Where Have All the Words Gone?
Published on Wednesday, March 24, 2010 - 3:02pm
I, like every other person who has ever been a teenager, have been forced to defend the honor of comic books among non-believers. I know with the recent spread of Twitter and other digitized simplifications of information, there is much worry about the plight of the written word. Have no fear; the written words is still alive and well. It just lives in other books.
So many readers miss out on the awesome narratives in wordless picture books and graphic novels simply because of their attitude toward the lack of words. The truth is the absence of words does not hinder these books because the illustrations rise to fill the gaps. For example, in Flotsam, a wordless picture book by David Weisner, an old fashioned camera washes up on a beach. His character soon discovers that there is something odd about this camera. Through colorful illustrations, Weisner hints at the intrigue beautifully.
There are other wordless books with exotic journeys. The Arrival by Shaun Tan introduces the viewer to a weary traveler. This traveler enters a strange place that recalls the towers of Ellis Island. As the tale unfolds, the traveler does his best to adapt to the odd foods and strange customs of this new culture. Somehow the lack of text makes the tale more intriguing, a plunge into the unknown.
There are instances in which the substitution of pictures can be a rich addition to the story. In the case of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick, the story envelopes the reader even more as it dazzles them with closely cropped pencil drawings. These mystical illustrations set the dreamy mood for the book and are far more effective than a short paragraph description of the same scene would be.
So do not short change books that rely on pictures to tell the majority of the story. Whether it's in a graphic novel, a chapter book or a picture book, illustrations have earned the right to tell their story. Garnering the Caldecott Award this year, the adventurous tale of Lion and Mouse by Jerry Pinkney is as silent as a mouse sneaking up on a lion. Pinkney's characters embark on a wild rumpus through the illustrations. With hardly any words, Pinkney delievers an enchanting tale with a twist ending.