The Many Benefits of Reading Wordless Picture Books

by Jimmie

They may have no printed words, but wordless picture books are great tools for language development and creativity in young children. (They are also fun for adults who read them!)

Even though wordless picture books have no words, they remain valuable tools for language and literacy development, especially when a parent and child enjoy the books together.

Although there is much carry over among levels, I've outlined the advantages of wordless picture books at the different developmental stages.

A Case for Books Without Words

How Wordless Books Promote Literacy

Reading is fun

Preschoolers and Wordless Books

Preschoolers are still learning names for many objects and actions. When an adult uses new vocabulary in the context of a picture book, the child has concrete images to help him understand the new words. Each adult who reads the wordless book to a child will tell the same basic story but with his or her own twist. In this way, the child hears a broader vocabulary base than with a static, word-ful book.

(Students who are learning English as a second language can find wordless books very beneficial for language development in many of the same ways that preschoolers do.)

For a preschooler, having printed words on the page is no matter. The language is tied up in the story. And the pictures tell the story without printed words. Stories have literary elements -- characters, setting, conflict, plot, and theme. Even wordless books lay this foundation of the elements of fiction.

Elementary Children and Wordless Books

Elementary children are learning to read and growing in fluency, but they still benefit from wordless books for many of the same reasons stated above. Their vocabularies are still expanding with more and more complex words as adults read wordless books to them.

Children at this age love to "read" wordless books themselves even before they have actually learned to read independently. This confidence with books and love of books is foundational to literacy. At first, they will mirror what Mom or Dad said. But they may also choose creative interpretations of the wordless books, exercising great creativity. 

Their appreciation for humor, suspense, surprise endings, and foreshadowing is developing.

Middle Schoolers and Wordless Books

At this age level, middle schoolers are generally pushed away from picture books altogether. And wordless books face even more prejudice as being juvenile.

Actually, a middle schooler's increased oral proficiency makes it the perfect time for reading a wordless book outloud. He can call upon previous experience with literature and with vocabulary to tell the story of the wordless book.

Symbollism and the themes of wordless books are important to middle schoolers. The absence of words makes wordless picture books open to several possible interpretations. Middle school children can bring their own experiences and feelings to bear on what they see in the book.

Adults and Wordless Books

A good books is a good book whether it is a picture book or a 400 page novel. Adults can still enjoy wordless books. I know that I do! 

Finding Wordless Books at the Public Library

Looking for Books at the Library
Looking for Books at the Library

Tips for Enjoying Wordless Books

Wordless books are pure joy. And beyond that, they are great tools for learning. Make the most of wordless books to boost your child's literacy with these tips:
  1. Read wordless books to your children, changing the story slightly each time you tell it so you can expose your child to new words.
  2. Point to things as you read so that little children connect the words you are saying to the pictures in the book.
  3. As soon as children express an interest, allow them to "read" the wordless book. 
  4. Allow for creative alternatives to the story. Imagining the dialogues between characters is one easy way to get creative with wordless books.
  5. Encourage children to make their own wordless books and tell the stories orally.
  6. When writing proficiency develops enough, encourage children to write down the story of the wordless book. (Free printable wordless books are available at Reading A-Z. Log in is required.)

Some of My Favorite Wordless Books

Each is a Great Book No Matter Your Age
A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog (Boy, Dog, F...
$6.99  $2.28
Marshall Cavendish Children's Books
$15.99  $6.99
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
$17.99  $8.16

Who Should Read Wordless Books?

Prescholers or Anyone?

Wordless books are classic. Anyone can enjoy and appreciate them, no matter his age.
evelynsaenz on 07/20/2011

I love wordless books. They encourage storytelling, in fact, the story can change each time you tell it. Wordless books are a wonderful way to open the door to imagination.

WordCustard on 07/20/2011

I had assumed 'picture books' were for little children, but then you got me thinking of all the times I've enjoyed detailed images, especially those that seem to tell a story. I can see how wordless books could be both enjoyable and educational.

mivvy on 07/20/2011

I never thought about these books as 'wordless', use to read lots of them to my children (when they were young)

More Wordless Book Articles

A selection of Mercer Mayer's wordless picture books and suggestions for reading them to and with your children.
Barbara Lehman's sweet illustrations tell the stories in these wordless books.
The fantastic wordless books by David Wiesner are a wonderful addition to your bedtime reading routine.
The illustrations take center stage in these creative picture books that provide plenty of opportunity for language development and creative role play.
Updated: 02/21/2012, Jimmie
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