My first encounter with David Wiesner’s books was stumbling across a copy of The Three Pigs by accident. I was so happy with the playful direction the story went, breaking beyond the simplicity of the original fairy tale and becoming something that would truly stretch my students’ imaginations. More on that book below. Wiesner has been illustrating books since 1980, collaborating with writer Gloria Skurzynski on Honest Andrew. His first work as a writer would come seven years later with Loathsome Dragon, a retelling co-written with his wife, Kim Khang. The following year would see his first solo effort, Free Fall. Since then, Wiesner has written & illustrated eleven additional books, his most recent being Robot Baby (2020). Below are four of his books I highly recommend.
For ages: 4-8
Tuesday opens with a striking image: frogs sitting on lily pads that float out of their pond and across the city. Seeing this bizarre event causes birds to become confused and crash into hanging laundry. After a brief flight, the lily pads come to rest on the ground leaving the humans wholly befuddled as to what happened. The book is almost entirely wordless, which allows the reader to develop their own deeper narrative to what Wiesner provides. The illustrator does such an amazing job creating a magical night filled with moonlight where it feels like anything is possible. I’ve always thought Wiesner’s wordless texts would be great writing activities for older children to pen the narrative they imagine.
The Three Pigs (2001, Clarion Books)
For ages: 5-9
Everything starts in the usual manner. Three pigs build houses made of different materials. Then, a big bad wolf shows up to devour them. That’s when things break from the expected story as the wolf blows so hard the pigs fall out of the story. With this transformation comes new art styles, which switch up as the pigs jump across different books. Between the books, they are given a more realistic style, while in one story, they become simple line drawings and so on. If I wanted to introduce students to the typically complicated concept of deconstruction and postmodernism, you couldn’t ask for a better text than this. My own experience showed that my more writerly students saw this as an avenue to recontextualize familiar stories. It’s something all kids feel a natural inclination to do, and it’s nice to have books like this that encourage them.
For ages: 6-11
Wiesner’s work has always been challenging despite being primarily wordless. His images are complex and often full of details that illuminate his narratives. I love how he incorporates ambiguity, leaving readers with questions to ponder. This story opens with a boy finding a barnacle-encrusted camera washed up on the beach. He develops the roll of film inside only to find fantastical images of giant starfish islands, underwater cities, and more. At the end of the pictures, he discovers a photo of children’s portraits revealing the camera has been making its way around the world for decades. The boy chooses to pop in a new roll of film and add himself to the list before tossing it back into the water to find a new person. Flotsam, like Tuesday, has a wondrous air of mystery and poses a lot of questions to the reader.
Mr. Wuffles! (2013, Clarion Books)
For ages: 4-8
There’s a lot more talking here…but you likely won’t understand it. Mr. Wuffles is a house cat whose home has become the landing spot for a group of miniature aliens. The cat sees them as a unique snack and batters their ship. The aliens go into hiding within the house’s walls, where they befriend a friendly ladybug and her ant friends. Working together, they devise a plan to recover the ship and the needed parts to repair it. Mr. Wuffles is eager to find them, so he is their most significant obstacle. Wiesner uses his superb artistic skill to show small everyday objects (candy, erasers, metal screws) as something unique to these mini people and bugs. Through the ink and watercolor illustrations, the setting of an average house is transformed into something exciting and fantastic. There’s a tremendous amount of comedy here, showcasing Weisner’s wry sense of humor. I’ve read this multiple times to my niece and nephew, and they love it.