I love wordless (and mostly wordless) picture books.  In 1992, David Wiesner, a master of wordless picture   books, won the Caldecott medal (the award for the illustrator of the most distinguished American picture book) for his book Tuesday.  That book, about a night of adventure for frogs on hovering lily pads, opened my eyes to the interesting world of this genre. (It wasn’t first wordless book to win the Caldecott.  That honor went to David Macaulay, for 1991’s Black and White.)  There is something about discovering story by pouring over illustrations that is satisfying.  Like they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Wordless picture books, and the thousands of words evoked within, are also a great way to help growing readers.  I know what you’re thinking — how can a book with no words help a child learning how to read?  But it’s true.  Wordless picture books are wonderful for providing children with narrative skills and visual literacy.

Let’s start with narrative skills.  Narrative skills are a child’s ability to describe things and events, to tell and retell stories, and to understand that stories have a beginning, middle, and an end.  If a child has a firm grasp on how stories work at an early age, it will be easier for them to learn to read when they are ready for it.  Wordless picture books are great tools for helping a child develop narrative skills.  As you and your child flip through a wordless book, you can ask him or her to tell the story to you.  With no (or very few) words to read, your child gets to use his or her own vocabulary to develop the narrative.  They tell you the story.  They get to flex their narrative skills.  In addition to telling you the overall story of the book, children can also describe to you what is happening on each page – developing those same skills on a more micro-level.

As children are developing their narrative skills by “reading” wordless books, they are also gaining visual literacy skills.  Visual literacy is the ability to recognize and understand ideas conveyed through images.  Our world is getting more and more focused on sharing information through pictures and other visual media, so this type of literacy is becoming increasingly important.  Looking at wordless books and decoding the story – talking about the story the image tells, and how the child figures out the story – is a wonderful way to practice early visual literacy skills.

By developing narrative and visual literacy skills, wordless picture books are great for developing readers.  But, they are also just plain fun.  Since they depend almost completely on illustrations, these are also some of the most interesting children’s books to look at.  So why not check out a wordless picture book today?  Here are some suggestions to get you started.  To find any of these books in the Pasadena Public Library catalog, just click on the picture of the book.

Wonderful Wordless Picture Books

Journey by Aaron Becker
A newer release, this book has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 5 weeks.  A story about the power of  imagination – Using a red marker, a young girl draws a door on her bedroom wall and through it enters another world where she experiences many adventures, including being captured by an evil emperor.


Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle
A friendship develops between a girl named Flora and a graceful flamingo, as they learn to dance together in this fun wordless story with large flaps.




Bluebird by Bob Staake
Showing that even difficult and deep topics like bullying and death of a friend can be tackled by wordless books, Bluebird is about the the inspiring friendship that develops between a bluebird and a young boy. Make sure you have a tissue handy when you read this one — you’re going to need it.  Rest assured though, it does end on a hopeful note.




Archie by Domenica More Gordon
Archie, a fashion-loving dog with a faithful pet of his own, leads a quiet life until he gets a sewing machine and begins creating canine couture that captures attention all over town, even from a queen and her two royal corgis.  Whimsical and fun.


 Rainstorm by Barbara Lehman

A boy finds a mysterious key which leads him on an adventure one rainy day.  Also try some of Lehman’s other wordless picture books including The Secret Box, Trainstop, Museum Trip, and The Red Book.




The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
An adventuresome mouse proves that even small creatures are capable of great deeds when he rescues the King of the Jungle in this Aesop’s fable retelling.  This won the Caldecott award in 2010.



Wave by Suzy Lee
A joyous look at a little girl’s first experiences at the beach, as she goes from being afraid of the roaring waves to playing on the shore while gulls soar overhead.  Also try Lee’s Shadow and Mirror.


The Surprise by Sylvia van Ommen

Sheep goes to great lengths to surprise Giraffe with a lovely thoughtful gift.





Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day

Lively and unusual things happen when Carl the dog is left in charge of the baby.  The first book in the Carl series.





Unspoken: A Story of the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole

This book shows that while wordless picture books are great for young children, they don’t have to be restricted to that age group.  Cole’s book of a young Southern farm girl discovering a runaway slave hidden behind the corn crib in the barn and deciding to help him is a great book for older readers learning about this period in American History.  This is an incredibly moving book.


Zoom by Istvan Banyai.

A fascinating book that ZOOMS out in each spread that will surprise and delight readers.




Hank finds an egg by Rebecca Dudley.

Hank the bear finds an egg on the ground while walking in the woods, discovers the nest from which it fell, and tries his best to return it.  The photographs in this book are stunning!


These are just a few suggestions of some wonderful wordless books.  If you still can’t get enough of this type of book, click here to search for more wordless picture books.

What is your favorite story without words?