Some of my very favorite books are books without words. I find books with pictures only (or with very few words) to be a really powerful tool in teaching children how to read and for practicing literary skills in children of all ages. Are you a parent of an older child, reading chapter books independently? Please do not think that these books are too juvenile for your family!
Here are my top 3 reasons your child (babies through 5th graders!) should be reading books without words:
1. A study from the University of Waterloo found that mothers tended to use more complex talk and language when reading their toddlers books without pictures. Families tend to engage in more of a two-way dialog when reading wordless picture books. This is how we should be reading all books! Reading wordless picture books regularly can help parents practice this skill and can help expose a child to what it feels like to discuss literature.
2. Anyone, regardless of their reading level, can "read" them. My 3 year old hesitates to try to “read” books with words because he does not know exactly what the words say. However, he loves to pick up a book with pictures only and read it aloud. He loves knowing that there is no single "right" way to read it! This gives him self-confidence and exercises his creativity. When emerging readers are learning how to read, one of my very favorite things to do in order to build excitement and self-confidence is to get a collection of books without words.
As a teacher, I loved that all kids, even my struggling readers or English Language Learners, had equal access to a wordless book. Students who found reading frustrating often were the most vocal participants in book discussions with these books. I loved that ALL students could infer, predict, and analyze the book regardless of their ability to access written text.
3. Books without pictures can lead to great discussions, different interpretations, and different readings by each family member. We have read Tuesday by David Weisner as a family probably 50 times. The last time we read it, my son discovered something new in one of the pictures, and I’ll never look at it the same way again. As a 5th grade teacher, some of the most in-depth, interesting literary discussions I can remember having with my students revolved around books without pictures. If you find a great wordless picture book, they can have as much depth, or more, than a book with words.
Many educators and schools are working with children on "close reading" as a way to engage more thoroughly with text. One way to begin practicing this with your child of any age is to closely look at pictures in a wordless book. Really take the time to examine, study, ask questions, and make inferences about the pictures that you and your child see.
Ready to add some books without words to your family’s library? Here are some of my favorites:
Looking for more direction on HOW to read these books with your kids? This article is a great place to start for some guidance.