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Discover the Power of Wordless Books

Susan Dee, The Book Maven


Wordless picture books have been around for well over 60 years. Almost every learning objective in the language arts curriculum of every grade level can be taught or enhanced using them. However, wordless books are most often associated with emergent readers, typically preschool and kindergarten aged students.


When I moved from the kindergarten classroom to fourth grade, I thought I would leave them behind but boy was I wrong! Wordless books are so flexible in their use that they can easily be used in the middle grade classroom. They enhance the creativity, vocabulary, and language development of all readers, at all stages for reading development!


Author David Wiesner commented once that one of the most valuable characteristics of the wordless book is it's "endless possibilities for creative interpretation."


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From using books to help students become more aware of monitoring their thinking while reading during Reading Workshop to using them during Writer's Workshop with students who struggle with coming up with something to write, I have found many ways to incorporate them into the middle grade classroom.


Here are just a few of my new favorite wordless books for all ages.


A Ball for Daisy by Chris Rachka

A perfect addition to any wordless book collection is the 2012 Caldecott Award winner A Ball for Daisy  (2011) by Chris Rachka. This ?sweet and creative wordless book follows the adventures of a lively dog named Daisy as she loses her treasured ball, is given a new one, and gains a friend in the process. It's a great story for younger readers who have attachment objects, and who are still learning how to make and be friends. The illustrations are simply delightful!

Leaf by Stephen Michael King


Leaf (2008) by Stephen Michael King is a delightful story about a boy who runs outside trying to escape from a pair of scissors threatening to take his long hair. When a little bird flies overhead with a seed in its mouth and accidentally drops his seed on to the young boy's head a wondrous thing happens. While the words may be absent this amusing and adventurous story is loud, bold, and a lot of fun.


A Circle of Friends by Giora Carmi


A Circle of Friends (2003) by Giora Carmi is a warm and caring story about random acts of kindness. When a young boy anonymously donates his snack to a homeless man, he begins a cycle of goodwill that reverberates and expands in a great circle of kindness. This title is distinctive in that as the story unfolds the author/illustrator uses color to spotlight the new or critical story element on each page.


The Red Book by Barbara Lehman


The 2005 Caldecott Honor book, The Red Book (2004), by Barbara Lehman is a misleadingly simple one. A girl walking through a gray winter cityscape finds the corner of a bright red book peeking out of a snowbank by the sidewalk. She rescues the item and takes it with her to school. A quick perusal of it shows that it is a story about a warm sunny island, where a boy walking along the sand also finds a red book, this time peeking out of a sandbank. As the boy on the beach reads it he sees that is a story about a city... in which a girl in her classroom is reading about him. The pictures are great, and the implied plot is engaging. The best thing, though, is all of the possible interpretations, and all of the opportunities for inferring.


The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney


In this almost entirely wordless book, Jerry Pinkney manages to convey strong emotion while keeping the animals looking 'real' as he visually tells the well known fable The Lion and the Mouse (2009). You can almost feel the Lion's mane. And there is so much to see in the background to help tell the tale. The use of onomatopoeia brings an auditory awareness that adds another dimension to the story. The illustrations are simply lovely and more than deserving of the 2010 Caldecott Medal! Pairing it with Pinkney's Aesop's Fables offers a great opportunity to compare and contrast the two versions.


Shadow by Suzy Lee

In Shadow by Suzy Lee (2010), with  a simple "click" a young girl pulls the light on in a garage and her imagination takes over. On the left side of the page are the contents of the garage, and on the right, their shadows. Lee's simple black and white pictures splashed with golden yellow accents amplify the message that imagination has no limits. Without the presence of words, readers are able to give even greater attention to the intricate details of the illustrations.


Pair with the non-fiction text What Makes a Shadow? by Clyde Robert Bulla for a fun afternoon of 'shadow' play.  Other books by Lee include Wave, Mirror, and The Zoo.


Wonder Bear by Tao Nyeu

Wonder Bear (2008) by Tao Nyeu opens with two children planting mysterious seeds from which grows a remarkable flowering vine.  At the top of this vine emerges an even more remarkable big white bear. On his head is the top hat that allows him to work all kinds of magic that day. 


This is a 'wonder'-fully imaginative illustrated wordless book in which a different story can be created with each re-reading?.

There are so many other titles I could have highlighted here such as Deep in the Forest by Brinton Turkle , The Umbrella by Dieter Schubert, Chalk by Bill Thomson and Zoom! by Istvan Banyia. 


Dust off some of your old favorites...or go searching at your local library...and begin to find the teaching power in wordless picture books in the middle grade classroom!


Do you have favorite wordless books or lessons for using them in the classroom? Share in the comments section!

Republished with author's permission. See original article on The Book Maven's Haven blog.


About the Author: Susan Dee has taught pre-school, kindergarten, and first grade and is currently a 4th/5th grade looping teacher for the Biddeford School Department in Biddeford, Maine. She also teaches literacy courses as an adjunct instructor for the University of Southern Maine's Graduate Department in Gorham, Maine.  You can follow Susan at

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