Wordless picture books are told entirely through their illustrations — they are books without words, or sometimes just a few words. Sharing wordless books with a child provides an opportunity for literacy-rich conversations. Each "reader" listens and speaks, and creates their own story in their own words. Sharing wordless books also reinforces the idea that, in many books, the story and the pictures are connected. Elementary-aged students often enjoy writing down their original story to accompany a wordless book.
Below are a few tips for sharing wordless picture books with a child:
- Recognize that there are no "right" or "wrong" ways to read a wordless book. One of the wonderful benefits of using wordless books is how each child creates his own story (or stories!) from the same pictures.
- Spend time looking at the cover and talking about the book's title. Based on those two things, make a few predictions about the story.
- Take a "picture walk" through the pages of the book. Enjoy the illustrations, which are often rich with detail. Look carefully at the expressions on characters' faces, the setting and the use of color. Talk to each other about what you see. These conversations will enrich the storytelling.
- Enjoy the pictures and point out a few things, but don't worry too much about telling a story yet. Just enjoy the pictures and get a sense of what the book is about.
- Go back through the book a second time and get ready for some great storytelling! Consider going first and acting as a model for your child. Ham it up! Have characters use different voices, add sound effects and use interesting words in your version of the book.
- Encourage your child to "read" you the book with his story. Focus on the words your child uses when he tells the story. Help your child expand his sentences or thoughts by encouraging him to add information from the illustration's details. One way to encourage more details is by asking "W" questions: Who? Where? When? Why?
- Finish your wordless book sharing by asking a few simple questions: What pictures helped you tell the story? What was your favorite part of your story? Have you had an experience like the one in your story?
Sharing wordless books is a terrific way to build important literacy skills, including listening skills, vocabulary, comprehension — and an increased awareness of how stories are "built," as the storyteller often uses a beginning, middle, end format. For a book with few words, you'll be surprised at all the talking you will do, and all the fun you'll have!
Our Favorite Wordless Picture Books >
They help visual thinkers play to their strengths
Reading is hard for beginners, so taking some of the pressure off with wordless picture books can build confidence. This type of book helps convey the message of the story without the anxiety associated with text, says Gabrielle Miller, Ed.D., national executive director of Raising A Reader. Reluctant readers can get comfortable with the idea of “reading.”
They incorporate context clues
With no set narrative to guide the plot, wordless picture books leave a lot to the imagination. But that doesn’t mean there’s no story line! Full of vivid illustrations, these books encourage children to use the detailed images to pick up on context clues and figure out what’s happening. Those same clues will be a factor in decoding text later, and recognizing their importance can help kids become stronger readers.
They welcome retelling
Whether you reread it once or every night at bedtime, there’s always a new direction for a wordless picture book to take. Encouraging kids to think of new possibilities and reinterpret the story in different ways is a fun way to get them excited about reading. And revving up their imagination can inspire them to create their own stories and work their way up to writing, too!
by Lizi Boyd
A little boy explores the backyard at night with a fashlight — what kinds of creatures will he find? Silly, inspired illustrations that play on the nighttime tableau will fascinate your little one. Chronicle, $17. Ages 2 to 6.
by Aaron Becker
Armed with just her red marker, the adventurous girl at the center of this award-winning story is transported to a magical world after drawing a passageway on her bedroom wall. Candlewick, $16. Ages 3 to 7.
Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad
by Henry Cole
A young girl finds an escaped slave in her family’s barn. Should she help the runaway or turn a blind eye? A story about courage and humanity, this is a must-read for kids and adults alike. Scholastic, $17. Ages 8 to 10.Buy it here
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Photo Credit: Joey Moon