Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Book Chook Favourites - Wordless Picture Books

by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



Wordless picture books are wonderful to share with kids. In my experience, they benefit from slow reading, so are best shared when there is leisure to pause, think about and discuss each illustration. Wordless (or nearly wordless) picture books provide opportunities for children to create their own stories about a sequence of illustrations. The absence of words means we readers are free to focus entirely on the images, whereas with text, we often rush past details in an image and are the poorer for it.


Instantly re-reading a wordless picture book can be a useful strategy to use with kids, because comprehension increases and more layers of meaning are discovered. Having children tell the story aloud gives them an opportunity to develop character “voices”, mood and tension in a story. Best of all, I love that wordless picture books are a wonderful way for kids to use their imaginations, and to play with story.

I’ve gathered this list to Listly and it’s embedded below. The list is by no means definitive. Some of the books are older so you may need to search your library. I’ll add to it over time but right now, this is a list of some of my favourite wordless (or nearly wordless) picture books for kids, with links to my reviews, or with mini-reviews in this post.

Quest by Aaron Becker, published by Walker Books (2015.)

From the publisher:

“…this is another visually stunning, wordless adventure story featuring two friends and their magical markers. In the city park, the pair are startled by the sudden appearance of a king, who thrusts into their hands a map and some strange objects. But before he can explain, the king is captured by enemy forces and whisked back into his enchanted world. Just like that, the girl and boy are caught up in a wild dash to rescue the mysterious monarch. They embark on a quest to unlock the puzzle of the map and, they hope, save the king and his people from darkness…”

Like many wordless picture books, Quest is not a book you can rush. Kids will glean much by poring over the details in each page, and thinking about what is going on. I loved that the children’s amazing pencils begin to draw their solutions, then magically the whole thing appears. Becker’s artwork is active, detailed and atmospheric, providing lots of prompts for a story young readers will actually tell for themselves.

Journey by Aaron Becker, published by Walker Books (2014.)

From the publisher:

"A lonely girl draws a magic door on her bedroom wall and through it escapes into a world where wonder, adventure and danger abound. Red marker pen in hand, she creates a boat, a balloon and a flying carpet which carry her on a spectacular journey ... who knows where? When she is captured by a sinister emperor, only an act of tremendous courage and kindness can set her free. Can it also guide her home and to happiness? In this exquisitely illustrated, wordless book, an ordinary child is launched on an extraordinary, magical journey towards her greatest and most rewarding adventure of all..."

This is the prequel to Quest (above) and equally as evocative, imaginative and satisfying.



Return by Aaron Becker, published by Walker Books (2016.)

From the publisher:

Aaron Becker, creator of the award-winning Journey and its stunning, celebrated sequel, Quest, presents the final chapter in his luminous, wordless fantasy. Failing to get the attention of her busy father, a lonely girl turns back to a fantastic world for friendship and adventure. It's her third journey into the enticing realm of kings and emperors, castles and canals, exotic creatures and enchanting landscapes. But this time, it will take something truly powerful to persuade her to return home, as a gripping backstory is revealed that will hold readers in its thrall.

Here's the most recently published wordless picture book to arrive chez Chook. Check out the trailer for Return to give you a taste of this gorgeous final book in the series. I think all three books of the trilogy deserve a special place in homes, schools and community where beautiful art work and visual literacy are valued.

The Farmer and the Clown

From my review:


“The Farmer and the Clown is a wordless picture book, inviting children to tell their own stories about the illustrations. I love that wordless picture books offer adults an opportunity to nudge children toward making inferences about a visual narrative. What might that be falling off the train? How do you think the little clown feels? I wonder why the farmer did that? Children of different ages will respond to the story at their own level.”

Read more at The Book Chook.

Polo: The Runaway Book by Regis Faller, published by Roaring Brook Press (2007.) This is just one of a series of Polo books. At 75 pages, it’s long for a picture book, and seems to me more like a wordless graphic novel. It’s such a wonderful, imaginative story about Polo, whose book is taken by a strange little creature. Polo follows him, and encounters a mountain made of pink fairy floss (cotton candy), fun house mirrors, a knitting penguin, a hot air balloon being piloted by a hen, and other amazements. I love the way Polo finds a (mostly mind-boggling) way out of his predicaments, and kids will too. The story is an excellent model to use when you want kids to write with lots of imagination.

The Gift

From my review:

(The Gift is) a wordless picture book, and even though words and writing are my passion, I also love the way wordless picture books encourage children's creativity and imagination. The theme is beautiful - kids will be gently prompted to think about friendship, and the friends in their own lives. And the artwork is special - it's very textural, with the look of acrylics on canvas. Gilmartin has given children lots to look at and think about: insets into the main spreads, paw prints to follow, and different techniques to suggest movement and a timeline.
Read more at The Book Chook.

Footpath Flowers

From my review:

Here are two members of a family out for a stroll. The little girl wears a bright red jacket, one of the few carefully chosen splashes of colour throughout the picture book. While the little girl notices lots of interesting details during the walk, Dad seems more focussed on his thoughts and his mobile phone. As the walk proceeds, we see more colour and more interactivity between Dad, Daughter and passers-by. I loved the way the little girl gifts others with her flowers, and the theme of giving. Like most good wordless picture books, children will notice more and more with repeated readings. Grab classroom ideas via Walker Books.

Mr Wuffles is an almost wordless picture book by David Wiesner, published by Random House.

From my review:


“There’s lots of visual detail contributing to the clues we piece together to work out what’s going on. Occasional speech bubbles, including some in alien speech, help us too. Young readers will love delving into the details and discussing what they believe is happening. The world Wiesner has created will fascinate and delight kids who’ll ensure this is one children’s picture book that will fly off book shelves!”
Read more at The Book Chook.

The Pencil by Paula Bossio, published by Gecko Press.

In The Pencil, a board book, a little girl finds a line on the ground. She picks up one end and plays with it, making curvy lines that she slides down, a ball to roll in and bubbles to blow. As the pages turn, the girl hangs from the line, and even conjures up an audience to applaud her amazing feats of balance. But wait, what has the line become now, and how will she get out of this predicament? On the back cover, we discover the source of the line. Each adventure she has underlines the possibilities of play and imagination, when you start with a line!

Mirror, by Jeannie Baker, published by Walker Books (2010.) I think of Jeannie Baker as the queen of wordless picture books. Her recent masterpiece, Mirror, in my opinion, is “a work so exquisite, so meaningful, it makes our hearts sing. “

From my review:

The book's binding allows us to open it in the middle, so we can view the two families mirrored side-by-side. We can also read each story separately. Or we can consider only one page at a time. There is such a wealth of material in this book - to look at, discuss and appreciate - I can see it contributing to visual literacy lessons in schools across grades and months! As we gaze and absorb, we become aware that despite all the differences between the two families, their lives revolve around the same routines and needs we all share. Despite the differences, when we really get to know other families, it's like looking into a mirror and seeing ourselves.
Read more at The Book Chook.

Another Baker wordless picture book I love is Belonging.

From my review:

A key factor to my deep appreciation of Baker's books is the art work. Her collages are intricate, and kids will love to identify elements like earth, feathers, and wool. There are so many details to notice, and ponder over! Do the car models change over time? How does Tracy, the baby at the start, change as she gets older? What happens in her life? Let's read all the signs and graffiti. How do the people get rid of the grafitti? Why did that happen? I wonder how the artist made the roof?
Read more at The Book Chook.

Anno’s Journey by Mitsumasa Anno, published by PenguinRandomHouse (1997.) Like so many wordless picture books, Anno’s Journey repays repeated re-readings. There are many details to pore over, and unexpected things to find, in Anno’s journey through Europe. Kids might look for changing architectural styles, familiar storybook characters, tricks of perspective and will certainly relish finding Anno! The end notes provide even more treasures to spot.

Leaf by Stephen Michael King, published by Scholastic Australia (2008.) (USA: Roaring Book Press.) This is a charming story, in pictures, about a child who runs away from having his untidy hair groomed. A bird drops a seed in his hair that sprouts into a leaf. A hair cut is back on the agenda, but the child works out how to save his leaf and it eventually becomes a tree. That is a bald account, but Leaf is so much more than facts - it elicits emotional responses and provides food for thought and discussion.

The Umbrella by Ingrid and Dieter Schubert, published by Book Island (2015.)

From my review:

“This wordless picture book opens children’s minds to all sorts of possibilities and stories. In my observation, it can be difficult for illustrators to strike the right balance in such a picture book. What balance? There needs to be an identifiable narrative, as well as an opener to several interpretations within that narrative. Some books require intense scrutiny before the narrative can be identified at all - most readers won’t persevere for a long time. The Umbrella is special because it gets this balance exactly right.”
Read more at The Book Chook.

Flashlight by Lizi Boyd, published by Chronicle Books (2014). A visually beautiful book, Flashlight shows us coloured fragments of the night through the beams of a flashlight, and lots of silvered shadows nearby. It is part exploration, part wordless narrative, and wholly enjoyable. Check out the trailer, below.



The Box by Kevin O’Malley, published by Stewart Tabori and Chang; First Edition edition (March 1993.)

Here’s a wordless picture book with quite simple illustrations, making it suitable for younger children. The story is easy to follow, but is nevertheless full of tension and drama as a young boy has an amazing adventure in a cardboard box, and must rescue his teddy bear. What a great introduction to a unit on re-imagining a cardboard box this would be!

I also found The Box on Kevin O’Malley’s website, generously made available as a free downloadable PDF. Why not have your children tell this story in their own words? There is another free PDF story too, Bruno, You’re Late for School.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan, published 2006, is a wonderful story about the migrant experience to use with older children. The richly textured pencil illustrations on some 128 pages show us many different perspectives, contributing to our understanding of what it is to be a stranger in a new land. Find several illustrations and commentary on Tan's website.

Clip Art credit: Phillip Martin

I've embedded this list below, and will add to it over time. Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar.


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