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 three more responses, from Jason Chapman, Lisa Sheehan and Bridget Martindale.
- Find previous responses to our question here, here, here and here.
- Watch Elizabeth Laird’s interview.
Encouraging curiosity and imagination
Wordless books are a gateway into the wonderful world of books for someone who might not feel very confident about their reading and they can be read by pretty much anyone regardless of age or nationality without what might at first seem like the obstacle of words.
Enjoyed together, wordless picture books encourage curiosity, independent thought, imagination and invite conversation. Alone, the story and pictures can be pored over time after time without words giving everything away, allowing the viewer to create their own story and continue to learn and discover.
*Jason Chapman is a children’s author and illustrator. He lives and works in Devon.
All ages can immerse themselves in the artwork
I think wordless picturebooks are becoming more popular with all ages, as the saying goes ‘one picture can tell a thousand words’ expressing much more visually than you can fit into one book. It can mean something different to each person that interprets it. For the younger readers it encourages vocabulary and discussion, allowing them to enjoy reading the pictures before they are able to actually read written text, enriching their picturebook experience from early on. Wordless pictures books often are very detailed, encouraging all ages to immerse themselves in the artwork, studying each picture far longer than in a regular picture book. The readers are allowed to construct their own story, within loose constraints given to them by the structure and format of the book itself, it becomes a fun activity, an alternative experience to traditional picture books. Wordless picturebooks can often be very clever in design and construction, artistically beautiful and be works of art in their own right, often something to treasure.
*Lisa Sheehan is a children’s illustrator.
Wordless books hold their own with the best written literature
When done well a series of pictures can tell a story with as much colour and emotion as one told through language. Stories delivered solely through pictures have an advantage for children as they give them independent access to meaning before they have mastered reading. But meaning conveyed solely through images is incredibly powerful even when one can decipher the written word. As adults we tend to come across this through cartoon strips (love Calvin and Hobbes), or moving images (who can forget the opening scenes of Disney’s Up?), but books can deliver this experience too. It might be that the popularity of wordless picture books is on the rise, or just that wordless picture books are meeting a demand that has previously been met through other mediums. Whichever is the case, when done well wordless picture books can hold their own with the best written literature.
*Bridget Martindale is part of The Bookseekers, a children’s book discovery website.
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