Encourage Learning with Wordless Picture Books


Parents often ask me what they can do to support language development.  Of course, my immediate response is that they should read with their child.  It does not matter if your child is an infant or a student in elementary school; they will greatly benefit from this one on one time.

The next thing that I recommend are wordless picture books. I understand that this idea may seem strange to you.  So, I would like to explain why. Words are not the only way in which we communicate.  Our world is filled with visual images and the ability to understand and communicate using a visual medium is an important pre-reading skill.  

Your child will become more aware that you are "reading" the story from top to bottom, and left to right; as you use wordless picture books with them.Take time to carefully look at the illustrations.This is very important because through this step your child is learning how to decode visual clues.  Consequently, they will have a stronger comprehension of the story.  Finally, these books are told through a sequence of images. After you read the story, talk with your child and point out that the book has a beginning, middle and end.  

As you spend more time with this format, your child's understanding of this type of information grows, which leads them to interpreting and communicating with visual images. Since, many of the children are not yet reading or writing I often can see the biggest change in their drawings. The pictures that they create will include a greater amount of detail and they will begin to tell a story.  

Finally, for older children visual literacy provides a concrete bridge for learning how to analyze, evaluate and synthesize information.  These are all skills which will help them to succeed in school and more importantly in life. 

Flotsam (pictured above) David Wiesner.

Winner of the 2007 Randolph Caldecott Medal 

A day at the beach is the springboard into a wildly imaginative exploration of the mysteries of the deep, and of the qualities that enable us to witness these wonders and delight in them. A bright, science-minded boy goes to the beach equipped to collect and examine flotsam, anything floating that has been washed ashore. Bottles, lost toys, small objects of every description are among his usual finds. But there's no way he could have prepared for one particular discovery: a barnacle-encrusted underwater camera, with its own secrets to share . . . and to keep. 

Notes:  Art techniques used: Vibrant yet detailed watercolor images with a cinematic style.

The Lion & The Mouse Jerry Pinkney.

Winner of the 2010 Randolph Caldecott Medal 

In award-winning artist Jerry Pinkney's wordless adaptation of one of Aesop's most beloved fables, an unlikely pair learn that no act of kindness is ever wasted. After a ferocious lion spares a cowering mouse that he'd planned to eat, the mouse later comes to his rescue, freeing him from a poacher's trap. With vivid depictions of the landscape of the African Serengeti and expressively-drawn characters, Pinkney makes this a truly special retelling, and his stunning pictures speak volumes.

A Ball for Daisy Chris Raschka

Winner of the 2012 Randolph Caldecott Medal 

Here's a story about love and loss as only Chris Rashcka can tell it.  Any child who has ever had a beloved toy break will relate to Daisy's anguish when her favorite ball is destroyed by a bigger dog. In the tradition of his nearly wordless picture book Yo! Yes?, Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka explores in pictures the joy and sadness that having a special toy can bring.  Raschka's signature swirling, impressionistic illustrations and his affectionate story will particularly appeal to young dog lovers and teachers and parents who have children dealing with the loss of something special. 


The Last Laugh Jose Aruego

Meet a not-so-nice snake, a jittery gopher, and a duck who doesn't know what he's in for. But wait: The duck's not the only one who's about to be surprised! This silly book is told with only three words but an abundance of visual expression and panache. It's a hilarious take on the adage "What goes around comes around," and a refreshing, kid-friendly story of brains over brawn.

 Last Night  Hyewon Yum.

A little girl doesn't like her dinner and is sent to her room. She seeks comfort from her friend Bear and falls asleep. So begins a fantastic dream voyage deep into the forest, where the girl and her friend dance and play all night. And in the morning, mother and child make up. With brilliant linocut illustrations and not a single word to break the spell, this picture book marks an impressive American debut for Hyewon Yum.


Bird and Bee Craig Frazier

Things are not always what they appear to be in this amazing tale of a bee and a bird's epic journey. In this wordless picture book, a bumblebee and a bird embark on a travel adventure. 

 Do You Want to be My Friend? Eric Carle

This classic tale of friendship tracks a small gray mouse's search for the perfect pal. He asks various animals the same question: ‘Do you want to be my friend?' But it's not until he meets another mouse that he is answered with a heartwarming ‘Yes!' 

Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug  Mark Newgarden

Bow-Wow may look like your average terrier. The streets he walks may seem familiar. But just around the corner, things get a little unusual. With nary a word, Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash have created a story about a bold new doggy who goes where no doggy has gone before. With a spring in his step and his tail only occasionally between his legs, Bow-Wow faces down every foe, well,almost every foe, in his path. Step aside, mutts. There's a new dog in town!

Mirror  Jeannie Baker

An innovative, two-in-one picture book follows a parallel day in the life of two families: one in a Western city and one in a North African village. Somewhere in Sydney, Australia, a boy and his family wake up, eat breakfast, and head out for a busy day of shopping. Meanwhile, in a small village in Morocco, a boy and his family go through their own morning routines and set out to a bustling market. In this ingenious, wordless picture book, readers are invited to compare, page by page, the activities and surroundings of children in two different cultures. Their lives may at first seem quite unalike, but a closer look reveals that there are many things, some unexpected, that connect them as well. Designed to be read side by side, one from the left and the other from the right, these intriguing stories are told entirely through richly detailed collage illustrations.

Hug  Jez Alborough.

A tiny chimp invokes the universal language, uniting his friends in a group hug to end all group hugs. Just try to resist Jez Alborough's latest charmer! Bobo needs a hug. But his friends don't seem to understand. "Hug," he implores, time and again. Time and again his puzzled pals, from the smallest chameleon to the tallest giraffe, shrug and cuddle with their jungle mothers. As the lonely chimp's plea escalates, his friends grow concerned. Can the elephants lead Bobo to his heart's desire? Jez Alborough,  transforms a total of three words, and some of the most tenderly expressive animals ever created into an endearing tribute to love and belonging.
 Hocus Pocus  Sylvie Desrosiers

This zany tale pits a grouchy pooch against Hocus Pocus, a mischievous blue bunny who lives in a magician's hat. When Hocus Pocus spots a bunch of tantalizing carrots poking out of a shopping bag, he decides he must have them. But to reach the kitchen counter, he must risk waking Dog, a pet canine who snoozes nearby. Tiptoeing in a pair of bunny slippers works beautifully at first; until a peanut shell gets crunched loudly underfoot. Soon, Dog is wide awake, and the two begin a hilarious battle, trading victories and defeats and ultimately attracting the attention of the none-too-pleased magician.A classic retro feel gives the illustrations and story a fun punch.

Sea of Dreams  Dennis Nolan.

Publishers Weekly Best Children's Picture Books title for 2011. 

A wordless picture book featuring a sand castle that takes on a life of its own.


Sidewalk Circus Paul Fleischman

A young girl watches as the activities across the street from her bus stop become a circus.

The Conductor  Laëtitia Devernay.

Pairing two seemingly disparate elements an orchestra conductor and a grove of trees award-winning artist Laëtitia Devernay herself orchestrates a visual magnum opus. Her spare, yet intricate, illustrations truly appear to take flight before our eyes and her wordless narrative nearly roars with sound as the conductor prompts the leaves to rustle, then whirl, then swirl to unexpected life with each turn of the page. It is a celebration of creativity, imagination, storytelling, and the renewing power of nature that will entrance readers of every age.

Chalk Bill Thomson.

A wordless picture book about three children who go to a park on a rainy day, find some chalk, and draw pictures that come to life.

Beaver is Lost Elisha Cooper

Oh, no-Beaver is lost! Will he ever find his way back home? In this nearly wordless picture book by Elisha Cooper, winner of a New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book award, a young beaver is accidentally separated from his family. Follow Beaver as he's chased by a dog, visits a zoo, and even finds himself in the middle of a busy city street.  With luminous pencil-and-watercolor illustrations by an artist whose work the New York Times has called "simple and quiet and essentially perfect," Beaver Is Lost is sure to delight animal lovers everywhere.


Where's Walrus? Stephen Savage.

Follows Walrus on a journey through the city, as he tries on different hats to disguise himself from the chasing zoo keeper.
The Silver Pony  Lynd Ward.

Recounts without words the adventures of a boy and his winged horse.

The Tree House  Marije Tolman

A polar bear rides a whale to a tree rising out of the water. A brown bear joins it as the tree is the perfect place to read their books. When the waters recede, the bears are joined by other animals. The tree house is a place of wonder.

Note: Originally published under the title De boomhut by Lemniscaat b.v. Rotterdam, 2009"--Colophon.
Welcome to the Zoo!  Alison Jay.

In this fanciful visit, Alison Jay summons her unique perspective and sense of humor to create a zoo like no other' where more than just the animals are on display. Children will delight in discovering small details and tracking narratives that play out bit by bit. Before the tour is over, kids will meet hippos, giraffes, penguins pursuing a platter of fish, exotic birds, bears, mischievous monkeys, and much more. There's a search-and-find element too: The last spread invites readers to go back and discover a number of amusing details throughout the book.


Wave  Suzy Lee.

2008 New York Times, Best Illustrated Children's Book

In this evocative wordless book, internationally acclaimed artist Suzy Lee tells the story of a little girl's day at the beach. Stunning in their simplicity, Lee's illustrations, in just two shades of watercolor, create a vibrant story full of joy and laughter.



Time Flies Eric Rohmann.

1999 Caldecott Honor Book, ALA Notable Book, New York Times Book Review Best Children’s Book

A wordless tale in which a bird flying around the dinosaur exhibit in a museum has an unsettling experience when it finds itself back in the time of living dinosaurs.


The Red Book Barbara Lehman

2005 Caldecott Honor Book

This book is about a book. A magical red book without any words. When you turn the pages you'll experience a new kind of adventure through the power of story. In illustrations of rare detail and surprise, The Red Book crosses oceans and continents to deliver one girl into a new world of possibility, where a friend she's never met is waiting. And as with the best of books, at the conclusion of the story, the journey is not over.


You can't take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum  Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman

In this wordless story, a young girl and her grandmother view works inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, while the balloon she has been forced to leave outside floats around New York City causing a series of mishaps that mirror scenes in the museum's artworks.

The Snowman  Raymond Briggs

1979  Boston Globe-Horn Book Award

A young boy and his wintertime friend share a magical night in this award-winning wordless story.


Zoom Istvan Banyai.

A wordless picture book presents a series of scenes, each one from farther away, showing, for example, a girl playing with toys which is actually a picture on a magazine cover, which is part of a sign on a bus, and so on.

The Boy, The Bear, The Baron, The Bard Gregory Rogers.

A comic romp through Shakespeare's London featuring an intrepid little boy, a friendly bear, and-in the role of dastardly villain-the Bard himself. What happens when a boy bursts through the curtain of a deserted theatre and onto the world's most famous stage? He lands on the Bard himself and the chase is on-through the streets of Shakespeare's London. This is a rare and inventive visual feast-a runaway story about a curious boy, a magic cloak, a grumpy bard, a captive bear and a baron bound for the chopping block. It is also a richly illustrated, dramatic and very funny tale of adventure and friendship.

Additional Resources



Wordless Picture Book Activities

Utah State University Research College of Ed Research Shows Books without Text Can Increase Literacy


Using Wordless Picture Books to Support Emergent Literacy