Wordless Wonders.

I am a huge advocate of picturebooks and the power they have.

As Martin Galway perfectly put it “They provide a swift democracy, a shared world and experience that can mitigate and compensate for varying levels of experience of the world.”

One of the key aspects about picturebooks is the exploration and the talk they can provide. There is nothing more enjoyable and enlightening than sitting with a group of children and exploring a high quality text. The best picturebooks do that.

This week I’ve seen the true impact of wordless picturebooks. In our Targeted Mainstream provision class they have been using “Quest” by Aaron Becker. This has transformed a group of children who did not write, have the language to write, or want to write into children who bounce into writing lessons full of language, and ideas and desperate to write.

Wordless picturebooks are a special breed they are at their best when we co-create the story together, when we explore the detail. When we notice the nuance, when we roll the language of story around the image. Creating time to talk and explore starting with our youngest children is so important.

Mary Roche’s wonderful “Developing children’s critical thinking through picturebooks” would be my starting go to for both practical and theoretical ideas on this with the stated aim to develop readers “who can look beneath the surface and challenge any assumptions and premises that may be hidden there and who can examine their own assumptions and discuss them with others.”

It’s not a luxury to spend time digging in and exploring a text and that it often feels that way is a sad indictment on the pressures of our curriculum.

Wordless picturebooks are unique, anybody who has ever used The Arrival by Shaun Tan will both know the power of it and the immense depth of emotion and story held in those pictures, the only way to unleash it is through talk. Wordless picturebooks are drivers for language and understanding, they are equally perfect for driving writing.

Top Tips for Diving into Wordless Picturebooks

TALK (Encourage Discussion)

With wordless picture books it is all about the talk. The beauty of these wordless picturebooks is that there is much less pressure to read the story in a set way. Pause, discuss the pictures at length without feeling that you are interrupting the flow of any words. So take time to talk about the pictures, follow up on the children’s observations, build vocabulary, make connections and ask questions.

IMMERSE (Introduce Rich New Vocabulary)

One of the obvious ways of using wordless picture books with your child is to tell the story which accompanies the pictures in your own words. Wordless books are perfect for introducing and developing new vocabulary. As well as explaining the action in the picture, don’t forget to also describe what else you see in the picture, using as many detailed words as possible. Describing the pictures encourages us to use language that is different from how we normally speak. This will expose children to a rich variety of language. We are the guide here, children will start to take over.

EXPLORE (dig deep and go beyond the pictures)

Ask the children open ended questions about what might be happening and why. Be sure to give children plenty of time to think about their responses. When children reply, repeat what they say and add more information. Give the detail…expand the ideas. With wordless picture books you can focus on much more. How does the picture portray action or emotions? How can picture clues help children understand more of the story and support their inferences. Encourage children to also think about the colour choices and mood of the pictures. Why do they think the illustrator used a particular colour or technique?

STRUCTURE (storytelling)

Wordless picture books are a great way of teaching children about basic story structure and the sequencing of events in a story. This will start to give them an understanding of basic story structure. Talk about the different elements of the plot and the sequence of these events in the story. Encourage them to summarise a story. When you’re reading the story, try using simple words and phrases like ‘next’ and ‘then’. These linking words help children catch the idea of the flow of a story and how to tell a story in order.

PLAY (encourage children to be creative)

You don’t always have to tell the story in the same way. If there is more than one character in the book, tell the story from different perspectives. You can make up a different story every time. Encourage embellishment. With older readers let them develop motivation and characters. Encourage details and settings build the complex from the simple.

INSPIRE (wordless books can open dooEd to writing)

Wordless picture books can provide the perfect foundation for writing. Children can write descriptive text to complement each picture, or a selection of pictures, they could add dialogue to the characters in the story, they could describe dramatic action and build tension. Don’t forget writing is 90% talk if children can’t talk it they can’t write. Acting as a scribe for a child is still the child writing, who cannot write yet.

Some Brilliant Wordless Wonders to get you started…

Aaron Becker is a perfect starting point…his Journey trilogy is fantastic and Stone for Sascha is a wordless History of the World and a tale of loss

Shaun Tan is more capable of telling a whole story in a single picture than almost any illustrator. The Arrival is a wordless masterpiece

Bill Thompson books are vividly illustrated and dynamic full of action, emotion and flights of fancy. Perfect for young and old

David Weisner is a visual master. Just a perfect wordless storyteller.

Suzy Lee does character and emotion better than anyone. Her on the simple stories are full of emotion and depth.

Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli and Mariachara Di Giorgio is in my opinion pretty much perfect. With a delicious twist

Jon Arno Lawson collaborating with a range of illustrators create brilliant emotional wordless narratives

Henry Cole creates delicate stories full of detail and emotion.

Guojing is just wonderful. Her books use graphic novel styling to tell beautiful complex emotional wordless stories.

There are loads more, here are some more of my favourites…


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