What I love best about travelling is accidental discoveries, for example, stumbling upon this delightful, wordless gem in a bookshop in downtown Düsseldorf. “Stille Nacht, fröhliche Nacht” (“Silent Night, Happy Night”) is a picture book that charmed me at first sight.
A deer and a rabbit stare out across a vast snowy landscape. In the distance, they see a winding caravan of trailers and carriages. A circus is travelling through the countryside on its way to where?
It passes through the city where everyone is busily going about their business preparing for Christmas. The caravan continues beyond the city limits and heads towards a little house on top of the hill. The caravan arrives at its destination, and the father in a top hat is warmly greeted by his wife and their little daughter who has been waiting eagerly in front of a brightly lit, cosy little house.
From there, the festivities and celebration proceed indoors with singing, merriment and feasting well into the night. Eventually, they all fall asleep with contented smiles on a rug in the middle of the room, even the horse (or is it a donkey?) When morning comes, and the sun rises over the city, father, mother and the little girl wave goodbye to the caravan on its way to where?
Like all good wordless picture books the illustrations for “Stille Nacht, fröhliche Nacht” have a spirit of enquiry and engagement. They draw you in because the narrative isn’t always obvious, but instead leaves questions that are open to interpretation. Who are these people? Where did they come from? Where are they going? What is their relationship? And what the hell is a horse/donkey doing inside this tiny house in the first place? And yes, if you can tell me for sure what you think it is, a horse or a donkey, please leave a comment below and put me out of my misery:)
Julie’s images keep your eye busily moving all over the page. Because there are heaps of tiny details and quirky little vignettes which a cursory glance might overlook, but as a whole add so much character and context to the story. Her delicate watercolour tones lend a warm, feel-good mood to this uplifting tale.
This book’s creator Julie Völk is a young illustrator of Austrian descent presently based in Germany. She has only created a few books so far, but her talent as an illustrator is undeniable. Pair that with an offbeat sense of humour and an eye for detail, and you have a recipe for success.
In 2014, the German Academy for Children’s and Youth Literature in cooperation with the Frankfurt Book Fair awarded Julie Völk the Serafina Award for young talent in illustration. The Academy also named “Stille Nacht, fröhliche Nacht” book of the month in December 2017. In 2018 Julie’s wordless picture book “Guten Morgen, Kleine Strassenbahn!” (Good morning, Little Tram!) was on IBBY’s Honour List, and in 2020 “My Favourite Memories” written by Sepideh Sarihi and illustrated by Julie Völk took the most prestigious Bologna Ragazzi Award (the equivalent of the Olympic Gold in sports).
A delightful, universally appealing, wordless picture book for everyone who is looking forward to reuniting with families and friends this Christmas!
For more reviews of fabulous winter and Christmas themed books click here.