Not Your Average Book

We all have certain books we read as children that are seared into our memory. I was recently at my parent’s house looking through books and reminiscing about some that had that impression on me. There was something I found pretty interesting: a few of those childhood favorites didn’t even have words.

The notion of telling a story through pictures alone has been around since the early stages of humanity (i.e. hieroglyphics.) But as an adult I sort of cast off wordless books, feeling like they weren’t “real” stories.

However, as a parent, I’ve come to appreciate wordless books in a new way, and even begun to search them out for my own kids. I hadn’t remembered that those books I had loved as a child didn’t have any words at all. The stories, told in illustrations and my own imagination, had left such an impression that the words themselves were not what was most important.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge proponent of the classic format of books – there is no lack of evidence for the benefits of books with words. But there are also some pretty impressive things that happen while enjoying wordless books that are worthy of their own due praise.

  1. They Empower Children to Read by Themselves
    For young children who are old enough to conceptualize story arcs, but haven’t mastered reading words yet, image-only books are a fun place for them to flex their story telling chops. Of course, they can do this with any book, words or no words, but the elimination of text sometimes frees them up from thinking they are telling it “wrong” or that the story can only be delivered by someone who is reading the words.
  2. They Encourage Children to be More Attune to Visual Cues
    Without words to deliver information, the readers are accountable for visually gathering all the information provided in the pictures. Most wordless books are illustratively rich and intentional with every single detail. Readers have to pay special attention to facial expressions and body language to tell how the characters are feeling, and they have to carefully calculate before and after pictures to determine cause and effect. These two things are huge in teaching our kids to understand how people are feeling and how the world around them is working.
  3. They Promote Asking Questions, and Answering Them
    If you’ve ever read a book with a young kid, you know that it can take a seriously long time because of all the questions they ask. But wordless books allow you to turn that around on them. When you are reading them together, YOU can be the one asking the questions and have your child figure out an answer from the clues provided. Questions like, “She just got in the door, and what does she see?” or “Why do you think she’s sad?” can empower kids to provide the answers rather than just asking them.
  4. They’re Flexible
    No two kids are going to read a wordless book exactly the same. And even year to year, the same kid won’t read the book the same way. Because the story isn’t static, a toddler and an 8 year-old can enjoy the book on equal levels. At every stage of understanding, a wordless book can be interpreted through the particular lens that serves the child best. If you’re reading it together, it can be catered to your own culture, your own experiences, your own language, and made perfectly accessible to your own kid with the concepts and lessons you want to promote.
  5. They Require Us to Engage
    I’ll be the first to admit, my biggest aversion to wordless books as an adult was that they take so much effort. Books with words allow me to go on auto-pilot, making the sentences come out but letting my mind actually slip off. You’ve got to gear up to “read” a book with no words. You need to use your faculties, be imaginative, and be ready to connect the dots between page one and page two. It’s because of these very reasons that wordless books offer such a rich and memorable experience. They offer us the perfect platform to really be present with our kids and pay attention to how they think. For this reason alone, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these books become the ones your own kids look back on with fondness decades from now.


A list of some great wordless books to try out with your child:

  • The Red Balloon by Albert Lamorisse
  • Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie DePaola
  • The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
  • Chalk by Bill Thomson
  • Flashlight by Lizi Boyd