In a country which has twenty-two official languages, and with so many households speaking two or more of them, a book which forgoes text and focuses on visual storytelling has great potential. Suzy Lee’s Wave, David Wiesner’s Tuesday and Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion and the Mouse have been massively popular internationally, and closer to home, the National Book Trust has a longstanding tradition of publishing wordless picture books. Yet, despite all of this, the depressing tendency to measure a book’s value by the number of words it contains lingers on, meaning that publishing a wordless picture book remains something of a bold step.
Why this should be the case is beyond me. Enjoying a book with any young child is a lesson in imagination far more than it is an exercise in reading the words which happen to be on the page. Children ask questions about the smallest details in the illustrations, make up their own stories inspired by what they see, and take great delight in turning the pages. This was certainly the case with Tulika’s recently published wordless picture book, Flutterfly, which had more than enough visual stimulation to keep the toddler I read the book with completely immersed.
Bold pencil strokes bring the characters to life, and Niveditha Subramaniam has a knack of infusing her drawings with movement and humour. While a strong narrative arc is the cornerstone of many wordless books, Flutterfly is more whimsical: an orange butterfly flying from page to page seems to chronicle the dreams of a sleeping child. This child’s imaginings are simultaneously mundane and extraordinary: we see a classroom, but it is the child who is leading the lesson; in another scene a young girl is allowed to draw onto an adult’s face. This whimsicality is charming, but it means that you, as a reader, need to invest more of yourself in the book to draw out its potential.
Subramaniam’s black-and-white sketches contrast sharply with the colourful butterflies, perfectly mirroring the role of dreams in a child’s life. While we only see the orange butterfly in the inner pages, the profusion of butterflies on the first and final pages creates a neat circular structure, suggesting that the child is all set to follow his dreams (and find more!) now that he is awake.
The uses for this book are as limitless as your imagination. As the characters are so expressive, it would be an excellent starting point for an activity about feelings. Asking children to identify the feelings of characters on various pages (anger, excitement, happiness, contentment) could lead to discussion of their own feelings. Apart from colour recognition, it would be natural to talk about the feelings and characteristics associated with various colours. Older children could use the book as a springboard for a creative writing exercise, perhaps making everyday events nonsensical, as experienced in a dream. While the age bracket suggested on the book (0+) seemed odd to me at first, after multiple readings I couldn’t help but find it appropriate. This really is a book which can speak to different age-groups in many ways.
By Maegan Dobson Sippy
Author and Illustrator: Niveditha Subramaniam
Wordless Picture Book
Tulika Publishers, 2015
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction/Picture Book