The best wordless children’s books that also have meta, surreal, or magical realism elements

Barbara Lehman Author Of The Red Book
By Barbara Lehman

Who am I?

I love wordless books immoderately, and I also love books that have meta, surreal, or magical realism elements. This list combines these two features! I was personally so happy that The Red Book was described in a review as “a wordless mind trip for tots,” and I think all the books on this list would perfectly fit that description (and much, much more!) too.

I wrote...

The Red Book

By Barbara Lehman,

Book cover of The Red Book

What is my book about?

This book is about a book. A magical red book without any words. When you turn the pages you'll experience a new kind of adventure through the power of story. In illustrations of rare detail and surprise, The Red Book crosses oceans and continents to deliver one girl into a new world of possibility, where a friend she's never met is waiting. And as with the best of books, at the conclusion of the story, the journey is not over. A 2005 Caldecott Honor book.

The books I picked & why

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The Arrival

By Shaun Tan,

Book cover of The Arrival

Why this book?

I will remain forever astonished at the epic feat of world-building in The Arrival. It thoroughly pulls me into an immersive experience where I am learning along with the main character how to navigate the new world into which he has immigrated. As he learns, we learn. I find myself so emotionally involved with his success in his hopeful new reality. The art is amazingly detailed and conveys the complex and richly visual world, yet also sets a strong emotional tone that brings us into the action.

The Adventures of Polo

By Regis Faller,

Book cover of The Adventures of Polo

Why this book?

I love being in the gentle and cheery little world of Polo! Polo is a small dog who travels via ingenious visual twists of perspective and imagery. I both admire the cleverness and invention, and enjoy the cozy worlds and friends that Polo meets along the way. The Polo books are unique in being truly action-packed while also being very tranquil and peaceful.

The Only Child

By Guojing,

Book cover of The Only Child

Why this book?

This is such a beautiful book to me. In it, a lost child from a crowded urban environment encounters a mythic deer who takes her on a journey filled with wonders. I don’t know how, but the author manages to convey such believable tenderness and deep connection between this large wild animal and the small child. The art is made with a soft pencil style that is a perfect match for the atmospheric, dreamy, and magical content.


By David Wiesner,

Book cover of Flotsam

Why this book?

Impeccable artwork, precision storytelling, and singularly unique invention are all packed into this amazing book experience. The basic concept is brilliant and mind-bending, and actually maybe even a little bit mind-melting. On top of that is an additional treat of wonderful and whimsical glimpses into a magical undersea world, obviously painted with true passion for the subject matter.


By Istvan Banyai,

Book cover of Zoom

Why this book?

This book never fails to astound me with its visual surprises. I have looked at it at least a hundred times, and each time I cannot stop turning the pages to see what is next, despite already knowing! The art is superbly drawn, and has the perfect amount of rich detail to savor while “zooming” before we come to a satisfying rest at the contemplative ending.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in magicical realism, adventure, and immigrants?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about magicical realism, adventure, and immigrants.

Magicical Realism Explore 78 books about magicical realism
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Immigrants Explore 73 books about immigrants

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Lily and the Octopus, The Contract with God Trilogy: Life on Dropsie Avenue, and Fever Dream if you like this list.