March 21

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What’s the point of wordless picture books?

By Martina

March 21, 2021

reading tips, wordless picture books

Books with no words? What's the point of wordless picture books? How on earth can that help my child to learn to read? Or to improve their reading?

Is that what you're thinking? It is, isn't it? I know because I used to think that too! I used to wonder what was the point of wordless picture books. I viewed them as a waste of shelf space, a waste of valuable reading time. In the race to learn to read, or to get the kids to move on to 'better' books, I rejected these wordless books, perhaps even considered them to be inferior to 'real' books.

But I was wrong.

Yep, I said it. And it sticks in my craw a little.

I. Was. Wrong.

*inhales deeply and counts to ten

what's the point of wordless picture books image from Journey

A picture is worth a thousand words


So what is the point of wordless picture books? What is that a book with no words can do as well as, or sometimes even better than, books with words.

Whether for a not-yet-reader, a fledgling reader, a proficient reader, a struggling reader or a reluctant reader, wordless picture books bring a lot to the table. 

Wordless they might be, but worthless they most certainly are not!

A picture book with very few words, or without any words at all, is a very valuable reading and learning tool for children of all ages, and of all reading abilities. When you strip the words out of the book, you create a level playing field for all readers. A child who is struggling to read is almost certainly aware that they are not as capable as their peers with their ability to read or their speed of reading. But, take away the words, and they can use their imagination, their creativity and their powers of expression to create a story every bit as good as their more advanced reader peers.

If you strip a book of its words, it becomes a 'thinking' book, rather than a reading book. Your child can pore over the illustrations and use the parts that interest them most to invent their own story. A child who cannot yet read, or doesn't have great confidence in their reading, can co-author their own book, using their own imagination to weave a rich and complex story of their very own. 

One of the points of a wordless picture book is to give each and every child the ability to create and have ownership of their own story.

If you're not used to 'reading' wordless picture books, you might feel a bit daft at first. There is a knack to getting the most out of a book with no words. A knack to encouraging observation and critical skills. We suggest that the very first thing to point out is that there are no right answers and, more crucially, no wrong answers. Each child won't 'read' the same story as their friend. Heck, they probably won't even read the same story each time they pick up their wordless picture book!

If you are new to reading wordless picture books, these five tips will help steer you in the right direction. Just remember.....there is no right or wrong way to do it!

The Cover: 

First off, take a look at the cover. What can you see? Where is it set? Who do you think is the main character? What do you think he's feeling? What do you think the book is about?

Return wordless picture book by Aaron Becker

The Title:

Read the title to your child, or together. What do you think of the words used? Does this give any more clues to the story?

A Little Stroll:

Next up, take a little wander through the pages to get a feel for the book and the illustrations. Stop and look more closely at any pictures that seem to grab your child's attention more.

'Read' the book: Now it's time to go back to the start of the book and, using the illustrations to guide you, make up your own story. Be as creative as you like. Add accents, funny voices and sound effects. Be free to add your own creative flair to the story, to add your own rich vocabulary.

a girl uses a red crayon to draw a door on her bedroom wall and steps into the door

Now Your Turn!: Now it's time to hand the book over to your child and to encourage them to make up their own version of the story. (It's worth reminding them that, because it is a wordless picture book, there is no wrong answer.) At first read, it might be very similar to yours but, as they get the hang of it, they are likely to become more creative and more expressive. They are likely to become more confident with the book and perhaps even add in some details that you hadn't even noticed. And that's fine. That's more than fine. It is their story after all!

After the story: After you've finished reading together, you could spend some time discussing the story. What parts did they like best? Which illustrations were their favourite? How did the character feel? Have they ever felt like that? 

Have I convinced you of the point of wordless picture books? Ready to give them the space they deserve on your child's bookshelf? Head on over to our shop and check out our selection.

Happy reading!

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