Wordless picture books are a wonderful resource that teachers can use, not only to engage early learners but to expand the skills of students who have already begun to master reading. By wordless picture books I refer both to books with no words and to books with minimal words, for example just one word or phrase. Some wordless picture books are the point-and-say variety that are used often to teach words to toddlers; however, there are wordless picture books that are much more detailed. Some of these books may use themes that children are familiar with so that they can bring what they know to the book they are reading. Still other books are much more elaborate and complex. These more elaborate wordless books require that students put a lot of thought into what they believe the story is when asked what is happening because, even without a single word, a whole story is being told in the pictures. "By including a narrative which has not been made verbally explicit, wordless picture books entail the reader's more active cooperation in the process of engendering meaning."
Books without words require readers to work harder to figure out the meaning. Sometimes the meaning is quite clear; however, other times the reader may need to make meaning of somewhat cryptic images.
When an author chooses to write a book without words, he or she relies on the reader to construct a story based on the illustrations. Students who are readers have experience with narrative and draw from their own experiences and what they have learned to make sense of this mute tale. As Ana Margarida Ramos (Professor of Literature and Children's Literature at Aveiro University and a member of the Research Centre for Child Studies) explains,
The reader's participation derives from a productive dialogue with the pictures,
read both in isolation and in sequence, one after another, building up expectations
and activating semantic inferences that will either be confirmed or readjusted in
due course, as required by the subsequent pictures. The reader is also asked to
discover the underlying relationship between pictures, the events occurring in the
passage from one page to another, and the meaning implied in the selection of
colour, perspective, frame and composition.
When a book has no words, it becomes patently clear how much thought has gone into not only the images themselves, but also the placement of those images as well as the use of color. So many areas can be touched upon or delved deeply into using wordless picture books. Grasping sequence, identifying details, determining theme, making inferences and drawing conclusions are all skills that can be introduced or strengthened through the use of wordless picture books. In order to ensure that students are moving past what the pictures show them in isolation and to what story they tell, teachers may need to prompt students by asking questions such as "What are the characters doing?" "Why are they doing that?" Giving sentence starters such as "I notice" and "I wonder" may help students develop a story also.