Tiny Owl recently launched a campaign to celebrate the importance and beauty of wordless picture books. We wanted to investigate some intriguing questions – why are wordless picture books important? Do they fill a gap that books with words can’t fill? Are their messages more universal? Do they aid literacy? Or is it just that they’re so beautiful to look at?
We contacted experts in all kinds of areas of the book industry, from authors and illustrators to booksellers and journalists, as well as teachers and parents, to ask them for their thoughts. They were given this question:
Wordless picture books are becoming more popular with people of all ages. Why do you think this is?
Here are four more responses, from Jill Bennett, Duncan Annand, Kiran Strichly and Jane Etheridge.
Stay tuned for more thoughts soon!
Wordless books have always been part and parcel of my work as a teacher
Wordless books are so much more than merely picture books without any words.
First and foremost, they offer an all-encompassing universal visual language that can be interpreted and enjoyed by anyone no matter their age, level of development or home language.
Since their creators rely on pictures alone to convey the story they want to tell, wordless books frequently have amazing, top quality illustrations. Some offer incredibly detailed, highly sophisticated ideas that can take readers to unexpected depths of thinking and interpretation.
Other, simpler ones are wonderful for a very young child’s oral language development and are brilliant for open-ended discussions.
However, no matter their level of complexity, they encourage imagination and creativity on behalf of their audiences.
Wordless books always been part and parcel of my work as a teacher, whether those I’m working with are three and four years olds in a nursery setting, confident readers in Y6, older children and adults starting to learn English as an additional language, or established teachers on courses.
Essentially it’s all about opening your eyes and your mind to the riches of such books as Pat Hutchins’ Changes, Changes, Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick’s Owl Bat Bat Owl, Shirley Hughes’ Up and Up; Footpath Flowers (Jon Arno Lawson & Sydney Smith); Aaron Becker’s Journey, Quest, and Return trilogy or Shaun Tan’s The Arrival to name just a few of my favourites.
*Jill Bennett is a blogger and teacher.
When there are no words readers can set their own pace!
In a traditional picturebook the written word, especially if written in rhyme, usually sets the pace at which the reader reads the story, turning the page to keep the rhythm going. The pictures complement the words, sometimes taking a secondary role.
When there are no words readers can set their own pace, forming their own interpretation of what’s happening. The illustrations need to be more subtle that in the traditional formats; they carry the story. With wordless books very young children do not need an adult reader to read to them. This encourages them to set their own narrative. They can also be encouraged to “read” the story to the adult, often “seeing” things that the adult did not.
To me the highlight of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair is the stand displaying the shortlist of the “Silent Book Contest”. Here you will see ideas and illustrations of outstanding originality.
*Duncan Annand is an illustrator/author. His first book will be published by Tiny Owl next year.
Kiran Strichly (Miss K Satti):
The reader becomes the author of the story!
Picture books are important because they are inclusive – they do not expect the reader to be anything other than a reader. They are beautiful because each page is coloured with imagination.
The pictures have the power to immerse a reader into another world, enabling them to create their own dialogic space to explore, predict, infer and be a reader. What is wonderful about wordless picture books is that the reader becomes the author of the story, bestowing unique meaning. These wordless books artistically illustrate the magic of reading – interpretation. The picture invites you to frame it with your ideas, word and interpretations. How empowering!
Footpath Flowers beautifully illustrates the sophisticated power of wordless picture books. The theme of kindness is magnified by specific pictures magnifying the precious traces of beauty scattered across ordinary spaces. By building up the use of colour as the story progress, it captures the power of kindness and empathy.
Wordless picture books are imbued with quiet power that transcends time and space. They kindle creativity, illuminate imagination and capture the reader in a magical sphere where they are to free to read. Just read.
*Kiran Strichly is a teacher in Birmingham.
They can be shared by everyone
I believe that wordless picture books are growing in popularity because they can be shared by everyone regardless of age, language skills or reading ability. Sharing wordless books with children allows them to stretch themselves and develop their language skills without needing the ability to read words. Removing the words enables the reader to use their imagination to interpret the pictures in their own way and means that everyone can experience the story in different ways.
*Jane Etheridge is Chair of Federation of Children’s Book Groups.
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