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 bookseller John Newman, illustrator Peter Taylor, and our very own Ken Wilson-Max.
Stay tuned for more thoughts soon!
- Find previous responses to our question here, here, here and here.
- Watch Elizabeth Laird’s interview.
A child can create their own narrative
I think the emergence of new indy publishers has been a help.
I think it also links to the upsurge in interest in graphic novels and would cite The Arrival by Shaun Tan has a key influence in this area of publishing.
There are some terrific established creators of wordless books including Jeanne Baker and David Weisner who have been highly influential, and the increased availability of quality wordless books from around the world via Gecko, Book Island etc.
There’s also the fact that a child can use their imagination to create their own narrative without being pressured to “read”.
John Newman is a bookseller at the independent Newham Bookshop in East London.
Richer discussion, broader imagination and a more satisfying experience
Wordless picture books bring a level of interaction to story time, or reading time- that time when young children and their grown ups learn more about each other by sharing their imagination. The discussion is richer, the imagination broader and the experience more satisfying because the only guides are the images, which are often much more inventive and suggestive than regular picture books. The story is still front and centre of the experience, but the way it is told is left to the reader. It’s no wonder wordless books are becoming more popular among readers and creators alike.
Children need to experience all forms of books
Elizabeth Laird rightly extolls the virtue of storytelling in multiple forms including making up stories and sharing orally, and interpreting wordless picture books together. These enhance children’s creativity. This makes me wonder, what more can we adults do to help children develop a love of books, reading and tell their own stories …as wordless picturebooks or through other forms of expression? How do we expect and allow and encourage children to react to all stories and books?
Recounted stories told amongst workmates, relatives and friends get embellished. Perhaps young children should be encouraged add to the illustrations in books: hot air balloon or birds in the sky, new characters, lift the flap… When my children were young they copied the picture of a favourite character, cut it out and made it into a stick puppet to ‘have a chat’ to a character in different book, though they could equally have used soft toys or traditional hand-puppets. Do we encourage children to tell or re-tell stories in music or in dance or as a play? Can they sing the picture book? Do they make up their own story including a character or characters from a book they have read? Some children enjoy writing and illustrating their own original stories and books, even when they’re very young. Before they have learned to write, they can draw the pictures and then tell an adult or older brother or sister what words to write for them.
After I had made up a story for my children at bedtime, we wrote it out the next day and my son illustrated it. It was interesting to compare the pictures that he drew with those that a professional illustrator imagined and created from the words when the story was edited and published years later (shown at the bottom of my blog post).
With adult help, children can enjoy creating artist’s books with special structures and shaped pages—and then make up a story to fit.
I developed a love of books as objects before a love of story. My grandparents had no children’s books but would sit me on their knee and share copies of Punch Almanacks from the 1840s (which included illustrations by Caldecott), books bound with vellum covered spines and marbled paper covers, etchings by Rowlandson and Woodward… And tiny books, hieroglyphic books, atlases and prints of 18th century interpretations of animals from far off lands that the artist had never seen in the flesh, all of which I now share in talks to children in schools.
So as an author, artist’s book maker, professional calligrapher and occasional illustrator, perhaps I’m biased, but I think children need to experience all forms of books (without necessarily being able to read them), illustration and storytelling and be encouraged to respond in their own way until words and books become such an integral part of their life that they want to bungee jump into our offerings with relish.
Peter Taylor is a calligrapher, illuminator and lettering artist, as well as an author and illustrator for children and adults. He lives in Brisbane, Australia.
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