Early Lit Tips: But There Are No Words

It may not seem logical, but wordless books are actually a great way to build early literacy skills. By slowly going through the book together and talking about the pictures, a child learns how a book works. Encourage your child to tell the story that they see in the illustrations, thus building narrative skills. Ask what they think will happen next. As with all early literacy experiences, it is about the interaction, reading the book together and talking about it as you go. Here are some of my favorite wordless books.

Cover of The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry PinkneyThe Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney. Little, Brown and Co. Books for Young Readers, 2009.

This book is based on the famous Aesop’s Fable of The Lion and the Mouse. The illustrations are rich in detail and absolutely beautiful. Pinkney makes a classic tale new. This book invites slow, careful reading. Read it once and you’ll understand why it won the Caldecott Medal.

Cover of A Ball For Daisy by Chris RaschkaA Ball For Daisy by Christopher Raschka. Schwartz & Wade Books, ©2011.

Another Caldecott winner, this book follows the antics of the dog Daisy as she plays with her ball and what happens when she loses it. It is easy to build a story around these illustrations. Daisy is such fun, children will love talking about what she is doing, how she is feeling, and what she might do next.

Cover of Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra DayGood Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day. Green Tiger Press, ©1985.

Carl books are true classics. Most of the books in the series are wordless, though some have minimal text. Carl the dog is left in charge as the babysitter. He and his infant charge have great adventures, all safely over by the time Mother returns from her errands. There are so many things to talk about in these books! What are they doing? Where are they going? Does that look like fun? What will happen next? Will they get caught? Of course, children know that a dog as a babysitter is not realistic. But that doesn’t mean they won’t think the idea could be fun.

The technique of reading a book from its pictures does not require a wordless picture book. Read a book together and then come back to re-tell the story from the pictures. Or let your child tell you a favorite story from the pictures. They learn that books tell stories and narratives work in certain ways.

Rhymes and Songs
In honor of the delightful dogs, Daisy and Carl, there is a dog theme to today’s rhymes.

Old Mother Hubbard
Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard
To get her poor dog a bone.
But when she got there
The cupboard was bare,
And so the poor dog had none.

That’s just the first verse. There’s a lot more! If you’re curious, the full version is available here: Old Mother Hubbard

There Was a Farmer Had a Dog
There was a farmer had a dog
And Bingo was his name-oB-I-N-G-O, B-I-N-G-O, B-I-N-G-O,
And Bingo was his name-o.

Repeat but clap once for the first letter when you spell it out: (Clap-I-N-G-O). For each verse, replace one more letter with a clap until you are clapping for all of the letters.


Draw a story
Have your child draw a picture or series of pictures for their own story. Ask them to tell you their story. You could write down the words on the bottom of each picture and put it all together to make a book. Use construction paper or heavy drawing paper for the cover. Instead of staples, punch holes along the edge and use yarn to bind the book.

Dramatic play
Use puppets, stuffed animals, or other toys to act out stories. This works best if you don’t use familiar TV or movie characters so the children’s imagination has free rein. Don’t have puppets? Cut out pictures from coloring pages and glue or tape them to craft sticks (what we used to call popsicle sticks).

For other ideas of ways to extend the story experience, check out Story Stretchers for Infants, Toddlers, and Twos by Shirley C. Raines, Karen Miller, and Leah Curry-Rood. Gryphon House, 2002.


About booksnquilts

I'm the Children's Services Coordinator for the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library in Central Virginia.
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