Zoom by Istvan Banyai (first published by Viking, New York, 1995)

Introduced by Clare Walters

#NoWords series

zoom cover

The central concept of the wordless picture book Zoom is scale, and the book opens with an initial scene of what appears to be an abstract image of a red zig-zag on a white background. On the following page we see the same image, much smaller, as it forms part of the comb on a rooster’s head; and on the following page still we see the rooster sitting on a fence with two children looking at it through a window frame. The book continues like this, with the point of view pulling further and further back, so that the images consistently appear smaller until they are subsumed into a new, larger, image. It’s as if a camera is zooming out from a central point, constantly confounding the reader’s expectations of the actual size of the objects being shown.


This ‘zooming out’ technique is beautifully sustained in Zoom and the transition from picture to picture is smooth and elegant, with plenty of clues to suggest the next switch of scale – for example a giant hand appearing at the edge of a piece of paper, or the outline of a bus window creeping into the top of a frame. As the book progresses the reader is drawn through a series of complex images, including from a toy farm to a magazine front cover; from a cruise ship advertisement to a TV image; from an Arizona postage stamp to a beach in Solomon Island, Australia; to a plane flying over to the island to the wider ocean; and finally from a swirl of blue and white as the earth appears a spherical ball in space to a tiny dot in the universe.

Istvan Banyai is a Hungarian-born illustrator and animator who was educated at the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest but who moved to the United States in the 1980s. Zoom shows him in the role of illustrator as animator, creating pictures nesting within pictures, and with each image providing a new, and often unexpected, perspective on the previous one. The details of all the images – which interestingly appear only on the right-hand pages of the book, with the corresponding left-hand pages in black – are richly detailed and offer much potential for discussion with a curious child.

Banyai has also produced a number of other wordless books beside Zoom, including Re-Zoom (1998) and The Other Side (2005), as well as some animated films. In addition he regularly contributes work to many newspapers and periodicals such as The New Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Time and The New Yorker.

For books that use a similar ‘zooming’ technique, see both the wordless picture book Looking Down by Steve Jenkins and Powers of Ten, not a children’s picture book but a wordless flip book based on the 1968 film of the same name by Charles and Ray Eames.

zoom cover

Clare Walters is a journalist and writer of children’s picture books. She has a collection of almost 200 wordless picture books. Her edition of Zoom was published by Puffin Books in 1998.

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