A Wordless Conversation




“Before they read words, children are reading pictures.”
[David Wiesner]


They always say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  They also say “A child should read a thousand books before going to kindergarten.”  (I would like to meet this omnipresent “they” everyone is always referencing by the way.)  

Let’s start with They’s first piece of wisdom: a picture is worth a thousand words.

Of course this is true, for well captured pictures.  In children’s book, those thousand word pictures are usually presented in the form of illustrations.  There are well crafted children’s books filled with illustrations that may even be worth two thousand words in my opinion.  One place to find beautifully created illustrated children’s book is through the Caldecott Medal website.  Each year the Association for Library Service to Children awards the Caldecott Medal to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.  Their website also honors books with illustrated excellence each year.  Take some time to look through their list.  I’m sure you will find some familiar books!  


Now, I personally don’t mind books without pictures, leaving the visual effects to the reader’s imagination.  But a great picture book is imagination fuel in a different regard.  Well done book illustrations give the reader, typically a young child, the platform to create a story within a picture!  


Each page is a wardrobe to Narnia just waiting to be explored.


One author who utilizes this skill masterfully is David Wiesner.  His wordless picture book, Flotsam won the 2007 Caldecott Medal, The Three Pigs won the 2002 Medal, and his nearly wordless picture book, Tuesday, won in 1992.  Additionally, his books Free Fall (1989), Sector 7 (2000), and Mr. Wuffles! (2014) were all awarded Caldecott honors.


Maybe some of you are wondering, what is a wordless picture book?  Quite simply, it is a picture book sans words.  These books allow the reader to make up the story, using the pictures as plot cues.  Children love these types of books.  I think this is because they are given the opportunity to be the narrator, the storyteller, and the reader, without any help from grown-ups!

Presenting wordless picture books to children is actually a little different than presenting a typical picture book.  The adult reading should start by reading the title (if there is one) and telling the children that this book is a “wordless picture book.”  


Remember those open ended questions I am always stressing?  Well, here is another chance to create dialogue with children.  Ask your group something along the lines of, “What do you think it means for a book to be a wordless picture book?”  And let the conversations begin!  


(For more advice on open ended questions, see my post, “The Art of Book Conversations.”)


Actually, if the reader presents a wordless picture book in the correct way, the whole book becomes a factory of divergent thinking!  Grown-ups, this is the child’s chance to tell you the story!  There is no wrong answers or tales too outrageous when it comes to describing an illustration.  Pictures are snapshots for the imagination.


Let’s use Wiesner’s book, Flotsam, as an example.  I read this book to my preschoolers during our ocean theme, and if you check this book out, you will understand why!  The book begins with an illustration of a young boy at the beach with his family.  He is seen collecting objects he found at the beach.


Okay, conversation starter idea number one:
“What do you think
you would find at the beach?”


The plot of the story thickens when the boy discovers what looks like an old, underwater camera washed up on the shore.  He takes the film to be developed at his local camera store.


Conversation starter idea number two:  How many twenty-first century three-year-olds know what camera film even is?  A great expansive lesson plan idea for this part of the book would be for the grown-up to bring in an old camera with a roll of film for the children to observe and touch and work with in the classroom or the house.  (Learning is occurring with this book and we haven’t even arrived at the climax of the story!)


What the boy finds on the developed film is a deep sea world out of a dream.  Mechanical fish, aquatic living rooms, puffer-fish-hot-air-balloons and so much more.  Each page is dedicated to each of Wiesner’s intriguing illustrations and are most likely worth a thousand words each!  

(With that being said, this really stresses the idea that I cannot illuminate these illustrations with words, so please check this book out for yourself to get the full affect!)  


Each illustrated page is a conversation starter.  Allow your kids to take turns telling the story of each image.  Or allow more than one child tell the story of the same picture, and you will find a new yarn from each child.  Wordless picture books are the creation of magicians!


Now, let’s turn to They’s other piece of wisdom: “a child should read a thousand books before kindergarten.”  If this is true, and if even five of those books are wordless picture books, with each page worth a thousand words, that child will certainly be the conversation holder at the kindergarten open house!


I support the idea of providing children with the “at least a thousand book-experiences” before they begin kindergarten.  And I encourage all those working with prekindergarten-aged children to fill that thousand book quota with a variety of books.  Concept books, historical fiction, non-fiction, folklore, wordless picture books, and so many more.  There is so much to read, and so little time!  Make each reading session count!



For more wordless picture book recommendations, leave a comment or email me at roseonreading@gmail.com.


Like the book photography?  You can follow me @rose_on_reading on Instagram!


“Sometimes words are not enough.”
[Lemony Snicket]



Your Illustration Obsessed Friend,
K. Rose

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