Children's books without words are, in my mind, an incredible asset to have on hand at bedtime. Here's why...
If things are going well and there is no rush, you can take the time to point out small details and start a dialogue about whatever it is on the page that strikes your fancy. If things are not going so well and you spent most of the previous hour struggling with toothpaste and pajamas, well then you can stick to the basics and get everyone involved one step closer to bed that much faster. And if nothing else, interpreting the sound effects that are usually employed within can be a great release at the end of a long day. So it is safe to say I have a great appreciation for wordless children's books, and the one I appreciate above all others is Red Sled by Lita Judge. Wordless or not, it is just about perfect.
The premise is one that cannot fail: a group of curious woodland animals borrow a little girl's sled for a moonlit night of breakneck fun. It starts with just one bear but eventually ends up with a menagerie of creatures precariously perched on a tiny sled, having the time of their lives.
The story is punctuated by a series of 'Whoa's, a few 'Eeeeeeee's and some other random utterances that ably mix fear and delight. There are also a few sound words which bear mentioning because they are so on the money. I challenge anyone to come up with a better representation of the sound that walking in a certain type of snow makes when the temperature is around ten degrees Fahrenheit than the following: 'scrinch scrunch scrinch scrunch'. That is perfect, as is the 'sssssffft' of the sled as it carves its way down a hillside.
But, obviously, the artwork has to be something special for a wordless book to really work, and Judge's illustrations are more than up to the challenge. The cozy little cottage in the middle of nowhere evokes nostalgia for a place you have never been but somehow feel connected to. The little girl's floppy hand-knit hat personifies playfulness, and the facial expressions of the animals convey everything from sheer terror as they fly through the air to utter joy as they crash land and get up to do it again.
As winter descends upon many of us it is easy to focus on the negatives, but why not celebrate it a bit instead? A few readings of Red Sled will have you praying for snow in no time.
Title: Red Sled
Author/Illustrator: Lita Judge
Publisher: Atheneum (2011)
Age group: Two to eight
Best for kids who: love winter, sledding, and forest animals
Find the book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: Red Sled by Lita Judge