Gift Ideas: Wordless Picture Books

In a wordless book, the reader is an author. Relying on their imagination and interpretation of what they see and feel, the story becomes something all their own. They can give characters names, generate dialogue, set the mood … in other words, have a fresh story every time they pick up the book.

Young children like wordless books because it is an opportunity for them to tell us (adults) a story. They get to be in charge, which doesn’t happen often. Older kids like them, too; often poring over details in the illustration to bring out the nuances of the story.

Wordless picture books are timeless and ageless because the story changes and grows with readers. It is always fascinating to see where images will take kids and how they use all their senses as they read aloud. 

inside outside lizi boydInside Outside by Lizi Boyd
| Ages: 2 to 6|

A young boy (and sometimes his dog) share all the different things that they do when they play inside and outside. Cut-out “windows” in each page add to the mystery of “what’s next” as they move back and forth between the two places. Simple illustrations offer plenty to enjoy. 

The illustrations flow through a year of activities, so young readers can experience all the seasons, too. It is easy to see toddlers and preschoolers trying to imitate the boy’s activities – especially wearing a cape, floating boats, and playing with puppets. These are great inspirations for them to “act out” the book.

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Pair with inside and/or outside toys: chalk, puppets, spongy ball, et al

chalk bill thomsenChalk by Bill Thomson
| ages: 2 to 8 |

Two girls and a boy walking by the playground on a rainy day spot a bag with stars on it. They investigate and discover sidewalk chalk! The first girl pulls out a piece of yellow chalk and draws a sun on the pavement. Magically, a bright sphere rises from the pavement, up into the sky. Everything they draw comes to life – including the T-Rex!

My kids (2, 4, and 6) LOVED LOVED LOVED this book. It was very exciting, and, without words, they could tell the story any way they wanted. This is a marvelous, unique story told without words.

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Pairs with Sidewalk Chalk

flora peacocks molly idle Flora and the Peacock by Molly Idle
| Ages: 4 to 8 |

Flora brings her fan to dance with the peacocks. As she takes turns with the birds, they become jealous and eventually rip her fan, leaving her very sad. Is there a way to repair the damage? Don’t worry, there’s a happy ending.

Gorgeous illustrations and flaps engage readers as they create their story. The colors and the emotion conveyed in the characters’ faces is exquisite. Young readers will LOVE the last fold out. Because each bird has its own feather (flap), how you tell the story can change every time you open the book.

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Pair with dancing accessories (tutu, fan, scarf) or dress-up materials

Skunk on a String by Thao Lam | ages: 3 to 9 |

skunk on a string by thao lamThere are lots of big balloons in the parade and one small balloon with something attached: a skunk! A gust of wind separates the skunk from the parade, taking him away from the city, through the zoo, onto a garbage truck, and ultimately to the fair. Phew, the skunk is now on the ground again … P-U!

Dare we say the story is “sweet?” Brightly-colored collage images and familiar creatures will engage readers as they create (and recreate!) the skunk’s adventure. The skunk’s face is expressive, but not so “locked in” on one emotion that you can’t take the story in different directions.

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Pair with animal-shaped (or fun shaped) soap, promise of going to a parade or zoo, stuffed skunk animal

Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole | ages 9 to 13 |

wordless picture bookA girl is doing her daily farm chores. Today, when she went to the shed to get potatoes, there was an eye staring back at her from the pile of cornstalks. What should she do? For days, she takes food out to the shed only to return to an empty napkin. Then one day, she goes out to the barn and the napkin has been transformed into a doll.

Unspoken is aptly named. Without saying a word it leaves you speechless. The illustrations are captivating and the images they leave behind are haunting. It isn’t until you read Mr. Cole’s history at the end that you understand the significance of the imagery in the beginning.

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Pair with tickets to see the film Harriet, plans to visit a local history museum or the African American History Museum in Washington, DC

wonder struck brian selznickWonderstruck by Brian Selznick
| ages 10 and Up |

In 1977, Ben is trying to find his father, a man he has never known. Rose, whose story starts in 1927, wants to meet an actress who is the star of her scrapbook. Each discovers a piece of information they think can help them: Ben a piece of paper in his mother’s room; Rose an interesting newspaper headline.

With this new information, they set out, alone, on a quest to answer their heart’s deepest wish. The chapters alternate their stories, with Ben’s story is told in words, Rose’s story in illustration only.

There is more than meets the eye in Wonderstruck. Ben ultimately traces his family tree. The stories are woven together well, and readers will be amazed. One of the underlying themes is family.  There is something for everyone – including adult readers.

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Pair with a date to share some family photographs/history; ancestry-related products such as a blank family tree map; free subscription to

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