The Wonder of Wordless Books

by Katie Brazerol

I never really understood the appeal of wordless books until I was a parent. In case you don’t know, a wordless book is any book that contains pictures withMother with the son. few or no words. My son had just turned one year old and I was in my first year of doing child care. I had only a couple of wordless books in my library. One that comes to mind is Goodnight, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann. I pulled out the book, and knowing it had very few words, I asked one of the kids to “read” it to me. I wasn’t surprised when he basically just named objects on each page. However, a week later, another child crawled in my lap with the same book. I again asked the child to “read” to me, and over the course of ten minutes, she told a tale of a very mischievous (it’s VERY cute hearing a three year old say that word!) gorilla that was looking for his mama because they got separated. I spent a lot of time thinking this child was an imaginative genius, until yet another child “read” the book to me. This child spent less time thinking of an actual story line, while focusing more on pursing her lips, holding the book, and licking her fingers before turning each page. She was clearly modeling the correct way to read a story. I came to the conclusion that wordless books are so much more than pretty pictures.

Wordless books can be beneficial at just about any age. Young babies can gaze at the bright colors on the page. Older infants and young toddlers can hold the books and practice turning pages (especially if the book is a board book.) grandmother and grandson are reading story book togetherPreschoolers can begin telling stories that go along with the pictures without being hindered by print they can’t read. They can also begin to understand story structure (the beginning, middle, and ending of a story) as they think of words to go along with the pages. Wordless books allow for providers to ask open-ended questions that have no right or wrong answers. They can be especially beneficial for children who speak multiple languages or those who have language delays. Most parents tend to embellish a story with more vocabulary-rich words when they make up their own stories instead of reading the very simple sentences found in many children’s books. This increased exposure to expanded vocabulary has been known to strengthen language and literacy skills. Multilingual children who are just learning English may feel relief when they can tell a story in their own words without following exact words in the book.

Now that my kids are older, I find that we still have a use for wordless books. They have come in handy for strengthening writing and story structure. When my kids become stumped on an imaginative writing assignment, I check out a wordless book from the library for them to “read.” I ask them to describe the main characters, create a problem, give suggestions for how to fix the problem, and think of a satisfying ending. I can push them to think of stronger describing words and actions. For example, if my daughter says “The girl ran away from the dragon,” I can ask, “What could you say instead of run? Can you describe how the dragon looked and acted so I can picture it in my head?”

Wordless books can be an asset for any age level, so check out some of the following titles at your local library and ask your kids to “read” to you!

Please note: Not all suggested books may represent the beliefs and values in your setting. Please screen all books before introducing them to children.

Suggested Wordless Books:

Hug
by Jez Alborough

Journey
by Aaron Becker

The Snowman
by Raymond Briggs

Float
by Daniel Miyares

Pancakes for Breakfast
by Tomie de Poala

Goodnight, Gorilla
by Peggy Rathmann

Chalk
by Bill Thomas

Flotsam
Mr. Wuffles
Tuesday
all by David Weisner

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