Once Upon a Story
November 18, 2013

Fossil coverFossil by Bill Thomson

Published by: Two Lions/Amazon

Release date: November 2013

Ages: 3-7

Pages: 40

From the publisherWhen a boy and his dog go for a hike, the boy trips on a fossil, and it comes to life, revealing an ancient plant. The boy is so intrigued that he breaks two more fossils that come to life—a dragonfly and a pteranodon. When these prehistoric creatures collide with present reality, the boy must figure out a way to make things go back to normal. Visually told through art, this “wordless story” will surely spark imagination and creativity.

I like to think I’m pretty good with words.  I can express myself clearly in writing, I have some creativity, I have some formal education, and  some informal education.
But, ironically, I’m a very visual person.  Images stick in my head longer than words. So a story told in powerful images?
That’s right up my alley.
Which is why I’m so very excited to welcome Bill Thomson to the blog, and share his new wordless picture book Fossil with you.

I think what impresses me most about Fossil is the blend of fantastical and accurate minute detail.  The story celebrates both creativity and science, imagination and fact.  I asked  Bill to talk a little bit about both writing and reading wordless picture books.  Here is what he had to say:

Bill Thomson RGB photo (2)FOSSIL is your second wordless picture book.  CHALK (2010) also contains a dinosaur theme.  Do these books come out of your own fascination with the topic, or that of your boys? (By the way, my 4yo daughter has confiscated my copy of the book.  She and my 2yo son are both big dinosaur fans.)

While CHALK and FOSSIL both feature dinosaurs, my fascination is actually more with imagination than dinosaurs. Both books apply imagination to different elementary school subjects that I hope children will enjoy and teachers will find useful as teaching tools. Because one of my artistic strengths is working realistically, I try to make my books as convincing as possible, hoping that children forget they are looking a book and accept my fantasy as reality.

With CHALK, I experimented with many different ideas as to what the menacing chalk creation might be. I considered monsters, gorillas, and even giant bugs, but it seemed more natural that a somewhat mischievous little boy might draw a dinosaur. Since I have rarely had an opportunity to paint a dinosaur in my professional life, I was also excited about exploring a subject that was new to me. I had an absolute blast trying make the dinosaur seem believable while also trying to make it both scary and slightly disarming (adding its subtle smile) at the same time. My goal was for children to perceive it as they wanted.

With FOSSIL, I wanted to create a similar fantastical adventure applying imagination to science as the second installment of a wordless imagination-based trilogy. I should also say that following CHALK with a similar wordless adventure was somewhat imposing. I wanted to retain many of the successful aspects of CHALK while also creating something completely different to stand alone. When considering the catalyst for adventure in a book about fossils, another dinosaur offered much greater possibilities than a terrifying trilobite. However, to differentiate it from CHALK, I decided to depict a pteranodon, which is actually a flying reptile, and have the child be the “chaser” instead of the “chasee.”

I love wordless picture books for their ability to open up the story to the reader.  How is the challenge of creating a wordless picture book different than the challenge of illustrating a manuscript with text, which you’ve also done?

The tricky thing about creating a wordless book is making the story lucid without the clarification of words. Because my “readers” are children, my visual stories have to be engaging while also being clearly understood by young eyes and minds. With wordless books, the audience essentially functions as the author. To offer the possibility of different story interpretations, I also try to include layers of possible meaning beyond the obvious. That way, the reader can choose what aspects are significant in constructing their story. For example, one child may see FOSSIL as a book about rocks that come to life. Another child may perceive FOSSIL as a love story about a boy and his dog. The book also includes secondary characters (a dragonfly and ducks) that offer chances for further storytelling twists.  Everything in my visual adventures is there to stretch storytelling possibilities. However, including too much can also lead to confusion, so I strive to find the right balance.

When illustrating a manuscript (such as KARATE HOUR or BUILDING WITH DAD, both by Carol Nevius), I always feel a tremendous sense of obligation to portray the author’s story as beautifully as I can. To do this, I need to take visual ownership of the story to create my best interpretation of their narrative. The illustrations don’t need to communicate everything, but must mesh with the story to form one cohesive package. Because the text also helps to advance aspects of the plot, this allows for flashy illustrations that serve to compliment rather than tell the entire story.

The difference between creating illustrations for wordless books and creating illustrations for manuscripts might be compared to showing a movie and exhibiting a series of photographs. While different, each can tell equally beautiful stories. Creating books for children is my greatest passion, and I enjoy the challenges of both formats.

And finally, as a parent yourself, what would you say to those parents who are accustomed to stories with text and unsure how to read a wordless picture book with their child?

Wordless books offer a different reading experience. The great thing about wordless books is that they require viewer participation and stimulate imaginations. Young readers interpret the illustrations based on their observations and create their own stories. These tales can change with every reading. The stories can be told as a descriptive account or from the point of view of different characters. FOSSIL can obviously be told from either the boy or the dog’s perspective, but even the secondary characters like the dragonfly offer more challenging possibilities for narration. Multiple readers can also take turns adding narration, voices, or sound effects to each page. Parents can even hone prediction skills by having their child guess what will happen next. But best of all, wordless books provide a platform for quality time and conversations between parents and their children.


 Bill Thomson has been called “a master at visual storytelling.” He is the illustrator of several children’s books, including Chalk (Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing, 2010), which received many accolades. Thomson is also Professor of Illustration at the University of Hartford. He lives with his family in Connecticut. Visit Bill at www.billthomson.com.


Check out the Common Core guide and the activity guide here.
For more from Bill, make sure to stop by these other spots on the tour:
blog URL
Sat, Nov 9
Booking Mama
Mon, Nov 11
NC Teacher Stuff
Tues, Nov 12
Just a Little Creativity
Wed, Nov 13
There’s a Book
Thurs, Nov 14
Fri, Nov 15
Kid Lit Frenzy
Mon, Nov 18
Once Upon a Story
Tues, Nov 19
The Children’s Book Review
Wed, Nov 20
5 Minutes for Books
Thurs, Nov 21
Geo Librarian
Fri, Nov 22
Growing with Science
Thanks to Two Lions and Blue Slip Media, I have a copy of Fossil for you! Just fill out the form  below between now and December 2nd for your chance to win! U.S Residents  only.



7 Responses to “Interview and Giveaway! FOSSIL”

  1. Chalk is one of our all-time favorite picture books. I recommend it to everyone. I have been so excited for Fossil to come out and am so glad the release date is finally here!

  2. Stacy Couch says:

    Love the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure aspect you give your PB’s.

  3. Bill Thomson says:

    Thank you for the interview, Maria! You really had great questions and I enjoyed answering them. Thanks, too, for sharing FOSSIL with your readers!

  4. PramgaticMom says:

    That wordless picture book sounds soooo great!!! My son would love it! I love wordless picture books too.

  5. sueheaven says:

    Wordless books are cool because they allow each storyteller to come to the book with their own interpretation. not “reading” exactly, but telling a story about the pictures they see. And interpreting illustrations (pictures, photos, charts, graphs) is important to understanding content – and I think rates pretty high in the Common Core these days.

  6. Holly says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for a copy of The Fossil! Absolutely *love* it!!

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