My mom and I ventured to the library at least once a week. It was a tiny, two story building with the children’s books and story hour hidden upstairs. These were the days before people set up workstations at small libraries. Little research was done at this one. It was, simply, a lending library.
I recall the moms shushing their children. I’d like to think that I was as difficult to settle into quietness at this tiny library as my kids are at our much larger one.
When I think back to my time at the library, I remember only one book. A book I borrowed repeatedly. A book with pictures so splendid and engaging. A book so tiny it fit in my little hand and I could proudly carry it. I knew every word.
The book, mind you, was wordless. It’s likely now out of print, but oh! The story. It was about two little mice. I believe they were having a tea party, all dressed up. Or, perhaps they were on an adventure.
A wordless book? you wonder. What’s the point? How will children ever learn the value in reading if they’re holding and cherishing a book without words?
I was reminded of this a few days ago, when my 3-year-old picked up my first grader’s copy of Captain Underwear–a story told in comics. She couldn’t read a word on the page, but she sat for at least 15 minutes reading the story aloud. Her eyes followed the panels from left to right. She turned pages correctly. She added drama, vocabulary and meaning to each image. She created a story very different from the one my son reads the words to, but loved the story just as much. Maybe more.
Wordless picture books offer opportunity to help children learn through context. They learn to look closely at the images, deciphering the illustrator’s meaning. They learn tracking cues (where the eyes search and follow through a story). They learn about character development, plot, suspense. They become summarizers. Even better, they become storytellers.
Each year when I was teaching I’d hand my students a large packet. The top of each page was images of Tomie dePaola’s Pancakes for Breakfast. The bottom half of the page was blank lines. I asked the children to put their pencils away, find a comfortable spot in the room, and read the story. Many of the kids questioned me. How could they read? Why? But after 15 minutes, they were excited about the story they read.
Next, each child brainstormed the plot, the beginning, middle and end. They created a character description. They thought of alternative endings.
Finally, they wrote their stories. Only after everyone was finished did they share with each other.
Oh, how amazed they were at the differences! They had the same pictures, but such different ideas on each page!
Through wordless books, children learn the art of storytelling and unique thoughts.
7 great wordless picture books for your home library
Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola
Tuesday by David Wiesner
The Red Book by Barbara Lehman
Chalk by Bill Thomson
Home by Jeannie Baker
Sector 7 by David Weisner
The Chicken Thief (Stories Without Words) by Beatrice Rodriguez
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