Coming this week with a Wednesday post which seemed the perfect time to resurrect a favorite theme: Wordless Wednesday! If you’re new here, don’t be confused or perhaps get your hopes up – it’s not a wordless post from me. Ha! No, in these posts I celebrate a mysterious genre of picture books: the wordless book. Once a painful headache for me, now I search and celebrate the beautiful ones I can find. If wordless books tend to make you grimace – start with this post with tips for how to read them. And then join me today in drooling over this simple, yet beautiful story about a child and grandparent looking for tenants for their dreadfully neglected rental apartment and finding community in surprising ways. Here is Over the Shop by JonArno Lawson, illustrations by Qin Leng, 2021.
I think this may be one of the first wordless picture books I’ve ever reviewed that actually has a separate author and illustrator. I find this fascinating. I would love to hear how exactly the creation process works, and what form the author’s concept took and how that was given to the illustrator to storyboard. I can imagine and make educated guesses, but it’s probably best to just enjoy the magic that emanated from this team.
The story opens with a child and their grandparent beginning their day. After dressing and breakfast, they go to the front and open their general store. The child notices a cat outside and attempts to feed it. Back inside, the child is drawing and notices the grandparent put a sign in the window about an apartment for rent.
Many people stop in to see the apartment. And they all leave quickly upon seeing the state of it. Finally a young couple inquires; but the grandparent surprisingly removes the sign and discourages their request. The child is surprised and advocates for the couple. The grandparent relents and the couple move in.
The couple turn out to be determined workers and they set to work rejuvenating the neglected space. The child joins in, and soon the apartment is a welcoming home. The work, care, and joy of the couple and the child soon spread to the shop below and even the storefront and neighbor next door. It is a joyous, charming, and heartwarming tale of love, kindness, and hard work making a unique community.
I knew I would love this book. I have yet to meet a Qin Leng illustration that didn’t make me swoon. The loose quality of her linework and the masterfully applied watercolor and color palette are always stunning and create the most incredible atmosphere. I love the simplicity of the lines and the details that somehow convey so much with so little. Her use of perspective and angles and lighting are remarkable. With the lack of text, there is no illustrative storytelling device missing.
I keep coming back to this book, again and again, trying to decipher its layered storytelling. There is so much here. Questions to ask, things to ponder, joys to partake in. There are curious details that signify deeper meanings, possibly about prejudice and love and kindness. I love that a story with no narration contains so much thoughtfulness and so much to draw you in. Impressively well done.
Wordless books are such a unique treat. When done well, as seen in this story, they invite you back and encourage your depth of storytelling and participation. They are intriguing to readers and non-readers alike. They are approachable and ask as little or as much as you care to give to each “reading.”
I hope you enjoyed taking a peek at this new one. It is well-worth your time seeking it out and finding your version of the story.