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The Little Eli collection

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In the last six months we’ve been holding a wonderful campaign to celebrate the importance of wordless picture books. We approached experts in all aspects of children’s reading and education, from primary school teachers to university lecturers, authors to illustrators, booksellers to journalists, parents to librarians. To all we asked the same question:

Wordless picture books are becoming more popular with people of all ages. Why do you think this is?

And we had a huge variety of answers! Everyone spoke with amazing warmth on what wordless picture books meant to them and to children, and everyone had something different to add. But a few answers came up over and over again, and so we wanted to share some of the conclusions of our campaign!

Adults can (and should!) read them too

It’s not just children who can enjoy wordless books. Indeed, almost all of the adults who responded to our campaign emphasised just how much they themselves enjoyed books like The ArrivalThe Snowman and Journey.

But when it comes to finding ways to narrate the story, often children are more naturally able to improvise. Many responses pointed out that adults have more filters and inhibitions, and that wordless picture books can help to relearn this natural storytelling ability.

I think we need to be educated in how to use wordless picture books, and adults need to be allowed to have the confidence to embroider what they’re saying. The picture is there, let them use it as a starting point and create the story, create the words to go with the picture book, and not be afraid to invent!

– Elizabeth Laird

Wordless picture books inspire imaginative storytelling
Duncan Annand, illustrator of Caged

On this same point, one of the most common responses praised the creativity that wordless books inspire, by this very fact of leaving the reader to narrate their own story. Whether they’re shared in the classroom or between parent and child, storytelling becomes a uniquely free experience, and the story might never be told in the same way twice.

Wordless picture books are like a story hearth and those gathered around their glowing, shape morphing, imagination sparking light, are empowered to become new storytellers.

– Sita Brahmachari

Many education professionals and literacy experts agreed, pointing out that children who struggle with reading can enjoy a wordless book much more, as they can relax without the stress of decoding the words. They can prompt creative thinking and discussion, and help children to learn and think about different cultures and complex issues.

We often focus on developing literacy to the point that we forget there’s so much more to communication than the ability to read.

– Lisa Davis

And it isn’t just in the classroom that imagination can be a powerful tool to unlock.

It feeds the imagination which is a great thing because with imagination we can imagine things can be different, we can imagine a better world, a kinder world and that it doesn’t have to be like it is when things are not going well. Imagination is powerful and it needs encouraging.

– Karin Celestine

Children focus on the details

Some answers observed that while adults often appreciate the deep, powerful messages and emotional scope of wordless picture books, children are often more attentive to the illustrations themselves, scrutinising every corner of the pictures and admiring the smallest details that adult readers might have missed.

Laura Bellini, creator of Little Eli

Children wander through the pages looking at the details. I often watched their hands moving around to point at tiny details: the cards suits that fall over, the tiny parts of the broken pencil.

– Laura Bellini, creator of Little Eli

Works of art

There’s also the simple fact that wordless picture books are often especially beautiful! With expressive illustrations that do the work of text, they are works of art that can be treasured in their own right.

Since their creators rely on pictures alone to convey the story they want to tell, wordless books frequently have amazing, top quality illustrations.

– Jill Bennett

Without words, there are no borders
Nazli Tahvili, creator of Chalk Eagle

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, many responses pointed out that when a picture book has no words, it can be shared and enjoyed equally by speakers of any language, with any level of vocabulary, from any culture. It is an inclusive art form that transcends borders and barriers.

Any reader, regardless of what languages they may speak, can enjoy picture books, because we all learn to read pictures before we learn to read alphabets.

– Nazli Tahvili, creator of Chalk Eagle

 

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