This wordless picture book can be read in both directions – from front to back, and from back to front! The first story follows a firefly’s quest to find a flashing light; in the second narrative, a rabbit dashes away from the city and through the forest with a dog hot on his heels.
Looking back, I’m sure it had something to do with the quirky firefly on the front cover – that look of despair and loss and those large blue circles around his eyes – as well as the glorious explosion of green watercolour in the background. I picked up the book for a closer look and ended up bringing it home from the local library to share with my children . . . long before I dreamt up this Planet Picture Book adventure. Follow the Firefly/Run, Rabbit, Run! is a wordless picture book that can be read in both directions. First, we follow a firefly’s search for a flashing light as we read from left to right towards the back cover. Then, we leap back into action as a rabbit runs through the forest from right to left, ending our journey, unusually, at the front of the book, where a firefly is about to set off on a quest to find a flashing light.
Cleverly, neither storyline encroaches on the other. The firefly is at the forefront of the opening spread, his mournful expression immediately drawing our attention and creating empathy. And his bright yellow glow ensures that we can easily spot him on each page. The firefly interacts with a range of creatures in the forest on his search; their gestures directing him each time to the right, and the back cover of the book. I love his quirky almost-human characterisation throughout the story: in one scene he is given a lopsided smile, in another he is shown scratching his head, and later even giving a thumb’s up. My absolute favourite illustration, though, shows him as he nears his destination – a flashing traffic light. His mouth is agape with excitement, his eye radiates love, and his arms (yes, I know they are legs, really) are raised in a hooray! gesture. My children, Miss 3 and Miss 6, love my crazy firefly impression at this stage of the story.
No sooner do we reach the end of the book than another story starts. A bright white rabbit leaps out of his cage away from the chaos caused by the flashing traffic light; he heads left towards the front cover of the book. The firefly is forgotten (although he is still on every page) as the rabbit takes centre stage. However, we soon realise that the spotlight is shared as our furry friend is being chased by a dog with very sharp teeth. The rabbit manages to outwit, outswim and outrun the dog for most of the story – although only just on occasion. And, in a lovely twist, they end up as friends with the rabbit befriending the beleaguered dog (who is no longer shown with very sharp teeth) and inviting him to a barbecue with the other forest animals. The illustrations in this second story, in particular, are fabulous, with Carvalho conveying emotions such as terror, anger, complacency and concern in deceptively simple strokes. Both the forest and urban settings are rich in colour, detail and activity. There is so much to explore on every page.
I’m definitely developing a thing about wordless picture books. They invite close inspection and encourage readers and non-readers alike to make connections, use their imaginations and make up their own story. And they can travel across borders, uninhibited by the barriers of language and comprehension. That’s pretty special (in my book!) Even if you haven’t read a wordless picture book before, I’d urge you to give this one a go. Follow the Firefly/Run, Rabbit, Run! is beautiful to look at and it is so much fun following the two characters on their individual journeys and developing their stories. And because one story starts as the other ends, you can keep going all day!
Follow the Firefly / Run, Rabbit, Run! by Bernardo P. Carvalho, edited by Frith Williams (first published in Portuguese in 2013 by Planeta Tangerina; this edition, Book Island, 2017)
Bernardo P. Carvalho has illustrated many children’s books. He is also a co-founder of Portuguese publishing house and graphic design studio Planeta Tangerina, which was awarded the BOP for Best European Children’s Publisher at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in 2013. He studied Fine Arts and Design at the College of Fine Arts in Lisbon.