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  • Writer's pictureLisa Norris


Updated: Jun 4, 2018

Have you ever read or shared a wordless picture book with your child or students?

We read books all the time that have words and no illustrations so why not books with only pictures and no words?

Text only books allow us to create pictures in our minds. So, in the same way, picture only books can assist to build words and thus create stories.

Wordless picture books encourage storytelling and are the perfect tool for enhancing visual literacy skills. Their breathtaking images provide a pure feast for the eyes with endless possibilities to learn from them as visual texts.

What are Wordless Picture Books?

Wordless picture books have no words. The narrative is told entirely through the illustrations on the pages. Sometimes there are just a few words, though often, these are limited to the sounds being made (onomatopoeia) in the story. Peritextual elements, such as the title of the book and author or publisher blurbs inside the dust jacket, are also evident and may give clues to the visual narrative. Importantly, the story’s characters, settings, plot and meaning are built through what is visually communicated within the images. Indeed, any "written text is subservient to the visually rendered narrative" (Serafini, 2014, p. 25). The images tell the story.

Who can read Wordless Picture Books?

Wordless picture books can be enjoyed by both younger and older readers. Struggling readers, reluctant readers and readers whose language is not native to the country, can all benefit immensely from wordless narratives. Yet, this does not make wordless picture books and narratives simple or an easy alternative to written text. Generally, wordless picture books contain amazing and complex imagery where visual literacy skills need to be employed to derive understanding and meaning of the whole narrative. As with other books, wordless picture books are developed for certain age groups dependant on the theme and complexity of the story and visual design.

Wordless Picture Books are fantastic for… (infographic)

Why read Wordless Picture Books?

Wordless picture books open endless possibilities by:

  • allowing readers to be able to read at their own pace. Readers can get lost in the detail and this quiet reflective time can allow them a quiet space for their own thoughts.

  • developing a sense of rhythm and melody within stories dependant on the size and number of images to a page. A double page image will allow a pause or break to look for detail, whereas a series of small images will increase the tempo.

  • empowering the reader to use their voice by being the narrator of the story.

  • developing inquiry and critical thinking skills by questioning what they see in the image. Using visual thinking strategies (VTS), readers can discuss, analyse and interpret what they see and predict what may happen next.

  • reflecting on how pictures makes them feel. Using visual images can be a powerful vehicle for creating empathy, developing understanding about other people and situations and making personal connections to themselves.

  • promoting and extending the reader’s vocabulary through discussing and describing what they see and what is happening in the image/s.

  • developing visual literacy skills by questioning the use of design elements such as colour, shape, line, movement and pattern to create meaning in the story.

  • engaging the reader in an active participatory role when reading/viewing the text to be able to make sense of the narrative as a whole (Arizpe, 2013).

  • enhancing relationships between readers through conversation and discussion of what they are viewing. By taking turns to listen to others, readers can develop their ability to negotiate and be considerate of others opinions and co-construct ideas.

Enhancing relationships (Wix stock image)

How to read a Wordless Picture Book and other activities

Wordless picture books can be read various ways. Here are some ideas and responding activities…

  • Read quietly, especially in the first viewing, absorbing the pages in sequence and taking the necessary time needed on each page. Allow them time to re-read so as to make connections and make sense of the visual narrative as a whole.

  • Read through again, this time discussing what you see; what is happening in the picture; why you think that; and what will happen next.

  • Allow the younger reader to be the narrator of the story. Let them develop the storyline and give personality to the characters. Encourage them to use fanciful words to extend their vocabulary.

  • As a guide, model being the narrator of the story and develop words to accompany the text. Give characters their voice and consider the context of the story... if the images are bright and quirky then allow yourself to role-play the characters with humour and wit.

  • Discuss how your story is similar or different to each other’s story.

  • Discuss how the images made you feel and why. There may be a particular page that the reader is drawn to or moves them emotionally.

  • Talk about how the illustrator/author has used colour, texture and other design elements and concepts to make meaning or create emphasis. Perhaps all the background colours are soft greens and there is one element that is red (its contrasting colour). There may be an element (image, colour, shape) that is repeated throughout the book...what is its significance to the story OR does it represent something else (symbolism)?

  • Discuss if there is a moral to the story. Was the author/illustrator trying to convince us or make us aware of something?

  • Cover up the title of the wordless picture book, read through and then ask the reader/s to give the book a title. Give reasons for their title.

  • Write a story with words to accompany the images. Use descriptive language and develop the character’s voice and language.

  • Respond to a page, sequence of pages or the whole story with a visual or sensory response such as a colour and texture collage that describes the feeling or mood of the image/s in the book.

  • Create character profiles for each of the story’s characters. What is the name of each character? Be creative with the name titles. Describe the character’s personality. What is the character’s shining characteristics and what are their flaws?

  • Create a digital book trailer combining images, music, sound effects and written text with visual design elements to portray the message and meaning of the wordless picture book.

Take the time to get to know a few of these treasures and get lost in the wonderful world of Wordless Picture Books!!

Here are some wonderful wordless picture books to explore…

(All cover images shown above have been listed with links below)

Leaf by Stephen Michael King 2010

Bird by Beatriz Martin Vidal 2015

Mirror by Jeannie Baker 2010

Window by Jeannie Baker 2002

Lines by Suzy Lee 2017

Pool by Jihyeon Lee 2015

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle 2013

Zoom by Istvan Banyai 1998

Mr. Wuffles! By David Wiesner 2013

Flotsam by David Wiesner 2006

Chalk by Bill Thomson 2010

Journey by Aaron Becker 2014

Bluebird by Bob Staake 2014

Sidewalk Circus by Paul Fleischman & Kevin Hawkes 2007

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney 2009

Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli 2017

Footpath Flowers by Jon Arno Lawson & Sydney Smith 2016

Flood by Alvaro F. Villa 2014

The Boy and the Airplane by Mark Pett 2013

Flashlight by Lizi Boyd 2014

A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka 2011

Bee & Me by Alison Jay 2017

Waltz of the Snowflakes by Elly MacKay 2017

Here are some more wonderful wordless picture books suitable for an older audience as they explore more complex imagery and themes…

(All cover images shown above have been listed with links below)

The Arrival by Shaun Tan 2006

The Red Tree by Shaun Tan 2010

Small Things by Mel Tregonning 2016

Robot Dreams by Sara Varon 2007

Unspoken by Henry Cole 2012

The Whale by Ethan & Vita Murrow 2017

Leaf by Daishu Ma 2015

The Last Goodbye by Yuan Pan 2015

The Middle Passage by Tom Feelings 2018

Here are some more links to other Wordless Picture Book reviews and articles:

Picture Books Blogger "Wordless Wonders"

All About Learning Press "Wonderful Wordless Picture Books"

Children's Books and Reading "Wordless Picture Books"

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