Wordless picture books often are the best books for reading out-loud together, because the elaborate illustrations and lack of text promote lively discussion. At the same time, wordless picture books also allow pre-readers to “read” books independently, thereby developing reading confidence. Meanwhile, wordless books allow early readers to focus on the joy of reading without having to concentrate on sounding out words and remembering sight words. In addition, wordless picture books provide an opportunity for fluent readers to work on story telling skills.
In all levels of readers, wordless picture books help to develop inference skills as the child attempts to see where the storyline is going without text to dictate the story. Wordless picture books also build children’s vocabulary by encouraging children to identify objects in the pictures that the child might have just skimmed over had there been text.
When we first started exploring wordless picture books, I expected them to be an occasional oddity, but was quite surprised to learn that there were actually hundreds of them. In particular, this year, it seems like there has been an increase in the number of wordless picture books being released. Here is the list of the wordless picture books that we have enjoyed over the years:
10 Minutes till Bedtime – It’s almost bedtime! At 1 Hoppin Place the fun begins when a family of hamsters-with ten offspring wearing jerseys numbered from one to ten-arrives at the door. There are only ten minutes left, and there’s still so much to do! But with the help of the Hamsters’ 10-Minute Bedtime Tour (guided by his own pet hamster), the little boy is able to get his toys put away, his pajamas on, his teeth brushed, and his bedtime story read-all in the nick of time. This lively introduction to bedtime rituals and the concept of counting backwards will have young readers eagerly awaiting their own countdown to bedtime.
The Adventures of Polo – Equipped with a backpack full of supplies, Polo sets off on a little boat–and on a series of delightful adventures that take him across (and under) the ocean, to an island and a frozen iceberg, to space and home again, with a world of magical encounters along the way. Polo’s journey is packed with incident and expression; 80 pages of seamless, satisfying picture storytelling are perfectly targeted to the youngest reader.
Bluebird – In this emotional picture book, readers will be captivated as they follow the journey of a bluebird as he develops a friendship with a young boy and ultimately risks his life to save the boy from harm. I should mention here that some children may find this book to be too distressing. If you have a very sensitive child, you probably should avoid this book.
A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog – A boy and his dog go walking in the swamp.They spot a frog in the water. Can they use a net to catch him? The first in a series of six books starring the boy and his animal friends. The group get into some trouble and have some fun-filled adventures.
Draw! – A boy named Leonardo begins to imagine and then draw a world afar—first a rhinoceros, and then he meets some monkeys, and he always has a friendly elephant at his side. Soon he finds himself in the jungle and carried away by the sheer power of his imagination, seeing the world through his own eyes and making friends along the way.
The Farmer and the Clown – This probably is Sola’s favorite book ever! I’m not sure what it is about this book that entrances her so, but she asks me to read it to her all the time. A baby clown is separated from his family when he accidentally bounces off their circus train and lands in a lonely farmer’s vast, empty field. The farmer reluctantly rescues the little clown, and over the course of one day together, the two of them make some surprising discoveries about themselves—and about life!
– Flashlight – Inside a tent it’s cozy. But what is going on outside? Is it dark? Is it scary? Not if you have your trusty flashlight! Told solely through images and using a spare yet dramatic palette, artist Lizi Boyd has crafted a masterful exploration of night, nature, and art. Both lyrical and humorous, this visual poem—like the flashlight beam itself—reveals that there is magic in the darkness. We just have to look for it.
Flora and the Peacocks – The darling, dancing Flora is back, and this time she’s found two new friends: a pair of peacocks! But amidst the fanning feathers and mirrored movements, Flora realizes that the push and pull between three friends can be a delicate dance. Will this trio find a way to get back in step? In the third book featuring Flora and her feathered friends, Molly Idle’s gorgeous art combines with clever flaps to reveal that no matter the challenges, true friends will always find a way to dance, leap, and soar—together. (Be sure to check out the two previous Flora books, Flora and the Flamingo and Flora and the Penguin)
Float – A little boy takes a boat made of newspaper out for a rainy-day adventure. The boy and his boat dance in the downpour and play in the puddles, but when the boy sends his boat floating down a gutter stream, it quickly gets away from him. So of course the little boy goes on the hunt for his beloved boat—and when the rain lets up, he finds himself on a new adventure altogether.
The Girl and the Bicycle – A little girl sees a shiny new bicycle in the shop window. She hurries home to see if she has enough money in her piggy bank, but when she comes up short, she knocks on the doors of her neighbors, hoping to do their yardwork. They all turn her away except for a kindly old woman. The woman and the girl work through the seasons, side by side. They form a tender friendship. When the weather warms, the girl finally has enough money for the bicycle. (Be sure to check out Mark Pett’s previous wordless picture book, The Boy and the Airplane)
Good Dog, Carl – This classic, wordless story will find a new audience in a chunky board format which includes the complete story and the original full-color illustrations. Children follow with delight as Carl leads his infant mistress on a wild adventure–the instant after her mother has left the house.
Hank Finds an Egg – While walking through the woods, Hank finds an egg all alone on the forest floor. Spotting its home high up in a tree, Hank diligently tries to return the egg to its nest, but is met with failure each time. After keeping the egg warm overnight, he returns to the scene the next morning. To his surprise, he is met by another forest creature. Will they find a way together to see the egg safely home?
Inside Outside – What is happening outside today? Peek through the window to find out. What is happening inside? Peek again! Whimsical die-cuts throughout lead to charming and surprising reveals with every turn of the page. Filled with fun details (can you find the two mice playing throughout?), this deceptively simple book is one readers will visit again and again.
Leaf – When a little boy runs in a panic from a haircut, a bird sees to it that his luxuriously follicated head is put to good use and drops a single seed right on top. Time passes, and wait…could it be? Something grows. A leaf! Instead of trying to rid himself of his new living hairstyle, the boy learns how to make the leaf grow, and, in turn, winds up growing a lot himself.
Lights Out – Mama and Papa are firm: lights out at eight o’clock. But their little piglet is afraid of the dark. They say, “If you can figure something out, go ahead.” So the piglet devises an ingenious series of contraptions that allow him to obey his parents while still keeping the light on long enough to fall asleep. Dominoes, tricycles, bowling balls, and baseball bats play a part as each action and reaction leads gradually to the final tug on the lamp’s switch. Follow Arthur Geisert’s detailed etchings as they reveal each step of kinetic wonder leading gradually to lights out. If you enjoy Lights Out, be sure to check out Geisert’s many other wordless books.
The Lion & the Mouse – In award-winning artist Jerry Pinkney’s wordless adaptation of one of Aesop’s most beloved fables, an unlikely pair learn that no act of kindness is ever wasted. After a ferocious lion spares a cowering mouse that he’d planned to eat, the mouse later comes to his rescue, freeing him from a poacher’s trap. With vivid depictions of the landscape of the African Serengeti and expressively-drawn characters, Pinkney makes this a truly special retelling, and his stunning pictures speak volumes. (The sequel to this book is The Tortoise & the Hare.)
Little Butterfly – This is a story of a young girl, a simple act of kindness, and a magical, once-in-a-lifetime journey. Laura Logan’s sweet and surprising illustrations tell an extraordinary tale of compassion rewarded and the wonder of nature.
The Midnight Adventures of Kelly, Dot, and Esmeralda – A sturdy koala bear, Kelly; an engaging doll, Dot; and a tiny, demure mouse, Esmeralda, who live quietly on top of a chest of drawers in the nursery, wake just at midnight to begin their adventures. They climb into an inviting picture on the wall that shows a charming landscape with a river running through it and a rowboat drawn up on the bank. But the delights of a village fair they visit turn to terror when Esmeralda is caught by a piratical cat — and only Dot’s quick wit and the boldest action on Kelly’s part save all three of them from disaster. (If you enjoy this book, Goodall has a whole series of these little wordless books.)
Mirror – Somewhere in Sydney, Australia, a boy and his family wake up, eat breakfast, and head out for a busy day of shopping. Meanwhile, in a small village in Morocco, a boy and his family go through their own morning routines and set out to a bustling market. In this ingenious, wordless picture book, readers are invited to compare, page by page, the activities and surroundings of children in two different cultures. Their lives may at first seem quite unalike, but a closer look reveals that there are many things, some unexpected, that connect them as well. Designed to be read side by side — one from the left and the other from the right —these intriguing stories are told entirely through richly detailed collage illustrations. (Mirror is just one of Baker’s wordless books, you can enjoy her collages sans words in several of her other books.)
The Only Child – A little girl—lost and alone—follows a mysterious stag deep into the woods, and, like Alice down the rabbit hole, she finds herself in a strange and wondrous world. But… home and family are very far away. How will she get back there? In this magnificently illustrated—and wordless—masterpiece, debut artist Guojing brilliantly captures the rich and deeply-felt emotional life of a child, filled with loneliness and longing as well as love and joy.
Owly & Wormy, Bright Lights and Starry Nights – Owly and Wormy want to see the stars! So they gather their telescope and their lantern and head out into the dark night, all the way to the edge of their branch. Try as they might, though, they can only see leaves…and branches…and more leaves. But these two friends are not about to let a little obstacle like foliage stop them. Armed with camping gear, galoshes—and their wits, of course!—Owly and Wormy set out once again. And this time there are even bigger challenges to face. What’s that screee sound? What’s that click click clicking noise? And what has happened to their telescope?! Owly and Wormy find plenty to be frightened of, but with a little bravery, they also find there are nearly as many helpful new friends on the horizon as there are stars in the sky. This wordless picture book conveys a nuanced narrative with charming illustrations that will appeal to even the earliest readers.(You can catch more of Owly and Wormy’s adventures in Owly & Wormy, Friends All Aflutter!).
Pancakes for Breakfast – children’s author and illustrator, Tomie dePaola is well known for many of his books, but I had not “read” this gem of a book until Sola became fascinated with wordless books. This book follows the trials of a little old lady who attempts to make pancakes for her breakfast.
Peter Spier’s Rain – This wordless picture book captures the beauty and wonder of a brother and sister’s joyous experiences in the rain. Come along as they explore their neighborhood, splash through puddles, see where the animals hide, and make footprints in the mud.
The Red Book – This book is about a book. A magical red book without any words. When you turn the pages you’ll experience a new kind of adventure through the power of story.Winning a Caldecott Honor for its illustrations of rare detail and surprise, The Red Book crosses oceans and continents to deliver one girl into a new world of possibility, where a friend she’s never met is waiting.
Return – The much anticipated finale of Aaron Becker’s wordless trilogy is available for pre-order right now and is scheduled to be released on August 2, 2016. Failing to get the attention of her busy father, a lonely girl turns back to a fantastic world for friendship and adventure. It’s her third journey into the enticing realm of kings and emperors, castles and canals, exotic creatures and enchanting landscapes. This time, it will take something truly powerful to persuade her to return home, as a gripping backstory is revealed that will hold readers in its thrall. Caldecott Honor winner Aaron Becker delivers a suspenseful and moving climax to his wordless trilogy, an epic that began with the award-winning Journey and continued with the celebrated follow-up Quest.
Sea of Dreams – On a beautiful sunlit beach, a girl builds a magnificent sandcastle. As night falls the girl heads for home. Waves move ever closer to the castle, threatening its survival. Suddenly, in one of its windows, a light comes on . . .
The Snow Rabbit – Two sisters look longingly through their window at the snowy sky. One goes out and sculpts a little rabbit, but when she brings it back inside to her wheelchair-bound sister, it begins to melt. So they take it outside and into the forest where enchanted things begin to happen. A follow up to her hauntingly beautiful Fox’s Garden, Camille Garoche (a.k.a. Princess Camcam) mounts paper cut scenes into dioramas that are then meticulously lit and photographed, lending the illustrations depth and heightened drama. (Princess Camcam has written one other wordless book, Fox’s Garden).
South – When a little bird awakens to find that all of his friends and family have gone south for the winter, it takes a surprising friendship with Mooch the cat to help him find his way.
The Surprise – Sheep carefully charts the growth of his wool coat. When it’s long enough, he rides his moped to buy some red dye and dyes his wool and shaves it off. Sheep puts on a sweater and takes the wool to Poodle, who spins it into yarn. Back at home, Sheep knits a beautiful red sweater as a surprise present for Giraffe
Tuesday This whimsical account of a Tuesday when frogs were airborne on their lily pads will continue to enchant readers of all ages. (Many of Wiesner’s books are wordless.)
The Typewriter – Using just nine words, the award-winning creator of Chalk takes readers on another unforgettable journey. When three children discover a typewriter on a carousel, they are transported on an adventure of their own creation—complete with a giant beach ball and a threatening crab. Stunning, richly colored artwork is paired with limited text so children can tell their own version of the story. (Also be sure to check out Bill Thomson’s other wordless books, such as Chalk and Fossil)
The Umbrella – A little dog finds an umbrella in the garden on a windy day. The moment the dog picks up the umbrella, it catches the wind and pulls the dog skywards. This is the start to fantastic journey around the world. The wind carries the umbrellas and the dog all over the world, from the desert to the sea, from the jungle to the north pole.
Wave – In this evocative wordless book, internationally acclaimed artist Suzy Lee tells the story of a little girl’s day at the beach. Stunning in their simplicity, Lee’s illustrations, in just two shades of watercolor, create a vibrant story full of joy and laughter.
Wonder Bear – Two kids plant mysterious seeds, and up grows a remarkable flowering vine, out of which emerges an even more remarkable big white bear. On his head is a top hat hat that allows him to work all kinds of magic that day. He pulls monkey after monkey from the hat, blows bubbles in amazing shapes, and transforms flowers into spectacular floating sea creatures.
Zoom – Open this wordless book and zoom from a farm to a ship to a city street to a desert island. But if you think you know where you are, guess again. (If you like this book, be sure to read Re-Zoom and The Other Side also.)
Have you tried reading a wordless picture book to your children? If so, did they like it? If you haven’t tried reading a wordless book, why not head down to your local library and check one out?