In Praise of Wordless Books

Did you know that when parents read books without words, they are “more engaged with their children”? That’s what Utah State University professor Sandi Gillam discovered in her research, according to an article by Mary Richards.

“Children need a strong language background in order to benefit from academic instruction,” Gillam said. “So if you don’t have a strong language background, it’s hard for you to grasp onto the whole reading thing.” Picture books allow parents to take the cue from the child who is still learning the names for things and how they work.

Let’s take a book like Jerry Pinkney’s Caldecott Medal–winning The Lion and the Mouse. The entire family can enjoy this wordless book. The child who’s still learning to identify the lion, mouse, owl and other creatures and the sounds they make (the only words in the book are the sounds that the animals and the hunters’ jeep makes) can feel a sense of mastery. The slightly older child who may be familiar with Aesop’s fable can bring some of his or her storytelling talents to the discussion. The book inspires conversation and ignites the imagination.

The same is true of Wave, a wordless book by Suzy Lee in our Readeo Library. Using just a charcoal pencil and the color blue, Suzy Lee re-imagines a child’s encounter with a wave on the beach. The wave takes on a personality all its own. Your child may notice the role that the book’s gutter (the middle of the book where the pages join together) plays in the drama unfolding between girl and wave. If your child has never been to the beach, it’s an ideal introduction. If he or she has been to the beach, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the way the experience engaged all five senses, the smell of the salt air, the feel of the water on the toes, the sound of the birds or the crashing waves, the sparkling surface of the sand when the water retreats.

Give it a try! As Gillam says, “It’s not about the reading and the print, it’s about the interaction between the parent and the child.” And let us know how it goes on our Facebook page.

With all my best,


Jenny Brown is the editor for Readeo and oversees all book selection for the site. She has worked in the children’s book world for the past 25 years, holding positions with HarperCollins and Scholastic, and was the Children’s Books Reviews Editor for Publishers Weekly.  She currently writes for School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and Shelf Awareness. Jenny graduated from Princeton University. You can read more from Jenny on her Web site, Twenty by Jenny.

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