The practice of reading aloud is widely acknowledged to be key to literacy development and both oral and written communication skills. But many parents overlook the benefits of wordless (or almost wordless) picture books. In wordless books, the story emerges through the illustrations rather than the words on the page. This practice gives children the freedom to become more involved in the storytelling process. They choose names for the characters, focus on particular details in the pictures, or relate the story to their own lives. In the study conducted by University of Waterloo in Canada, twenty-five mothers were given one book with words and one without to read to their toddlers. The study found that the mothers used more complex language when reading the book without words, describing objects and relating them to real life experiences rather than just naming them.
And wordless books are not just for toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergarten children. When I first had my own class, I used David Weisner’s Tuesday to offer my fourth grade students another choice for writing. Many of them chose to write their own story for this incredibly captivating book about flying frogs with a surprise (or maybe, not such a surprise after reading Weisner’s book) ending.
Later, when Diane Dougherty and I were writing Grammar Matters; Lessons, Tips, and Conversations Using Mentor Texts, K-6, we chose to return to wordless books to inspire our narrative units of study in both primary and intermediate grades. I again used Tuesday to create a shared writing experience for both first and second grade classes and Night at the Fair with a kindergarten EL class. The students loved writing stories for wordless books, and often continued to collaborate or write individually. Some students wrote a sequel (for Tuesday, they wrote about the night of the flying pigs!)
In Grammar Matters we write advice that can be usefl to both teachers and parents:
“Wordless books are motivating choices for younger and older students. The pictures will help your struggling writers and nonwriers (students who can write but choose not to write) to invent narratives that help them feel successful as writers. We suggest beginning with a read aloud. In this case, the students (or your child) will read the pictures with you. ‘Reread’ the book by asking questions as you turn the pages. You might want to pay attention to the story grammar – in other words, who are the characters, where and when did the story take place, what is the problem or conflict, and how is it resolved?”
The thing about wordless picture books – there are many ways to write the story. To model this at home or in the classroom, return to your mentor texts and tell the story in different ways. If there is more than one character in the book, tell the story from different perspectives or in the first person and again in the third person voice. You can make up a different story every time. That helps students (or your children) know that there is not one correct way to write a story for a wordless book and gives them choice – so important for writers of any ages!
Bibliography of Wordless Books
Baker, Jeannie. 2004. Home. NY: Greenwillow Books.
_________ 2010. Mirror. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Banyai, Istvan. 1995. Zoom. NY: Puffin Books.
Becker, Aaron. 2013. Journey. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Boyd, Lizzy. 2013. Inside Outside. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
Briggs, Raymond. 1986. The Snowman. NY: Random House.
Catalanatto, Peter. 1993. Dylan’s Day Out. NY: Scholastic.
Cole, Henry. 2012. Unspoken: A Story for the Underground Railroad. NY: Scholastic.
Crews, Donald. 1998. Night at the Fair. NY: Greenwillow Books.
______________. 1990. Truck. NY: Greenwillow Books.
Day, Alexandra. 1989. Carl Goes Shopping. NY: Farrar, Straus, Giroux.
Day, Alexandra. 1991. Good Dog Carl. NY: Simon and Schuster.
de Paola, Tomie. 1981. The Hunter and the Animals. NY: Holiday House.
________ 1978. Pancakes for Breakfast. NY: Voyager Books.
Frazier, Craig. 2011. Bee and Bird. NY: Roaring Book Press.
Idle, Molly. 2013. Flora Flamingo. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
Keats, Ezra Jack. 1999. Clementina’s Cactus. NY: Viking.
Lee, Suzy. 2008. Wave. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
Lehman, Barbara. 2004. The Red Book. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
________ 2008. Trainstop. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
McCully, Emily Arnold. 2007. Four Hungry Kittens. NY: Penguin.
Miyares, Dolores. Float. 2015. NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Newgarden, Mark and Megan M. Cash. 2007. Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug. NY: Harcourt, Inc.
Pett, Mark. 2013. The Boy and the Airplane. NY: Simon and Schuster.
Pinkney, Jerry. 2009. The Lion and the Mouse. NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
Raschka, Chris. 2011. A Ball for Daisy. NY: Schwartz and Wade.
Raschka, Chris. 1993. Yo! Yes! NY: Scholastic.
Rogers, Gregory. 2004. The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, The Bard. NY: Roaring Brook.
Rohmann, Eric. 1997. Time Flies. NY: Dragonfly Books.
Rothmann, Peggy. 2002. Good Night, Gorilla. NY: Putnam.
Staake, Bob. 2013. Bluebird. NY: Schwartz and Wade Books.
Tan, Shaun. 2007. The Arrival. Melbourne, Australia: Lothian Books.
Weisner, David. 2006. Flotsam. NY: Houghton, Mifflin.
Weisner, David. 1992. June 9, 1999. NY: Houghton, Mifflin.
Weisner, David. 2013. Mr. Wuffles. NY: Houghton, Mifflin.
Weisner, David. 1999. Sector 7. NY: Houghton, Mifflin.
Wiesner, David. Tuesday. 1991. NY: Clarion Books.