Hello again to another Wordless Wednesday. In addition to having a beautiful book to discuss today, I have a short interview with the author and illustrator, Molly Idle! A breathtaking wordless book is such an artistic feat, who would know more about them than the artist herself!
Let’s take a quick look at the book to introduce it to any who may have missed it and refresh those of us who love it. And then we’ll get to the good stuff in a short Q&A. Here is Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle, 2013.
This book came out in that infamous “year of the wordless picture book” of 2013 and it rightfully earned a Caldecott Honor Medal from that year too. The setting is minimal and airy with abounding stretches of white paper bordered by cherry blossom trees. Those blossoms are a perfect compliment to the limited color palette of pink, brown, and a pop of yellow. It is a stunning combination.
Flora is a little bathing-suited girl with a yellow swim cap and brown flippers. The flamingo is of course a beautiful and graceful bird who gets second billing in the title and yet first and larger stature in the story.
The book opens above with the flamingo doing its flamingo thing of standing perfectly and proudly on one leg. And there is a flipper intruding on the right. With one spread, the whole story is set before us. How will the elegant creature respond to the flippered girl stepping onto its stage and taking her own half of the book and story?
And then the story is given a whole new level of interaction… flaps. These are not the basic lift-the-flap and reveal the answer kind of flaps. These flaps add movement, response, and emotion. And the power is completely in the reader’s hands. In the beginning, both the flamingo and Flora have their own, identically-shaped flaps. I think of them as space bubbles. They move separately. And they define their own area and actions.
The two begin a series of the flamingo performing a movement and Flora mimicking. But she also gets closer to the Flamingo with each page turn. The flaps are not on every page, but when we do see them, they grow. The flamingo’s space is being invaded and we can feel it in the diminishing space between the characters, the gutter between the pages being crossed, and the flamingo’s flap growing ever so slightly larger.
And then the flamingo has had it, reacts, and Flora hits the ground. This page turn is the most epic and contains the most drama, taking on the form of a very large flap itself.
The story plays out like a dance, intentionally and beautifully. It also is a recreation of relationships at work. Perhaps I have been the mother of two daughters for too long already, but in my own life experiences and in the referee job I now play with my children – the invasion of space and hurtful response is all too familiar. The intentions of Flora can be read in several different ways. Is she wanting to play? Is she copying the bird’s actions out of admiration? Or is she mocking it? Is she trying to annoy? Or does she want a friend?
The book ends with lovely amends being made and a beautiful partnership ensuing. They move together. It is graceful and so much fun too. It is a dance of making friends, of cooperation, and consideration.
So why does this story work so well, and especially for children? As we keep seeing with wordless books, the story is simple in concept, but packed with emotion. Thank goodness for all that white space because the questions and feelings of those characters need lots of room to breathe. The expressions of each character are so beautifully rendered in so much more than their faces. Their whole bodies emote feeling. Which is very easy to relate to as a small child.
And a brilliant component of this story is that you can relate to either character. Sure one is a bird and the other a girl. That adds a ton of humor and interest. But every person plays the part of each character at some point in a relationship. We are hopeful and we get hurt. We are independent and we hurt someone in our irritation. We are curious and we imitate. We are vulnerable and we get scared. The book can be played from both parts in a myriad of ways. Flora and the flamingo express the delicateness of relationships incredibly beautifully.
And now, I am thrilled to share some questions and answers with the stupendous creator of this beautiful dance and an undeniable expert in wordless picture books. Molly and I shared a short email conversation with her graciously answering my questions and now I welcome you to eavesdrop.
Question: What motivated you to create a wordless picture book as opposed to a traditional text + illustration book?
Q: Do you feel like your background in animation makes you more suited to wordless picture books where the action and the expressions are even more crucial for pushing the story?
Q: Is there a specific storyline to Flora and the Flamingo that you hope the reader gets or is it a bit open-ended in your opinion?
MI: There is a specific storyline in my mind. But I don’t want to impose my interpretation of the illustrations upon readers.
Q: Was it a more challenging experience to create a wordless book than your text books or is every book different, period?
Q: Were the flaps part of the storytelling plan from the start or did they evolve with the concept?
MI: The flaps were an integral part of the book from the outset. My first dummy of the book was 16 pages, and had flaps on every page. And the poses in that dummy were the same poses that exist in the finished book. They were just doubled up. It was as if we had a deck of cards all neatly stacked, and then we fanned the deck out.
Q: In a Horn Book interview you said that Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz is your soundtrack for Flora and the Flamingo. (A delightful insider’s note that I love!) Did you ever imagine any dialogue or narration as you created the interactions?
Q: Do you consider wordless picture books a better solitary experience or more exciting as a read-aloud?
MI: Oooo – I love to read wordless picture books both ways! As a solitary experience, I find I’m able to put myself more directly into them. I feel a connection between myself and the book. But shared, they add another level of connection. While everyone may relate differently to one character or another, so many of our reactions to characters’ experiences are shared. And in the sharing of our reactions as we read, we feel connected to the book, and to one another too.
Q: I loved your chat with Roger and the way you described storytime readings including this line, “I want these books to be about something so big that any words you would add couldn’t be enough; it’s a feeling we can’t necessarily put into words.” But it begs the question, do you have tips for how Flora and the Flamingo or any other wordless picture books should be read aloud?
Q: Do you have any favorite wordless picture books, besides yours of course?
Q: And lastly, do you have any books that you consider to pair well with Flora and the Flamingo, wordless or not?
MI: I think that’s a question best put to readers! What would you pair with Flora for a picture book pas de deux?
Thanks so much to Molly Idle for such a lovely book and for taking the time to answer my curiosities. And please readers, you all know how much I adore putting book groupings together; so give us your thoughts on what reads well with Flora and her friend!