Visualizing the Voiceless and Seeing the Unspeakable: Understanding International Wordless Picturebooks about Refugees

  • Gabriel Duckels University of Cambridge
  • Zoe Jaques
Keywords: wordless picturebooks, borders, migrant, asylum

Abstract

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.

 

DOI: 10.1353/jeu.2019.0020

Author Biographies

Gabriel Duckels, University of Cambridge

Gabriel Duckels is a Harding Distinguished Postgraduate Scholar at the Centre for Research in Children’s Literature at the University of Cambridge. He is affiliated to the DIALLS Project, which uses wordless visual texts to explore cultural literacy with children in Europe and Israel.

Zoe Jaques

Zoe Jaques is Senior Lecturer in Children’s Literature at the University of Cambridge and Dean of Homerton College. She is the author of Children’s Literature and the Posthuman (Routledge, 2015) and co-author of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass: A Publishing History (Ashgate, 2013). She is also general editor of the forthcoming Cambridge History of Children’s Literature in English (Cambridge UP, 2022).

Published
2020-02-12
How to Cite
Duckels, G., & Jaques, Z. (2020). Visualizing the Voiceless and Seeing the Unspeakable: Understanding International Wordless Picturebooks about Refugees. Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures, 11(2), 124-150. Retrieved from https://jeunessejournal.ca/index.php/yptc/article/view/491
Section
Articles for Special Issue on Borders