Wordless picture books are exactly what they claim to be, picture books without words. They are an excellent way to introduce story structure and creative thinking as well as the power of illustration, since the readers (or viewers) must create their own story based on the author’s illustrations. These books also open up opportunities to have rich, literacy conversations, since interpretations vary, and readers can alter their thoughts about the story’s intent with each re-telling.
When sharing a wordless book, make it clear that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to read it. Children, nervous about reading, may gain more confidence from the fact that they cannot make a mistake, and may feel more comfortable creating a story with you.
Be sure to make predictions about the story along the way. This is an excellent opportunity to check for comprehension, and should be done with all books — with or without words. Sharing the title and talking about the cover is an easy way to start. Taking a “picture walk,” or reviewing the illustrations before creating your story, is also a great way to get a feel for a book. The more you point out objects, character expressions and little nuances, the richer your conversations will become.
Now that you have looked through the book, it is time to open it up again and create your story. If your child has never read one before, it is up to you to model what it means to create a tale — and don’t be shy! Add details, sound effects and character voices. The more fun you have, the stronger your story will become, and your child will want to do the same. When they tell their tale, make sure to listen and ask questions so that they can expand their story. Using who, what, when, where and why is the quickest way to draw out information, and will force your child to think about the setting and characters.
Interested in reading a wordless picture book, but you don’t know where to start? Here are some of my favorites.
Inside Outside by Lizi Boyd follows a young child’s activities inside and outside his home throughout the changing seasons. The book includes die cuts that look like windows, so readers can predict which season they will experience when they turn each page.
The young child’s activities are easily recognizable, and ones that readers can relate to, since they are used to drawing, reading or playing outdoors. Each page explodes with activity, along with items to find, so multiple readings are a must. Plus, the gouache drawings are delightful.
Carl’s Summer Vacation by Alexandra Day is part of a series of (almost) wordless picture books that shares the adventures of Carl, a rottweiler, and his human family. Since Carl is always left to care for the youngest member of the family, each story is predictable. In Carl’s Summer Vacation, Carl and the toddler should be sleeping, but instead find themselves swimming, picking berries and catching a ball game. This book is screaming for a story to be told, and is an easy transition into wordless reading. The lifelike pictures are bright, airy and charming.
Red Sled by Lita Judge is another mostly wordless gem that interprets a snowy evening of woodland mischief as a series of animals borrow a young boy’s sled for a twilight joy-ride. With each sled run, a new animal joins in the game; adding weight, speed and a whole lot of fun. The pictures are bright and full of expression, and the minimal words provided are actually sound effects, making each illustration come to life. Readers will be able to see, hear and feel each sled run, and the surprise ending will have you reading the book over and over again!
The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney brings the Aesop’s fable to life as a young mouse and proud lion learn that no act of kindness is too small. Same as the traditional tale, the lion shows mercy on the mouse by releasing her from his clutches so that she can live another day. Time passes, and the mouse has the chance to return the favor by biting through a poacher’s ropes that have captured the lion, so he, too, is saved. Pinkney’s watercolor and ink drawings are vivid and simply incredible. His details bring the Serengeti to life, but also show raw emotion when the lion is captured and the mouse is released. Having such detail causes you to slow down and fully take in the fable. This book is a great way to open up discussions about differences, what it means to be kind as well as helping someone who is considered to be your enemy.
The James Blackstone Memorial Library is located at 758 Main Street in Branford. For more information about books and programs, call 203-488-1441 or visit www.blackstone.lioninc.org.
Carly Lemire is the Associate Librarian for Youth Services at the James Blackstone Memorial Library.