on her bedroom wall. Stepping through it, she finds herself in a gorgeous forest with a winding river. The girl sets out in a small boat to encounter still more marvels, including a vast castle with an armada of strange dirigible-like ships hovering in the air above it. The imposing guards manning one of the crafts have captured a beautiful bird. After the girl goes to dangerous lengths to free the creature, it leads her back home, where her prospects are decidedly brightened by a new friend with a crayon of his own.

Art-whiz Becker has worked for Disney and Pixar, and his genius is in evidence on every page. With its complex architecture and cunning system of waterworks, his castle could’ve come from a movie set. His delicate watercolor illustrations have a special radiance. The book’s lack of text creates a quality of silence—a sort of hush that adds to the enchantment of the story. In Becker’s whimsical world, words would only be superfluous.

WHEN HISTORY COMES TO LIFE

Nature and its power to surprise serve as the basis for Bill Thomson’s fascinating Fossil, a beautifully illustrated book that showcases the author’s signature photo-realistic painting style.

On a sunny day, a boy and his dog hike to the shore of a lake that’s dotted with rocks. The boy soon makes a strange discovery about the stones. Through an accident, he breaks one open and finds a fossilized fern inside. Perfectly preserved, the fossil itself is magical enough, but when ferns suddenly materialize on the shore, the boy realizes that there’s more going on than meets the eye. Splitting open another stone, he finds the remains of a dragonfly. The bug immediately appears before him.

A third rock holds the most impressive relic of all—a dinosaur bone. What happens next? You guessed it: This haunting remnant of the past summons a scary pterodactyl! When the winged creature wheels above him, dips down, and makes off with his dog, the boy is forced to find a fast way of reversing the fossil-come-to-life process.

Executed with crisp clarity and uncanny accuracy, Thomson’s illustrations—done by hand with acrylic paint and colored pencils—communicate the wonder, puzzlement and panic the boy experiences thanks to his unusual predicament. The author of Chalk (2010), another wordless picture book, Thomson has an instinct for telling details, which he renders with scientific precision. From the pattern on the soles of the boy’s sneakers to the water droplets that cling to the coat of his cocker-spaniel companion, no element is overlooked. Youngsters are sure to see a bit of themselves in Thomson’s boy-hero, and they’ll have fun unraveling his quirky blend of science and magic. This is a thrilling hike they’ll want to go on again and again.

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