Let's get this right out in the open: I don't like wordless picture books.
Make that didn't. I didn't like wordless picture books, and I thought my prejudice was justified.
I never like to lose the well-choreographed dance between text and art in books that contain both. And I love the economy of language, and the poetry, so perfectly showcased by a picture book's spare, carefully constructed prose.
In short, I adore words. So I have always felt a little cheated whenever I opened a picture book and discovered one wordless spread after another.
And yet when I picked up T.T. Khing's Where Is the Cake?, I didn't experience a single moment of disappointment. Only sheer delight.
Maybe that's because what Khing accomplishes in his 12 wordless spreads is more than would have ever been possible in a tale told via text. In the first two pages alone, a sharp-eyed reader can spot the openings to no less than 10 separate – though ultimately intertwined – storylines.
There's the cake caper: Two thieving rats steal the titular confection. And imminent danger: One pokey duckling lingers behind his mother and siblings.
There's the beginning of a journey: A weasel leaves his home. And potential romance: A chameleon picks a bouquet.
And let's not forget the two mysterious tails – one striped and one spotted – peeking out from behind the trees, and a soccer ball kicked by an unidentified player.
As the book progresses, so, too, does the drama. A trio of mischievous monkeys joins the action. A bunny child cries … but why? And Mama, Papa, and little boy piglet head off … where?
Back to that cake
Of course, this is mostly a tale about the cake. A chocolatey, pink-frosted treat, to which the reader's eye is naturally drawn after each page turn, as those wicked rats offer a madcap, merry chase.
On the other hand, depending on your individual sensibilities, this story might not be about the cake at all. (During my first reading, I, for one, lost track of it in my concern over what had happened to the lagging duckling.) In the end, though, the confection that launched this story also concludes it, providing a well-earned pause after the frenetic pace of the rest of the book.
As for who will enjoy this watercolor-and-ink romp, potential readers could range from preschoolers to the early elementary set.
The pictures, which hint at Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad (but with a fuller palette), inevitably spark questions for the littlest ones to answer – Who lost a mitten? What happened to Mrs. Cat's nose? – and offer older children an opportunity to flex their storytelling muscles.
In all, this is, simply, one spectacular picture book. And as for the words? Oh, you won't even miss them.
• Jenny Sawyer reviews children's books for the Monitor.