The holidays are over, the New Year is here, and it is time to bring back the Wordless Wednesday posts for a while. The holidays really took over in November and December, so I saved some great wordless books and also author interviews to share this month! Let’s start with this fun, clever, seek-and-find book about a walrus looking for its place in the world. Check out Where’s Walrus? by Stephen Savage, 2011, and stay tuned for a Q&A with Stephen Savage too.
At the opening of the story, we are greeted by an image of Walrus staring at an open gate of the zoo. All the animals, and the keeper too, are lounging and dozing. But Walrus is alert, perhaps unsatisfied, curious, or just taking the opportunity that has presented itself.
Walrus escapes the zoo, but is spotted by the keeper and the chase is on. Spread after spread, Walrus is to be found “hiding” or more likely participating in various scenes and professions.
The keeper chases Walrus all the way to a diving competition where Walrus no longer tries to blend in, but surprises everyone—including Walrus—with a hidden talent. And thankfully, the keeper is smart enough to capitalize and encourage Walrus in the alert, active animal it really wants to be.
This book is so much fun as it functions cleverly on many levels. First, there is the obvious seek-and-find enjoyment of the images. While a lot of books in this category use lots of detail and overwhelming backgrounds to challenge the seeking, Walrus is surrounded by white space; solid graphic shapes; and humorous, rather than subtle, disguises. It really isn’t difficult to find Walrus each time, but it is funny to find Walrus.
Second, the seek-and-find aspect isn’t the only point of the story. You can leave it there if desired, but there is a deeper plot doing on. Using one of the tips of how to read a wordless book, this is the perfect book to ask lots of questions. Why is Walrus the only animal awake? What is Walrus feeling? Why would Walrus be trying different activities and professions? As you give Walrus and the story closer inspection, you might come up with a deeper storyline about feeling discontent, wanting to do more, and maybe finding some more exciting purpose in daily life. Perhaps that is putting too much depth on Walrus’ adventurous spirit, but I think Walrus has some bigger aspirations than lounging in a pool all day long.
Lastly, I think one of the geniuses of this story is that you can identify with either the Walrus or the keeper. Walrus is struggling to find some purpose and the keeper is struggling to understand Walrus. His job is singular: keep the animals safe and in their places. But the keeper also learns a big lesson about not underestimating Walrus, encouraging Walrus, and being creative in problem-solving. The keeper may be frantic, but he doesn’t look angry. The keeper is a good example of being patient, compassionate, and listening even if the communication isn’t very clear.
Enough of my interpretation, let’s hear from the creator himself, Stephen Savage. We exchanged a brief email interview and I have his thoughts to some questions for you today. He is the fun civilian pictured between these sailors, a reference you’ll need to read the book to possibly get!
Question: What motivated you to create a wordless picture book as opposed to a traditional text + illustration book?
Stephen Savage: My editor, David Saylor, at Scholastic suggested the idea after I showed him a drawing of 3 walruses dressed in fedoras.
Q: Was there ever text or narration in your head for Where’s Walrus? or did it always perform silently?
SS: Funny that you ask! Early drafts of the book contained words, but David and I felt that they spoiled the deadpan humor in the art.
Q: Is there a specific storyline and conclusion to Where’s Walrus? that you hope the reader gets or is it a bit open-ended in your opinion?
SS: Part of what makes the book successful I think is its open-endedness. For young readers, it’s your basic seek-and-find book. But for older readers, it’s a story about self-discovery and finding your place in the world.
Q: Was it a more challenging experience to create a wordless book than your text books or is every book different, period?
SS: Walrus was my first picture book as illustrator and author. I like that my first go-round was “pictures only.” Since Walrus, I’ve written 4 books with text. Both word and wordless formats have their challenges.
Q: Is there a soundtrack that you hear for Where’s Walrus?
SS: Visual art is never an auditory experience for me….
Q: I have seen your fantastic color scripts that you do for books and it made me wonder about setting. Where’s Walrus? seems set in NYC. Did you create a map to lead Walrus and the keeper through the city or is it more favorite spots you wanted Walrus to appear, regardless of proximity to each other?
SS: I’ve lived in NYC for 25 years, so many of my books feel they’re set here. But I keep things vague and avoid specific landmarks (e.g. the Statue of Liberty) in an effort to create a universal and timeless “every-city” for the reader.
Yeah… I simply chose fun locations/situations for walrus without any regard to geography. The ordering of the scenes was key. Locations needed to transition in funny and interesting ways.
Q: Do you consider wordless picture books a better solitary experience or more exciting as a read-aloud?
SS: It works great either way.
Q: Have you ever shared Where’s Walrus? in a storytime? Do you have tips for how it or any other wordless picture books could be read aloud?
SS: Yes, l’ve read Where’s Walrus? hundreds of times with groups large and small and they’re always fun. The wordless format frees things up for both the storyteller and the audience.
Readings run the gamut. Sometimes they’re campfire sing-a-longs, football pep rallies, or improv comedy routines.
Q: Do you have any favorite picture books?
SS: I like the classics! Babar, Harold and the Purple Crayon, and the “little” books by Lois Lenski are my faves.
Q: And lastly, because you never really read a picture book alone and I adore brainstorming book groupings, do you have any books that you consider to pair well with Where’s Walrus?, wordless or not?
SS: We just released a Where’s Walrus? sequel: Where’s Walrus? And Penguin? As they say in the movies: “the adventure continues!”
Thanks to Stephen Savage for answering my questions and creating such a fun, yet surprisingly deep story. I hope you check it out friends, and also the sequel. We can’t wait to see what adventures Walrus greets with his new companion, Penguin.