When we suggest reading a book without words, some parents are aghast. Not because they don’t want to read a book without words, but because they are not quite sure what to do with them, or where the value lies in them.
A wordless book is one that tells a story through art and illustrations.
Artists and illustrators create characters’ personalities through pictures alone, using facial expressions, colour and body language to convey thoughts and feelings they want the reader to identify. Emotion is also shown through the context of pictures. The size of an image affects how the reader might respond to a character, as does the size of the character within the image, and lighting and colour also play a critical part in communicating to the reader. All of these different elements provide wonderful opportunities for talk with your child, for them to interpret these pictures as they wish – there is no right or wrong. Guiding your child’s interaction with any book, but particularly a wordless book, can support and develop rich vocabulary and offer a creative interaction with a story structure that they may not experience with more traditional books.
In child language development, there is a critical link between talk, vocabulary and comprehension. Reading with your child, answering and facilitating questions, provoking discussion and helping them explore language and stories is possibly the most impactful activity that a parent or carer can participate in.
Teachers have been using books without words as valuable tools for vocabulary and literacy development for a while now, as not only is there a wonderful range now but they engage children of all backgrounds and reading levels. They are also fantastic resources to support critical thinking, prediction and meaning making.
Consider a child who is struggling to read for any number of reasons, it may be his or her second or third language, there may be some learning difficulties, they may have phonics knowledge but not fully understand what they are reading. The child may not engage with a book that has words on a page as it is too complex to access. A picture book is much more accessible option and it often elicits wonderful ideas and interaction with the illustrated narrative, in some cases much more so than a traditional words and pictures book.
Picture books have art and illustration at their core and the beautiful thing about this is that they convey different things to different people. Each ‘reading’ of a picture book can be different and something a child notices one day may not be something they notice on another. It is similar to looking at a piece of art in a gallery or on the wall at home – there is always something new to notice or a new light in which to view it.
It is not always easy to find the time and energy to read with our children; daily life and commitments often get in the way but participating in reading 10-15 minutes a day with your child has the potential to make a significant difference to their enjoyment of language, books and ability to engage with a story – whether it has words or not.
Ideas on how to read a wordless picture book with your child
It may feel a little odd to ‘read’ a book with no words, so here are some steps to help you get started: