The best wordless books

Lee Nordling Author Of BirdCatDog (Three-Story Books)
By Lee Nordling

The Books I Picked & Why

Wordless Books: The Original Graphic Novels

By David A. Beronä

Book cover of Wordless Books: The Original Graphic Novels

Why this book?

Faced with a limit of five recommendations, I’m cheating. Wordless Books covers the innovative output of the major woodcut novels and wordless books that were published from 1918 to 1951. It includes works by Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward, Milt Gross, and so many others. If you have never seen these uniquely artistic works, this volume offers a compelling introduction to the first graphic novels ever published.


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The Snowman

By Raymond Briggs

Book cover of The Snowman

Why this book?

First published in 1987, I puzzled over The Snowman for years. Librarians called it a children’s book classic. Here’s the thing that bothered me, though. Briggs uses wordless comic panels to tell his story, and I never once heard it called a comic. This is before the term graphic novel was embraced by publishers, schools, libraries, and, finally, the public, so it took me a while to figure out that it was Briggs’s softly colored illustration style that wiped the word comics from most people’s vocabulary, but it is comics. A brilliantly executed wordless comic! And this book absolutely inspired me to create more of the same for young readers, beginning with my award-winning, near-wordless, sequential art children’s book with artist Bruce Zick, The Bramble.


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The System

By Peter Kuper

Book cover of The System

Why this book?

In 1997, Peter Kuper knocked my socks off with The System, a wordless book that exposes the underbelly of New York City as an airbrushed wonderland of strippers, druggies, the homeless, dirty cops, killers, taggers, sleaze-balls, muggers, and—oh, yes—there’s a terrorist with a bomb who wants to blow things up. Never was anything so bright and colorful so decadently revealing.


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A.L.I.E.E.E.N.: Archives of Lost Issues and Earthly of Extraterrestrial Novelties

By Lewis Trondheim

Book cover of A.L.I.E.E.E.N.: Archives of Lost Issues and Earthly of Extraterrestrial Novelties

Why this book?

This 2006 wordless book left me open-mouthed in awe. Here’s the idea: cartoonist Trondheim was vacationing with family when he found this discarded comic from an alien spacecraft, and it’s reproduced here just as he found it, tattered pages and all. The word balloons, which point to strangely shaped creatures, contain unrecognizable letters and words—so, to those of us who aren’t aliens, this book is wordless. I think the short comic sequences are supposed to be funny, at least to the alien kids who read them, but I’m not an alien, so I was horrified at what happened to all the cute little creatures from another planet. But okay, I’ll admit it—I also laughed, in that “it’s so awful” kind of way. You’ll laugh, too.


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The Arrival

By Shaun Tan

Book cover of The Arrival

Why this book?

In 2007, artist Shaun Tan rocked my world with his wordless book masterpiece, The Arrival. It is rare for any book to so effectively put readers in the position of a character. A man from a darkly forbidding country leaves his family and emigrates to a new world, a world filled with unimaginable, fantastic wonders. Because it’s a fantasy, like the man, we can’t read any signage, either. We don’t know where things are, or even what things are. After he struggles to first find food, then shelter, then work, he encounters other emigrants who share their stories from other dark parts of the world. This book needs to be appreciated by one beautiful panel of art at a time.


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