Kindness is a recurring theme in wordless picturebooks – see Every Little Kindness by Marta Bartolj and Fox’s Garden by Princesse Camcam. I Walk With Vanessa inhabits a similar space and even makes the theme explicit in its sub-title: ‘A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness’.
When Vanessa first arrives at her new school she feels isolated and alone. She’s not yet part of any friendship group and none of the other children is talking to her. Her position as an outsider is made clear in the early illustrations, where she is shown on the lower half of the right-hand page, apart from the other pupils, unsmiling and with her head lowered.
All the pupils are shown small against a vast school building, which highlights their young age. Each one has a distinctive character, cleverly implied in the skilful illustrations by their body language and facial expressions, deftly drawn in a few simple lines.
Vanessa’s uncomfortable situation is made worse by the presence of an aggressive boy, who shouts at her, leaving her feeling tearful after he has ‘laid the law down’ in a thoroughly bossy way.
In most of the book the ink and watercolour illustrations are rendered in delicate soft shades, surrounded by plenty of airy white space. But the image of the bully yelling at Vanessa has a bright red background that conveys in a visceral way his anger and her shock.
Vanessa’s sadness is noticed by another little girl in a yellow frock. She in turn shares her concerns with her friends and they all part looking equally despondent.
Later, back at home with her family, the girl in yellow ponders on what to do about the situation.
Her anxiety prevents her from sleeping, and there is a dramatic full-bleed spread of a rooftop scene that shows the two girls awake in their respective houses. These two rectangles of light stand out in the darkness. The inky-blue tones that infuse this spread not only provide a powerful injection of darker colours, but also help to emphasise the low mood of the two children.
The following spread returns to the lighter shades used earlier and shows the protagonist having a sudden lightbulb moment as she has an idea of how to help Vanessa.
She rushes out of the door, heads to Vanessa’s house, and suggests they walk to school together.
It’s a small thing to do, but it has huge consequences as first one child, then many more come to join them until Vanessa is surrounded by friendly faces all heading to class.
Only one boy is not so happy – and it doesn’t take too much imagination to guess who that is.
The final page of the book offers practical advice about dealing with bullying.
Kerascoët is the husband-and-wife team Sébastien Cosset and Marie Pommepuy. Their pen name comes from a hamlet called Kerascoët in Névez in Brittany, France, where Pommepuy grew up.
They have illustrated several books, including Paul and Antoinette and Malala’s Magic Pencil, as well as the award-winning graphic novel Beautiful Darkness. Their most recent book, I Forgive Alex, is also wordless and has the sub-title: ‘A Simple Story About Understanding’.