I remember when my sister-in-law gave my little one a wordless book when he was just over a year old. It was an autographed copy of ABC Dream by Kim Krans. I knew it was special but just how special…I don’t think I could have ever imagined its value. Back then, we just enjoyed flipping through the pages and looking at the pictures together. I had no idea how important this book would become for us…and other wordless books like it.
Books without words…it’s such a contradiction if you think about it. Books are supposed to be filled with words, right? But the power behind these books in pretty incredible. Wordless books tend to lead to more talking, more discussion between adults and children which in turn leads to better comprehension. There’s no value in just knowing how to mechanically read if you’re not ‘getting’ it. Reading means nothing if there is no comprehension. There’s tons of research which shows that wordless books increase vocabulary in toddlers and that these books in particular promote the development of narrative skills which help in comprehension.
Also in wordless books, there’s by default greater focus and appreciation in the pictures themselves. Sometimes, I can admit…I tend to just read the words on a page and move onto the next without taking a minute to discuss the actual illustrations with my kids. But these books force you…and you realize quickly how fun and moreover, important it is to look…really look at the pictures. Pictures tell so much more of the story…adding incredible detail to the words. Wordless books with amazing pictures…they encourage a new story every time (helping develop storytelling skills…for example, ask your child to make up anew ending each time) which in turn allows for the introduction of new vocabulary to your child every time you ‘read’ the book. It just happens. And it’s pretty amazing. For an emerging reader, books without words are a valuable tool to build the confidence that young kids need to get them to develop a comfort and hopefully, love for reading. They allow these little readers to tell stories themselves, encouraging them to use their own words rather than being constrained by words written on a page. The familiarity with language gained from this type of reading leads naturally to learning to read later.
Here are some tips I’ve learned to use with my boys when we read wordless books:
1. Describe the illustrations
Use many different, complex words to describe the pictures, which exposes kids to a rich variety of language.
2. Attention to details
Take the time to point out even the smallest details in the pictures…which kids always see. Pointing and labeling helps children to learn the meaning of new words.
3. Engage in discussion
As you flip through the pages, ask open ended questions about what is happening and even why. Ask them to predict what will happen next. Don’t rush and be sure to give enough time to think about their responses. When children reply, repeat what they say and add more detail. For example, if your little one describes a dragonfly in the sky, you can expand and say, “yes, that is a purple dragonfly flying next to a red bird in the blue sky.”
When you’re reading the book, try using simple words and phrases like ‘next’ and ‘then’. These linking words help children catch the idea of the flow, sequence and how to tell a story in the correct order. In other word, this reinforces the idea of a beginning, middle and end which is constant in every book.
5. Be creative
You don’t always have to tell the story in the same way. If there is more than one character in the book, tell the story from different perspectives. In this way, the story will be different each time. You can even read the beginning and middle of a book the same way each time and then ask your child to be creative and make up a different ending.
And here are five wordless book we currently love:
- Chalk by Bill Thomson
- Wonder Bear by Tao Nyeu
- The Red Book by Barbara Lehman
- Flotsam by David Weisner
- Wave by Suzy Lee