July 7, 2010

Wordless Books: The Hows and Whys

While waiting for my kids at the library, I heard an adult ask a 2-3 year old to pick out a book to check out. When the boy handed her his choice, she glanced through it and said, "This book doesn't have any words. Pick out a better one-- we can't read this!".


Granted, it takes a little bit more effort to read a wordless book to a child. We've all gone on autopilot before, reading the words and turning the pages, but completely tuning out. (I'll slowly raise my hand to admit that I have fallen asleep while reading to a child.) But once a child knows how to read a book without words, the story can expand and change in countless ways. Those same pages turn into hundreds of different plots that evolve as the child gets older. If you do it right, you might even find your child spending 10, 20, 30 or more minutes alone with a wordless book.

Nearly all wordless or almost-wordless books tell a basic story, which is easily inferred from the pictures. Keep it simple at first but, with a child who is expanding expressive language, you can take off. Use the illustrations to expand the plot, ask questions, develop dialogue, or follow a specific character. Take turns discussing what happens next. If your child is reluctant to expand the story, consider modeling how the story can change each time you read it...or just move on to a different wordless book.

Some titles that we have loved include:
Hug, by Jez Alborough
Tuesday by David Wiesner
You Can't Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum, by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman and Robin Preiss Glasser
Clementina's Cactus, by Ezra Jack Keats

Although Richard Scarry books have some text, most kids seem to focus on the illustrations only and explore all possible plots. A more recent discovery for us has been In the Town All Year 'Round, by Rotraut Susanne Berner.

Not just for preschoolers, wordless books can also be a great way to encourage an older child to practice some creative writing. You can even make your own, or suggest that your child do so.

For more ideas on how to share wordless books with kids or other titles, here are a few more resources:
"Wonderful Wordless Picture Books"
"Talking about Wordless Picture Books"
Reading is Fundamental List

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