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Reading Without Words

Written by: Jenn

There is more to reading than letters and words. I know that sounds fundamentally wrong, but stay with me. As an early childhood educator, it was my responsibility to be aware of developmental milestones related to literacy. Literacy is so much more than letter recognition and letter sounds. It includes the ability to retell a story, using critical thinking skills, the ability to make visual observations and inquiries based on illustrations, and understanding the main idea of a story. A great way to encourage and develop these skills are by using books without words.


When you think about books without words, you probably think of board books usually intended for infants and young toddlers. These books are awesome for itty bitties. They tend to show real life photos of everyday objects and colors. They are great for building early vocabulary. But did you know there are amazing books without words for older children as well with beautiful and detailed illustrations?


One of my personal favorites, is a trilogy skillfully illustrated by Aaron Becker that includes the titles Journey, Quest and Return. I would try to summarize the plot of these three amazing stories, but I can’t. You may go through these and see a different set of circumstances. The motivations of the characters can be the complete opposite of mine. The potential of the story is limitless. I first discovered this series when I was babysitting a three year old. I have had the pleasure of watching this little one grow up (he’s about to graduate from kindergarten) and see not only his personal evolution, but the evolution of this epic tale. He began by merely pointing out the things he saw in the pictures while I weaved a story of adventure, adversity and triumph. As the years progressed he started telling me the story from his perspective. It was magical. I began looking forward to story time and hoping he would pick these books. I loved the endless limits and immersing myself in a world of my own creation. He loved having the power to control the narrative. A few other titles that I recommend you all check out are Bluebird by Bob Staake and Tuesday by David Wiesner.


The benefits of a book without pictures is limitless and can help to build a strong


pre-reading foundation. That does not mean there are no benefits for older children and even adult readers. Important skills for everyone are critical thinking and imagination. Alice Walker, a celebrated author once said, “If you fall in love with the imagination, you understand that it is a free spirit. It will go anywhere, and it can do anything.” Where would the world be without imagination? A part of a quality education for children includes the opportunity to use their imaginations. Use books without pictures to help encourage their creativity!




Here are some tips for “reading” wordless books with children.


  1. Ask the children what they see in the illustrations. What are the characters doing? Why are they doing that? Where is the story taking place?

  2. Let the child dictate the story. Although you may not see what they see or feel like they are misinterpreting the story, go with it and see where the adventure takes you.

  3. Take turns “reading” the story.

  4. If you are using one of these books in a classroom, I would recommend small groups. This will allow the children to really participate in the telling of the story.

  5. And as always have fun!

#literacy #illustrations #reading #storytelling


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