Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Why You Should Select Wordless Picture Books

I've noticed several people lately talking about their general dislike for wordless picture books.  They open them and feel at a loss.  They don't want to make up a story; they just want the story there, to be read!  I totally get you.  It's bedtime, you're tired, and the last thing you want to do is work at reading time.

But wordless picture books are actually pretty magical, and a really important tool for your budding reader.  Hear me out.  Before children know how to read (like, really read the text that's presented to them on a page), we ask them to look at the pictures and make up a story.  To share whatever it is they think might be happening.  The great thing about this is once a child has said what they think is happening, it often matches almost perfectly to the text on the page.  Children can see how pictures help them identify unknown words.

For some kids, though, this is an incredibly challenging task.  They want to get it right.  They want to know what the words say.  And then, as soon as they've shared what they think it is, they turn to you and ask, "Did I read it? Is that what those words say?"  The answer to this is complicated, as YES! they have read it, but no, that's not what the words say.  The wordless picture book takes away this need for accuracy and lets children really get into telling the story as they think it should go.  They'll spend more time scanning the picture for details than fretting about whether or not they're correct.

This creative freedom for storytelling also helps our youngest learners develop the ability to write a story.  You would be amazed at how many kids will draw a picture, and then when you ask what story they're telling, it will go something like this:

"That's me.  That's a sun.  That's a soccer ball.  That's the goal."  Instead of this: "Yesterday, the weather was really nice, so my mom took me and my brother to the park.  We brought a soccer ball and played some soccer.  I ran really fast, kicked the ball, and scored a goal!"  You see the difference?  One version of this 'story' is simply orally labeling what's been drawn.  The other version is a legitimate story.

The more your children see you model how to tell a story and practice how to tell a story with wordless picture books, the better prepared they will be to (a) use pictures as clues to decode unfamiliar words in text and (b) plan and write a story to tell about something they've done.

I also find that wordless picture books are just a fun way to spark creativity.  Sometimes my husband and I will read the exact same book at bedtime but tell it in completely different ways.  We'll come up with different names, add accents, and include different conversations amongst the characters.  Of course the gist of the book is the same, but the versions are very personalized.

But of course, just as not all books are good books, not all wordless picture books are good ones!  There are some that have mediocre pictures.  And if all you're working with is pictures, you need them to be good ones.  The storylines themselves can also vary wildly in quality.  Below, I am going to share a few of my favorite wordless books.  If you want to find more, be sure to follow us on Instagram @littlecubliteracy as I post new featured wordless books on Wednesdays with the hashtag #wordlesswednesday.

(Short descriptions of titles given below are from the publishers; if you would like my detailed review of the books, you'll need to check them out on Instagram!)

A Ball for Daisy
Illustrated by Chris Raschka, Published in 2011 by Schwartz & Wade Books
Any child who has ever had a beloved toy break will relate to Daisy's anguish when her favorite ball is destroyed by a bigger dog.
 (Note: there is a sequel to this book, Daisy Gets Lost, but it's not entirely wordless.)

Illustrated by Christian Robinson, Published in 2019 by Atheneum Books
In his eagerly anticipated debut as author-illustrator, Caldecott and Coretta Scott King honoree Christian Robinson brings young readers on a playful, imaginative journey into another world.

Illustrated by Bill Thomson, Published in 2010 by Marshall Cavendish Children
Discovering a seemingly magic bag of chalk while visiting the park on a rainy day, three children are astonished when their drawings of the sun, butterflies and a dinosaur amazingly come to life, in a wordless tale told through acrylic paint and colored pencil artwork.

Pancakes for Breakfast
Illustrated by Tomi DePaola, Published in 1978 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
This wordless picture book follows the trials of a little old lady who attempts to make pancakes for her breakfast.
Illustrated by Suzy Lee, Published in 2008 by Chronicle Books
In this evocative wordless book, internationally acclaimed artist Suzy Lee tells the story of a little girl's day at the beach. Stunning in their simplicity, Lee's illustrations, in just two shades of watercolor, create a vibrant story full of joy and laughter.

Illustrated by Matthew Cordell, Published in 2019 by Feiwel & Friends
When a family goes to a local museum, a boy notices a homeless man sitting outside, making brightly colored origami birds. He convinces his dad to buy a bird the man makes just for him. Once inside the museum, his little sister takes the bird and launches it into the air. Is it lost? Soon another boy helps him look, and the paper bird brings two families—and two new friends—together.

I Walk With Vanessa
Illustrated by Kerascoët, Published in 2018 by Random House Children's
This simple yet powerful picture book--from a New York Times bestselling husband-and-wife team--tells the story of one girl who inspires a community to stand up to bullying. 

A Boy, A Dog + A Frog
Illustrated by Mercer Mayer, Published in 1992 by Turtleback
With the help of his dog, a little boy tries different ways to catch a very enterprising frog.

The Snowman
Illustrated by Raymond Briggs, Published in 2013 by Random House Children's
A little boy rushes out into the wintry day to build a snowman, which comes alive in his dreams that night. The boy invites him home and in return is taken on a flight high above the countryside.

Illustrated by David Wiesner, Published in 2006 by Clarion Books
A bright, science-minded boy goes to the beach equipped to collect and examine flotsam--anything floating that has been washed ashore. Bottles, lost toys, small objects of every description are among his usual finds. But there's no way he could have prepared for one particular discovery: a barnacle-encrusted underwater camera, with its own secrets to share . . . and to keep.

Flora & The Flamingo
Illustrated by Molly Idle, Published in 2014 by Chronicle Books
In this innovative wordless picture book with interactive flaps, Flora and her graceful flamingo friend explore the trials and joys of friendship through an elaborate synchronized dance. With a twist, a turn, and even a flop, these unlikely friends learn at last how to dance together in perfect harmony. 

Flora & The Penguin
Illustrated by Molly Idle, Published in 2014 by Chronicle Books
Having mastered ballet in Flora and the Flamingo, Flora takes to the ice and forms an unexpected friendship with a penguin. 

Flora & The Peacocks
Illustrated by Molly Idle, Published in 2016 by Chronicle Books
The darling, dancing Flora is back, and this time she's found two new friends: a pair of peacocks! But amidst the fanning feathers and mirrored movements, Flora realizes that the push and pull between three friends can be a delicate dance. 

Wolf in the Snow
Illustrated by Matthew Cordell, Published in 2017 by Feiwel & Friends
A girl is lost in a snowstorm. A wolf cub is lost, too. How will they find their way home?

Dandelion's Dream
Illustrated by Yoko Tanaka, Published in 2020 by Candlewick Press
What if a dandelion became a real lion? With enchanting, ethereal art, this wordless story shares a world where reality can be transfigured by imagination.

Illustrated by Pete Oswald, Published in 2020 by Candlewick Press
Take to the trails for a celebration of nature -- and a day spent with dad.
Journey Trilogy: Journey, Quest, & Return
Illustrated by Aaron Becker, Published in 2013 by Candlewick Press
Follow a girl on an elaborate flight of fancy in a wondrously illustrated, wordless picture book about self-determination — and unexpected friendship.
The Fisherman & The Whale
Illustrated by Jessica Lanan, Published in 2019 by Simon & Schuster BFYR
A fisherman takes his son for a trip out on the water. When they encounter a whale entangled at sea, they realize a connection that transcends the animal kingdom.

Sidewalk Flowers
Concept by JonArno Lawson + Illustrated by Sydney Smith, Published in 2015 by Groundwood Books
A little girl collects wildflowers while her distracted father pays her little attention. Each flower becomes a gift, and whether the gift is noticed or ignored, both giver and recipient are transformed by their encounter.

Illustrated by Lizi Boyd, Published in 2014 by Chronicle Books
Inside the tent it's cozy, but what is going on outside? Is it dark? Is it scary? Not if you have your trusty flashlight!

These titles don't really have a beginning/middle/end storyline, so they don't work on oral storytelling in the same way as those previously listed, but they are enjoyable wordless books nonetheless!

Now You See Me, Now You Don't
Illustrated by Silvia Borando, Published in 2016 by Candlewick Press
Look closely! This vibrant wordless book invites children to explore the concept of visibility.
Near, Far
Illustrated by Silvia Borando, Published in 2016 by Candlewick Press
From up close and far away, things can look so different. Can you guess what animals you're looking at as they zoom in, then zoom back out?

The White Book
Illustrated by Silvia Borando, Published in 2015 by Candlewick Press
No words are needed--and unexpected things can happen--when a boy, some bold paint, an active imagination, and a white wall come together.

This Way, That Way
Illustrated by Antonio Ladrillo, Published in 2017 by Abrams
The pages of the book, which are die-cut and stamped with fold lines, feature a sequence of brightly colored shapes, animated with smiling expressions. As the reader opens and closes, folds and unfolds the pages, colorful characters in the shapes of squares, circles, lines, and outlines start to relate to one another in new ways. 

TL;DR Wordless Books promote oral language, spark creativity and imagination, help children learn story structure and sequencing, and are a great foundational choice for budding readers and writers.

So, which one are you planning to check out first? And if you have a favorite wordless book that's not shown, please share in the comments!

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