Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

Many parents are surprised to discover wordless picture books. After all, aren’t the words the point? And, indeed, it is important to expose your child to plenty of words and letters (including using books to draw kids’ attention to print).

But pictures-only storybooks also have their own unique benefits, from sparking imagination and encouraging interaction to allowing near-readers to focus on a story without worrying about text. They give early or struggling readers the opportunity to enjoy books independently without the pressure of decoding. Including them as a part of your collection lets your child luxuriate in the joy of story.

Plus, imagining a story together from pictures also naturally promotes an interactive story time, which is tremendously beneficial for kids (and, incidentally, for parents). For best effect, alternate narrating wordless books to your child and inviting them to tell their own versions. Want some help getting started? This guided reading activity demonstrates how to use wordless picture books with your child.

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

Pinkney won the Caldecott Medal and for his presentation of this Aesop fable, which was named a Boston Globe-Horn Honor Book. As a teacher, I most often use Jerry Pinkney’s wordless books. He takes well-known fables and removes the text, letting his rich illustrations tell the story on their own. The Lion and the Mouse is my personal favorite, because of the wonderful emotions played out on the faces of the characters. (For more on the work of Jerry Pinkney, check out our blog post on 13 favorite Jerry Pinkey books.)


Bear and Wolf by Dan Salmieri

Step into a beautiful winter wonderland and the beginning of a silent and simple friendship. This story is by Dan Salmieri, the illustrator of the beloved book Dragons Love Tacos, but it’s a departure from the bright and silly illustrations that made the artist famous. In this picture book, a friendship blossoms one winter day between, you guessed it, a bear and a wolf. And in a sweet ending, the friendship returns with the beginning of spring.


Flotsam by David Wiesner

Well known for his wordless picture books, David Weisner does not disappoint with this Caldecott-winning beach-day story. It portrays a young boy at the beach who stumbles across a roll of film. Once developed, it turns the day into an exploration of history, magical underwater life, and excitement. Your child will love the lush illustrations and sense of wonder they’ll find within the pages. (Though you may have to explain what a roll of film is.)


Wallpaper by Thao Lam

This volume is an enchanting wonder. In it, a shy young girl discovers a world within the layers of wallpaper in her bedroom. She romps through jungles, ponds, cloudscapes, and a flock of sheep! While on her wallpaper adventure, she learns how to make friends by simply taking the brave step of saying “hello” to someone new. This book is imaginative, colorful, and filled with social-emotional learning skills.


Another by Christian Robinson

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to meet an alternative-universe version of yourself? Or of your pet? Well, that’s just what happens in Another. A little girl explores another world, where she meets different versions of her cat and of herself. In addition to the great, colorful cues throughout the pages, the illustrations encourage readers to turn and flip them, making the book an interactive delight.


Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle

Flora loves flamingos. She likes their pink feathers, their elegant moves, and their big webbed feet. So she decides to dress in swim gear to look like one—and then follow a real flamingo around to imitate its motions. Originally annoyed, the flamingo eventually joins Flora and shares the fun with a fabulous flamingo ballet. Pretty and pink, this book is a likely bet for any little animal lovers or dance lovers in your life.


The Red Book by Barbara Lehman

Have you ever loved a book so much that you wanted to dive right into its pages? Well, in the story of The Red Book, that dream comes true. Two children on opposite sides of the world are connected by a single book (red, of course). Their ability to see one another in the book’s pages leads one child from the wintery streets of a big city to the warm beaches of an island, through a most unusual means of travel.


Chalk by Bill Thomson

Do you have a kiddo that loves to draw? If so, this picture book is one to check out. Three friends take their sidewalk chalk out one rainy day to create pictures on the playground tarmac. Imagine their surprise when they discover that everything they draw comes to life. Enjoy the imaginative illustrations and the pure glee of the story’s chalk magic—but remember to be careful what you draw!


Pool by JiHyeon Lee

Going for a swim has never been this fun. Two children show up at the pool, ready for a delightful dip, only to find it overcrowded with other people and their floats. But, then, the two of them dive underneath the crowd … and discover a beautiful sea all their own. They explore a world of coral, fish, whales, and other creatures of the deep. Perhaps it’s only their imagination, but perhaps it’s something even more. A lovely volume to spark creativity and conversation.


Imagine! by Raúl Colón

What is it like to experience art for the first time? Illustrator Raúl Colón channels his first experiences visiting an art museum into this captivating wordless picture book. A boy visits the Museum of Modern Art and, to his delight, paintings by Picasso, Rousseau, and Matisse come alive. For one whimsical day, the boy and the paintings adventure throughout New York City, riding roller coasters, dancing, and enjoying hot dogs in the park. This experience then inspires the boy to create art of his own. Perhaps it will inspire you and your child too!


Truck by Donald Crews

While not completely wordless, Truck is a book without the text of a story or dialogue. Instead, it focuses on functional literacy, which means learning how to read common words found in everyday life. In the case of this Caldecott-winner, it’s street signs! As they follow a large semi-truck driving through the city, your child will encounter stop signs, street signs, directions, and other examples of everyday literacy embedded in the illustrations. It’s also available in board-book form, making it a winner for kids of all ages.


The Arrival by Shaun Tan

A hauntingly beautiful story told through black-and-white illustrations, The Arrival is a tale about what it means to leave your home and immigrate to somewhere new. Australian filmmaker Shaun Tan explores loss, isolation, hope, adventure, and memory in this touching book. It really lets kids create a complex story examining separation from family—a theme children often think about when adults in their lives move, go on trips without them, or even just go to work for the day. Plus, there’s a touch of imagination and magic in this book, and what kid doesn’t love that?


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