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  • Writer's picturemisskleber

How to Deal with Wordless Books

Updated: Mar 10, 2018

Wordless books can be intimidating, how do you read them? Why are they important? What are wordless books anyway?

Wordless books are not only pictures. They are usually deeply detailed illustrations that tell a story without words. They have the dual ability to convey a story with visual cues, and also provide the reader a platform to completely interpret the story based on what the reader observes.

A highly creative outlet, ideal for pre-or early readers (readers who may not be able to read on their own yet), and also for older children who may discern more complex layers within the story.

Wordless books can be distinguished from other wordless iterations of published works (comic strips, posters, diagrams) by two distinctive features: length of the plot, and complex characterization. That is, the book must be long enough for something to happen, and it should involve a character or characters who undergo some kind of adventure or change over the course of the story.

Wordless books are also almost always distinguishable by their target audience - preliterate children. They can be written for a range of children, from infancy up to the age of 4 or 5, but their content and appearance almost always give them away.

Why are Wordless Books Important?

Because they provide a different way to engage, captivate, and enliven the imagination. Wordless books have a story progression, but it can be up to the child to interpret the pictures, tell the story, and put the whole thing together.

The wordless book emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s (the earliest that we could find in a bibliography is Mercer Mayer’s A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog from 1967). By 1975, the genre was well-established.

There is a lot of scholarship points towards wordless books as a reading preparatory aid, but this can diminish the value of wordless books. These articles tended to pigeonhole wordless books as a transitional medium rather than recognizing them for their own worth. There is strong versatility regarding wordless books. Versatility provides freedom for programming which is not always the case with other picture books.

How to do read Wordless Books?

Reading is the process of decoding symbols to deriving meaning. We decode letters that mean something when we put them together. Wordless books use images instead of letters to convey a message.

So how do we read them? We build a story around the pictures we are seeing. We can ask questions about what we are interpreting in the pictures and seek confirmation as we turn the pages.

There are no wrong answers with wordless books, there are just opportunities for the imagination!

Still unsure about wordless books, here are some things you might want to consider:


  • Are the colours strong and bright or are the colours dull or washed out?

  • Are the contrasts in colour visually appealing, unappealing, or is there a lack of colour contrasts?

  • Is there a use of colour in conjunction with line drawings, or is there no colour at all?

  • Are the Illustrations visually appealing?

  • Do they have artistic merit?

  • Is there consistency and a progression in the illustrations?


  • Is the story clear?

  • Is there a story?

  • Does there need to be a story?

Emotional Draw

  • Does the story evoke positive or negative emotions?

  • How much does the story evoke?


  • Is the story trying to teach?

  • What is the impact of what the story is trying to teach?


  • How quickly does the story move?

  • Does it move along at a good pace?

  • Is there a sense of clearly passing time?


  • Are there programming options for this story?

Check out my list of favourite wordless books HERE.

#wordlessbooks #storytime #readalouds

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