Words & Illustration by William Wondriska
Published by Universe Publishing
Puff is a reprint of a rare 1960s children's book by the acclaimed American illustrator and writer William Wondriska. This rediscovered classic is the story of a small steam engine that lives in a train yard and dreams of one day travelling and having grand adventures to places like Egypt, Italy, India, Paris and even a space station. Puff gets the chance to broaden his horizons and do something important when a modern engine breaks down in a snowstorm and circus cars filled with animals need his help.
Similar to his other classic children's book A Long Piece of String, Wondriska uses only three colours (black, white and red) to illustrate this lovely underdog story. The graphics appear like woodblock prints with the details carved by hand. The illustration of the steam engine is identical on every page, like a stamp. The only change to the engine is that the illustration of the engine's steam (using the letter 'puff') differs according to the activities of the steam engine.
Text is used as part of the book's illustration in the most wonderful and playful way to document the steam of the steam engine, convey the contrasting level of noise created by a small steam engine ('puff') and a big modern engine ('DING DING DING DING DING DING'), capture the echo of the small steam engine in a deep canyon, convey the strain and large amount of steam produced by the small engine as it climbs the highest mountain and the speed with which it rides down the mountain. The sound of the wet and cold animals is also documented using the letters that make up "howl and yowl and screech" in a range of sizes, font types and colours. The enormity and randomness of these letters is a clever way to convey the animal's distress and the seriousness of the situation.
There has been a lot of mid-20th century children's book released recently by publishers such as Tate Publishing and Chronicle Books. I have reviewed other classic children's books that have recently been reprinted including Dick Bruna's The Apple and Celestino Piatti's The Happy Owls. It is wonderful that the work of classic designer's such as William Wondriska has been reprinted so that it can be shared with a new generation of kids and graphic designers.