Friday, July 27, 2012

Read ME a Story: “Bear Despair” and “Waterloo & Trafalgar”

More Picture Books that Make Your Child the Storyteller
I recently posted a story on two picture books (Little Bird and The Night Riders) that encourage your child to do the storytelling. Here are two more similarly extraordinary books—Bear Despair and Waterloo & Trafalgar—that invite you and your child into the world of images and ideas. The actual forming of a spoken story is left to you and your child. These books are miraculous for several reasons, not the least of which is that in 2010, The New York Times published the piece, “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children” that spoke to “… a real push with parents and schools to have kids start reading big-kid books earlier.” But as a visually-oriented person myself, I believe that these wordless picture books encourage and support a different and important type of literacy—visual literacy—as they encourage imaginative storytelling from our kids.

Bear Despair by Gaëtan Dorémus tells the story of a bear whose own teddy bear is stolen. The story traces his determination to get back his beloved toy. Now, being a bear, when he comes across the culprit (a wolf) who stole his bear, he swallows him whole. Readers see an “x-ray” image of the wolf alive in the bear’s stomach. The wolf is soon joined by a lion and even an elephant (among other creatures) as the bear’s quest continues. We see the various animals chatting inside the bear. All is well for everyone in the end, of course. And the animals of the forest have learned a bit of respect for this bear’s feelings. I love the outrageousness of this tale. Where else will you see a lion help in the hatching of eagle eggs inside the stomach of a bear? There’s a freedom of imagination here that invites several different interpretations. I can imagine any number of stories that could be spun by your child from these images, which is part of the fun. It’s part of Enchanted Lion’s “Stories Without Words” series and you’ve got to know I like the sound of that.

Another wonderful Enchanted Lion title is Waterloo & Trafalgar, the first wordless picture book by Olivier Tallec (Illustrator of the Big Wolf & Little Wolf series, among other books). He playfully depicts and explores the pointlessness of enmity through two characters separated by a wall. Through the seasons they spy on each other, perhaps forming their own inaccurate stories about each other before they finally discover a better, peaceful, and harmonious way to live. Tallec makes great use of the limited blue/orange/black color palette. There’s a charming retro feel to these illustrations. I was reminded of the limited color palette of Dr. Seuss (among others). There’s also a fun and thought-provoking use of die-cut pages where flipping part of the page illuminates another “side” of the story. It’s a wonderful metaphor: there’s two sides to every argument; sometimes both sides are right (and wrong.) Why not try friendship?

Both of these titles are available for pre-order. Enchanted Lion Books is an outstanding, even remarkable press. Their respect for young readers is palpable. These are books to treasure. They’ll never go out of style. If you can bear to part with them yourself, your own child can pass them down to their children. Three cheers for these silent but potent stories.

What’s your favorite wordless picture book? Share it here.

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