The Importance of Wordless Picture Books

by Cassie Wefald

The Importance of Wordless Picture Books

By Hannah Atchison, children’s librarian, Manhattan Public Library

You Can't Take a Balloon Into the Metropolitan Museum

As a child, I was told I had a wild imagination. My family would engage in dramatic adventures with me, using every pillow we owned. And before bed, we would read. Though the books my parents read to me grew longer with fewer pictures, picture books always held a special place in my heart. My favorites were the wordless ones by Peter Collington. I could spend hours with one, reimagining the story a little differently each time. Wordless books are important for children because they teach context clues, emotional intelligence, body language, and imagination. In Manhattan Public Library’s collection, we have a growing number of wordless picture books. I recommend these titles.

Where’s Walrus?” by Stephen Savage is a fun look-and-find book appropriate for toddlers. Walrus runs away from the zookeeper and puts on costumes to hide in the city. While looking for Walrus with your little one, you can talk about occupations, colors, and places you see.

The Line in the Sand” by Thao Lam is also in our toddler section. Friendly monsters are playing on the beach. One draws a line with a stick. As one monster attempts to cross it, another blocks them. Tempers rise and a crowd gathers. The monsters’ imaginary problem is resolved by the arrival of a bee. All of this is communicated with body language. Ask your child how they think the monsters may be feeling. You could even talk about similar human-created problems in the world.

Imagine!” by Raúl Colón introduces us to a boy visiting an art museum. He imagines the characters in the paintings climbing out to have fun with him there. On his way home, he creates beautiful street art of his friends from the museum and thinks of them as he falls asleep. Art coming to life is a wonderful subject for the imagination. Does your child have an art piece they wish they could interact with?

You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum” is a funny adventure by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman that compares art to life as the museum doorman chases a girl’s balloon that flies off while she is in the museum with her grandmother. Talk about the similarities between the art pieces and the balloon adventure. Ask your child what they think will happen next.

Another” by Christian Robinson is a science fiction adventure. A little girl and her pet discover an opposite world with people just like her. Imagine together what other worlds might be like or what you wish your world was like.

Sidewalk Flowers” are collected by a girl going on a walk with her father. JonArno Lawson’s tale is about being thankful for the small things and sharing that joy with others. The girl leaves the flowers she has collected with a dead bird, a man sleeping on a bench, strangers, animals and family. Practice empathy and ask your child if benches are comfortable to sleep on and why the man might be sleeping there. Ask them why they think the girl is giving away her flowers to each of the people/animals they encounter.

Once Upon a Forest” by Pam Fong is about a little furry forest creature who sees smoke. The furry friend gathers tools to put out the fire, but there is still damage. The furry creature clears away the dead trees’ branches, prepares the soil, and plants new seeds. The creature guards the trees as they grow and protects them from hungry deer. When they are full grown he sets off again into the forest. The furry forester expresses many emotions, which you can help your child identify as you read.

The Brain Storm” by Linda Ragsdale is about a boy in a bad mood, pictured as a scribbly ‘storm’ floating above his head. He doesn’t know how to make the storm go away so he brings it to his grandmother who helps him understand it. This book is about emotions and uses body language to communicate it.

Free Fall” is a dreamworld adventure by David Wiesner. A boy travels through an imaginary world with strange creatures as he dreams. These unusual encounters and explorations are an opportunity for children to expand their own imaginations.

Journey” is the first book in a magical trilogy by Aaron Becker. The fantastical adventures are colorful and grand, despite the small pages in which they are contained. Themes of bravery and friendship weave through these imaginary adventures.

Some say you can’t read a wordless book. I disagree. Reading is an interpretation of symbols and the connection of those symbols to their meaning in the world. Pictures are a form of expressing communication just like letters and words. The skills gained from reading a wordless picture book— interpretation of context clues, emotional intelligence, body language, and imagination—are just as valuable. Wordless books are an invitation to participate in the story you are reading. If you would like more suggestions of wordless books, you can find your local librarians here at the Manhattan Public Library.

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By Hannah Atchison, children’s librarian, Manhattan Public Library