Picture books are books with pictures, of course, which is what makes them so special. And sometimes those pictures take on something extra special in a story.
Sometimes the words wouldn’t make sense without the illustrations. Sometimes illustrations enrich the story or add another thread to follow. They can give us clues. They can contradict the text so readers have an inside track on what’s really going on. And they can reveal something essential that would be invisible in the text alone.
Here are some examples in which the visual is vital to the storytelling.
Lizard From The Park by Mark Pett is a wonderful example. See that boy with glasses in the bottom left on the subway? He’s a parallel to Leonard—he too has his own lizard. In the end, the two boys meet. But if you’ve been following the illustrations closely, you’ll be waiting for it.
Super Jumbo by Fred Koehler. This book hinges on the difference between text and images. Is Jumbo really as super as described?
A Dark, Dark Cave by Eric Hoffman, illustrated by Corey R. Tabor. You and the characters are in a dark, dark cave. Until an illustration reveals where you all really are—in your imagination. It’s a wonderful and surprising technique.
The Great Paper Caper by Oliver Jeffers. This one offers visual clues to the mystery of where the trees are disappearing to. Like that bear over there!
Mummy Cat by Marcus Ewert, illustrated by Lisa Brown. A mummified cat wakes up and reads a dark, devious history on the walls in this story in a story.
I Can See Just Fine by Eric Barclay. Another example of illustrations telling a contrasted tale from the text. Paige claims she can see just fine. But can she?
Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts. There is an adorable girl you might not notice the first time around, but she has the most important supporting role. She makes the whole thing sing (“Happy Birthday”).
The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski is about visual stories. So that fox may never get a mention, but he is integral nonetheless.
Have You Seen My New Blue Socks? by Eve Bunting and Sergio Ruzzier asks a question and it answers it. And you might too if you are very very observant.
Night Animals by Giana Marino. Just follow the possum. It will tell you everything you need to know just by its eyes.
Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen. A gem of an example in which we (and the dog!) know more than the characters. (Thanks to Heather for bringing this one up in a previous post comment!)
Be a Friend by Salina Yoon. The girl on the swing is someone to keep an eye on. I love how she subtly mirrors Dennis in earlier illustrations before she mirrors him for real.
It’s Only Stanley by Jon Agee. The visuals are fun throughout here, but it’s the ending that they truly earn. You’ll see. It’s out of this world.
No Such Thing by Ella Bailey shows the reader stuff the main character can’t see. And I love that!
The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer by Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud. Keep your eye on the teacher. She just might show up as an integral part of this wild adventure.
A Hungry Lion by Lucy Ruth Cummins. This book is full of surprises, but there’s a visual clue as to the ending. Let’s just say, it’s hiding in plain sight.
Shout outs to other picture books with indispensable illustrations : Blown Away (the stowaway), Stick and Stone (origin stories on the endpapers), Nothing Ever Happens on My Block (oh but it does!), and There’s No Such Thing as Ghosts.
And also to the two I mentioned in a post last year on the power of visuals to tell the story.
Okay, what examples would you like to add to this list?