20 Picture Books Without Words

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January 2020

Wordless picture books for children are an amazing way to help your child jump into reading.

It seems counter-intuitive that books without words will help develop your child develop essential literacy skills, but, in reality, reading wordless picture books is one of the best ways to do so. Picture books without words open a world of opportunity and capture the interest of children of all different ages, interests, and reading levels. They are engaging, exploratory, powerful, captivating, and incredibly fun. Keep reading to find out the benefits of reading wordless picture books, to learn some tools to help you tackle these great reads, and to explore some of our top picks!

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What are wordless picture books?

girl reading on bed next to stuffed animal bunny

Wordless picture books are those that tell their story entirely through illustration. As their name implies, they lack words completely. They often have complex plot lines, carry important messages, and are incredibly engaging. Picture books without words can offer a lot to young readers who engage with them.

What are the benefits for wordless picture books?

boy in green overalls reading on bed

Without words, children must pay close attention to illustrations in wordless picture books. Oftentimes, this means making observations and filling in the gaps with their own creativity or explanations. Working with wordless books helps them build a number of skills.

Encourage creativity

These books encourage creativity by asking children to draw their own assumptions about what is happening in the story. Children must infer what the illustrations convey, process its meaning, and then work through what that means for the story. A lot of times, authors leave their illustrations somewhat up to interpretation, allowing children to think creatively. In reading wordless picture books, you will likely ask your child more often what they think is happening in the story or what they think about certain components. This encourages them to really think and to come up with their own answer. This really gets their juices flowing and lets them know that coming up with your own ideas can be a really useful tool.

Strengthen observation and critical thinking skills

Because these kinds of books have only illustrations to convey the story, making observations is critical. Children must pay close attention to illustrations and notice key elements of the picture to understand what is happening in the story. Additionally, they must use their observations and think critically to put what they are seeing in context. For example, they might think about what happened on the previous page and try to connect these elements. They might also make a connection to something they’ve seen in real life to ground their observation. In these ways, wordless picture books really encourage children to pay attention to what they are seeing and to think about its importance to the rest of the book, effectively exercising their observation and critical thinking skills.

Develop language and vocabulary skills

Interestingly enough, picture books without words actually actively work to build your child’s vocabulary and language skills. In a book with words, oftentimes the text explains what a child sees in a picture. For example, if the book is talking about how a fox ran into a cave, the text itself provides a description for what is happening in the illustration. Without this text, however, a child must provide the words “fox” and “cave” themselves, strengthening their understanding of these words and exercising putting them in context. Additionally, wordless picture books can develop these skills further in encouraging children to explain the story in words themselves. Because they allow for so much creativity, your child is able to put their own spin on the story. As they attempt to explain what is going on in the picture or what they think will happen next, they are trying out vocabulary words and practicing storytelling.

Solidify understanding of story components

Oftentimes, when reading a wordless picture book, you have more conversation around the book. For example, more often, you will ask your child what they think is happening or what they notice. This can help tremendously in introducing your child to different components of story like plot, characters, setting, theme. In the conversations surrounding these wordless picture books, you are drawing upon these different components and asking your child to analyze them. For example, if you ask them what they notice about a rabbit’s home, you are asking them about setting. If you ask them what they think about the rabbit’s actions towards his friend, you might be talking about character and theme. Understanding these different components of a story, even if not by name, is critical to developing literacy.

Promote appreciation for artwork

Picture books without words are also fantastic because they promote an appreciation for art. Many of these books are incredibly illustrated, and the amount that the author/illustrator is able to convey simply with pictures is astounding. In reading these books, by nature you are going to focus a lot more on the illustrations. Your child will learn that these pictures are valuable, that they hold great power and carry great weight. They will learn to appreciate the different art forms that authors use, even if they are just mesmerized by the pictures. Too, these types of books are great for kids who enjoy art because they validate their own interests and encourage them to continue pursuing their love of artwork.

Wordless Picture Books that Convey Important Messages

pile of picture books
Fly Book Cover

Mark Teague

It’s a big day for Baby bird–Mama bird thinks he’s finally ready to leave the nest and learn to fly. Baby Bird, however, is a little scared and unsure if he’s really ready. Maybe his mother can just keep bringing him food or maybe he can migrate south in a hot air balloon or a car. This silly book carries an important message of bravery and courage as Baby bird takes a big step towards growing up.

Found Book Cover

Jeff Newman

Jenn lost her dog a while ago and still misses her. One day, however, she finds a lost dog, takes him home, and, after a bit of a rocky start, they become best friends. She is conflicted when she finds her new dog’s picture on a missing poster. She knows she cannot keep someone else’s best friend but knows it would be heartbreaking to say goodbye. Will she do the right thing or will she keep the dog she has grown to love so much?

The Lion and the Mouse Book Cover

The Lion and the Mouse
Jerry Pinkey

Based on one of Aesop’s famous tales, The Lion and the Mouse tells the story of an unlikely companionship. After a majestic lion decides to spare a mouse he had planned to eat, the mouse later returns the favor by saving the lion from a poacher’s trap. This book carries a wonderful measure about the power of small acts of kindness that will encourage your child to go out of their way for others. Its illustrations, too, are like no other, with award-winning artist Jerry Pinkey bringing each scene to life with beautiful and engaging pictures.

A Stone for Sascha Book Cover

A Stone for Sascha
Andrew Becker

This year, summer feels a little different for Sascha because she must spend it without her beloved dog, who has recently passed away. A wistful walk along the beach to gather stones, however, becomes a turning point for Sascha. At the edge of the ocean, she uncovers a profound and joyous truth. This powerful book about grief carries an important message of finding the beautiful things in life even in hard times. It encourages children to stay positive and remember that nothing is ever really gone.

Journey Book Cover

Aaron Becker

A young girl in search of friends has the power to draw anything into existence. One day, she draws a magical door onto her bedroom wall and escapes into a world of adventure. Drawing boats, balloons, and flying carpets to get her around, she goes on magnificent adventures! But what happens when she is captured by the sinister emperor with her only chance of escape being an act of tremendous courage and kindness? Find out in this wonderful tale of adventure and bravery.

The Red Book Book Cover

The Red Book
Barbara Lehman

A little girl finds a red book on her way to school and picks it up. As she flips through the pages, she see illustrations of a boy on a beach who finds a red book in the sand, opening it, and flipping through the pages. Before long, the boy and girl realize they’re looking at each other!

Rainstorm Book Cover

Barbara Lehman

Sometimes, it can be lonely in a big house on a rainy day. What is there to do? When a little boy stumbles upon a mysterious key, however, his rainy day becomes a lot more interesting. Take a trip into a magical place with a boy who’s looking for a little adventure.

Another Book Cover

Christian Robinson

 It’s bedtime for a girl and her cat as this wordless picture book opens; the cat sees a portal open in her wall, and a nearly-identical cat walks through and grabs a red toy mouse from the floor. The girl wakes up, and the two follow the new cat out through the hole.

Looking for more books about animals? Check out our list here.

Wordless Picture Books About Friendship

Baby Girl with Parents
Red Sled Book Cover

Red Sled
Lita Judge

In this wordless board book, discover what happens when a group of woodland friends discover a sled left outside in the wintertime. After a young child goes off to sleep, the woodland creatures find her sled and wonder what they can do with it. They quickly figure out how much fun they can have sliding and skating around in the snow. This whimsical tale of fun and friendship is perfect to read during wintertime.

Flora and the Flamingo Book Cover

Flora and the Flamingo
Molly Idle

Flora and the Flamingo is a quirky tale of friendship. Flora and her flamingo friend try to learn a synchronized dance together. Sometimes it’s hard, but eventually these two unlikely friends learn how to dance in perfect harmony. This wordless picture book, in addition to its great message about friendship, also comes with interactive flaps that your child will love to explore. 

Flora and the Peacocks Book Cover

Flora and the Peacocks
Molly Idle

This fascinating book features fourteen different animals that hold records. It portrays the world’s largest, slowest, longest living, strongest, fastest animals. Each record has incredible illustrations that make it easy for your child to learn even more about each animal. This book is perfect for any child that likes animals or likes to learn facts about nature.

Little Fox in the Forest Book Cover

Little Fox in the Forest
Stephanie Graegin

A little girl brings her beloved stuffed fox to the playground, only to have it stolen by a real fox in search of a new friend. The girl and her friend chase the fox into the woods but soon lose track of him. Exploring the forest, they come across a mysterious archway, which leads them to a marvelous village of woodland creatures living in tiny cottages and treehouses. Join these two children as they explore this magical world in search of a lost friend. 

Looking for more books about friendship? Check out our list here.

Wordless Picture Books about Exploration

Boy Wearing Explorer Gear
Looking Down Book Cover

Looking Down
Steve Jenkins

Explore different perspectives of our Earth and outer space in Looking Down. You and your child can imagine you’re astronauts, looking down at the Earth. What might you spot but rivers and mountains and cities and maybe even your own backyard. The textured and dynamic illustrations of this book make it the perfect way to explore how the earth might appear looking down from outer space.

Flashlight Book Cover

Lizi Boyd

Going on a camping trip, a boy discovers that there is a lot to see in the dark. It’s not so scary when you have your handy dandy flashlight. Throughout the book, the boy shines his flashlight on different woodland creatures who are out and about at night. With this incredibly creative creation style that could spark all different kinds of conversations and stories, this is one of our favorite wordless picture books. 

Flotsam Book Cover

David Wiesner

A little boy who loves science heads down to the beach to explore its flotsam–anything that has been floating on the surface of the ocean and has washed ashore. Usually he finds things like bottles and lost toys, but this time, he finds an old, underwater camera. What he finds on the camera unlocks a whole new level of imagination and exploration for the young boy. Go along the journey of him to see what the camera has to share in this beautifully illustrated book.

Museum Trip Book Cover

Museum Trip
Barbara Lehman

Museums can be all kinds of fun. They are filled with mysterious and magical relics and secrets. So what happens when a little boy becomes part of one of these exhibits. This amazing wordless picture book is incredibly creative and will take you and your family on an adventure like no other.

Time Flies Book Cover

Time Flies
Eric Rohmann

This fantastic book explores the theory that birds are the descendants of dinosaurs. When a bird gets trapped inside a museum’s dinosaur exhibit, what is it to do? This Caldecott-award winning book captures its readers with its dynamic illustrations that use color in interesting ways. This is the perfect book for any children like science and children who love to explore pictures alike.

Wordless Picture Books that Will Make You Laugh

Baby Laughing and Holding Yellow Blanket
Pancakes for Breakfast Book Cover

Pancakes for Breakfast
Tomie dePaola

One day, a little old lady decides that she would like to have pancakes for breakfast. Seems easy enough, right? Well, what happens when missing ingredients and mischievous pets get in the way of some perfect pancakes? Explore Tomi dePaola’s classic artistic style and help this little old lady make some yummy breakfast!

Oops Book Cover

Arthur Geisert

We’ve all heard the expression “don’t cry over spilled milk.” Well, one day, a pig family sits down for breakfast and one of the family members spills a little bit of milk. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, except that the milk seeps through the floor and drips down into the workshop below. The milk falls onto a tray that then tips and flips the switch on the grinder whose spinning wheel catches the clothesline which gets wound around a table saw… starting a chain reaction that began with just a little spilled milk. Maybe, this time, it’s worth a bit of panic. 

Where's Walrus? Book Cover

Where’s Walrus?
Stephen Savage

One day, a restless walrus decides to leave the zoo and go on an adventure. The zookeeper, however, is hot on his tracks, so he has to come up with all kinds of silly hats to disguise himself. Join walrus as he blends in with construction workers in his hard hat and hangs out with swimmers in a little red swimming cap. This silly book is sure to have the whole family laughing at the walrus’ crazy antics and creativity. 

How do you read a wordless picture book?

Little Girl Reading Picture Book

Narrate the action

In this approach, you narrate the pictures for your children. Be sure to engage with the illustrations as you go along, pointing to different characters or details in the pictures. This way, your child can understand your thought process, develop tools for narrating, and feel confident reading a wordless picture book the next time around. 

Ask your child questions

Ask your child to explain what is happening in the book. Explore all the illustrations, including the back cover and ask them questions like: Who is the main character? What are they doing? What is the setting like? What do you think will happen next?

Make up a story together based on the pictures

You might not take what is happening in the pictures literally and follow the story line as the author intended. Feel free to branch out and have your child make up their own story based on the illustrations. They might pay attention to a secondary character or focus on a small detail in one image and make an entire story out of it. Let them get creative!

Why are illustrations so important in children’s books?

Illustrations often support and scaffold a child’s comprehension of what is happening in a book. Pictures and illustrations can sometimes be easier to understand for emerging readers, so they might look towards a picture to help them understand what is happening in the book. Illustrations also, oftentimes, promote further engagement and excitement surrounding a book by drawing a child’s attention in and keeping them focused. 

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