Inside: Wordless picture books are not only some of the most magical and meaningful books you can share with your children, but they have numerous benefits for kids, including building literacy and comprehension skills. Check out all the reasons why we love them, as well as our list of favorites, here!
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The Magic and Meaning Behind Wordless Picture Books
Wordless picture books are daunting.
In fact, the first time I picked up a wordless picture book, I put it right back down.
I’m a reader and a writer. I love words. I love reading words. I love the way phrases turn into sentences which turn into paragraphs and then pages. I love word play and dialogue and figurative language. I love the way some words ignite fires in my soul, and others are so achingly beautiful they strike me right in the gut and before I know it, my heart is full and I read a particular page over and over because it feels like magic as the words dance in my head.
So a book with no words and only pictures? It totally freaked me out.
We got Flora and the Flamingo as a gift when my six year old was born, and it was my first experience with a wordless picture book as a parent. Flipping through the pages with an actual kid next to me was totally different than looking at wordless picture books when I was a student. After all, I had an audience now. A living, breathing child of my own. So how on earth was I supposed to read to my baby when the book in my lap had no words? There were already too many parenting things that left me feeling clueless — the last thing I needed was another!
But then one day, I picked up Flora again. And as I turned the beautiful pages, I realized how much there was to say about each one — how every character brimmed with emotion and each illustration lent itself to an enchanting, unique story.
I couldn’t get enough of wordless picture books. And I couldn’t wait until my kids were old enough to “read” these books to me.
How to “read” Wordless Picture Books
If you’re asking yourself what on earth I mean when I talk about reading a wordless book, I hear you.
I get it.
But this, my friends, is where the magic happens. Because reading them is easy. And fun. And SO rewarding.
Here are some simple tips for sharing a wordless picture book with your child:
Because these books only contain illustrations, make sure your child is sitting closely enough to the book that she can see the pictures — and all of the details — easily.
Start simply by taking your kiddo on a picture walk! Turn the pages and simply enjoy the illustrations, pointing out details or images that draw your attention, make you wonder or raise questions.
Ready to read? Turn back to the beginning (or wherever your child wants to begin), and talk about what you see happening on each page. Narrating each of the illustrations is something I call “reading the pictures” with my own boys and young students. They get super excited about the fact that they are reading, even though they may not be able to decode real words yet.
Sometimes it seems like a lot of work to make up a story after a long day, even with illustrations to guide you. (Don’t worry, I’m right there with you!) Instead, turn the tables and ask your child questions about what he sees in the pictures. He will love taking charge! Questions can range from the simple (ie., Who is that? What time of day is it?) to the more complex (How do you think this character is feeling? What do you think she will do next?)
Take turns. First you narrate a page, and have your child narrate the next. When your little one gets comfortable, let him run wild with the pages and tell his own version of the story. You will be amazed by the scenarios, plot twists and unique characters your kids create!
Most important? Remember there is no right or wrong way to read a wordless picture book. You cannot mess up. Cast your self-consciousness aside, and just have fun! That’s the beauty of these amazing stories.
Wordless Picture Books are chock full of benefits for kids!
The benefits of reading wordless picture books with children cannot be understated. Don’t believe me? Check these out:
When your child comments on the pictures, she begins to learn important storytelling elements. As an example, questions like “who do you see?” or “where is the little boy” introduce concepts of character and setting.
Wordless picture books encourage children to make inferences, summarize what they see, and analyze illustrations for information, context, and connections.
When kids “read” wordless picture books, they become aware of elements like beginnings, middles and ends as well as characters, settings and plots. Thus, they gain a keen understanding of how stories are constructed.
Wordless picture books demonstrate how illustrations drive plot and often supply critical details and story elements — even if the story contains words!
This unique format fosters creativity and imagination, while simultaneously enhancing reading comprehension and critical thinking skills.
So what are you waiting for? Wordless picture books rock, and we’ve curated a list of our very favorites for you.
Happy reading, and promise me you’ll remember this small detail: YOU WON’T MESS UP!
Our Favorite Wordless Picture Books
The Farmer and the Clown, by Marla Frazee: A farmer, working in his fields, is startled by something catapulted out of a passing train and even more surprised when he discovers this “something” is a child, all alone, dressed in full clown costume complete with a happy, made-up face. What follows is a spellbinding tale of the unexpected friendship between these two superbly drawn characters; it is a remarkable exploration of loneliness and companionship. I love using this one with my students, having them come up one by one to share their interpretations of what is happening on each page. My all time favorite wordless picture book!
I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoet: A stunning exploration of the harmful act of bullying, and how one simple act of kindness by an upstander can be a change agent for the entire community. I absolutely love letting children ponder these pictures and tell their own stories. The “plots” they come up with are intriguing and insightful – and their words will give you such significant glimpses into their minds and hearts.
Spencer’s New Pet, by Jessie Sima: I absolutely adore this wordless picture book, and I dare you to read it one time through without immediately going back for a reread! Illustrated like a wordless movie, this is the story of Spencer, a devoted owner to his pet dog. Except, his pet dog is actually a red balloon animal! While walking through the park, Spencer knows he must be very careful because to keep his pup safe, and that means keeping him away from all sharp objects, especially those found at birthday parties… especially those kids playing pin the tail on the donkey. Uh oh. This one has an ending you won’t see coming, one that will delight, amaze and have kids clamoring for more!
Door, by Jihyeon Lee: What happens when, during your daily, mundane activities you come across a key – and then a solitary closed door? You go through it, of course. And you enter a world where people, animals and other unique creatures live together in harmony and beauty despite their significant differences. Because this book is wordless, children’s imaginations set soar as they eagerly select their own words to tell this wondrous story.
Brave Molly, by Brooke Boynton-Hughes: Molly sees monsters. They are all around her, and no one can see them but her. She tries to run from them, but they seem to get in her way as she walks down the street and thinks about making new friends. One day, Molly decides she has had enough of these monsters, and she finally faces her fears. This wordless beauty showcases the courage we need to put our monsters in their places, and the power of friendship to help us feel brave.
Sidewalk Flowers, by JonArno Lawrence: In this powerful wordless picture book, a little girl walks along the sidewalk with her distracted father who, busy on his cell phone and walking straight ahead, doesn’t notice his daughter collecting wildflowers as they walk. The girl, though, doesn’t just collect. Instead, she also gives — and gives and gives. A man lying on a bench gets a flower, a mother and her children get flowers, an injured bird gets flowers. As she gives the flowers away, her kindness transforms those she encounters — and changes the girl, too. A small masterpiece, this is a brilliant book for any collection!
Rosie’s Glasses, by Dave Whamond: Rosie wakes up one morning to a drab, black and white world devoid of color. She has a gray cloud over her head, and that cloud follows her every move. But on her way home from school, she finds an odd pair of glasses. When she puts them on? The world transforms! Gone is the gray, and in its place is vibrance and color. With her new glasses on, Rosie can suddenly see the beauty in the world around her — even that storm cloud above her head is gone! But will Rosie still see the joy in the world around her without her glasses on? Or are the glasses some kind of magic? A fabulous look at emotions and perspective!
Imagine by Raul Colon: In this stunning story, one young boy discovers art for the first time. Though he frequently passes by Manhattan’s museums, on one particular day he decides to walk in to the Museum of Modern Art. The boy studies painting after wondrous painting, until he stops at one and the famous work suddenly comes to life, its characters jumping off the canvases and into the real world to join the boy on an adventure. The boy’s afternoon is thus filled with exploration and wonder as he and his new friends discover all of the excitement New York City has to offer. For our full review of Imagine, click here!
Chalk, by Bill Thompson: Three kids find an unusual bag of chalk on a rainy afternoon. They start drawing on the pavement, and within moments, their drawings come to life, entrancing the children with their remarkable power and mystery. This book is an absolute dream, with vivid illustrations that bring this imaginative story to life. The kids can stop the rain and create a sky full of butterflies, but how on earth will they tame a devilish dinosaur?
Wolf in the Snow, by Matthew Cordell: This nearly wordless picture book, winner of a Caldecott award, is such a beauty, and I can’t get over the emotion that is conveyed in every one of Matthew Cordell’s stunning illustrations. A young girl braves a harsh snowy day on her way home from school, but as she walks, she discovers a lost and scared wolf pup and is determined to return the pup to its family. She travels long and far though, so much so that she loses her way. How will she ever get home? If you’re new to wordless picture books this is a perfect hero’s journey, one that’s easy to interpret and richly evocative!
Wallpaper, by Thao Lam: A young girl moves with her family to a new home. Outside her window, the child sees kids playing in a treehouse, but she is too timid to say hello. With nothing else to do, she picks at a torn piece of wallpaper in her room, and a fantastical journey suddenly ensues. What happens when she discovers a monster on her journey? She’s scared, of course, until she realizes the monster simply needs a friend. And he may be just the creature to give her the important dose of courage to survive her new circumstances. For our full review of Wallpaper, click here!
The Girl and the Bicycle, by Mark Pett: This is one of my favorite wordless picture books! It is a beautiful work, easy to read aloud, and has the appearance of an old silent movie. In this story, a young girl sees a bicycle in a store window, and she is determined to make it her own. So the child works hard, picking up odd jobs around her neighborhood, hoping to earn enough money to buy that special bike. But what happens when she finally has the money and the bike is gone? This one has forever captured my heart!
Pool, by JiHyeon Lee: This is an an underwater masterpiece about two timid kids who meet under the water in their community pool, where they suddenly discover a vast new world. The kids swim deeper and deeper, encountering a world of magical creatures and glorious experiences. When they eventually head back to the pool’s surface, they’re transformed. And when they pull off their goggles and look each other in the eyes for the first time, the connection between the two is palpable!
Field Trip to the Moon, by John Hare: This is the story of one lucky class that takes an epic field trip to the moon! Zip up your space suits and hop aboard the spaceship bus for one fantastic adventure. The students land on the moon and begin exploring with their teacher, but — uh oh! When one student takes a break to paint some pictures of his extraordinary surroundings, he falls asleep… and when he wakes up, it’s not his classmates he finds, but some other creatures instead. Do martians really exist?!
Float, by Daniel Miyares: A little boy makes a paper boat and takes it out in the rain for an adventure. They dance in the rain and stomp in the puddles, but when he takes the boat for a journey into the gutter stream, the boy can’t keep up with his treasure. He goes on an unsuccessful hunt for his boat, and as the rain lets up, he learns that even unhappy endings have wonderful solutions.
Little Fox in the Forest, by Stephanie Graegin: A little girl brings her fox stuffed animal to the playground, only to find herself totally shocked when a real fox takes off with her beloved stuffie! The girl and her friend chase the fox into the forest and are both are surprised by — but delighted with — what they find on the other side of an arched hedge. Treehouses, cottages and many woodland creatures entrance — but where, oh where, is the fox with her stuffed animal?
Flora and the Flamingo, by Molly Idle: Flamingos + flaps + friends = FUN! We simply adore Molly Idle’s work, especially her Flora series of innovative wordless books. In this one, the first of the series, Flora and the flamingo learn much about friendship through a beautiful dance — and though they aren’t always in sync, the two end up dancing in perfect harmony. Heartfelt and so much fun, we love the way their dance is a perfect metaphor of what it means to be a friend!
The Red Book, by Barbara Lehman: A book about a magical book? Yes, please! One child gets lost within the pages of a mysterious red book that magically transports her to another location. She began reading it in school in the city, and the book transports her from a gray, cold day inside her classroom to a beach. On the beach she sees a boy, and that boy finds the same red book in the sand. When the boy opens the red book, he discovers a city scene… and a girl, of course. The two smile at each other — and it is then we realize their adventure is just beginning.
Flashlight, by Lizi Boyd: This book provides such a fabulous perspective on nighttime! Through brilliant drawings representing the beam of a flashlight, a boy wanders outside of his tent to explore just what happens when the sun goes down. Each page shines a light (pun intended!) on what happens when the creatures outside are no longer hidden. Through humor and creativity, this book helps kids tackle their fears of the dark, and they will squeal with delight when the tables are turned at the end of the story.
Another, by Christian Robinson: Come along on a journey to another place, where you encounter not just another perspective, but another you! What child doesn’t wonder if there is another child out there, somewhere around the world, that’s just like them? We love the way this book brilliantly plays with that concept and introduces the protagonist to a universe of similarities — and differences too. A fun, unique and utterly creative book that is as beautiful as it is thought provoking.
Waltz of the Snowflakes, by Ellie Mackay: Do you remember the first time you saw The Nutcracker? This book is exquisite from start to finish, showcasing one child’s first experience at The Nutcracker ballet. It’s a dreary day outside, and upon being gifted tickets to the ballet, one little girl is totally unenthused. But as she sits down in the theater and the curtain rises, the child lights up, drawn in to the magic of the show, the beauty of the dancers… and a new friend. This one is stunning, and it brought me right back to my first time seeing a live ballet!
Wave, by Susy Lee: If you love spending lazy days at the beach with the water and sand being your child’s sole source of play, you will be mesmerized by this one. These beautiful pages showcase a young girl engaging with the ocean as only a child can do — running towards the waves as they recede, running away from them as they surge towards shore, playing in them when they are calm. Perfectly capturing a carefree and magical beach day, this book is not just enthralling but a unique one, too, showing particularly adept readers how the gutter of a book can become an important element in a story.
Journey, by Aaron Becker: The first book in a wordless trilogy, this is the story of a young, lonely girl who draws a door on her bedroom wall, then goes through it to find a world of adventure awaiting her. With a red crayon in her hand, she creates everything from a boat to a magic carpet to take her on the journey of a lifetime. But what happens when she faces an evil emperor? Will the girl find the courage to set her free and help her get back home? An extraordinary adventure bound to delight kids — and adults — of all ages.
Small Things, by Mel Tregonnig: *This book is recommended for upper elementary students and above. If you have a child that struggles with depression, anxiety or fear, this powerful wordless picture book is a must. Here, a boy’s worry manifests itself as little demons that gnaw and gnaw at him, striking him at his core and making him disappear. Whether he is being left out by his peers or not making the grade, the boy feels alone and thus suffers alone, too. Only when the boy realizes that anxiety and fear is universal does he begin to realize that he is not as alone as he once thought. Complex, thought provoking and deeply emotional, this book shines an important light on anxiety and depression.