Wordless Books: Where Less Is More

Reading Wordless Books Did you know that wordless books can actually help kids read better?

Reading a book requires a mix of reading skills (decoding and making sense of the letters) and language skills. Think of the last time you saw a child get completely caught up in a story. He was imagining himself as part of it, asking questions and making connections beyond the printed words on the page. He was using language to enter into the book.

When children are learning to read, all their attention goes toward decoding the words. This is quite natural, and in the beginning it is enough. But it is easy for many kids to get stuck thinking that simply sounding out the words is "reading".

To connect the words to their meaning, to a story, and to their own experience, kids need to use language. Asking "what if" questions, getting insights from the pictures, predicting what will come next...all these things are what give life to a story.

Wordless books can develop the language skills kids need to make their reading meaningful.

The Best Things About Books With No Words

  1. Because there are no words, the pictures tell much more of the story than in a typical book. First grade texts are simple; picture-only books can open the door to multi-layered stories with great depth.
  2. Language learners can enjoy them without the limitations of vocabulary. Parents and children can "read" them bilingually.
  3. They can inspire kids to write or tell their own story.
  4. Children at many different levels can use and work with the same book.
  5. Kids can practice using vocabulary that is too hard for them to read.

My Favorite Books Without Words

Ready to give wordless books a try? Check out my top five all-time favorite wordless books for 1st graders. (Just click on the book's link to get one for your child's bookshelf.)

  • The Red Book, The Red Book by Barbara Lehman.
    Imagine you found a book. In that book, you could see a real person in a far-away land--and he could see you, too! This is a fun book about an unusual friendship, with an interesting twist.
  • Noah's Ark, Noah's Ark by Peter Spier by Peter Spier.
    Did Noah keep two of each insect? Where did the sloths sleep, and where did he put the reptiles? And who scooped all that animal poop? No detail is left unexamined in this Caldecott winning wordless book.
  • Good Dog, Carl, Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day.
    Mom goes away for a few hours and leaves baby with the babysitter--a sweet dog named Carl. Kids love the baby's crazy adventures and the impossibility of having a dog as a babysitter! (Parents: don't be alarmed. This is fiction!)
  • Flotsam, Flotsam by David Wiesner.
    An antique camera washes up on a beach. When the film is developed, there are unbelievable photos of what REALLY goes on under the sea. Gorgeous illustrations and flights of fancy make this a great wordless book.
  • Anno's Counting Book, Anno's Counting Book by Mitsumasa Anno.
    A math story, a look at seasons and months, and a seek-and-find book, all in one. In month 1, January, there is one adult, one kid, one house, one tree, one bird. But the town is growing! Find 2 of everything in February, and so on as you watch the seasons change. Brilliant book.

One final note: Once you see the storytelling power of great illustrations, you may start to see new possibilities with regular picture books too. Give equal time to reading text and talking about pictures, at least some of the time, and watch your first graders' language take off!


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“Education is not preparation for life. Education is life itself. ”
~John Dewey