Wordless picture books: The Little Barbarian by Renato Moriconi

I love wordless picture books. There is always so much to explore in them. I also love that moment with a group of children when they have turned their noses up at a wordless picture book, because they are for younger children, and have then become engrossed and challenged by it and change their minds about how ‘easy’ it is to read.

barbarianMy favourite wordless book at the moment is The Little Barbarian by Renato Marconi – not someone I have come across before.

The book is tall and thin and the front cover introduces us to the barbarian astride his horse.  One of the first things he does with his trusty stead and sword at the ready is to jump across a gap or chasm whereupon he meets a range of monsters: serpents, birds, ogres, a firebird and a scorpion. Each time he defeats them and rides on with an implacable expression.

The page sizes are used to great effect for the  illustrations of each foe.  The scorpion curls around from top to bottom of the page with the tail hovering over the barbarian.  The serpents rise up from the bottom of the page, the birds fly down from the top of the page and the ogres stand at the bottom of the page waving their spears and almost reaching him.  The barbarian appears in different places on the pages, sometimes floating at the top of the page, other times galloping along the bottom. This is one big adventure, battle to battle.

There is a real sense of up and down in this book provided through the visual patterns on each page. Often these are provided with dynamic diagonal lines suggesting movement.

It is only as we get to the end of the book and what appears to be a God reaches down, perhaps to rescue him, that the barbarian’s expression changes.  I won’t spoil the book by saying what happens at the end but the line down the centre of the image on the front cover becomes important at this point.

This is a wonderful book for children to explore. As soon as I had read it, I wanted to go back and name each foe and decide which story they had come from.  This intertextuality is worth exploring as so many stories draw on these types of myths and legends.  It would make an ideal text to model how authors draw on other stories to help make their own original story as well as just enjoying it for its own sake.

What is your favourite wordless picture book at present?

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