Monday, January 25, 2010

Wordless Books

Do you pick up a wordless book and wonder how in the world you're supposed to "read" it to your child? The answer is "Any way you want to!" And the most fun part is that it can be different every time. Wordless books also build all kinds of literacy and language skills in ways conventional books cannot.

One of my first and favorite wordless books is The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. The story is so clearly told in the illustrations that you can almost feel the words. Then when my oldest was small we discovered Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day and were delighted when each new Carl book was released. Lately I found Flotsam by David Wiesner (a Caldecott book) down at MudPuddles toy store. The imagination in that book absolutely amazes me. Two children find a camera washed up on the seashore, and when the pictures are developed they see an underwater fantasy world. I could look at it for hours. I went to the author visit by Portland's own David Michael Slater last fall and enjoyed his new release The Bored Book about a couple of children whose grandfather introduces them to books that open and unfold into worlds they can experience. These are just a few, and they appeal to a wide range of ages - Carl books for the youngest and The Bored Book for the older kids.

When you "read" a wordless book to a pre-reader, you're teaching all kinds of skills. First, that a book is read from left to right and the pictures tell the story that way too. The child is learning to find meaning in the pictures and to take time to explore everything a picture has to say, which is an important skill as they learn to read and need context clues to help decipher new words.

As you point to the parts of the pictures and talk about what is happening, have fun with it. Use different voices as you would with printed dialog. Use sound effects. Make up conversations between the characters and be silly with it. Have the characters talk to your child. Ask questions such as "What do you think that turtle is going to do?" (Flotsam) "Why is Carl looking at the clock?" (Good Dog, Carl) "Which book would you pick off the shelf next?" (The Bored Book)

After you've read the book several times with your child, ask him to read it to you. Praise his efforts and encourage him to take the story in a different direction than you have in the past. I love the imagination and creativity that can come with wordless books. After all, there are no words to tell you how the story has to go. Make it up yourself!

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