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:
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.
The Arrival – “Tan captures the displacement and awe with which immigrants respond to their new surroundings in this wordless graphic novel. It depicts the journey of one man, threatened by dark shapes that cast shadows on his family’s life, to a new country. The only writing is in an invented alphabet, which creates the sensation immigrants must feel when they encounter a strange new language and way of life. A wide variety of ethnicities is represented in Tan’s hyper-realistic style, and the sense of warmth and caring for others, regardless of race, age, or background, is present on nearly every page. Young readers will be fascinated by the strange new world the artist creates, complete with floating elevators and unusual creatures, but may not realize the depth of meaning or understand what the man’s journey symbolizes. More sophisticated readers, however, will grasp the sense of strangeness and find themselves participating in the man’s experiences. They will linger over the details in the beautiful sepia pictures and will likely pick up the book to pore over it again and again.” —Alana Abbott, James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford, CT
A Ball for Daisy – Any child who has ever had a beloved toy break will relate to Daisy’s anguish when her favorite ball is destroyed by a bigger dog. In the tradition of his nearly wordless picture book Yo! Yes?, Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka explores in pictures the joy and sadness that having a special toy can bring. Raschka’s signature swirling, impressionistic illustrations and his affectionate story will particularly appeal to young dog lovers and teachers and parents who have children dealing with the loss of something special. (Also, be sure to read the sequel, Daisy Gets Lost.)
Before After Everyone knows that a tiny acorn grows into a mighty oak and a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. But in this clever, visually enchanting volume, it’s also true that a cow can result in both a bottle of milk and a painting of a cow, and an ape in a jungle may become an urban King Kong. Just as day turns into night and back again, a many-tiered cake is both created and eaten down to a single piece. With simple, graphic illustrations sure to appeal to even the youngest of children, this beautiful rumination on the passage of time will please the most discerning adult readers, too.
The Birthday Cake Mystery (Gecko Press Titles) – Told entirely through pictures, The Birthday Cake Mystery is a wordless detective story, filled with humorous details and red herrings!
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. (The other books in the series are A Boy, a Dog, a Frog, and a Friend, Frog on His Own, Frog Goes to Dinner, One Frog Too Many, and Frog, Where Are You?)
Chalk – One rainy day, three raincoat-clad children head to the playground and find a bag of chalk. When one girl draws a sun, something amazing happens: clouds break and a sunny blue sky appears. The second kid draws butterflies, which also appear. But when a boy draws a dinosaur, things get almost too exciting. Luckily, a solution is close at hand. (Also be sure to check out Bill Thomson’s other wordless books, such as The Typewriter and Fossil)
Changes, Changes – The little wooden couple are happy in their building-block house — until it catches fire. The solution? They transform the house into a fire engine! But then there’s so much water that they have to build a boat…
A Circle of Friends – A boy anonymously shares his snack with a homeless man, and inspires a cycle of good will.
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.
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.
Flood – Villa’s wordless picture book is a haunting look at a family whose home might be wiped out by a storm. Anyone who has lived through a hurricane will catch their breath at Villa’s unnerving watercolors, generously laid out across long, horizontal spreads. Familiar, nervous moments are found on every page: Dad preparing the windows while the kids, oblivious, play on the floor. The ominous glow of a weatherman delivering his warning soliloquies. Rain-battered volunteers surrounding the house with sandbags. And, of course, the worried family deciding to drive away, waving farewell to their brave, lonely house. The inability to know what nature has in store is quietly gut-wrenching—until a devastating spread depicts the interior of the house as storming with water, furniture being tossed like sticks. Villa’s sole, but significant, misstep is the too-quick turnaround: a single spread of house repair leads to the family enjoying a perfectly restored home. A worthwhile reminder that things are darkest before dawn, though not quite up to the visceral truths that make the rest of the book so moving. Grades K-3. –Daniel Kraus
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)
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?
Here I Am – Newly arrived from their faraway homeland, a boy and his family enter into the lights, noise, and traffic of a busy American city. The language is unfamiliar. Food, habits, games, and gestures are puzzling. They boy clings tightly to his special keepsake from home and wonders how he will find his way. How will he once again become the happy, confident kid he used to be? Walk in his shoes as he takes the first tentative steps toward discovering joy in his new world.
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.
The Land of Lines – In the land of lines, anything is possible: the connection between a boy and a girl from different worlds, the potential for self-discovery, and the vanquishing of a monster. While exploring mysterious terrain, the characters cascade down geometric cliffs and mountains, navigating the unknown and finding their potential. Readers will immerse themselves in this engaging wordless graphic novel that captures the timeless heroic journey and celebrates the power of art.
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.
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.
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.
Pool – What happens when two shy children meet at a very crowded pool? Dive in to find out! Deceptively simple, this masterful book tells a story of quiet moments and surprising encounters, and reminds us that friendship and imagination have no bounds.
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. (Other wordless books by Lehman that you might enjoy are Museum Trip, Rainstorm, The Secret Box, and Trainstop)
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 . . (Nolan also wrote a sweet wordless book that is worth checking out, Hunters of the Great Forest).
Sidewalk Flowers – A little girl collects wildflowers while her distracted father pays her little attention. Each flower becomes a gift, and whether the gift is noticed or ignored, both giver and recipient are transformed by their encounter.
The Silver Pony – Told only in pictures, this is the story of a lonely farm boy who confuses his dreams of adventure on a winged pony with reality.
Skunk on a String – In Skunk on a String, we meet a skunk who has been tied to the tail of a balloon. Try as he might, the persistent critter can’t get anyone to untie him. In this wordless story, he is shooed and swatted through a bustling parade, past the windowpanes of the city’s apartment buildings with their diverse, busy inhabitants, then up to the construction cranes high above the city. He floats through the zoo, into traffic, under water, and eventually lands atop a Ferris wheel. When he finally unties himself, the skunk misses the aerial life — so he comes up with an inspired way to fly again.
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.
Spot, the Cat – Through this gorgeous visual narrative, Henry Cole shows us a day in the life of a cat named Spot. Spot sneaks away from home by way of an open window to go on a wordless journey through the city. Follow Spot as he weaves through busy city streets, visits a farmers market, wanders into a park full of kite-flyers, and beyond. But while Spot is out on his adventure, his beloved boy owner is looking for him—seeming to just miss him every time. When all seems almost lost, Spot’s story reminds us that there’s always a way back home.
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.
Time Flies – Time Flies , a wordless picture book, is inspired by the theory that birds are the modern relatives of dinosaurs. This story conveys the tale of a bird trapped in a dinosaur exhibit at a natural history museum. Through Eric’s use of color, readers can actually see the bird enter into a mouth of a dinosaur, and then escape unscathed.
Tuesday This whimsical account of a Tuesday when frogs were airborne on their lily pads will continue to enchant readers of all ages. (If you enjoy this book, be sure to also try Flotsam, Free Fall, and Sector 7)
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.
Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad – A young girl’s courage is tested in this haunting, wordless story. When a farm girl discovers a runaway slave hiding in the barn, she is at once startled and frightened. But the stranger’s fearful eyes weigh upon her conscience, and she must make a difficult choice. Will she have the courage to help him? Unspoken gifts of humanity unite the girl and the runaway as they each face a journey: one following the North Star, the other following her heart. Henry Cole’s unusual and original rendering of the Underground Railroad speaks directly to our deepest sense of compassion.
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. (If you enjoy Wave, be sure to check out Lee’s other wordless picture books, Mirror and Shadow.)
Welcome to Mamoko – Trouble abounds in Mamoko: artwork has been stolen, Vincent Brisk is late for his date, and Miss Chubb has lost a prized possession. Will everything be put right in time for the town carnival? Readers are prompted to follow the adventures of Mamoko’s quirky cast of characters, sharing their discoveries aloud and using their eyes to uncover the kaleidoscope of stories packed into every page! (There are two other Mamoko books, The World of Mamoko in the Year 3000 and The World of Mamoko in the Time of Dragons.)
The Whale – There is a legend that a Great Spotted Whale lives in the ocean, although a sighting fifty years ago was never corroborated. Now two young whale watchers each set out to find the whale, one armed with sound-recording equipment, the other with a camera. When their boats collide, they pool their resources to capture incontrovertible proof that the mythical whale exists. The eventual sighting is a magical moment, especially when the children discover that it was their own grandparents who first glimpsed the whale fifty years ago. The Murrows’ spectacular wordless adventure is brought to life with stunning graphite drawings that convey the drama and haunting beauty of the ocean and capture the majesty of the awe-inspiring whale.
Where’s Walrus? – Bored with life at the zoo, an adventurous walrus escapes to the outside world. With the zookeeper in hot pursuit, Walrus cleverly tries on all sorts of hats to disguise himself. Will a yellow hardhat point to a new life as a construction worker? Or will a red swimming cap reveal his true talents? Follow the happy-go-lucky runaway as he hides amongst firefighters, businessmen, and even high-stepping dancers in this delightful wordless picture book. (Be sure to read the sequel to this book, Where’s Walrus? and Penguin?.)
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.
You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum – While she’s in the Metropolitan Museum with her grandmother, a little girl leaves her prized yellow balloon tied to a railing outside. But its string becomes untied, and the balloon embarks on an uproarious journey through New York City. With an ever-increasing cast of wacky urban characters in tow, it soars past a host of landmarks. Eighteen famous paintings and sculptures are reproduced in this delightful, wordless book that explores the magical relationship between art and life. (The series continues with You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Museum of Fine Arts and You Can’t Take a Balloon into the National Gallery)
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?