The Power of Pictures

By Deborah Hirsch, Book Harvest Volunteer

At my house, one of our favorite genres of books is wordless picture books.  Wordless picture books tell a story entirely in pictures, much like graphic novels, but without the speech bubbles.  One of the reasons my kids like them so much is that we can make up our own story and change it whenever the mood strikes.  There’s no “right or wrong” with these books!

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I’m sure many of you have read The Snowman, that wintertime classic by Raymond Briggs, which tell the story of a little boy whose snowman comes alive in his dreams. This book is a seasonal must-read.  I am going to share a few of our other favorites with you; please leave a comment if you have any you’d like to suggest!

Our favorite by far is theAdventures of Polo series by Régis Faller. The comic-like panels portray a charming little dog who goes on magnificent adventures.  Whether travelling by boat-turned-airplane, submarine, or cloud, he always seems to have just what he needs in is nifty backpack.  Polo shows marvelous ingenuity as he encounters everything from hungry polar bears to volcanoes spewing hot, flowing lava.  In a scene reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’ Go Dog, Go, he jams with the monkeys in their treehouse until flying off in a DIY hot-air balloon. These books are pure whimsy.

Mitsumasa Anno’sAnno’s Counting Bookdefies an easy description, because it’s not just about counting.  The title might lead you to believe that it’s straight-up non-fiction, but look again!  This book takes us on a journey (starting with the “zero” of a barren hillside under a winter sky) through the construction of a town in one year. We start with one tree, one bird, one bridge. The seasons advance as the town grows, and so do the activities of the people who live there.  The numbers progress through 12, which is shown as a fully built village celebrating Christmas. The gentle watercolors are beautifully detailed, yet simple enough to allow easy counting.

You Can’t Take a Balloon into the National Gallery, by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman, is a zany adventure of a grandmother and her two grandchildren. Before entering the museum, the granddaughter leaves her prized red balloon in the care of a street artist, but of course things don’t go as planned.  The balloon goes on its own journey, offering an opportunity to compare the similarities between the famous monuments on the National Mall with the artwork in the museum.  The growing parade of people trying to recapture the balloon will give you plenty of laughs, and when you’re ready, you can talk about the artwork (helpfully cataloged in the back of the book).  Balloon and child are finally reunited thanks to the intervention of the presidential limo.

Wordless picture books can be a little daunting at first if you don’t feel confident about your storytelling powers or ability to improvise.  With a young child, you can start by simply labeling the pictures and pointing to familiar objects.  As you become more comfortable, you can begin interpreting the pictures for your child.  The trick is to let yourself tell the story without judging the words that you use.  Your child is certainly not going to criticize your word choice!  All the clues you need are on the page for you, because in order to clearly tell the story, the pictures have to be really clear and sequential. Your child can even take an active part in the storytelling! 

I hope this mini-roundup of wordless picture books inspires you to explore this kind of storytelling experience.  Let a wordless picture book spark your imagination!