Return by Aaron Becker
We have Journey, which is the first book in this series of picture books without words. Mr. Bookworm is fantastic at ‘reading’ these wonderfully illustrated books without words, not only in this series but also with Flotsam and Sector 7 by David Wiesner. What I love about these wordless books is that they inspire the imagination. And I definitely love hearing Little Lion Bookworm tell her own version of Journey that is similar to Mr. Bookworm’s but in her own interpretation.
For little ones not yet reading and writing, or just starting to do those things, wordless picture books instill creativity and storytelling capabilities in someone who may not realize that they are a storyteller. It encourages the reader to take a closer look at each illustration and figure out what is going on. Picture books in general have two stories to tell, the one with words and the one with pictures. (And some may argue there are even more stories than that—such as the one with words with the pictures etc.)
And though it took some pushing and prodding for me to convince Mr. Bookworm to start actually writing, he has always been a bit of a great oral storyteller. It all started when Mini-Me Bookworm was a baby and he’d start telling her the adventures of Ollie (an octopus) and Square Pig (pig who is square-shaped, of course). I’ve always been a writer but I need to see my words on the page. My renditions of the three little chickadees’ adventures paled in comparison to his great verbal skills. No matter that Mini-Me would get all riled up right before bedtime because Ollie and Square Pig were doing exciting things.
Return (published August 2016) is the third book in this series by Aaron Becker. Each book stands alone but they also build upon each other if you read all three (as any good trilogy should). Similar to Journey and Quest, Aaron Becker fills the page with fantastical drawings and each spread pushes the story forward in its own story arc.
In the same vein as the classic Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, the girl in Return, well, returns with her red crayon through her red door portal to the same fantastical world that she visited in the first two books. What connects the first and this last book is the fact that the girl goes to the other world because she can't get the attention of her family. In Return, when her dad notices her missing, he walks through the portal to find her.
We're going through some stressful, emotional times in our house. Some of it is simply growing up, some of it is facing mortality with sick or recovering loved ones, some of it is lack of sleep, and some of it is general friendship issues. In the end, Little Lion had a big outburst yesterday about feeling 'alone' and much like the little girl in Return, left behind because she feels we've been focusing on Mini Me instead. Ironically, just the day before, Little Lion had locked me out of her room because she was happily playing by herself in her room and playing out scenes of her own imagination.
And while it's hard to see your little girl cry--and they've both cried this week--it's also good to hear her vent what is going on in her mind. Back to Return, what I loved about this installment of the trilogy is that the girl and her dad go on an adventure together. Mr. Bookworm is an excellent parent and role model--he puts me to shame but I admire how involved he is in our girls' lives and how he always, always treats them like they are their own person. What do I mean by that? From the get-go, he has never talked down to them. When Mini Me or Little Lion ask him a question, he answers them and not in a watered down fashion. No matter if it was when Mini Me was 15 months old or 10 years old, he respects her quest for knowledge and gives it to her. I think he's largely responsibly for her inquisitive and intelligent mind. (As well as Little Lion's.)
And in Return, the dad never gives up on his daughter, even when she's cross at him when they first reunite in the fantasy land. And then they become a team--together they figure out the mystery of setting free the color birds and also how to return back home. My only criticism is that I feel the dad solved the problem in the end and it should have been solved by the girl. (Spoiler alert: they solve the cave drawing mystery together, but in the end, the dad is the one who smashes the box. Because maybe she's not strong enough?)
All told, the illustrations are wonderful and there's so much room for creativity. I enjoy reading all three of Aaron Becker's books, though my favorite remains the first one. Bonus: if you love the illustrations in this series, Becker sells prints of some of the more popular spreads.
Rating: Like graphic novels, wordless picture books belong on the bottom shelf always. Always.
Ages: All ages. Use your discretion if your little is a page tearer instead of a page turner.
Little Lion Review: Buy It! There are a lot of cool mysteries in it. (SPOILER ALERT!) I like how Aaron Becker made the girl return with her father on accident.
Mini Me Review: Buy It! I think it was a really good ending to the trilogy but it wasn't as strong as the other two because the plot wasn't as elaborate.
Confession side note: On the opposite side of the spectrum, I was a bit prejudiced against B.J Novak’s The Book with No Pictures because, well, it’s a picture book without pictures. And the first time I read it a long time ago, I didn’t enjoy it. But I snuck a peek while I was shopping at Target the other day and I read it to myself. And as I read, I thought about how delighted Little Lion would be when reading this book. And her happy, contagious chortle. And I thought, why wouldn’t I like this book? I’m a writer and this book is all about the words. What more could I ask for? I’m happy to say I changed my mind. If only because Novak included a robot monkey.