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 Karin Celestine, Sue McGonigle, Cas Lester, Christine Kidney.
Stay tuned for more thoughts soon!
- Find previous responses to our question here
Anyone of any age or language or literacy skills can read a wordless book!
I do stop motion animations that are silent and the pictures tell the story in a similar way to wordless picture books. What I love about them is that people read the story in so many different ways, the pictures speak to them and tell the story that they see which is sometimes different to the one you might have intended. 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. Picture books are also very inclusive. Anyone of any age or language or literacy skills can read a wordless book and I admire authors with the skill to write such a book too, so very difficult writing a book without words! I am also a huge fan of illustration and love picture books and sometimes I don’t even notice there aren’t any words till quite far in, I am so engrossed in the story.
*Karin Celestine is writer of creatures and felter of tales.
we read pictures as well as words!
One of the reasons for the increased popularity of wordless picturebooks is the development of a broader view of what reading is, what can be read and what it means to be literate in the 21st century. It is now widely recognised that we read pictures as well as words and that illustrations can communicate ideas and tell stories very powerfully.
The success of sophisticated picturebook makers such as Shaun Tan has shown that picturebooks can excite, engage and challenge adult readers in their complexity and the themes they explore, refuting the view that picturebooks are only for the very young to be seen as a ‘stepping stone’ to traditional reading material.
Tan’s masterpiece The Arrival demonstrates how a wordless picturebook can tell an important story and explore powerful themes such as the strangeness of the immigrant experience, also explored in Patti Kim’s Here I am.
Another reason for the popularity of wordless narratives has been a recognition of the potential they offer for creative exploration in the classroom through discussion and storytelling. They provide an inclusive context; children who struggle with reading and writing and children who may be new to English can all access the story and its meaning, taking part in an enjoyable, shared and thought provoking reading experience.
*Sue McGonigle is Lecturer in Primary Education at UCL Institute of Education and Co-Creator of www.lovemybooks.co.uk
What’s not to love?!
Wordless picture books – full of fabulous adventures, wild imaginings and awesome sound effects! What’s not to love?!
*Cas Lester was head of CBBC Drama Development and now she is author of different series.
They open up our imaginations and invite us right in!
As someone who has worked and grappled with the printed word for a quarter of a century, perhaps I should be nervous. But a picture book without words is such a generous thing – it opens up our imaginations and invites us right in. Each child will hatch their own idiosyncratic version of the story and we will listen, wrapt and amazed at their resourcefulness and storytelling skills. Or we might watch as they lose themselves, wordless, in the world before them. As readers of fiction we really need the gaps, the unsaid, to work our own way into a character or a situation. What better way to understand this than with a wordless, illustrated book.