When you are looking at a book with a child who is just starting to grasp the cover of a book in his or her tiny fingers, there is nothing like that “AHA” moment on his or her face. The moment when he or she recognizes the character, or how to turn the page, or skips ahead to see if things will turn out the way he or she thinks it will. That is what happens with Where’s Walrus? by Stephen Savage. There are no words in his book, and babies and toddlers use only their eyes to identify Walrus.
Stephen Savage recently gave a presentation at the Society of Illustrators in New York City, and he talked about how babies pick out Walrus instantly on the cover. After that connection, it makes sense that they would go through each image, searching for Walrus just as the zookeeper searches for his runaway charge. But the author-artist also gives them a hint in the first scene after Walrus’s escape: Walrus is hiding in a fountain across from a mermaid. In this instance, their tails are the same, and also the leafy crowns they wear. Walrus’s tusks differentiate him from the mermaid. In the next scene, the fellow’s tail gives him away. With these first two puzzles, Savage “informs” children that these are the two characteristics that will help them discover Walrus in each image.
In his presentation, Savage talked about the importance of stripping down the images or “essentializing” them. He began with the cover. “Things that are well designed touch the heart and emotion,” he said, “like the Wonder Bread logo. That makes me hungry.” But he also packs in plenty for adult observers, too. The cover is a reference to Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.” The zookeeper is a nod to Buster Keaton’s silent films. And can you find the Monopoly man in these pages?
This is a book where your baby or toddler may actually beat your older child (and you) to the punch—finding Walrus before anyone else. Their minds are so attuned to visual cues that this book is tailor-made for them, but the entire family will pore over it.