I sometimes see a particular kind of picture book described as a “quiet book.” I think perhaps that phrase has different meanings for different people but that, generally speaking, a quiet book is one that leaves the reader room for contemplation. Perhaps it can also mean a book with inherent ambiguities in part or in full, a book that asks more questions than it provides answers.
My four year old was gifted the book ‘Journey’ by Aaron Becker and according to the New York Times it is a ‘masterwork’. The only caveat, there is no text. But don’t quiver just yet. The strong visual narrative makes it so easy to tell the story of this girl and her adventure, the reader will surprise himself. The beauty of a wordless wonder like Becker’s is that there are a myriad of possibilities predominately spurred by the storyteller’s creativity!
According an article by Samantha Brown for the Tiny Owl Publication, Art is a universal language and the illustrations in wordless picture books unite readers in a way that language-based books just can’t. Since the illustrations do all the talking this makes the story accessible to all readers, irrespective of age or gender and the possibilities for imagination are infinite.
Using picture clues is an important comprehension strategy as it increases children’s vocabulary by encouraging them to use language that they would otherwise not use. In David Wiesner’s Flotsam, a bright and curious boy discovers a strange camera and through it, takes the reader on an underwater adventure. As my daughter and I immersed ourselves in this little treasure, she learned new words like barnacle and ashore. She thoroughly enjoys re-telling different versions of the tale to her pretend toys.
Silent books give an early reader a break from decoding the syntax and allow them more space to explore the story itself. Tomie de Paola’s ‘Pancakes for Breakfast’, is the perfect book for an emergent reader who needs a break from all that reading! It is set on frothy winter morning when an old lady living on a farm decides she wants to have pancakes. It is a simple tale, but there’s room to play around with interesting words. The reader is left to his own devices to select how many components he would like to add to the mix and in this regard the story can be as simplistic or as detailed as the storyteller decides.
As Walter Fochesato, one of the leading scholars in children’s literature, points out words that there to help you understand, but they are not necessary. He goes on to state that it is surprising that there is underestimation and prejudice for wordless books. Consequently, the idiom, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ certainly holds true for wordless books. In some cases, words can be limiting, giving the reader a prescribed pattern to follow. Alternatively, visual narratives make room for everyone to tell their version of the story and that’s what makes them so precious.