Beyond Words – Celebrating Wordless Picture Books

On Sunday, The Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards (Cybils) announced its winners for 2015. The winner in the Fiction Picture Book category is …

Sidewalk Flowers

written by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Sydney Smith
(Groundwood Books, 2015)

A distracted dad and his daughter take a walk home in this beautifully illustrated, wordless picture book. The story unfolds through a unique combination of graphic novel style format and traditional full-bleed or framed art. While the city seems drab and dark in the beginning, the little girl finds beauty around every corner. Details invite the reader to linger and pause over the pages, discovering along with the girl on her walk through the neighborhood. As she matter-of-factly shares her appreciation for things around her, color begins to spread beyond just the people and places where she distributes her finds. ~ Cybils Fiction Picture Book Judges Panel

Over the years, many wordless picture books have been nominated, but this is the first year a wordless picture book won the category. That makes it a little extra special in my book. One of the other things that makes wordless picture books special is that they offer limitless possibilities for storytelling.

Readers young and old alike will be charmed by this story of a little girl’s ability to stop and notice the weeds and her natural willingness to spread kindness in a busy, fast-paced world. The wordless aspect of the book makes it accessible to everyone, no matter what language they read or speak. ~ Cybils Fiction Picture Book Judges Panel

Like the little girl noticing the world around her, wordless picture books allow the reader to reveal the story in their own unique way. For them, the story is propelled by their imagination and the things they discover on a page. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? For some of us (me included), wordless picture books can seem harder to read than books that narrate a story for you. With that in mind, here are some tips for sharing – and enjoying – all that wordless picture books have to offer.

Fun with Wordless Picture Books

1. Don’t say a word.

With the first reading or two, just enjoy the imagery and let the story unpack itself. Go slow. As you move from frame to frame, look for the main characters and specific events that might be part of the plot, what emotions are being conveyed?

It may help to view the story as a silent movie. Like in the page above, the illustrator has closeups of the little girl but also pans out so you can get a perspective of her journey through the city.

Since there are no words, the characters don’t have pre-determined names. Invite your readers to name the characters and ask them why they picked that name.

2. Tell the story your way.

When you’re ready, tell the story. Some of us may be more comfortable with detailed stories that explore each frame.

On Saturdays, Micah loved to visit the corner store and smell the fresh fruit. Today, all she could think about was that yellow flower in her hand. She wanted to show Mr. Gomez her flower, but Uncle Max said it was time to go.

Others of us may want to paint the story with a broader brush.

Micah couldn’t understand why Uncle Max was in a rush and complaining about the “stinky city.” She loved the smells and how they were hidden in the tiniest places.

Your audience will also help you with telling the story. They aren’t shy about letting you know when they’re ready to turn the page!

3. Let them tell their story!

Kids have the most wonderful imaginations and they’ll see things that we may not. Giving young readers the create the story helps them build confidence as readers. They watch you read all the time – this is their chance to tell the story and be the reader.

Without getting too technical, letting kids create a story that has a beginning, middle, and end will also help them with sequencing (putting events in order) and communication (conveying ideas in a logical manner).

More Ideas for Wordless Picture Books

Wordless picture books aren’t just for “little kids” and emerging readers. These books can – and do – appeal to kids who can read themselves. Wordless picture books can be a great catalyst for other literacy activities – narrating a story, writing a script, making a video.

I’ll close with links to two resources on reading wordless picture books with children.

    • Wordless Picture Books by Marie Ripple at All About Learning Press. Great explanation of the skills wordless picture books support, as well as a list of books for different ages.


Bookcover image links to and includes the Cybils affiliate code.

2 responses to “Beyond Words – Celebrating Wordless Picture Books

  1. I have never come across wordless picture books, but after reading this post and seeing some of the pages I find them very interesting. I hope to find more wordless picture books to utilize in my future classroom. I also think that they are so interesting because they allow the reader to have some freedom with the story line.

    1. Thanks for your insight, Karson. I had never come across them until I started seeing lots of reviews for The Visitor. Initially, I found them hard to read with my then preschooler / kindergartener / first grader. When I worried less – and let her tell the story more – they became a lot more fun. Now we have great memories!!

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