Wordless Picture Books: 101

Reading a book means taking in the words on the page and interpreting what they mean in the order they’re presented. But what happens when you open a book and there’s no text? How do you read a book with no words?

Reading wordless picture books is all about translating the visual narrative: what connection does this spread have to the one before it and the one after it? What can we gleam from the body language of the characters? How do their interactions change and flow as we turn the pages? All of these details help us to understand how to read the images and piece together a cohesive story.

A common thread among wordless picture books is the solo adventure. Without two characters who need to interact and talk, there’s no real need for text: the images can say everything about the characters’ journeys–both physical and emotional–on their own. The characters in Suzy Lee’s Shadow, Aaron Becker’s Journey series, and Daniel Miyares’ Float all embark on adventures wherein their imaginations lead the story. As observers of their stories, we get to watch them dream up scary monsters, travel through imaginary realms, and lose prized objects. What are their reactions to these adventures? How does what happens in one spread influence what happens in the next spread?

The absence of text also provides a fun way to showcase inter-species relationships. Humans and animals can’t speak the same language, so it’s only natural that no words are exchanged between them in picture books. We see this in such books as Molly Idle’s Flora series, David Weisner’s Mr. Wuffles!, and Stephen Savage’s Where’s Walrus. The relationships in these books develop wordlessly, so body language here is key. How are the characters interacting with each other? What is their body language like? Are they close together or far apart on the page?

Wordless picture books are fantastic opportunities to study the impact of illustration on a story.

Mel

Katie’s Post Script 

For some seriously awesome book reviews, insights, and cute pictures, follow Mel on Instagram @spiky_penelope and check out her website letstalkpicturebooks.com

If you’re looking for more suggestions for great wordless picture books click the picture below to see @chickadee.lit suggestions – I think she has some great ones on this list.

Good luck mamas! Show your kids enjoying wordless books and tell us how it goes by tagging #afriendlyaffair and #letstalkpicturebooks

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