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 Colin West, Nadia Ali and Lisa Davis.
- Find previous responses to our question here, here, here and here.
- Watch Elizabeth Laird’s interview.
No language barrier, no age barrier, no vocabulary
I guess a really creative person would answer the question with an illustration, but not being that clever, I’ll have to rely on words… Apart from the obvious – no language barrier, so such a book is truly universal – a wordless book has a touch of sophistication which will appeal to all ages. So no age barrier either. There is no vocabulary that may be considered babyish. An older child or adult may therefore enjoy the book on equal terms with someone who hasn’t yet mastered words. A bit like how I love music without being able to play an instrument, or even tell whether a note is flat or sharp.
*Colin West is the author of more than sixty children’s books, and plans to continue until he runs out of ideas.
Wordless picture books are becoming increasingly popular because the concept is that the pictures advocate a story, but exactly what that story is can only be determined by the reader’s imagination and interpretation. So, words are spoken as opposed to being read, this brings about interaction which builds bonds, bridges and the beginning of an outstanding story time.
*Nadia Ali is a Freelance Writer whose work has been published both on the internet and in print. She has worked in the niche of travel, pets, lifestyle and is a creative greeting card writer.
There’s so much more to communication than the ability to read!
It’s important first to point out that scientifically, humans can process pictures faster than we can process text. And after so many years of people assuming pictures age down a book, we’re recognising that not only do they add to a story, but we can get the same depth and enjoyability purely from images as we can from words.
Wordless picture books have been more popular in the US than the UK in recent years, although they are gaining ground here. One of the biggest usages I’ve seen of wordless picture books is in developing oral and comprehension skills.
We often focus on developing literacy to the point that we forget there’s so much more to communication than the ability to read. Wordless picture books can inspire imagination and creativity by allowing a reader to develop their ability to tell stories as well as practice oracy skills. While the arc of a story might be set by the illustrations, everyone will have different words to get from beginning to end. The thought put into comprehending a wordless picture book is also helping a reader develop an understanding for story structures.
Putting aside the skills you actually develop when using wordless picture books, there’s also the universality of them, as there’s no language barrier. Pictures do speak a thousand words – and they speak them in every language that exists (even made up ones)!
I could wax on about the brilliance of wordless picture books, but I do say all this with one caveat: wordless picture books can often be quite high-concept due to possessing a certain level of sophistication and requiring a reader to have a certain level of comprehension. They do require a certain level of storytelling confidence when sharing, which can be a barrier for some readers, and younger readers are likely to need a bit of assistance to get the most from the books. But that can equally be seen as an ideal opportunity for bonding.
*Lisa Davis is Book Purchasing Manager at BookTrust, the UK’s largest reading charity, which sends books, resources and support to children nationwide to help develop a love of reading.
Visit our bookstore
Limited edition prints
Subscribe to Tiny Owl on YouTube