I’m always on the look-out for wordless picture books because they work so well when teaching students how to infer. There is a misconception that because there is no text, that these books are for very young readers. Such is not the case! I continue to be amazed by the sophisticated themes and how much the artists are able to capture through their illustrations. Here are a few of my recent favorites:
The Boy and the Airplane – Mark Pett A young boy is given an airplane, which he plays with happily, until it gets stuck in a tree. After many attempts to get it down, he decides to plant a tree and wait for it to grow. Time passes and we finally see the boy – who is now an old man – able to get the airplane down. After playing with it for a short while, he passes it on to another child. This touching story is one that can be appreciated at many different age levels and is open to different interpretations. I can see younger children finding the humor in the “problem solving” aspect, but see older students appreciating the various themes of patience, joys of childhood, time passing and paying it forward. The illustrations are simple, yet capture the emotions perfectly.
The Boys, by Jeff Newman, is a wonderful intergenerational story about a shy young boy, new to the neighborhood, who is reluctant to join in a baseball game at the park. With the help and encouragement of a group of “old-timers” sitting on the park bench, he eventually joins in. The story takes place over the span of a week and the days of the week are the included to indicate time passing. Newman’s retro-illustrations capture the emotions of the characters subtly and skillfully – no words are necessary. Love this book!
Bear Despair – by Gaetan Doremus is a humorous story of a bear whose teddy bear keeps getting stolen. Now if your bear kept getting stolen – what would you do? How does Bear solve this problem? He gets so MAD that he EATS all the animals (some much bigger than him!) who keep stealing his bear! The result is that Bear’s stomach keeps growing and growing and we even get to see an x-type visual of the animals inside his stomach! Now it all sounds a little bizarre – but it really is just laugh out loud funny. Once again, the talent of an artist who is able to capture emotions though his illustrations (in this case in the style of cross-hatching) is remarkable to me.
Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railway by Henry Cole is a wordless picture book about a young farm girl who discovers a runaway slave hiding in her family’s barn. She is then faced with the dilemma of what to do. Bravery, courage, truth are all components of this amazing historical picture book that would be an excellent anchor book to launch a Social Studies unit on the Underground Railway. The detailed pencil drawings are beautiful and in a style that reminded me a lot of Brian Selznick’s Hugo Cabret. A great book for questioning and inferring, as the reader needs to carefully follow the details of the illustrations to “fill in” the story. Henry Cole even adds a note at the end of the book that asks readers to “write the words and make their own story – filling in all that has been unspoken”. This is why I love wordless picture books! Because they invite readers to interact and weave their thinking through the pages! Fewer words = More THINKING!