Following the success of Skunk on a String, Canadian author and illustrator, Thao Lam returns with Wallpaper, her second contribution to the wordless genre. Much like Skunk on a String, Wallpaper whisks readers along on an exciting and colourful adventure which contains the ideal balance of suspense and heartwarming moments.
In the opening pages, audiences are introduced to a young girl who, despite her longing to acquire new friends in the neighbourhood into which she has just recently moved, is far too shy to introduce herself to a small group of children whose voices can be heard playing outside her window. Sad and alone in her room, the young girl is stunned when she notices a small yellow bird emerging from beneath a peeling piece of floral wallpaper. Peering cautiously beneath it, the child unexpectedly releases an entire flock of birds. Without hesitation, she peels back more of the wallpaper which reveals an entire rainforest-like scene of greenery and wildlife. Excitedly, the child steps into the scene before her and instantly becomes part of the magical world she has uncovered.
Within moments, the girl hears a loud noise emerging from behind her and, in turning around, realizes that the sound was made by a large and menacing looking triple-eyed, yellow monster. Filled with fear at this unexpected sight, she flees, attempting to take refuge from the large beast by peeling back yet another layer of wallpaper and leaping into the new world which is discovered beneath. To her dismay, the monster follows, and she enters world after world as she rapidly attempts to escape from the monster’s relentless pursuit. In this chase sequence, which extends over multiple pages, the young girl and her unrelenting monster pursuer move through a world of dotted windows, a pond abundant with delightful lily pads and curious frogs, and an eclectic assortment of sheep who are unsettled by the sudden burst of activity in their normally docile environment.
After many failed attempts, the monster is finally successful in catching up to the young girl. Saddened by her fear of him, he begins to cry. Realizing that the monster may not be as mean as she had initially thought, the girl cautiously approaches him with a friendly greeting. From that moment, a new friendship is born and the monster and girl happily venture off together into more imaginary worlds, but this time, rather than running away, the child eagerly embraces the company of her newfound gentle giant of a friend.
After much exploration, the child realizes that she has become quite hungry, and, after waving goodbye to the monster, she steps out of the wallpaper world and back into her home. Following a quick lunch, she returns to her room where she attempts to re-enter her beloved wallpaper haven; however, despite her efforts, she is unable to gain access to the places she and her monster sidekick had earlier visited. The girl is momentarily overcome with sadness upon the realization that she may not be able to ever return. But, after hearing voices of the neighbourhood children emerging once again from outside her window, her mood lightens, and, driven by the newfound courage she has obtained through her newly established friendship with the monster, she approaches the children who instantly welcome her company.
Lam’s illustrations are a delight for the senses. Her stunning use of paper collage in layered levels results in a three dimensional appearance so realistic that it teases the eye into believing that one can actually reach out and touch the parts of the illustrations that seemingly appear to “pop out” above the base layer. Lam’s generous use of vibrant colour complements the lighthearted nature of the book and draws the reader into the magical essence of the storyline. Her careful attention to detail, particularly in regard to the facial expressions of the characters, is most effective in wordlessly conveying a wide range of emotions. Young audiences will undoubtedly appreciate the creative little features which not only add a subtle tinge of humor to the plot, but also aid in children’s comprehension of the content. In particular, Lam’s use of multiple points-of-view in her illustrations, including variations between close-up and distant perspectives depicted through effortless shifts between full/double-page spreads and smaller insets, draw the reader directly into the story through the eyes of the characters. While Wallpaper can indeed be considered to be a wordless picturebook as it is the illustrations which carry the majority of the plot, it is important to note that a few select words are inserted into the story, thus making the book not completely text free. While these words may not have been an entirely necessary addition, they neither detract from the overall wordless feel of the book nor from the flow of the visual narrative.
This book not only teaches a most valuable lesson in friendship, but it also seeks to embrace and empower children who may find making friends to be a difficult proposition due to introversion, apprehension, or shyness. Wallpaper is a must-have wordless addition to home and school libraries alike. Its charming essence will appeal to a wide range of audiences and will undeniably spark the interest of those who are drawn to the magic and allure of stories told exclusively through the image.
Christina Quintiliani is an Ontario Certified Teacher and Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Education, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, where she is researching children’s literature.