How to Read a Wordless Picture Book
As the Design Director of children’s publishing at Chronicle Books, Kristine Brogno knows picture books. If you’ve ever faced a wordless picture book and felt stumped on how to read it, look no further.
Wordless picture books are an art. They are stories told entirely through illustrations—books without words, or sometimes just a few words. It’s tempting (and somewhat predictable) to post about wordless picture books without using words and only showcase the gorgeous art, but there’s much to say about them!
Reading a wordless book with a child may at first seem intimidating (“What do I say? Do I just describe what’s in the pictures?”), but it can ultimately be a rich reading experience leading down plentiful paths of discovery, discussion, and imagination.
The most important aspect of creating a wordless book is telling the story clearly through sequential images. World and character building, carefully considered pacing and flow of the story, dynamic compositions of the images and using the page turn to heighten drama are all critical elements in a successful wordless picture book.
Here are a few tips for sharing wordless books with young readers:
1. Follow the child’s pace.
He or she may want to start at the end of the book or in the middle or only look at one page. It’s fine. The mere act of interacting with a book increases a child’s interest in books and a desire to read and learn.
2. Make it a conversation.
Comment on the things you see in the images (Look at the pretty yellow fan she’s holding!). Ask questions (How many birds are in the picture? How do you think the crocodile is feeling now? Why?). Describe things you see to introduce new information and vocabulary words (I see mountains in the distance.). Use your imaginations to invent your own stories about what is happening in the images. All of this helps build a child’s listening skills, vocabulary, narrative skills, emotional development and visual literacy skills.
3. Have fun!
Use silly voices and sounds. Sing songs. Give the characters funny names. Act things out. Make connections to the child’s life and your own.
Here are a few of my favorites from Chronicle Books:
Molly uses clever flaps throughout to help show the delicate dance of three charming characters overcoming jealousy and other challenges to forge a true friendship.
This book can be read from front to back or vice versa. A few simple prompts set the reader off on a seek-and-find adventure in either direction. There are many delightful details to discover and worlds to peer into along the way!
The surprise ending of this book made me laugh out loud, and it is loaded with new details to discover and stories to tell with each reading.
With her masterful use of line and color, Suzy creates a deceptively simple story of a day at the beach. She uses the center of the book to divide the natural world from the human space, and then paces the book perfectly to blend the two.
In this book, Suzy blurs the line between real and imagined and builds toward an ending that will charm young readers and astound book lovers of all ages.
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Do you have a favorite wordless picture book? Tell us about it below!
To read more about all things design at Chronicle books, visit here.
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