Silent Movie is a picture book meant to be experienced like a silent movie. The story is set in 1909: a young family immigrates from Sweden to America, Papa going first, then sending for Mama and son, Gustave six months later. Mama and Gustave arrive but are unable to find Papa once they arrive in New York. They are accosted by a thief, who steals what little money they are able to collect by begging and aided by an old friend from their native Sweden. Out on the street a famous movie director, Bartholomew Bunting, is searching for a child actor for his next movie, sees Gustave and thinks he will be perfect! Meanwhile, an exhausted Papa, still looking for Mama and Gustave, takes a break in the local nickelodeon and sees his son on the screen!
For me, as a teacher of theater, Silent Movie works as a way to introduce the topic of silent movies to students and start them thinking specifically of how to tell a story completely visually–how a director might envision it and then how to implement that vision with actors, sets, etc.
The illustrations are all in black and white. The illustrator, C. B. Mordan, took great pains to have the illustrations be reflective of the experience of seeing a silent movie. The frames which show close ups are the most effective, character-wise and the larger, more populated images are very evocative of the lighting and moods in silent movies.
I don’t think I would use Silent Movie as a picture book without using it as part of an introduction to either silent movies or visual art–the idea of communicating with visual images.