Two wordless picture books

Specifically, Molly Bang’s The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher and Wiesner’s Tuesday. Wordless books are great for kids who’re not quite reading yet, as they can enjoy the books for themselves; the only down side is that the illustrations have to carry the story as there is nothing else.

The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher is a bit odd at first glance–the illustrations are a bit surreal–but then I’d call this a modern fairy tale. As the book begins, he titular “Grey Lady” purchases a quart of luscious strawberries, tucks it into her string bag and heads home to share with her family. The “strawberry snatcher”, a skinny, cobalt blue goblin from nightmare, sniffs the strawberries and pursues the Grey Lady down the streets, after her bus and into a swampy foresty darkness which matches the Grey Lady’s clothing and camouflages her so well that she eludes him. All ends well, with the Snatcher eating his fill of luscious blackberries discovered in the woods, while the Grey Family gobbles up all the delicious strawberries. There are a lot of details to search for in this book, some obvious such as the blueberry bushes in the forest, some requiring a bit more explanation or imagination, such as the fruit vendor’s literal green thumb, or the Snatcher colliding with Kuan Yin and knocking her off her skateboard, then showing up later riding that same skateboard. It’s still fun for me to look for all the background details.

David Wiesner’s done several wordless books, but my favorite is still Tuesday. Strictly speaking, this isn’t a wordless book, but the few words aren’t necessary for enjoying the story.

It’s an amusing almost cartoonish story: one Tuesday, as the sun sets, all the frogs fly away on their lily pads, much to the appalled surprise of turtles, birds, and humans whom they pass on their flight. When dawn breaks, the lily pads fall to the ground, stranding the now disgruntled frogs on dry land to make their own way back to water. There is a fair bit of anthropomorphization, but the expression on the amphibians’ faces is hilarious. Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books left me more sympathetic to the creatures, but this is a trifle more realistic in the details–at one point, the flying frogs are hovering in front of a television, and one has ganked the remote control, but has to work the buttons with its tongue, as it needs both forepaws to hold the device.

The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher almost didn’t get published, and then got horrid reviews…until it became a Caldecott Honor book, at which point people suddenly liked it. Silly critics. One complaint leveled against it by parents (on Amazon) is that it’s scary. Well, the world is scary to kids, especially those in the official age range for this book, because the world is strange and new and not understood; (whispers) even adults are afraid of what they do not understand. I hope that parents won’t keep “scary” books such as this away from their kids; I think it does have a valuable lesson: if you’re quick and determined, you will escape the scary pursuer and make it home to your family. Oh, and fruit’s YUMMY! What’s not to like about that last lesson?


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