Silent Wonders: Exploring Wordless Picture Books

Wordless books?

Wordless books, far from being ‘silent’, possess the ability to express a variety of feelings and emotions using only pictures! Colours, shapes and illustrations team up to craft awesome adventures, from wild fantasy worlds to personal heartwarming tales.

Guess what? These books are like a secret language everyone can understand. They are perfect for all kind of readers – from those just starting out to multilingual enthusiasts. Whether you’re a grown-up looking for a break from words or sharing the magic with a little one, these books promise a rich experience for readers of all ages.

Don’t skip out on this selection. We’ve got some classic stories and some fresh picks that let you dive into amazing stories without a single worry about words. And wait! there are some breathtaking pages that will have you absolutely hooked.

Ready for a wordless adventure?

All-time classics

The snowman / Briggs, Raymond
“When his snowman comes to life, a little boy invites him home and in return is taken on a flight high above the countryside.” (Catalogue)

The lion & the mouse / Pinkney, Jerry
“In this wordless retelling of an Aesop fable, an adventuresome mouse proves that even small creatures are capable of great deeds when he rescues the King of the Jungle.” (Catalogue)
The red book / Lehman, Barbara
“A little girl walking to school finds a red book in a bank of snow. At school, she opens it to find pictures of a tropical island and a young boy. The boy in her book finds his own red book in the sand. As they turn the pages, they discover themselves looking at each other. The girl has an idea and buys a huge bunch of balloons and floats into the sky. The boy watches her float off in the pages on his book.” (Adapted catalogue)

Great adventures

Wolf in the snow / Cordell, Matthew
“When a wolf cub and little girl are lost in a snowstorm they must find their way home.” (Catalogue)

Journey / Becker, Aaron
“Using a red marker, a young girl draws a door on her bedroom wall and through it enters another world where she experiences many adventures, including being captured by an evil emperor.” (Catalogue)


Migrants / Watanabe, Issa
“The migrants must leave the forest. Borders are crossed, sacrifices made, loved ones are lost. It takes such courage to reach the end. At last the journey is over and the migrants arrive. This is the new place. With forceful simplicity, Migrants narrates the journey of a group of animals leaving a leafless forest.” (Catalogue)

Points of view

The little barbarian / Moriconi, Renato
“Once upon a time, there was a little barbarian who was about to embark on a very dangerous journey. The brave adventurer knew there would be many perils ahead, including one-eyed giants and venomous snakes, manticores and sea serpents. Luckily, a barbarian can always rely on the trusty steed…” (Catalogue)
Zoom / Banyai, Istvan
“A wordless picture book presents a series of scenes, each one from farther away, showing, for example, a girl playing with toys which is actually a picture on a magazine cover, which is part of a sign on a bus, and so on.” (Catalogue)
Flotsam / Wiesner, David
“A pictorial discovery of what happens when a camera becomes a piece of flotsam. A sophisticated picture book. Suggested level: junior, primary.” (Catalogue)


Slice of life

Float / Miyares, Daniel
“Wordless picture book about a boy who loses his paper boat in the rain”– Provided by publisher.” (Catalogue)

 


Professional crocodile / Zoboli, Giovanna
“In this book without words, Mr. Crocodile gets up every morning and carefully gets ready for work — but just what is his job?” (Catalogue)

2023 NZCYA Book Awards: Winners Announced!

It’s hard to believe another whole year has rolled around since Gavin Bishop’s luminous Atua: Māori Gods and Heroes took the literary world by storm during the 2022 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, but last night at a joyous ceremony at the Pipitea Marae here in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, the 2023 NZCYA Book Award-winners were announced, to much fanfare and celebration.

This year, the Supreme Winner was multi-talented author and illustrator Mat Tait, for his book Te Wehenga: The Separation of Ranginui and Papatūānuku. This beautifully-crafted pukapuka not only won the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award, but also the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction, and it is the first reorua/bilingual book ever to take out the Supreme Award. Our most heartfelt congratulations go to Mat, who has created a taonga to be treasured for generations to come.

Find Te Wehenga: The Separation of Ranginui and Papatūānuku, and the books that won the other categories on the night, on our catalogue below. For more literary greatness, be sure to check out our earlier post highlighting all of the finalists as well — congratulations to you all for your marvellous contributions to the world of children’s books in Aotearoa.


Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award; Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction

Te Wehenga : the separation of Ranginui and Papatūānuku / Tait, Mat

Judges’ comments: Te Wehenga: The Separation of Ranginui and Papatūānuku presents the Māori creation pūrākau in a bold design using universal elements recognised across iwi. The bilingual text is poetic, and integrated into the artwork on each page in a way that draws readers into an interactive experience, inviting them to turn the book as they become immersed in the darkness of the space between Papatūānuku and Ranginui. The production values are exceptionally high, and the result is a book that is — like the story — a taonga, to be shared, closely read and enjoyed in both te reo Māori and te reo Pākehā… [Read more on the New Zealand Book Awards Trust website]

Our thoughts: This book feels like something genuinely special to hold. The story is one that will be familiar to many New Zealanders, as it has been told and re-told in multiple guises over the decades, but the way in which the artwork and bilingual text work together to engross the reader here is something truly unique. The initial darkness of the illustrations brings the reader physically closer to the page, challenging them to discern the beautiful details glowing softly in the dimness. As life flows into the world, the artworks too brighten, and the feeling of reaching the final, glorious spread is something similar to taking a deep breath after holding it for a long time. We hope you all enjoy experiencing this story as much as we did.


Picture Book Award

Duck Goes Meow / MacIver, Juliette

Judges’ comments: Bold, munificent colours saturate the page, with animals rotund and lively, their hand-lettered animal sounds seamlessly blending into a flawless rhyming text. Readers are taken on a hilarious jaunt as these animals negotiate and encourage Duck to say the right thing, anticipation and humour building with each page turn. The little duck plucks at the heartstrings by being true to itself, and challenging our assumptions. Duck Goes Meow distills all the elements of a great picture book into a celebration of the unexpected, with a conclusion that surprises the animals and readers alike.

Our thoughts: We are so happy for author-illustrator pair extraordinaire Juliette MacIver (a local Wellingtonian!) and Carla Martell — this win is so thoroughly deserved! The absolute beauty of this book is in its simplicity — the design is clear, the humour perfectly-pitched for very young readers, and the text carries the reader inevitably through to the surprising, sweet ending. Plus it’s the favourite book of this children’s librarian’s 19-month-old niece — how could it not win?!


Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction

Below / Hill, David

Judges’ comments: From the squeeze of the hourglass on the cover, to the story’s heart-thumping climax, a gripping sense of claustrophobia pervades this novel. The restricted point of view, oppressive setting and accelerating sense of danger conspire to close the reader in, yet the writing feels expansive. Relationships, reactions and conflicting positions are skilfully drawn, as two pre-teens rely on ingenuity and analytical thinking to help them survive in the collapsing heart of a mountain. As the stakes get higher and the chances of survival lower, the reader is left gasping. Below is a white-knuckled, powerful read, from one of Aotearoa’s most exceptional storytellers.

Our thoughts: Below is palpably the work of an experienced author at the absolute top of his game. It seems anything David Hill takes his pen to turns to gold, and this book is no exception — it’s fast-paced and engrossing, while still taking the time to explore the nuances of each of the characters we meet and expand upon their relationships in a way that makes the whole dynamic feel authentic. We found this one to be absolutely un-putdownable, and we suspect you will find the same.


Young Adult Fiction Award

Iris and me / Werry, Philippa

Judges’ comments: Iris and Me is audacious and daring, much like its subject Iris Wilkinson, who wrote poetry, fiction and journalism using the pen name Robin Hyde. This exploration of Iris’ life is astonishingly original. Written in verse with a unique narrative voice, this is heartbreaking yet hopeful historical fiction. The book is impeccably researched and exquisitely written, and its quality is clear from its charming cover to its extensive endnotes. The many hardships that Iris suffers — including mental health issues, disability, and poverty — are sensitively handled and give insight into the life of an important New Zealand author while being relevant to rangatahi today. This is poetry our young people can relate to.

Our thoughts: The judges describe this book as audacious — certainly it’s true that crafting a book in verse is a bold and impressive endeavour, especially one which flows and sings as naturally and compellingly as Iris and Me. What really shone through for us was that in this rich, kaleidoscopic exploration of the life of a significant, and today sadly underappreciated, New Zealander — her perseverance, her bravery in the face of misogyny and adversity, her suffusing love of travel and humanity despite her struggles — there is something in this book for almost every reader to resonate with. We are lucky to have had the opportunity to speak to Philippa about the creation of this book earlier this year — watch her full interview with our Fiction Specialist Neil here.


Russell Clark Award for Illustration

A portrait of Leonardo : the life and times of Leonardo da Vinci : a literary picture book / Bixley, Donovan

Judges’ comments: Donovan Bixley excels in this illustrated biography of Leonardo da Vinci. Relishing the challenge, he plays joyously with puns and puzzles while demonstrating masterful use of tools that were developed by the great artist himself. Composition, perspective, light and colour are used to great effect, with a strong underpinning of drawing and digital skills, creating a vibrant historical read that is also a fluent and delightful feast for the eyes. A Portrait of Leonardo is enticing and accessible to young readers, a great example of words attributed to the master: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Our thoughts: How exciting to see Donovan recognised for his consummate skill as an illustrator and storyteller with this award! A Portrait of Leonardo is a fresh and energetic take on the biographical form, and one could sit for hours, nose pressed against the page, following the pencil strokes and vibrant flashes of colour as they move from image to image, linking the whole story into one deliciously detailed whole. A fitting tribute to one of history’s greatest ever artists and inventors, and as Donovan said during his acceptance speech, a take on his life that could only have been envisaged in New Zealand. This book is a triumph, and well deserving of its win in an absolutely stacked field.


Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for Te Reo Māori

Kua whetūrangitia a koro / Te Paa, Brianne

Judges’ comments: Matariki te tohu o maharanui. Matariki te tohu o te pito mata. Matariki te tohu o te ao hou. Kua Whetūrangitia a Koro is a traditional Māori narrative tailored to fit a new world and new audience. The significance of this story, its context, and its poetic use of te reo Māori place it in a stratosphere of its own. Much like Matariki, Kua Whetūrangitia a Koro represents authentic Māori stories being told in te reo Māori that will inspire and educate Māori, Pākehā, and all people of New Zealand and the world. Haramai tētahi āhua!

Our thoughts: Something about this pukapuka ataahua feels incredibly warm and embracing, even while it takes you on the absolute emotional rollercoaster that it does. The poetry of the reo and the simple tangibility of the illustrations infuse this book with a sense of spirituality and wonder while also giving it a quality of ‘groundedness’ that will make this a staple for any whānau who are looking for ways to navigate through tough situations, like the loss of a loved one. This is a book that will take your hand and sit beside you as long as you need, and we are grateful to Brianne Te Paa and Story Hemi-Morehouse for bringing it into the world for all to learn and grow from.


New Zealand Society of Authors Best First Book Award

The Lighthouse Princess / Wardell, Susan

Judges’ comments: The Lighthouse Princess stands out as a picture book that combines poetic writing and whimsical illustration to create a sum that is greater than its parts. This clever alchemy is all the more astounding considering it is both the writer’s and the illustrator’s first foray into publication. With details that draw a child’s eye into the world of the Lighthouse, and language that lures us from page to page, Rose Northey and Susan Wardell take the reader to an escapist hideaway on a rocky coast inhabited by creatures both real and imagined. Like the boy in the story, once invited in, many will choose not to leave.

Our thoughts: Okay, we did say this last year as well, but the category of Best First Book is becoming increasingly hotly contested as, year by year, more and more extremely talented writers and illustrators throw their hats in the ring. As librarians, it’s incredibly exciting for us to see such an assured debut from author Susan Wardell and Wellington-based illustrator Rose Northey — and we simply cannot wait to see what they both choose to create next. This picture book is absolutely charming and engrossing from cover to cover, and we predict it will soon become a firm bedtime or storytime favourite with whānau all over the country. Ka rawe!

2022 NZCYA Book Awards: Winners Announced!

August is always an extremely exciting time of year for us, as it heralds the announcement of the winners of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults! This year, the Supreme Winner was accomplished author and illustrator Gavin Bishop, for his book Atua: Māori Gods and HeroesAtua, which not only won the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award, but also the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction as well as the Russell Clark Award for Illustration, is a special taonga that deserves a place on the shelf of every whānau in the land.

Find Atua, and the books that won the other categories on the night, on our catalogue below:


Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award; Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction; Russell Clark Award for Illustration

Atua : Māori gods and heroes / Bishop, Gavin

Judges’ comments: Atua is an instant classic, a ‘must have’ for every Kiwi household and library, that is packaged in stunning production values. Every element of this generously-sized masterpiece is carefully considered. With impeccable illustrations in Gavin Bishop’s unmistakeable style, it captures the personalities of the many gods and heroes. Each section has a fresh look, from the dense matte blackness of the first pages reflecting Te Kore, nothingness, to the startling blue backgrounds of the migration, with the glorious Te Rā — the sun, between… [Read more on the New Zealand Book Awards Trust website]

Our thoughts: We are extremely excited to see this book take the top prize. The detail in each meticulously-presented illustration will keep you hunting for more, while the masterful simplicity of the text is the work of a storyteller at the top of his game. Reading Atua is like sitting down at a campfire with a favourite uncle, eyes closed, listening to the stories of the past and being transported into them yourself by the skill of the orator. Ka rawe, Gavin — you have given us a taonga to be treasured always.


Picture Book Award

Lion guards the cake / Paul, Ruth

Judges’ comments: If a good picture book is a symbiosis of story and illustration, a stand-out picture book is one which includes that all-important third symbiotic element — the reader. Lion Guards the Cake is a sweetly irresistible story that invites readers to be both witness and accomplice to Lion’s furtive adventures and faux heroism as he upends the notion of duty. Its faultless, inventive rhyme, complemented by rich, silhouetted illustrations, engages the reader with effortless ease and a twinkle in its eye. This is confident storytelling of the highest calibre — a joyful read-out-loud which also rewards a more intimate and leisurely reading.

Our thoughts: We’re big fans of Ruth Paul here at Wellington City Libraries (she is a local author, after all!) and are really thrilled that this book has been recognised by the Awards. We predict this book will be a favourite bed-time read for ages to come, as it’s already a favourite for storytime in our libraries — it’s impossible not to feel some kinship with this cheeky lion as he fabricates more and more reasons why perhaps just a little bit more of the cake needs to be nibbled away… it’s a sacrifice, but someone’s got to do it!


Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction

The memory thief / Agnew, Leonie

Judges’ comments: From its eye-catching cover to the final conclusion, The Memory Thief is a stunning story that captures the reader early and holds them in an embrace of wonder, intrigue and imagination […] Unique but perfectly believable at the same time, The Memory Thief steps into another world whilst still inside our own. Memories themselves are both villains and heroes as they are taken or returned. The handling of a common illness, with its thought-provoking and original twist, is deftly handled and beautifully written.

Our thoughts: Junior Fiction is always a packed field — there are so many authors writing amazing chapter books for tamariki that it can be hard to choose a winner! The Memory Thief was a standout for us right away, however. The writing at times felt like Margaret Mahy — there’s an obvious love for the magic and mystery of language that resides at the heart of this book that encourages the reader to linger, just for the joy of feeling how the words all mesh and meld together. And it’s a rollicking good story to boot! An excellent book well-deserving of this award.


Young Adult Fiction Award

Learning to love blue / Koirala, Saradha

Judges’ comments: Learning to Love Blue is a celebration of finding independence in a new city. As Paige moves from Wellington and the comfort of friends and family to Melbourne, she must navigate new friendships and romantic relationships, all while navigating her complicated feelings about her absent Mum. Saradha Koirala conveys all the mixed emotions of this setting in a way that is realistic, compassionate, and firmly placed in the journey into adulthood. […]

Our thoughts: Something in this book feels very relatable and familiar — even though Melbourne serves as the main setting, there’s something inexorably ‘Wellingtonian’ about the way certain things appear or are expressed. And of course we love the Joni Mitchell homages that run through the story. Saradha Koirala’s characters leave strong impressions; their predicaments feel real and their triumphs well-earned. Awesome stuff.


Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for Te Reo Māori

I waho, i te moana / Morrison, Yvonne

Judges’ comments: In I Waho, i te Moana, the many sea creatures of the moana of Aotearoa are brought to life, with beautiful illustrations that highlight the interactions between sea creatures and their world. The story allows children to relate to these creatures, and to understand their roles as kaitiaki within the realm of Tangaroa. There is a beautiful flow to the reo, which reflects the expertise of the translator. Te reo Māori will transcend the imagination and encourage interactions between tamariki and parents who read this wonderful story. This will support growth in the te reo Māori capacity of both tamariki and parents who are at the conversational level.

Our thoughts: In the realm of te reo Māori translation, there are few people more accomplished than the legendary Pānia Papa. Her translation of Yvonne Morrison’s delightful Out in the Moana brims with life, character, and wit. If your whānau is just starting their journey in te reo Māori, we recommend borrowing I Waho, i te Moana alongside its English version, so you can enjoy the beautiful sounds of the reo while also keeping up with the story, which is masterfully supported by Jenny Cooper’s characterful illustrations. For whānau who are a little more advanced, this pukapuka provides a rich opportunity to dive deep with every sentence.


New Zealand Society of Authors Best First Book Award

Spark hunter / Wilson, Sonya

Judges’ comments: Perfectly pitched for middle fiction readers, Spark Hunter weaves history, culture, conservation, humour, tension and adventure into her story of Nissa Marshall, who has always known there is more to the Fiordland bush than meets the eye. While leaning into the fantastic just enough to encourage the imagination, the inclusion of archival excerpts will spark keen readers to hunt out their own discoveries within the mysterious history of this corner of Aotearoa. Making this story’s light shine bright is te reo Māori blended throughout, and a cast of supporting characters that are easily recognisable as classmates, teachers, and friends.

Our thoughts: Every year, the category of Best First Book seems to get more and more contested. It’s exciting for us as librarians when new authors come out with works this confident, assured, and skilful — but all is for nought if the story won’t capture the imaginations of tamariki. Thankfully, Spark Hunter is the kind of book that our young readers will continue to return to for years to come. We love the concept of a survival-fantasy-adventure story set in Fiordland (seriously, why hasn’t this been done more often?), and the best word we can think of to describe the plot is ‘moreish.’ A unique read that’s a lot of fun to boot!