Top Ten Wordless Picture Books by Kristen Remenar

If you want your kids to be good readers, why share wordless picture books? Isn’t reading all about letters and words?

Not exactly.

Reading is: to inspect and apprehend the meaning of writing or other signs or characters. (Thanks,!) So, reading a book means gaining meaning from words and from pictures.  Here are some key reading skills kids build when they read wordless books:

  1. Comprehension
  2. Print concepts (in English, we read top to bottom, left to right)
  3. Sequencing
  4. Inferring
  5. Predicting
  6. Vocabulary

How can a wordless book build a child’s vocabulary? Research led by professors Sandra Gilliam, Ph. D. and Lisa Boyce, Ph. D. from the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services at Utah State University showed that mothers used more complex language when sharing a wordless book with their children than they did when they made comments while reading a book with words. (Utah State University Study Shows Parents Are More Engaged With Their Children When Reading Books Without Text June 07, 2011, retrieved June 15, 2012)

And of course, the most important reason to share wordless books is because they draw us into a world where even those who struggle with letter recognition can successfully read a fantastic story.  Here are my top 10 favorites:

Chalk by Bill Thomson

Thomson’s photorealistic art always amazes me. Three children find a bag of chalk on the playground. When they start to draw, their pictures come to life! When one child draws a dinosaur, some creative thinking must be used to save the day.

The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

This book won the Caldecott medal, with good reason. It is a gorgeous “retelling” of Aesop’s fable where a mighty lion spares a mouse that later comes to his rescue. The message that all can make a difference, from the smallest to the mightiest, comes through beautifully.

Robot Dreams by Sara Varon

Wordless books aren’t exclusively for “little kids”. This graphic novel about a dog and a robot is over 200 pages and deals with themes of friendship, loss, and forgiveness. Upper elementary and middle school kids will pore over this one.

Flotsam by David Wiesner

Wiesner has several wordless books, but this is my favorite. A boy develops film from a camera that washed ashore and finds incredible photos, including one that connects him with all the other children who’ve ever found the camera.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan’s work is the ultimate proof that a wordless book can tell a gorgeously complex story. (Plus, if a picture is worth 1,000 words, then this 128-page book is an epic.) It is a beautiful, surreal take on the immigrant’s experience, and the wordless format tells this story of finding one’s way perfectly.

Home by Jeannie Baker

Using incredibly detailed collages, Baker shows us the power a community can have to transform a neighborhood within one generation. All the action is seen through one window, which makes it so fun to flip the pages back and forth to see which details have changed.

The Red Book by Barbara Lehman

In this red book, a girl finds a red book in the snowy city. In the book, she sees a boy sitting on a beach reading a red book about a girl who finds a red book in a snowy city. She’s the girl in the book that she’s reading about in the book she’s reading! The two characters can see each other and find a way to meet. Of course in the end, you see a character who finds a red book who seems to be looking at you, the reader.

The Adventures of Polo by Regis Faller

This is the first in a series of wordless books about Polo, an adventure-loving dog.  The pictures are large and clear, so even younger readers can follow along easily as Polo travels by boat, by cloud, by bubble, and by spaceship.

Zoom by Istvan Banyai

With each turn of the page, we are zooming out to see the larger whole of which the previous picture is a part. The farmyard on one page turns out to be a toy farmyard played with by a girl which is actually the cover of a magazine being held by a person who is on a cruise ship that is part of an advertisement on the side of a bus. It’s as if we’ve looked through an incredibly powerful microscope and we are zooming back out page by page. Super cool.

Shadow by Suzy Lee

Shadows take shape in a little girl’s mind and creating this whole “Where the Wild Things Are”-like world. I love the long, skinny shape of this book and the organization of the spreads, with the left-hand page showing the girl in her garage and the right-hand page reflecting the shadow world.

Wordless books are invitations to delve into depths beyond words. They are for beginning readers, advanced readers, new-to-English readers, visual readers, young readers, expert readers….well, I’m sure you get the picture!

Kristen Remenar is a children’s librarian and a national speaker on literacy for the Bureau of Education & Research. You can find her book recommendations on ReaderKidZ, or

She is over-the-moon happy to announce that her first picture book will be published by Charlesbridge in 2015. It’s called To See or Not To See and it’s about Groundhog’s dilemma on February 2. She is lucky enough to be married to the very talented author/illustrator Matt Faulkner