Friday, January 21, 2011

Without Saying a Word

I am not a visual person.  In college I made a friend accompany me to the art gallery to help me figure out what I was seeing for an assignment for Art History 101.  Post-college, I looked at the wordless Ikea directions with horror and confusion (not only was I confused about what to do, I was confused as to how anybody could think wordless instructions were useful) and immediately found some friends willing to help.  So it was much to my surprise that I discovered that several of my favorite picture books are wordless.

Perhaps my absolute favorite wordless books (if I had to choose) are Jan Ormerod's "bookend" pair (pun intended) Sunshine and Moonlight.  They both follow the same family (mom, dad, daughter) through the rituals of getting up in the morning and going to bed at night.  Despite the fact that they focus on what can be very hectic times of day, both books convey a kind of peacefulness.  I found them serendipitously at Books of Wonder, a fantastic independent children's bookstore here in New York.

All of Suzy Lee's books are amazing.  Wave tells the story of a little girl at the beach;
Mirror uses double-page spreads to turn the book into a mirror and Shadow shows how a little girl's imagination converts the shadows of ordinary items in her attic into monsters and animals in the jungle.  Shadow also uses double-page spreads.  It is a tall thin book but has to be turned horizontally to be "read."  I love how the protagonist in each book plays so happily all by herself without a toy in sight.

In the Town All Year 'Round by Rotraut Susanne Berner is a more traditional wordless book, in the vein of Richard Scarry.  I don't remember how I came across it originally but Playing by the Book's recent post about a similar book, It's Snowing in Animal Town by Hannamarie Ruohonen reminded me of it.  It follows the citizens of a single town throughout the year.  The book is divided into seasons and each has an introduction to some of the characters and clues about what to look for.  It is very detailed and rewards rereading with new discoveries each time. 

After reading Playing by the Book's posts about "reading" wordless books to and with your children and I was struck by a thought: to my non-reader and not-quite-a-reader, ALL books are wordless when an adult is not there.  Of course, my kids often "read" a book they have heard before using the words they have memorized or almost memorized, but they sometimes tell the story in their own words as well.  Hearing how they paraphrase the text makes for great eavesdropping!


  1. "Tuesday" was my oldest son's favorite book well into his elementary school years. It has a few words, but most of the story is just pictures.

    And interesting variant is "Rosie's Walk" where the text just describes the chicken's walk but the real story is in the pictures, where a fox is stalking her.

  2. Jan Ormerod has written/illustrated some very lovely books indeed. The ones you mention are new to me, but we love her 101 Things to Do with a Baby - a great book to give to a sibling when a new baby arrives on the scene.

    A great point about all books being wordless for kids before they begin reading.

    And thanks for linking to Playing by the book :-)

  3. I find that my oldest son is much more focused on the words of a story than he is in looking at the illustrations and all the clues they contain. This was true even before he could read. Even though he is 6 I still "read" wordless picture books to him to encourage him and develop his skills to find other ways to tell/hear a story other than the text. I have to "read" the book with him, however, or he just flips through the book quickly since there are no words.

  4. Oh, I have always liked SUNSHINE too. Another beauty is TABBY by Aliki.

    Thank you for these thoughtful words about wordless books. They have so much to offer young readers and writes too.

  5. He who makes oatmealJanuary 30, 2011 at 8:45 AM

    What about that book we read about the book in a book, I think involving a balloon and a desert island?