Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mercer Mayer's Wordless Books: Boys, Dogs, Frogs, Bears, Birds, Cats, and more!

Mercer Mayer is a very fun illustrator and author. He is currently best known for his Little Critter series, but, as a child in the 1970s, I remember staring at the pictures in the "A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog" series for hours. I had the mini-hardcover collection called "Four Frogs in a Box" which had "A Boy, a Dog and a Frog" (1967), "Frog, Where Are You?" (1969), "A Boy, a Dog, a Frog, and a Friend" (1971, co-written by Marianna Mayer), and "Frog on His Own" (1973) in it. I only recently found out that there were two more books in the series: "Frog Goes to Dinner" (1974), and "One Frog Too Many" (1975), and I've only added one of those to my collection so far (update 07/24/09, I finally broke down and purchased "One Frog Too Many" from Amazon... it arrived 2 days ago, and it is just as sweet as all of the other entries).

These books are virtually wordless. Once in awhile there is a single word in the picture somewhere, but it usually isn't a vital part of the story (like on a sign).

Mercer Mayer did two wordless "Flip-Books" (one story on one side and one story on the other) that contained two stories each called "Two Moral Tales" (1974) and "Two More Moral Tales" (1974). "Two Moral Tales" has the stories "Bird's New Hat" and "Bear's New Clothes." "Two More Moral Tales" has the stories "Sly Fox's Folly" and "Just a Pig At Heart." I don't think these were reprinted very much, and they are hard to find. Mine are ex-library hardcovers, and they are staying together pretty well.

Mercer Mayer did a similar series, but they usually had one word that was repeated throughout the book. These books featured a Hippo or an Elephant as the main protagonist. "Ah-choo" (1976), "Hiccup" (1976), "Oops" (1977) .

"The Great Cat Chase: A Wordless Book" is another one of Mercer Mayer's wordless books, but it was eventually re-released in 1994 with words written by Mercer Mayer (and in full color). Why did the publishers and Mercer Mayer decided to add words? I don't know. I don't think it would be because kids were getting the plot incorrectly. The plot is pretty basic: A girl's cat runs away, and a chase begins to get the cat back! In my opinion, The colorized version sort of dissolves the charm of the pen and ink drawings of the original, but it is still a great book.

"Walk Robot Walk" (1974) is another wordless book by Mercer Mayer. It is pretty hard to find, but very cute. It is a story of a boy who builds a robot and commands it to, "Walk," and then chaos ensues as the robot starts to walk... over the milkman, through the house, etc!

Many of Mercer Mayer's books can work as wordless books. His illustrations tell his stories very well and are quite endearing. A large part of "You're the Scaredy-Cat" is told through its pictures alone, and an un-reading child can easily figure out the whole story. "Bubble Bubble" is another great example. Both of them have a slight monster-aspect, but they are fairly tame.

I love Mercer Mayer's eye for detail. Especially in his books from the 60s and 70s. The eye jumps from one beautifully cross-hatched section of a page to another masterful pen and ink stroke on another part of the page. These wordless books force you to slow down and enjoy the pictures even more. Mostly because you aren't being rushed along by the words. Better yet, have your kids read it to you. A two minute story can become a 30 minute art filled experience that is filled with a story that is as elaborate as your child's imagination!