Wordless books are sometimes called ‘silent’ books, because they are not ‘talking’ to the reader using words. But they have so much to say! And they will have you, dear reader, use so many words (aloud or in your head) to process what you see on the page!
Wordless books for babies and very young kids are fantastic for building their independence as readers. Often published as board books, they are sturdy and can be manipulated with ease by small fingers learning to turn pages. As they don’t necessarily require adult intervention, they can be experimented with by the child in any way they see fit. With Jean Jullien’s hilarious This is Not a Book (1+), the book becomes a laptop, a tennis court, an open-mouthed monster …
Wordless books are an excuse to slow down and really savour each page, each picture. They’re a chance to name all the things that appear in the illustrations and that the text wouldn’t have necessarily referenced. A great way to build your child’s vocabulary! No text, of course, also means no language barrier, so you and your little one could explore, say, the very clever Professional Crocodile (3+) by Giovanna Zoboli and Mariachiara Di Giorgio or Suzy Lee’s fascinating Wave (3+) even if you don’t speak any Italian or Korean (respectively).
And when these books also operate as a story (as most do), they are brilliant for letting kids immerse themselves in the narrative on their own terms. As they can entirely focus on the pictures, they are not distracted by any information your reading voice might add and they can decide on the pace of their exploration. They’re in charge of finding clues in the illustrations: who is the main character? What are they doing? What big thing is happening? What other, smaller events are going on? It’s a great way to help build a sense of story, of cause and consequence, of sequencing: what has changed in the next page? What might happen next? Let your young reader ‘read’ to you Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick’s Owl Bat Bat Owl (4+) or any of David Wiesner’s wordless books (such as the action-packed Mr Wuffles, (5+) and be impressed by how much they pick up on.
For older readers, they can be a great change of pace from often text-heavy literature. Books such as Shaun Tan’s glorious The Arrival (9+) or Aaron Baker’s A Stone for Sasha (8+) are just as interesting, complex and moving as the best novels around dealing with change, family and new beginnings. They can allow readers to process big emotions in their own voice and are just cracking good reads all round! Also, for any kid with a passion for drawing, the intricate images will provide them with boundless inspiration. What’s not to like?
Written by Juliette Saumande (@juliettesaumande), a children’s book writer and professional bookworm whose latest title, My Little Album of Dublin (illustrated by Tarsila Krüse and published by The O’Brien Press) doesn’t have that many words at all!
This is Not a Book by Jean Jullien, Phaidon Press, 32PP, ISBN 9780714871127
It may look like a book, feel like a book and even smell like a book, but this is definitely not a book, ok? It’s a well-stocked fridge, a comfy chair for sitting in, a piano, a toolbox, your very own laptop and so much more! This sturdy board book is brilliant for letting very young readers get comfortable and playful with books. Every double-page makes clever use of the book shape and the ‘gutter’ in the middle to turn it into something else. The ideas in there will get your little one’s brain cogs whirring, spark their imagination, initiate new games, start conversations and, occasionally, have them roaring laughing. Not bad for a book with no text! (Age 1–5)
Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli and Mariachiara Di Giorgio, Chronicle Books, 32PP, ISBN 9781452165066
This wordless picturebook chronicles a morning in the life of a very special crocodile. We see them waking up, getting dressed, having breakfast, making their way to work … But what might that work actually be? All along, clues point at something a bit funny going on and sure enough, the final pages have a big, funny surprise in store! The breaking-up of the narrative into lots of significant moments makes it easy to follow for young readers while the beautiful watercolour illustrations of a bustling city life provide plenty to look at and invite multiple rereads. Witty and so rich! (Age 3–7)
Mr Wuffles by David Wiesner, Andersen Press, 32PP, ISBN 9781783441167
David Wiesner is a master in the art of wordless books, with classics such as Flotsam and Tuesday. Mr Wuffles is a cat, who finds the tiny aliens who have freshly landed in the hall infinitely more interesting than shop-bought toys. The peaceful aliens quickly get into a bad spot, but they’re resourceful and find unexpected help in the ladybirds and ants the cat has antagonised for years. This is a sophisticated book that sometimes reads like a picturebook, sometimes like a comic. Attentive reading is rewarded with subtle hints, clever plot points and sneaky jokes. Brilliant! (Age 5–9)
The Arrival by Shaun Tan, Hodder Children’s Books, 128PP, ISBN 9780734415868
This book is a marvel! Told entirely through sepia toned pictures, it follows the life and tribulations of a man who must leave his home and family in search of better prospects. The new place is strange, not everyone is friendly and it takes a while for our hero to carve out his own space, where the rest of the family can join him and they can finally all thrive. This graphic novel features a wealth of details and packs lots of emotional punches. It will stay with you and your young reader for a long time. (Age 8–12)
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