My Love-Hate Relationship with Wordless Books

OK, let’s get real here. The first time I brought a wordless book home from the library, I was rather blindsided. George handed it to me and looked expectantly with those baby blues, so I got comfy and opened the cover. And then I got kind of annoyed.


I’m supposed to make up my own story every time I read this book? Author! How dare you make me work! That is your job. You leave me out of the creative process, eh? I may have been a smidge overdramatic, but I feel like I could rant and rave, moan and groan when there was only an 18-month-old staring blankly back.

Except in this scenario, I was Gaston. And I was looking for words, not pictures.

And so, I boycotted any wordless books for quite some time. Yes, yes, I know many people view them as “magical!” and “delightful!” but some people also chose Team Logan during the Gilmore Girls years, so not all opinions can be trusted (Team Jess!–especially when he was older).

Recently, though, I decided to give them another shot. Maaaaybe reading (“reading”?) wordless books to a very young toddler made no sense. So now, George is almost 3 and has more of a clue (though he’s still terrible at locating items RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM). And now that I have a more involved audience, I’ve found a few wordless picture books that are actually enjoyable for us both.

penguinFlora and the Penguin by Molly Idle

Ms. Idle has written a number of Flora books. Flora is silent but spunky as she dances (or ice skates) with different birds. As with all silent books, the artwork speaks volumes. And in this case, the books each have flaps that create even more movement. “Whimsical” suits these books to a T. If you’re looking for a sweet set of books to give to a 5(ish)-year-old girl, I recommend introducing her to Flora.

walrusWhere’s Walrus? by Stephen Savage

THIS is how silent books should be. Where’s Walrus? and its companion, Where’s Walrus? And Penguin?, are delightful. A cheeky walrus escapes from the zoo (George has been calling me “cheeky, little Mama” recently–much to my amusement and delight). The zookeeper chases the walrus (and penguin in the sequel) around the city, and the walrus keeps donning disguises to hide. George thinks the walrus is hil-arious. He’s super easy to find, but he keeps appearing in comical situations.

linesLines by Suzy Lee

We checked out a copy of Lines today, so I’ve only “read” it once. It’s a beautiful, wordless vision of an ice skater twirling and spinning on ice, leaving behind lines of design. Like all wordless books, this one is clearly about the design and artwork. Mostly, it reminded me of watching the winter Olympics with my mom as a kid (because I grew up in Florida and therefore have no actual memories of ice skating on a pond).

tuesdayTuesday by David Wiesner

Well, this one has the shiny Caldecott medal on the cover, so, apparently, there is an actual audience for wordless books (I kid, I kid, as there is obviously an audience for these bad boys). According to Tuesday, giant, dreamlike toads fly on lilypads through the city each night. Yes, this does sound like a nightmare only my mind could concoct. However, it’s whimsical and dreamy, so it doesn’t take itself too seriously (i.e. terrifying to anyone squirmy around slimy creatures).

lionThe Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

An adaption of Aesop’s fable, this was one of the first wordless picture books I shared with George, as he received this gorgeous book for Christmas (or possibly his birthday. They run very close together…Mama was not thinking that far ahead when all this came about). The Hubs was significantly better at sharing this book than I was. I felt awkward forcing a story onto the illustrations, while my husband roared and squeaked and sound-effected his way through each page. I think men/boys are just better at sound effects?

If you’ve never given wordless books a chance, take one now. Obviously, when kids can’t read, artwork and images will make a great impact, especially when letters don’t get in the way. These picture books have a different rhythm, and your imagination just might have to crank into gear. When your child gets excited and discovers something new, however, it’s worth the effort.

If you do try any wordless picture books for the first time, let me know how they work for you and your kids!

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