Written and illustrated by JiHyeon Lee
Published by Chronicle Books, May 2015

I’m not sure there’s a better review for a book with no words than this…

I read JiHyeon Lee’s Pool with my five year old yesterday when she was home sick from school. When her mom got home from work she asked “What did you do today?”

“We read a book,” said our daughter.

“We read Pool,” I chimed in. “The book with no words about the kids swimming.”

“It has words!” said the kid. “Mommy, it’s about…” and then she proceeded to tell the entire story of the book, and ended with “See, it has words.”

I handed her the book and asked her to show her mom the words. There are none. She was stunned.

Lee tells such a vivid story using only pictures, you’d be forgiven for having to go back to check. There’s more wonder, pathos and humor in these drawings than most books could muster in 300 pages filled with serif font.

Pool tells the story of a young boy spending a day at a packed public pool. Finding no space to swim at the surface he dives down deep, below the kicking feet of the other bathers. Down there, he meets another swimmer –a young girl– and together they delve even deeper, discovering a bizarre coral reef, inhabited by unlikely fish and other creatures. There’s danger, there’s contentedness.

Chronicle has printed Pool in a large format, giving the illustrations space to stretch out, and Lee takes full advantage, drawing the kids small against an expanse of blue in some places, and filling the pages with fish and other creatures in others.

For better or worse, digital has become a standard in the world of children’s book illustration, but Pool makes a strong case for the analog way. You can see the pencil strokes in Lee’s pictures, and you can see the textures. There’s a connection here with the illustrator that gets lost in digital.

What she manages to capture most of all is the ability of a young kid to meet another for the first time and have a meaningful encounter, to open themselves up to an experience. Imagination can bring them together. There’s a joyfulness and humanity to the story that comes through in the pictures.

Some might be put off by a book with no words, but Pool is anything but a lesser animal. Rather, it’s a celebration of visual art, and its ability to convey anything words can. was provided a free copy of Pool in exchange for an honest review. For more info on our review policy, read THIS.


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