Bob Seeney On Books

A Trilogy Not to Be Overlooked

September, 2018

I have just returned from Dublin, Ireland, where I did a presentation at the Conference of the European Council for High Ability (ECHA), the European equivalent to NAGC. The topic was nurturing and supporting Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities through literature. When I address this topic, I usually have a wagon-load of books; but travel to Ireland precluded bringing them along. Instead, I selected just two to use as examples. One of the books was Susan Bosak’s Dream: A Tale of Wonder, Wisdom & Wishes (2004, TCP Press — The Communication Project). This book deserves (and will get) its own review in a future column. The second book was Suzy Lee’s Mirror (2010, Seven Footer Press), a book that I reviewed in an earlier column in the November, 2011, issue of 2e Newsletter).

In conversation with a good friend and colleague, Dr. Myra Garces, of The National Institute of Education, Singapore, she reminded me that Mirror was part of a trilogy featuring the same little girl. Upon returning home, I dug through my library to find the other two books, Wave (2008, Chronicle Books) and Shadow (2010 Chronical books). All three are wordless and thus allow for the creativity of each reader who interacts with the book.
In re-reading the three books together, one easily detects a unifying theme of creativity, joy, and the power of imagination. Before we look at the books, however, we must make note of Lee’s unique artistic ability, which hasearned her many awards and prompted one Amazon reviewer to comment that “… Lee is one of the most exciting new authors/illustrators to watch.” Lee illustrates each of the three books in a similar way, with great simplicity of line, dramatic movement, and the use of just two colors. Her use of white space and lack of defining borders help create the drama of each illustration and add to the overall effect of the books. 

Looking at the books in the order they were published, we begin with Wave. Here we have the story of a little girl and her day at the beach. Let’s call her Suzy, since the character, the same in all three books, is not named. A flock of seagulls follow Suzy as she runs and dances with the waves. She chases the sea as it ebbs and runs from it when it surges back. She laughs with delight as she plays with the sea. As we page through the story, we follow her dance of joy and laughter. The use of blue transforms the sea into an animated character whose role in the plot is equal to Suzy’s. In short, Wave is simply delightful! It was named the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of 2008.

In Mirror, the book which introduced me to the author, Lee creates a very different mood. Again, she uses white space and only two water colors. In the opening pages, we find a rather sad and lonely Suzy huddled on the floor in front of a mirror. Then, discovering her reflection, she begins to explore and dance together with it. All is well, until the reflection takes on a life and movement of its own, making Suzy angry. In a fit of temper, Suzy breaks the mirror and again she is left alone and sad. This is a powerful story that reminds us that our actions have consequences. Once again, we find that the genre of picture books is a powerful literary tool.

In the third book of the trilogy, Shadow (2010 Chronical books), we have an interesting and unique stroke of genius. The format of the book itself plays an important role. The book is designed to be read by turning it sideways and flipping the pages from bottom to top. On the top page, we have Suzy’s world, in which she begins to play shadow games and make shadow images. The bottom page shows the reflections — the shadow figures that Suzy creates. In effect, the book becomes the room itself! What’s really fun is what happens when the light is turned off and Suzy is called to dinner, the only words in the book.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this technique used before, and it makes Shadow magical. As I’ve pointed out many times, the genre of picture books is becoming more and more sophisticated. Lee’s use of illustration and the stylistic technique of using the book itself is just one dramatic example. 

Picture books are a dynamic genre of literature, and textless or wordless books take the genre to its pinnacle. These books prompt the reader to an interaction that is unique in all of literature. I have had so much success with learners of all ages as they “write” their own version of the story. Teachers have also shared with me their successes, especially with our 2e students. But on top of all that, wordless books are just fun!

Bob Seney

Happy Reading!

Professor Emeritus Bob Seney is retired from teaching in the Masters of Gifted Studies Program at Mississippi University for Women. He has been 2e Newsletter's children's book columnist since 2007. Reach him at bseney@muw.edu.

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