How to read a book with no words

by JiHyeon Lee

A wordless picture book with quirky colored pencil illustrations, Door is a celebration of the imagination. A young boy follows a bug that catches his eye through a door and into a magical world of friendly creatures. He joins them for a picnic, attends a wedding and has a marvelous time before finally returning to his own world. The teacher part of my brain was firing on all cylinders reading this story, because there are so many opportunities on every page to talk with readers about what they think might be happening.

That’s the beauty of wordless picture books, you have to examine the pictures as clues to help you figure out the story, and they encourage so much meaningful conversation. In the land behind the door, the boy and the creatures talk to each other, but there are only made up symbols inside the speech bubbles, so the reader has to use clues from the pictures to understand what they are talking about. 

I also love using wordless picture books with young children who aren’t yet writing, because they show that stories don’t have to have words, which often comes as a pleasant surprise to little ones that might feel overwhelmed at the task of writing their own story. Kids who struggle with writing are usually more willing to write their story if they start with the pictures, especially after being exposed to a variety of wordless picture books like Door (other favorites are Goodnight Gorilla, The Red Book, Journey, and Tuesday).

You can use Door to teach the following concepts:

  • Punctuationthroughout the story, the characters “speak” to each other but the words are written as symbols that the reader has to figure out on their own. However, there is punctuation at the end of each sentence. A quick formative assessment could be asking what the characters might be saying. If your child understands what a question or exclamation mark is, that should be reflected in their ideas.
  • The Importance of Illustrations: Use this book to show that authors can tell a story WITHOUT using any words! Notice how important the details are in the pictures on each page, because they help the reader see what is happening to the main character. This is a good lesson for any elementary grade, but especially with students that might be reluctant to “write” if they struggle with handwriting or sounding out words.
  • Sequencing and Summarizing: Using the words “First,” “Next,” “Then,” and “Last” try  retelling the story in your own words. For example, “First, there was a little boy who spotted an interesting looking bug. Next, he followed the bug through a door into a magical world. Then, he became friends with a lot of different creatures and even got to join them at a wedding. Last, he said goodbye and went home.” This exercise helps readers distill the events of a story into a few key details, and also trains them to determine which events are most important to the plot.

Do you have a favorite wordless picture book? Let me know in a comment and I may feature it in a future post 🙂 

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