South cover

When winter days are cold and dark, little books with sweet stories can warm your heart. And so it is with this wordless book from McDonnell. Allow me to introduce you to South by Patrick McDonnell, 2008.

As there is no text, I will attempt to keep my own words spare. I had heard about this book from another reviewer who loves McDonnell, Donna at 32 Pages. I was intrigued but sort of forgot about it until a couple weeks ago when I happened upon it in a used bookstore. A quick flip through and I was smitten. Because it sums up this book so perfectly, I’m going to quote a quote that Donna used in her review several years ago: “Roger Ebert once said it’s not sadness that makes him cry in films, it’s kindness.” And that’s what gets you in this sweet book.

South spread 2

The storyline, only told in pictures, begins with a flock of birds departing from a tree with hardly any leaves. You then meet a little bird who accidentally missed his group’s departure and is distraught. In a strange, unrealistic, but incredibly lovely turn of events, the bird is discovered by a cat – McDonnell’s famous Mooch – who doesn’t gobble up said little lost bird; but instead offers a paw.

South spread 3

Cue the sniffles. The two set out to find the bird’s family and a surprising little friendship is struck.

South spread 4

Wordless picture books are so difficult to really pull off well. As many authors frequently relate, picture book writing requires editing, editing and more editing; until you barely have any text at all and there can be a marvelous interplay between the words and pictures. So taking the already difficult task of writing completely out of the picture and still creating an incredibly emotional, interesting, and active story is quite a feat. McDonnell really gets it in South. Perhaps it is his stellar comic art background; but he is a wonder at picturing emotions in such a loose and undetailed form.

I often see wordless books as wonderful for children, and frustrating for adults. How do you read a wordless book to a kid? I know you can just explain the images, and that is part of it I guess; but I think some of it is teaching how to decipher the story on their own. Show how to just soak in lovely illustrations and pick up the subtle details. Words aren’t always necessary, and that is lovely.

I have to mention how my heart practically stopped when I inadvertently peeked under the dust jacket of this one. Just look:

South undercover

And it is even more stunning in person. Now I’m torn whether to keep the jacket on or off… sigh.

I’ll be reaching for this sweet story many times this winter and cheering on the little duo in their quest. I hope you look this one up and join in on the adventure south.