So, this time around I’m talking about a group of books I don’t actually share at Storytime – my group is just too big and these types of books are really more suited to one-on-one reading, or, at most, couple of children. The reason is that these books ask the reader to interact with the pictures completely as there are either no words, or in some cases very minimal words. The language these books invite is verbal rather than asking them to listen and they encourage children to develop visual literacy skills.

Visual literacy skills start developing very early and given how much visual information we are given in today’s internet age being able to understand what we are seeing is very important. That, like so many skills, is developed and enhanced through narratives. We learn words, life skills, important information, and social concepts through picture books along with a range of other information. There is also always an aspect of visual literacy involved. Authors, illustrators, and publishers spend a great deal of time, energy, and effort making sure that the pictures in picture books enhance the story sometimes that is through giving us visual cues for things we might not have experiences with (like sledging in the board book – Spot loves Grandpa), for giving us a visual reference for the information we are getting (Winnie the Witch by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul.) or on the complete flip-side completely contradicting what the words are telling us as a wink-wink conspiracy about the text that is just between the viewer and the illustrator (No Bears by Meg McKinley). All of these decisions are as important as word choice, rhyming, rhythm, and the ‘message’ of the text. Comprehending what we are seeing in this safe and rule-driven environment allows children to develop these skills so that as they get older and more bias is placed on the visual information we are given, they will have a well developed understanding of what is being said to us visually (and with practise what they are trying to make us believe through the use of visual information). Much like year twelve English Literature narrative interpretations are based on what we start to learn from our very first picture or board book, the ability to look at that movie or ad and understand not just what we are seeing but what the underlying message is supposed to be starts with these early explorations into visual literacy.

This is one of the reasons we invite children to sit on the ‘mat’ or the area in front of us – so they can be close enough to interact with the visual clues that a book is giving us. It also gives them an opportunity to develop the personal space and physical control skills they will need in school but it’s first and foremost about being able to see the book while I am reading it.

And now, after all of that written information, I’m now going to talk about the actual topic – Wordless Books

When I talk about wordless books they aren’t necessarily completely wordless. But the majority of the story is not explained in words but through pictures. And excellent example of this is my first…

Books

Book Cover - The Cow Said Meow” title=“View this item in the library catalogue
The Cow Said Meow by John Himmelman

This book contains nothing but onomatopoeia (words that represent sounds – like bang, meow, quack, etc) and yet it tells a wonderful story about all of the farm animals tricking the lovely farm lady into letting them inside of a wet and miserable night. The cow sees the cat get in when they meow and then it progresses through a range of other animals. This book is the reason I decided to put together this blog post and I really wish I could share it with the kids at my Friday Storytime.

Book Cover - The White Book” title=“View this item in the library catalogue
The White Book by Silvia Borando, Elisabetta Pica, and Lorenzo Clerici

This book has a very simple, repetitive premise. There is a small child painting a white page with a colour (this changes every sequence) and as we turn the pages that animal comes to life. Being simple there is still a lot of great information coming out of this book – different animals, colours, the simple drawings that are age appropriate and can be replicated. Plus there is the element of humour the pictures evoke and the sweet ending.

Book Cover - Bee & Me” title=“View this item in the library catalogue
Bee & Me by Alison Jay

I love Alison Jay’s illustrations – they are always beautiful and realistic with an element of the surreal (which sounds like it’s a contradiction but check out one of the books and you’ll probably see what I mean). Bees are amazing, and much more important than a lot of people realise, but through this book; which tells the story of a bee that flies in through a window one day and changes everything for a little girl and the city she lives in, gives a starting point to talk about why we need bees (and lots of other insects) and the importance of flowering plants. There is also a section at the end with more information for you about bees.

Rhymes

There are no wordless rhymes…but there are rhymes that use our hands instead of our mouths. So, check out 5 Little Monkeys, 5 Little Ducks, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star signed below.

Activity

A great activity for developing children’s narrative understanding is getting them to retell a story or, in the case of wordless books, to make up a story for the pictures.

Retelling is an important skill in developing narrative skills. Narrative skills are important because they form the basis of everybody being able to share a story; whether that is telling your parents something that happened at school that day, telling news, retelling that hilarious story about what your child did when you are talking to your sister, or writing an amazing novel. We use narrative skills every day.

A good way of modelling retelling skills is for you to retell a book instead of reading it…perhaps with that book that you child LOVES but you’re…let’s say you’re over it. If you retell the story you can make it shorter and you are teaching them an important skill. Though it’s best to let them have a go the next night/time so they can learn by mimicking what you’ve shown them. As they get more confident with this skill they will be developing not only their narrative and retelling skills, but they will also be building their vocabulary and comprehension.

Craft

Idea provided bby The White Book – Invisible Pictures!

My pretty vase of flowers

What You Need:

  • Card
  • Candles or white wax crayons
  • Watercolour paint

What You Do:

  1. Draw on the card with the crayon/candles
  2. Paint over it with the watercolour paint (the watercolours, being water-based, will not be able to bond with the paper where the wax is and will leave behind a void and display the drawing).
  3. Be amazed as you beautiful invisible picture takes shape!

I hope you share a wordless book with your child today, and if you do we’d love to hear about it.