Snail, Where Are You? Tomi Ungerer’s Wordless Vintage Conceptual Masterpiece
An illustrated celebration of our pattern-recognition ability and a radiant invitation to attentive wonderment.
By Maria Popova
For more than half a century, the celebrated French children’s book author, illustrator, and visual humorist Tomi Ungerer (b. November 18, 1931) has delighted and awakened generations with his illustrated storytelling, ranging from lighthearted satirical treasures like A Cat-Hater’s Handbook and Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls to his stirring memoir of the Holocaust told through a teddy bear.
Shortly after turning thirty, Ungerer began working on what would become Snail, Where Are You? (public library) — a wonderful conceptual picture-book, originally published in 1962 and newly resurrected in rich, vivid color.
By inviting the reader to find the hidden snail spiral in a series of objects and vibrant vignettes — from the curl of wave to the scroll of a violin to the coil of a dancing pig’s tail — this wordless gem pays homage to the “intentional, unapologetic discriminator” that is our attention and to the pattern recognition that powers human creativity.
Animated by the lively joy of line and color, the illustrations radiate an invitation to embrace life in its myriad fanciful dimension, revealed to those who take care to look with friendly eyes of attentive wonderment.
Snail, Where Are You? was reprinted by Phaidon in 2015 with restored color of exuberant vibrancy, made possible by the leaps of technology since the book’s original publication — a tangible reminder of how intricately entwined all aspects of cultural production are, from the creative to the technical.
Complement it with Ann Rand’s lovely vintage concept book What Can I Be?, originally published in the same era and also recently restored in a lively new edition.
Published July 19, 2016