by: Sarah Momo Romero
A couple of weeks ago, I received package in the mail from my book buddy, Emily. I eagerly opened the box to find a beautiful wordless picture book she bought for me in Portugal. This wonderful surprise got me thinking about artwork, illustration and color. What draws a viewer or reader to a particular work of art or picture book? What are the other crucial aspects of storytelling when there are no words on the page to guide the story? So this month, I am sharing some beautifully illustrated wordless picture books, and the powerful elements to clearly depict a story when the illustrations do all the legwork.
A distinct character is one of the most important things in a wordless picture book. Without one, who will the reader follow from the first page to the last? When there is no “voice” to read, how will the story capture the reader’s interest to turn the page to see what will happen next? In Vazio, the picture book gift from Portugal by Catarina Sobral, the character is actually the absence of one. Vazio means empty, a theme that carries through different aspects of the book. The character is visually empty, but as we take in the beautiful, textural artwork on each page, we realize he is also empty of friendship and love. Even in the absence of word, this emptiness is obvious in the simple but whimsical scenes we see our character traverse. And in the end, there’s nothing more satisfying than the magical moment when we realize, maybe we are not empty and alone in the world afterall. Our empty character conveys all of this without a word throughout the book.
Color is everything in a wordless picture book. Dressing a main character in red, using a neutral color palette for a mysterious presence, or playing with all the colors imaginable for a fun-filled world of visual eye candy to discover are all elements of color successful wordless picture books take advantage of. These visual clues move the story forward and give the reader clues on what to pay attention to, whether they are aware of it or not. In Wolf in the Snow by Matt Cordell, we are drawn to the color red of the main character against the grey and white snowy setting. And Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin creates the coolness of early morning with the blue and grey tones, and the warm afternoon sunshine with illustrations using the full color spectrum. Boat of Dreams by Rogerio Coelho uses neutral and brown hues for a nostalgic feel to a boy’s adventures on a flying ship.
Atmosphere and a sense of place are important in all types of picture books, but with wordless pictures, readers pay extra attention to each spread, looking for the little details behind the story. Children will especially love the secondary stories held within each page in wordless picture books. Find Me: A Hide and Seek Book by Anders Arhoj takes full advantage of creating a unique setting for every illustration, allowing the viewers to discover all the characters and mini-scenes on each page and get lost in each world while trying to find the main character
And if you’re new to wordless picture books, you absolutely must check out Journey, Quest and Return by Aaron Becker. This is an absolutely stunning trilogy of picture books with all elements of a successful wordless picture books, all beautifully woven together and deserving of a blog post all its own.
The wordless picture book is an art form all its own, and an especially difficult feat to master. But as an illustrator, studying a successful wordless picture book with an intriguing story, mood and feeling is a good exercise visualizing elements to bring to our own artwork. Do you have any favorite wordless picture books? Please share in the comments, I’d love to hear them!
Sarah Momo Romero is a Japanese Peruvian American artist, a graphic designer by day and children's book author and illustrator by night. She’s loved drawing and painting since she was a chiquita and now crafts stories of adventure and wondrous creatures. Sarah is an active SCBWI member who draws inspiration from her life in sunny Los Angeles with her husband/creative partner and dog/infamous escape artist, Peanut. Look out for her first picture book, "Wake Up, Little Bat!" coming out in the Fall of 2018!
You can find more of Sarah's musings and drawings here:
Facebook: Sarah Momo Romero + Instagram: @sarahmomoromero + Twitter: @sarahmomoromero
We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome new bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with Clear Fork/Spork editor/art director, & CBA Director Mira Reisberg PhD who is handing her Mondays over to awesome former now trad. pubbed students to widen their audience.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays feature funny Aussie author Sharon Giltrow sharing awesome Aussie books.
And 5th Mondays will feature Libyan American author Koloud Tarapolsi sharing wonderful diverse books.