What are wordless picture books?
Well, they are exactly that, illustrated books without any printed story text. The reader relies on the illustrations to tell their own story.
They provide us with ‘an alternative, purely visual, way of ‘reading’. Clare Walters
As a ‘visual’ person, I’ve always loved illustrated books. I love the details, patterns, colour and emotions they portray.
Looking back to the books I remember as a child, it’s the illustrations I recall most and how they made me feel.
Perhaps this is why I chose to study History of Art at university! Essentially it’s analysing the visual elements of paintings. We interpret their meanings and by doing so, understand what the artist was wanting to convey.
And in many ways, this is how we ‘read’ wordless picture books. We analyse and interpret the illustrations.
The Inclusivity of Wordless Picture Books
Wordless picture books are inclusive. There are no language barriers so they are perfect for parents and children to ‘read’ together.
They are also empowering and valuable in engaging children irrespective of their reading level.
‘Reading without words’ allows us to enjoy the story without decoding the story text.
Expanding our Imagination
Wordless picture books give children the freedom to explore their own imaginations.
They give us the space to think creatively of ways of making up a new story with each reading.
Telling a Story
By analysing and interpreting the illustrations, children become the co-author. They are encouraged to ‘story tell’ rather than ‘retell a story’.
These books move children from simply listening to a story, to actively telling one.
Through this, they become more fluent oral communicators.
In turn, this helps them become storytellers, readers and writers.
Create our own Stories
This interpretation and analysis of illustration reminds me of the idea behind a musical called, ‘Sunday in the Park with George’, by Stephen Sondheim from a book by James Lapine.
Sondheim and Lapine created a fictional story about the real life pointillist artist, Georges Seurat, inspired by Seurat’s painting ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte’.
Another example of art being a spring board for the imagination and storytelling!
I’ve written a blog on traditional fairytales and storytelling. In the blog, I talk firstly about why these stories are some of the first we learn at home and school and secondly, how they help us with storytelling and story writing.
In many ways, there are similarities between wordless picture books and traditional fairytales.
The absence of written words in wordless picture books creates a gap which needs to be filled with our own version.
The absence of a definitive version of a fairytale means we have the opportunity to make them our own too!
These characteristics are great for nurturing creativity and encouraging us to think imaginatively.
Story Structure & Sequencing
Wordless picture books also help children with understanding story structures and sequencing.
They learn to narrate a story, working through the order of the illustrations.
As well as story narration, children begin to understand how to create a setting, develop a plot with a beginning, middle and end and learn about characterisation.
New Vocabulary & Language Skills
Wordless picture books engage us in creating our own stories and developing our characters.
They encourage us to expand and experiment with new and more complex vocabulary and story language.
Confidence Building & Independence
There are no wrongs or rights with wordless books and this can help create a positive reading experience.
For children who find reading challenging, it’s an opportunity to enjoy a book independently and without pressure.
Wordless books put children in the driving seat of the storyline.
This means that we are more likely to have a go at storytelling. We can be adventurous with our plot and characters safe in the knowledge that we don’t have to worry about getting anything ‘wrong’.
Wordless picture books are all about individual versions.
When we look at the illustrations we bring our own personality to the table and create something unique to us.
They provide opportunities to enjoy and exchange interpretations as no two stories are alike.
Wordless picture books require us to be a detective and spot clues in the illustrations as to what may be happening.
Learning to visually ‘read’ them, means we try to decipher, for example, what emotions are being conveyed.
We look for visual signposting to help us work out what may just have happened and then anticipate what may happen next.
This skill of using clues to help us gain a meaning of something is exactly what we use when we move onto books with text and meet new unfamiliar words.
The wonderful thing about wordless picture books
To sum up, wordless picture books are a wonderful way to enjoy books, stories, and ‘reading’.
They allow us to be active participants in our storytelling and build on a whole host of literacy skills in an unpressured and empowering way.
They are also lovely ways to gain an insight into how our children see the world through the stories they create.
And that’s something very special.
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