Book Lists Picture Books

Tips for Reading Wordless Books (and 10 of My Favorite Wordless Books!)

I bet you know this scenario – you check out a wordless picture book, and then you realize you’re narrating it with the skill of an iguana and you think, “HOW DO YOU EVEN READ THIS THING?!”

I remember one of my friends saying, “I hate reading wordless books because it takes so much effort on my part. With a regular picture book I can just read the words and not think about it.”

It’s true that wordless books take a little more effort. But I’m inclined to think they are worth it. Here are a few tips:

  1. Look through it first. I almost never read a picture book before I read it with my girls, but when it’s wordless, it really helps me out to have a basic idea where the story is going first so I don’t miss critical plot points as we go. 
  2. Ask questions. I’m NOT a question asker when I read (we read the whole thing through and then talk about it afterward), but when it’s a wordless book, I ask a lot of questions. “What do you think is going to happen next?” “What’s she doing here?” “What does he think about that?” 
  3. Take Your Time. I’m a super fast reader, but I like that a wordless makes me slow down and pay attention to the details. The illustrations in a good picture book add a whole extra dimension to the story, and I sometimes forget to give them more than a passing glance. I like that I’m forced to look at the illustrations more in this book. 
  4. Let your child read it to you. If you have a pre-reader (or a reluctant reader), wordless books are a great way for them to experience books without stress or frustration. And I love seeing what my child notices when she’s running the show. 
And. . . . to get you started, here are ten of our favorites:
Tips for Reading Wordless Books (and 10 of My Favorite Wordless Books!)
  1. Journey by Aaron Becker – Oh Journey. You really are the best picture book I’ve read in ages. Imagine if you could draw a door on your wall and then step into a magical world. There are lots of comparisons to Where the Wild Things Are and Harold and the Purple Crayon, but this one definitely earns its own place on the bookshelf. 
  2. Where’s Walrus? by Stephen Savage – This sweet book about a walrus who flees the zoo on a sleepy afternoon and keeps hiding from the zookeeper is a family favorite. (You can watch a little video trailer for it too – Ella and I have watched it probably 50 times). 
  3. Rain by Peter Spier – This man is a master. We’ve had Rain since I was a very small child, and recently, we’ve discovered his Caldecott-winning Noah’s Ark
  4. Tuesday by David Wiesner – No one does wordless books like David Wiesner. This one is a Tuesday night where frogs take flight. The very realistic illustrations make a terrific juxtaposition to the goofy idea of frogs flying about on lily pads. I also love Free Fall
  5. The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney. I bought this book very shortly after it won the Caldecott and it is just such a gem. It’s such a glorious retelling of Aesop’s most famous tale. 
  6. Fox and Hen Together by Béatrice Rodriguez. Fair warning that this book is WEIRD. But it’s also hilarious and fun, and it was Ella’s absolute favorite for many weeks until we returned it to the library. 
  7. Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day. This classic series is about a little boy and his large dog who always manage to get into trouble while the mother isn’t watching. 
  8. Wave by Suzy Lee – This is a pretty short book, and it’s just perfect for a summer when you wish you were at the coast. 
  9. Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle – This one ups the wordless book ante by adding flaps. The dancing flamingo and exuberant little girl who wants to dance along will definitely make you smile. (There is a Flora and the Penguin coming later this year). 
  10. Red Sled by Lita Judge – This book isn’t TECHNICALLY wordless, but the only words it does have are the noises the animals make (which is fun to read aloud!) when they discover a sled left outside and decide to take it for a spin. Red Hat, featuring the same cast of animals, is also fab. 

P.S. Rainstorm by Barbara Lehman is on my list of wordless books to read. Also, Hank Finds an Egg is a recent find and it’s charming.

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  • Reply Ailyn Koay July 9, 2014 at 11:09 am

    have no read a wordless book before. sounds like i should give it a go

  • Reply Aria Vidulich July 9, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    I love Good Dog, Carl! It's my go to baby shower gift. Her other Carl books are great as well.

  • Reply Meg ~ Chasing Pink Fireflies July 9, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    These are some great tips, thanks! I also struggle with wordless books and wonder if my kids will notice that I don't tell the same story each time we read it (but they never seem to mind). We also love a wordless book called "wave" and it's perfect for beach trips!

  • Reply KT July 9, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    I love Journey so very much. A sequel (Quest) comes out this summer and I am so very excited.

    I am not a great wordless picture book reader – if I can't figure out something to say I struggle (A Ball for Daisy was really hard for me to get through – " she is walking in the forest some more!"), but we keep trying. The boy is finally old enough to help tell the story, which helps too.

  • Reply Rebecca Lately July 9, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Love! My kids love wordless books. The Polo books (by Regis Faller) are really good, too.

  • Reply Rachel at Maybe Matilda July 9, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    I always feel like such a dummy when I try to read a wordless picture book to Forrest. And he can always tell that the story stinks, too, because he almost always gets bored and goes to choose another book before we've finished the wordless one. I guess I need some more practice 🙂

  • Reply Elaine July 9, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    The Snowman by Raymond Briggs is another lovely one. You've probably seen the video with its ethereal music. I am also a Peter Spier fan and love his Christmas book. Sorry, but the Wiesner books are a little too outrageous for me.

  • Reply Lauren and Joe O'Brien July 9, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    We just got "sea of dreams" from the library today. Been really liking wordless books lately so glad you wrote about it.

  • Reply Tracy July 9, 2014 at 11:11 pm

    Do you reserve books online or do your children let you puruse around the library and look for good ones? I'm thinking I might have to start putting more children's titles on hold so I can grab them and go.

  • Reply Jennifer July 10, 2014 at 2:23 am

    Our absolute favorite wordless book is In the Town, All Year Round. We can spend hours looking at it. Chalk is another favorite. I have to second the Polo books. They are a lot of fun.

  • Reply Kate July 10, 2014 at 2:35 am

    Our favorites have all been mentioned already: A Ball for Daisy, Rainstorm (and The Red Book by the same author) and the Polo books. Rainstorm is my absolute favorite of these, though.

  • Reply Jones July 10, 2014 at 2:59 am

    My absolute favorite wordless book is Deep in the Forest by Brinton Turkel. Do you know it? The illustrations are dark and I think that is off-putting to some people, but it is absolutely a classic andd have loved introducing it to children.

  • Reply Trisha Millward July 10, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    Zoom by Istvan Banyai is a pretty neat wordless book, too.

  • Reply Alicia July 17, 2014 at 2:47 am

    Goodnight Gorilla is a favorite…does it not count as wordless if there are a couple speech bubbles?

  • Reply Ellen March 12, 2018 at 7:06 pm

    I “read” the wordless picture book “Sidewalk Flowers” by myself at a bookstore recently and unexpectedly cried – a beautiful story.

  • Reply Susan Johnson March 13, 2018 at 11:53 am

    One of my wordless favorites is “You Can’t Take a Balloon Into The Metropolitan Museum of Art” by Jacqueline Presiis Weitzman and Robin Preiss Glasser. The little girl isn’t allowed to take her yellow balloon inside, so the guard ties it to the banister. A bird helps the balloon escape. The guard follows the balloon all over NY City trying to catch it. You’ll visit the sites of NY and watch the little girl view some famous artwork in the museum as the story progresses………delightful and educational!!

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