Visualizing the Voiceless and Seeing the Unspeakable: Understanding International Wordless Picturebooks about Refugees
This article investigates the formal and ethical implications of the wordless picturebook about refugees, a recent and international phenomenon. Picturebooks in this small and expanding sub-genre, we argue, are part of the “children’s literature of atrocity” (Baer 382) and use the quintessential features of the wordless form to empower or disempower, humanize or otherize, their child refugee subjects. Some of the examples we engage with problematically rely upon a clumsy refugee/non-refugee binary between safe white child and seemingly perpetually unsafe black “other,” whereas the remaining examples use the wordless form to create more collaborative, dialogical, and less binarized depictions of the relationship between the shores of Europe and the conceptualized Global South. To represent this “unspeakable” reality through wordless picturebooks emphasizes their potency at enabling readers to take risks in their navigation of meaning, transforming non-verbal affective response into speaking the unspeakable aloud.