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Wordless Picture Books to Inspire Creativity & Learning with Young Children

May 25, 2023    |   Children’s Books

Storytime in early learning programs is a time for learning through observation and conversation. Children learn a variety of skills when they look through books and when books are read to them – and picture books without words can be especially beneficial! Wordless picture books are stories that are told through illustrations only, which inspires children to think creatively about what they see on the book’s pages. In this article, we explore the benefits of wordless picture books and share a few of our favorites. 

Benefits of Wordless Picture Books

Children’s books without words encourage little ones to pay close attention to the details of the imagery. These books also spark meaningful, learning-rich conversations about what kinds of things are happening in the stories and what might come next. Through these interactions, children are learning a variety of skills, including the following…

  • Attention to detail. To follow along with the story, children will have to pay close attention to the details of each illustration. An article from Scholastic explains that “wordless picture books leave a lot to the imagination. But that doesn’t mean there’s no storyline! Full of vivid illustrations, these books encourage children to use the detailed images to pick up on context clues and figure out what’s happening.” 

  • Creativity and collaboration. Picture books without words spark creativity by encouraging children to fill in the storyline! Children in group settings can bounce ideas off one another about what they think might be happening on each page. This encourages them to collaborate as they work to put all of their ideas together and form one storyline. 

  • Vocabulary and verbal language skills. Wordless books encourage children to interpret images and make up their own stories, and share their observations by communicating them to caregivers and peers. These conversations support language and listening skills, and introduce children to new words, phrases, and concepts.  

  • Reading skills for multiple home languages. One of the best things about wordless picture books is that they are not limited to just one language! This means that everyone can participate in storytime, as educators and children incorporate words from different languages to talk about the story and interpret the illustrations. 

Tips for Introducing Wordless Picture Books

While there is no “right” or “wrong” way to read a wordless picture book, it might be helpful to incorporate some of the following tips from Reading Rockets when you introduce these books to the children in your care. 

  • Take your time exploring the details of the images. Spend time looking at the cover and talking about the book’s title. Based on those two things, make a few predictions about the story. 

  • Expand children’s learning with follow-up questions. Encourage children to explore the book and to share their interpretation of the illustrations with you. In these conversations, encourage deeper learning by asking “what,” “why,” and “how” questions to invite children to add more detailed information to their interpretation of the story. You can keep the conversation and inquiry going by asking follow-up questions, such as: What pictures helped you tell the story? What was your favorite part of your story? How do you think the characters were feeling? 

Popular Wordless Children’s Books

Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann

This story takes place in a zoo and follows a mischievous gorilla who takes the zookeeper’s keys and then lets all of the animals out of their cages after they have been put to bed for the night. The story is humorous and colorful, and will spark lots of fun conversations about all the different animals. 

Flashlight by Lizi Boyd

This story, which was an NPR Best Book of the Year and Junior Library Guild Selection, follows a young boy’s exploration of the night on his camping trip. The illustrations show him shining a light into the shadows and finding a variety of nighttime creatures, including fascinating insects, plants, trees, and streams. 

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle

This Caldecott Honor-winning picture book tells the story of a young girl named Flora and her graceful flamingo friend. The book follows the two characters as they dance in synchrony and form a special and unlikely friendship. Young children will enjoy the colorful pink illustrations, and might even want to try some of the story’s dance moves! This is a lift-the-flap book, which encourages engagement as children get to discover what is hidden on the pages. 

I Walk with Vanessa by Kerascoët

This story uses simple illustrations to highlight the importance of friendships and of treating others with kindness. With themes of acceptance, empathy, and strength in numbers, this story will spark meaningful conversations with the children in your care about how we treat our peers and the importance of standing up for others when they need a friend. 

Wave by Suzy Lee

This simple, carefree story was a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book in 2008. The book tells the story of a young girl’s day at the beach through simple, watercolor illustrations that highlight the beauty of the sea. 

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