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Find more Classroom Connections
From concept books to graphic novels, wordless picture books are perenielly popular, and provide many teaching opportunities for a young audience.
One of the joys of picture books is the way in which art and text work together to tell a story. Sometimes, illustrations reflect the text; other times, they seem to recount a completely different narrative. But the melding of words and pictures magically results in a work that is greater than the sum of its parts. In wordless picture books, the illustrations must carry the entire load—no small feat—and somehow accomplish this amalgamation without the aid of text. Additionally, wordless picture books serve as a great equalizer for prereaders and those who speak different languages.
Like their more loquacious relatives, wordless picture books come in a variety of genres, ranging from simple concept books to narratives and imaginative explorations to graphic novels and puzzles. The list below represents some of the best recent examples of this genre to share with children.
Concepts and ABCs
ABC Dream. By Kim Krans. Illus. by the author. 2016. Random, $16.99 (9780553539295). PreS–Gr. 2.
In this beautifully rendered abecedary, large uppercase letters are surrounded by unlabeled images representing objects that begin with these letters. The watercolor-washed pen-and-ink art and the book’s design are sure to please, and a final spread identifies the objects.
Letter Lunch. By Elisa Gutierrez. Illus. by the author. 2014. Owlkids, $16.95 (9781771470001). PreS–Gr. 2.
Two hungry children set about collecting “ingredients” for alphabet soup, finding the letters they need in the garden, pantry, market, and more. Brightly colored artwork helps the letters to jump off the page, and the comics-style layout will appeal to young readers.
The Chicken Thief. By Beatrice Rodriguez. Illus. by the author. 2010. Enchanted Lion, $14.95 (9781592700929). PreS–Gr. 2.
A bear, a rabbit, and a rooster pursue a fox that has carried off a barnyard hen. The colorful artwork brims with movement, tension, and comedy—all the way to the surprising ending.
Coyote Run. By Gaëtan Dorémus. Illus. by the author. 2014. Enchanted Lion, $14.95 (9781592701476). PreS–Gr. 2.
In this homage to spaghetti westerns, a coyote breaks out of jail and is chased by a donkey sheriff to a mesa, where the two face off. Droll, loopy, and just plain fun. See also the author’s Bear Despair (2012).
Draw! By Raul Colón. Illus. by the author. 2014. Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, $17.99 (9781442494930). PreS–K.
A young boy uses his sketchbook and his imagination to create an African adventure filled with elephants, zebras, rhinos, and more. Mixed-media illustrations convey a sense of wonder at these magnificent creatures.
The Farmer and the Clown. By Marla Frazee. Illus. by the author. 2014. Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane, $17.99 (9781442497443). PreS–Gr. 2.
When a baby clown bounces off a circus train, a farmer rescues and cares for him until he can be reunited with his family. Frazee’s gouache-and-pencil artwork nicely captures the emotional range of both characters in this gentle, moving story.
Flashlight. By Lizi Boyd. Illus. by the author. 2014. Chronicle, $16.99 (9781452118949). PreS–Gr. 1.
A young boy explores the nighttime woods with the aid of a flashlight. The art features die-cut windows, black backgrounds, and gray outlines—with color used only in the areas illuminated by the flashlight—to offer a reassuring look at the night world. See also Boyd’s Inside Outside (2013), which features a child bringing nature indoors.
Flood. By Alvaro F. Villa. Illus. by the author. 2013. Capstone, $15.95 (9781623700010). K–Gr. 3.
A young family experience a terrible thunderstorm and must leave their home before floodwaters rise. Afterward, they return to repair and rebuild. Vivid digital artwork conveys the power of nature and the resilience required of those who live in its path.
Flora and the Peacocks. By Molly Idle. Illus. by the author. May 2016. Chronicle, $17.99 (9781452138169). PreS–K.
Flora is back, with two new friends: a pair of peacocks. Friendships with three can be complicated, but Flora finds ways to dance, leap, and soar. Idle’s movement-filled art contains clever foldout flaps. See also Flora and the Flamingo (2013) and Flora and the Penguin (2014).
Fox’s Garden. By Princesse Camcam. Illus. by the author. 2014. Enchanted Lion, $14.95 (9781592701674). PreS–Gr. 1.
Seeking shelter on a cold, snowy night, a vixen takes refuge in a greenhouse and receives food from a child. Later, the fox and her new kits find a way to thank the child for his kindness. Cut-paper illustrations add a dreamy, magical quality to this story.
The Girl and the Bicycle. By Mark Pett. Illus. by the author. 2014. Simon & Schuster, $15.99 (9781442483194). PreS–Gr. 2.
A girl longs for a shiny green bicycle and works hard earning money to purchase it, but when she finally earns enough, it has been sold. An unexpected happy ending will please listeners. See also the author’s The Boy and the Airplane (2013).
Hunters of the Great Forest. By Dennis Nolan. Illus. by the author. 2014. Roaring Brook, $17.99 (9781596438965). PreS–Gr. 2.
Seven intrepid creatures brave the wilderness in a quest for a sweet treat. Nolan’s illustrations make great use of perspective to create mystery and suspense in this intriguing fantasy. See also the author’s Sea of Dreams (2011).
Out of the Blue. By Alison Jay. Illus. by the author. 2014. Barefoot, $16.99 (9781782850427). PreS–Gr. 2.
When an octopus washes ashore entangled in fishing nets, two children and assorted sea creatures work together to free the animal and return it to the sea. Beautiful oil paintings filled with fascinating details distinguish this book.
Pool. By JiHyeon Lee. Illus. by the author. 2015. Chronicle, $16.99 (9781452142944). PreS–Gr. 2.
Two shy children evade the masses of people and blow-up toys crowding the surface of a public pool by diving deep, where they meet and discover all manner of fantastic marine life.
Quest. By Aaron Becker. Illus. by the author. 2014. 40p. Candlewick, $15.99 (9780763665951). PreS–Gr. 3.
In this sequel to his Caldecott Honor Book Journey (2013), Becker takes readers on an imaginative adventure involving a king, an enchanted door, and a purple bird. Intricate scenes full of subtle clues highlight this homage to imagination.
Sidewalk Flowers. By JonArno Lawson. Illus. by Sydney Smith. 2015. Groundwood/House of Anansi, $16.95 (9781554984312). PreS–Gr. 1.
While taking a walk through her drab city neighborhood, a young girl picks a bouquet of flowers that she shares with acquaintances, friends, and family. Smith’s pen-and-ink illustrations expand to full color as the girl spreads beauty all around her.
Skunk on a String. By Thao Lam. Illus. by the author. 2016. Owlkids, $16.95 (9781771471312). PreS–K.
When a hapless skunk finds himself tied to a balloon, he travels past a parade, a high-rise apartment, a construction site, a zoo, a garbage truck, an ocean, a desert, and, finally, to an amusement park. Will no one rescue him?
Snowman’s Story. By Will Hillenbrand. Illus. by the author. 2014. Amazon/Two Lions, $16.99 (9781477847879). PreS–Gr. 1.
A snowman comes to life, courtesy of a special black hat in this comic tale. Mixed-media illustrations and lively action from a rabbit with a hidden agenda add up to a cozy wintertime read.
Thunderstorm. By Arthur Geisert. Illus. by the author. 2013. Enchanted Lion, $17.95 (9781592701339). Gr. 1–3.
In a sequence of scenes, a rural midwestern family prepare for a thunderstorm and the cleanup that follows. Geisert’s fine etchings detail atmospheric changes and human responses. See also Geisert’s Ice (2011) and The Giant Seed (2012).
The Umbrella. By Dieter Schubert and Ingrid Schubert. Illus. by the authors. 2011. Lemniscaat, $16.95 (9781935954002). PreS–K.
Swept aloft by his red umbrella, a black dog visits a savannah, the ocean, an island, a rain forest, and the Arctic before returning home. The colorful and intriguing artwork will give young viewers much to think about.
Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad. By Henry Cole. Illus. by the author. 2012. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780545399975). Gr. 2–4.
When a southern farm girl finds evidence that a runaway slave is hiding on her property, she decides to help by providing food and shelter. An author’s note offers further context for the story and explains Cole’s decision to represent these silent characters in a wordless book.
Puzzles and Mysteries
The Conductor. By Laetita Devernay. Illus. by the author. 2011. Chronicle, $18.95 (9781452104911). PreS–Gr. 3.
A tuxedo-clad man climbs a tree to conduct a symphony of the leaves, which rustle, flutter, swirl, and soar. Devernay’s leaves playfully illustrate the sections of an orchestral piece—from the opening melodic line to instrumental solos to full symphonic sound.
Fossil. By Bill Thomson. Illus. by the author. 2013. Amazon/Two Lions, $17.99 (9781477847008). Gr. 1–3.
While on a walk with his dog, a boy breaks open several rocks, releasing live versions of the fossils they contain. As in Thomson’s earlier Chalk (2010), this features meticulous photo-realistic artwork and a sense of mystery.
The Line. By Paula Bossio. Illus. by the author. 2013. Kids Can, $16.95 (9781894786843). PreS–K.
A little girl picks up a black pencil line, whipping it into a slide and setting off an imaginative journey that takes her to its end. The childlike artwork will intrigue young listeners, who won’t be sure what is really going on until the last page.
The Secret Box. By Barbara Lehman. Illus. by the author. 2011. HMH, $15.99 (9780547238685). PreS–Gr. 2.
Three present-day students discover a secret box filled with postcards, photographs, and a map, and they set off to uncover a mysterious place. As in The Red Book (2004), Museum Trip (2006), and Rainstorm (2007), Lehman’s artwork brims with magical adventure.
Shadow. By Suzy Lee. Illus. by the author. 2010. Chronicle, $15.99 (9780811872805). PreS–Gr. 1.
A young girl in a storage room plays with the shadows she creates from simple objects, such as a bicycle, a ladder, and a vacuum cleaner. Other wordless titles by Lee include The Wave (2008) and Mirror (2010).
Where’s Walrus? And Penguin? By Stephen Savage. Illus. by the author. 2015. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780545402958). PreS–K.
In this follow-up to Where’s Walrus? (2011), Walrus and Penguin escape the zoo, hiding from the zookeeper in plain sight. Savage’s bold, minimalist art will help young readers to find the “thing” on the page that’s not like the others.
Birdsong: A Story in Pictures. By James Sturm. Illus. by the author. 2016. TOON, $12.95 (9781935179948). K–Gr. 1.
Two children are punished for their misdeeds by being turned into monkeys. They end up in a circus until, lesson learned, they are transformed again. Told in the tradition of Kamishibai, or Japanese paper theater, this is a spare and thoughtful story.
Bluebird. By Bob Staake. Illus. by the author. 2013. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (9780375870378). PreS–Gr. 1.
An affable bluebird befriends a lonely young boy, faithfully accompanying him until some bullies bring about the bird’s demise. Staake’s digital artwork employs a minimalist style in this heartfelt and ultimately uplifting story.
FishFishFish. By Lee Nordling. Illus. by Meritxell Bosch. 2015. Lerner/Graphic Universe, $25.26 (9781467745758). K–Gr. 3.
Three connected, wordless stories recount the adventures of a small yellow fish, a barracuda, and a school of fish. The collaborators make excellent use of panel art in this companion to BirdCatDog (2014).
Hello Kitty: It’s About Time. By Jacob Chabot. Illus. by Ian McGinty. 2015. VIZ Media, $18.40 (9781421577692). K–Gr. 2.
In this collection of short, wordless comics, Hello Kitty travels to the North and South Poles, takes a trip to the moon, and rescues a package for the queen of England. Cheerful and bubbly; see also the numerous other titles in this series.
Hello, Mr. Hulot. By David Merveille. Illus. by the author. 2013. North-South, $17.95 (9780735841352). PreS–Gr. 3.
This collection of paneled mini stories is a tribute to a classic Chaplin-esque French cinema character. Each story builds to a climactic page turn and a surprise ending.
Here I Am. By Patti Kim. Illus. by Sonia Sanchez. 2013. Capstone/Blue Earth, $14.95 (9781623700362). K–Gr. 3.
When a boy and his family immigrate to New York City, he experiences confusion and loneliness until he braves the outside and discovers the wonders his new neighborhood has to offer. Sanchez’s mixed-media artwork captures the range of emotions experienced in adjusting to a move.
The Hero of Little Street. By Gregory Rogers. Illus. by the author. 2012. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, $17.99 (9781596437296). K–Gr. 2.
Action, adventure, and a Vermeer painting come together in this appealing, metafictive Australian comic. See also two earlier titles: The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, and the Bard (2004) and Midsummer Knight (2007).
The Only Child. By Guojing. Illus. by the author. 2015. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $19.99 (9780553497045). K–Gr. 3.
A young girl, traveling from her city apartment to her grandmother’s country home, becomes lost and follows a mysterious stag deep into a magical world. Guojing’s beautifully rendered penciled panels evoke loneliness, wonder, and joy.
Owly and Wormy, Bright Lights and Starry Nights. By Andy Runton. Illus. by the author. 2012. Atheneum, $15.99 (9781416957751). PreS–Gr. 1.
Owly and Wormy, Runton’s heroes from his Owly series, take a telescope on their walk to a hilltop, where they are caught in a rainstorm and make new friends. The full-color artwork and graphic-novel style make this a perfect introduction to comics conventions and Runton’s oeuvre.
Christmastime. By Alison Jay. Illus. by the author. 2012. Dial, o.p. PreS–Gr. 1.
This album of exquisite crackle-varnish paintings chronicles the adventures of two children on a fantastical Christmas Eve journey to the North Pole. Each page contains a scene accompanied by a one- or two-word description.
Daisy Gets Lost. By Chris Raschka. Illus. by the author. 2013. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (9780449817414). PreS–K.
In this sequel to Raschka’s Caldecott winner A Ball for Daisy (2011), the tongue-flapping mutt chases a squirrel into the woods and gets lost. As in the earlier title, simple brushstrokes convey a wide range of emotions.
Mirror. By Jeannie Baker. Illus. by the author. 2010. Candlewick, $18.99 (9780763648480). PreS–Gr. 3.
This story follows two boys—in Australia and Morocco—throughout a single day, emphasizing the universality of their experiences. Revealed side by side in separate mini books, each story is introduced with brief introductory notes in English and Arabic.
Moletown. By Torben Kuhlmann. Illus. by the author. 2015. North-South, $17.95 (9780735842083). PreS–Gr. 2.
A mole moves under a lush green meadow, and soon an entire city develops, changing the landscape forever. This thoughtful allegory about the dangers of industrialization includes clever technology and nods to familiar places. See also the author’s Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse (2014).
Moo! By David LaRochelle. Illus. by Mike Wohnoutka. 2013. Walker, $16.99 (9780802734099). PreS–Gr. 2.
A cow takes the farmer’s old red car for a joyride, with hilarious and bumpy results. Boldly illustrated spreads, most containing the word moo, make this visual tale one even toddlers will enjoy.
Mr. Wuffles! By David Wiesner. Illus. by the author. 2013. Clarion, $17.99 (9780618756612). K–Gr. 3.
Mr. Wuffles ignores all his toys but one—a spaceship full of aliens. This Caldecott Honor fantasy-adventure features engaging art, intriguing characters, and a deep understanding of cats. See also Wiesner’s other wordless classics, Tuesday (1991) and Flotsam (2006), and his interactive app, Spot, listed below.
Red Hat. By Lita Judge. Illus. by the author. 2013. Atheneum, $16.99 (9781442442320). PreS.
When some forest animals borrow a child’s hand-knit hat, it unravels completely. As in Judge’s earlier book, The Red Sled (2011), sunny illustrations and sound-effect words distinguish this offering.
The Tortoise & the Hare. By Jerry Pinkney. Illus. by the author. 2013. Little, Brown, $18 (9780316183567). PreS–Gr. 3.
Set in the American Southwest, this companion to Caldecott winner The Lion & the Mouse (2009) brims with motion, both from the titular competitors and the animal spectators. Nearly wordless (excepting the race start and the final moral), this story will please Pinkney’s many fans.
Uh-Oh! By Shutta Crum. Illus. by Patrice Barton. 2015. Knopf, $16.99 (9780385752688). PreS–K.
Two toddlers are off to the beach with their mothers for a day of small adventures. Whether they are collecting shells or getting caught in a rogue wave, their day is exciting and enjoyable. See Crum’s previous picture book, Mine (2011).
Spot. By David Wiesner. 2015. HMH, $4.99. PreS–Gr. 2.
This wordless, nonlinear storytelling app allows readers to explore five interconnected, fantastic worlds by pinching and zooming through a variety of hotspots on the screen. Named an AASL Best App For Teaching and Learning of 2015, Spot is available for iPads through iTunes, see here.
Silent Books: Final Destination Lampedusa.
In this exhibit by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), wordless picture books from around the world can be enjoyed by children speaking any language. Comprised of more than 100 titles, the exhibit has now become the nucleus of a library for Italian and refugee children. For a list of titles, see the catalog and honor list, here.
Wonderfully Wordless: The 500 Most Recommended Graphic Novels and Picture Books. By William Patrick Martin. 2015. illus. Rowman & Littlefield, $38 (9781442254770).
This list is an excellent resource for those looking to establish or update a collection of wordless picture books. All titles are annotated and categorized, and 24 noted wordless-book artists are spotlighted.
Common Core Connections: Wordless Books
The activities below will encourage students to think more carefully about the wordless stories they read. Activities are geared for first grade but can be adapted for older or younger audiences as well. Learn more about the Common Core State Standards at www.corestandards.com.
In the Classroom: “Read” The Farmer and the Clown by showing the pictures and asking questions that prompt listeners to notice details: Who is the man in the story? How does the baby clown get left behind? What do you think might happen next? On the second reading of the book, allow students to take turns narrating the story. Finally, as a writing assignment, draw one scene from the story and create a sentence that explains what is happening.
Common Core Connections
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.1.1. Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.1.2. Retell stories, including key details, and demonstrate understanding of their central message or lesson.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.1.7. Use illustrations and details in a story to describe its characters, setting, or events.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.1.2. Ask and answer questions about key details in a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.1.2. Write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic, and provide some sense of closure.
In the Classroom: “Read” Mr. Wuffles! in the manner described above, asking questions to prompt listeners to notice details in the art. Make sure to begin with the spread before the title page. On the first reading, point out the panels that signal a graphic format. What is the conventional order for reading these panels? What do speech balloons signify? How do the speech balloons for the ants and the aliens differ? On the second reading, look for clues that that can help explain this story’s mysteries. Who is telling the story? What do the toys have in common that is missing from the alien ship? Is it possible to decipher any of the alien speech? Finally, examine Wiesner’s iPad app, Spot, and note the visual elements in this app that are also found in Mr. Wuffles! Discuss the differences between this app and Wiesner’s book. Although the book has one “right” way to read the story, the app can be navigated by way of different paths, thus creating multiple narratives.
In the Classroom: “Read” Sidewalk Flowers by asking questions to prompt for details. Where does the story take place? Why does the girl begin collecting flowers? To whom does she give blooms? How does the world around her change once she begins gifting plants? On the second reading, point out that this wordless book has both an author and an illustrator. Discuss the jobs of author and illustrator. Who is responsible for what parts of the book? What was Lawson’s probable contribution to this story? Wordless picture books are unique in that speakers of any language can enjoy them, regardless of their ability to read. On a third reading, allow students to retell the story using English or other languages they speak. If time permits, create a bilingual or multilingual narration for this story, using either a tape recorder or computer recording device.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.1.6. Distinguish between information provided by pictures or other illustrations and information provided by the words in the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.1.3. Describe characters, settings, and major events in a story using key details.
Kay Weisman, a former school librarian, reviews for Booklist and works as a youth services librarian at West Vancouver (BC) Memorial Library.
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