A Ball for Daisy, Chris Raschka, Caldecott

Top 10: Wordless Picture Books

Best Children’s Picture Books Without Words

It seems only fitting that a wordless picture book get the briefest of introductions. I didn’t really “get” wordless picture books when my kids were very young and learning to read. I thought that words WERE necessary to tell a story. And that the point of words in a picture book is to teach kids to read.  But now I am among the converted. Wordless picture books teach kids to use their imaginations.

Some of these amazing illustrator storytellers simply don’t need words at all to tell a fantastical story. David Weisner comes to mind immediately. For other wordless books, we have had fun putting words to the pictures, sometimes even writing in the book to preserve my child’s story.

One thing that doesn’t surprise me: this format wins Caldecotts big time!

How about you? What is your favorite wordless picture book and how do you use them? Please leave a comment to win A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka.  You can win extra chances by Pinning onto Pinterest, Liking my Facebook page, suggesting to Stumble Upon, and Tweeting. Leave a comment for each thing that you do. It’s easy if you use the social media buttons at the bottom of the post.

p.s. Imagination Soup has a great post on Wordless Picture Books with literacy activities.

10. Tuesday by David Weisner

A Caldecott classic celebrating twenty years in print.

David Wiesner received the 1991 Caldecott Medal for Tuesday. In the years that followed, he went on to receive two more Caldecotts, and Tuesday went on to sell half a million copies in the United States and to be published in a dozen foreign countries. The whimsical account of a Tuesday when frogs were airborne on their lily pads will continue to enchant readers of all ages.

This was our first David Weisner picture book and boy did it blow us away. His imagination is unparalleled and his artistic skills are truly amazing. If he wins another Caldecott, he will have set the record for most wins ever in the history of the award. I thought his last book deserved to win, Art and Max, but I think the bar is higher when you’ve won so many times. The ending to Tuesday makes you want more, much more. Perhaps this is why we have such a large David Weisner collection at home!

9. Chalk by Bill Thomson 

A rainy day. Three kids in a park. A dinosaur spring rider. A bag of chalk. The kids begin to draw. . . and then . . . magic! The children draw the sun, butterflies, and a dinosaur that amazingly come to life. Children will never feel the same about the playground after they experience this astounding wordless picture book and the power of the imagination. Bill Thomson embraced traditional painting techniques and meticulously painted each illustration by hand, using acrylic paint and colored pencils.

8. Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathman

“Good night, Gorilla,” says the zookeeper. But mischievous Gorilla isn’t quite ready to go to sleep. He’d rather follow the zookeeper on his rounds and let all of the other animals out of their cages. Little night owls can sneak along with Gorilla and see who gets the last laugh in this riotous goodnight romp. Practically wordless yet full of expressive art and hilarious, adorable detail, this book is sure to become a beloved part of children’s own bedtime rituals. “In a book economical in text and simple in illustrations, the many amusing, small details, as well as the tranquil tome of the story, make this an outstanding picture book.” —The Horn Book

Nearly wordless, but too precious to leave out! Did you spot the red balloon and the banana on every page? The hidden things are hard to find! Simply a delightful book that every toddler should own.

7. Anno’s Mysterious Multiplying Jar by Mitsumasa Anno

“Superbly demonstrating the conception of factorials in mathematics, the text and pictures combine to present a lesson in a palatable form as well as the pleasure of looking at pictures that only Mitsumasa Anno could invent.” — Publishers Weekly 

Anno’s picture book have a sophistication that adults can appreciate. It was on a reading list for my oldest a few years ago, so I checked it out of the library. I like how it illustrates a mathematical concept in a visual way.

6.  The Red Book by Barbara Lehman

This book is about a book. A magical red book without any words. When you turn the pages you’ll experience a new kind of adventure through the power of story.

In illustrations of rare detail and surprise, The Red Book crosses oceans and continents to deliver one girl into a new world of possibility, where a friend she’s never met is waiting. And as with the best of books, at the conclusion of the story, the journey is not over.

There is magic in this teleporting Red Book that reminds me of Flotsam.

5. Wonder Bear by Tao Nyeu

Two kids plant mysterious seeds (all that’s pictured on the envelope is a blue top hat), and up grows a remarkable flowering vine, out of which emerges an even more remarkable big white bear. On his head is the top hat?a hat that allows him to work all kinds of magic that day. He pulls monkey after monkey from the hat, blows bubbles in amazing shapes, and transforms flowers into spectacular floating sea creatures.

The two kids are wide-eyed with wonder, and you will be too. This is a dazzling debut?a vibrant, welcoming, strikingly original picture book.

4. Wave by Suzy Lee

In this evocative wordless book, internationally acclaimed artist Suzy Lee tells the story of a little girl’s day at the beach. Stunning in their simplicity, Lee’s illustrations, in just two shades of watercolor, create a vibrant story full of joy and laughter.

New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book 2008

If there was ever a zen-like wordless picture book, this would be it.

This is the story PickyKidPix wrote when she was around 5:

Wave by Suzy Lee and PickyKidPix

There was a little girl who was at the beach.

She did not like the water.

She tried to scare the water away.

Then she sat down and stared at the water. Soon a wave came to her.

Then she got soaked and she was very mad at the water.

She said, “I like the water,” and she walked towards the water and …

She splashed in the water.

She liked it so much.

But, another wave came and she ran away.

She ran away so quickly.

She stuck her tongue out.

And she got soaked.

She found a starfish and a seashell.

She liked them so much she kept them.

She felt the water.

She said good-bye to the water and she went home.

The End

3. A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka

Here’s a story about love and loss as only Chris Rashcka can tell it.  Any child who has ever had a beloved toy break will relate to Daisy’s anguish when her favorite ball is destroyed by a bigger dog. In the tradition of his nearly wordless picture book Yo! Yes?, Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka explores in pictures the joy and sadness that having a special toy can bring.  Raschka’s signature swirling, impressionistic illustrations and his affectionate story will particularly appeal to young dog lovers and teachers and parents who have children dealing with the loss of something special.

There is a child-like simplicity to this wordless picture book. Daisy and the other dogs are depicted with great expression and movement but the humans are shown only from the waist down and in a watercolor stick figure like way. This is clearly a story about a dog and her ball.

2. The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pickney

In award-winning artist Jerry Pinkney’s wordless adaptation of one of Aesop’s most beloved fables, an unlikely pair learn that no act of kindness is ever wasted. After a ferocious lion spares a cowering mouse that he’d planned to eat, the mouse later comes to his rescue, freeing him from a poacher’s trap. With vivid depictions of the landscape of the African Serengeti and expressively-drawn characters, Pinkney makes this a truly special retelling, and his stunning pictures speak volumes.
I am also a watercolor artist and it the glazing that Pickney does on each image that makes me swoon. It’s so technically difficult to get that many layers of color so transparent and loose — he paints with a brush that is pretty wet with color — without making errors that result in a muddy mess. His colors are, instead, luminous and richly layered such that the lion looks positively life-like. I like the fable too, but his paintings are like admiring a Michelangelo. He’s truly a master.

1. Flotsam by David Weisner

A bright, science-minded boy goes to the beach equipped to collect and examine flotsam–anything floating that has been washed ashore. Bottles, lost toys, small objects of every description are among his usual finds. But there’s no way he could have prepared for one particular discovery: a barnacle-encrusted underwater camera, with its own secrets to share . . . and to keep. In each of his amazing picture books, David Wiesner has revealed the magical possibilities of some ordinary thing or happening–a frog on a lily pad, a trip to the Empire State Building, a well-known nursery tale. This time, a day at the beach is the springboard into a wildly imaginative exploration of the mysteries of the deep, and of the qualities that enable us to witness these wonders and delight in them.
My 12-year-old still enjoys this book, and indeed, I do too. It’s magical and dares us all to dream of possibilities that we might decide are implausible. An old fashioned camera washes up on shore and the images on the camera can be viewed like a time capsule … only more exciting and improbable.

To view any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

Congrats to Maria. She won the picture book!


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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom

21 Comments

  1. Ann

    I have to be honest. I can’t stand them!!! Okay, it’s not that I can’t stand them, it’s just that they require too much thought on how to “read”. But of course since I love picture book illustration I have “read” most of these and do especially like Wave.

    I REALLY like the idea of having kids write the words for the book!!! I am really tempted to buy Wave now and have my daughter do that!
    Ann recently posted…And the Flowers and the TreesMy Profile

  2. Maria Gianferrari

    My daughter, Anya, now 10, is a great reader, but we still love reading picture books (fiction & non-fiction & poetry) as well as wordless books together. I love “A Ball for Daisy” since I’m a dog lover too.

    One of her favorite wordless picture books (if you can call it that) is Shaun Tan’s “The Arrival.” The pictures are sequential, somewhat nostalgic due to their sepia tones, yet they are also quite fanciful and full of whimsy and longing. It’s a touching story.

  3. There are so many great wordless picture books out there (and you’ve listed most of them)- I don’t know if I can pick a favorite. I think I’ll have to go with Chalk- I love the illustrations and the story and the imagination. Love it!

  4. Argh! You always make me want to drop a few hundred dollars on books. These look great- I love Goodnight Gorilla sooooo much. Sometimes I read it to little B as is, and sometimes I’ll add in my own words or sound effects. It’s hard to not throw in those sound effects when you read wordless books.
    Artchoo recently posted…Kids Learn Installation Art-Patrick DoughertyMy Profile

    • Hi Artchoo!
      No, please go to the library instead of dropping big $$. Or do a book swap with a friend or group of mom friends. Or win a book. You are entered to win this book by the way (A Ball for Daisy).

  5. vanita

    great list! i absolutely love Goodnight Gorilla. younger teen still has her copy and says she’s keeping it for her littlest sister
    vanita recently posted…WordPress Blog Theme GiveawayMy Profile

  6. Nice to meet you. Great list!
    My kids love Flotsam. I actually think it takes longer to read a wordless book because there is so much going on it the detailed illustrations. Must read the others books on the list.

    I have Liked your page, retweeted, and shared this wonderful post on my FB page.

    • Hi Darshana,
      Thank you so much for your comment and for promoting it! I really appreciate it. And I agree, now that I figured out what to do with a wordless picture book, it DOES take longer to read and it’s wonderful to spark the imagination!

  7. Lara

    CLOWN by Quentin Blake is another very special wordless picture book. My children and I discover something new each time we “read” it together.

    • Hi Lara,
      Oh, I love Quentin Blake’s illustrations. Didn’t he do a lot of Roald Dahl books? I didn’t know about Clown and I’m excited to find it. Thank you for the book recommendation!!!

  8. We LOVE wordless books in our house. Our oldest is 3.5 and they are books we constantly go back to. We don’t own many of them, but they’re very frequently checked out of the library.
    Ashlee recently posted…Rotating ToysMy Profile

  9. Sandy

    My son (8) discovered ‘wordless’ books before I did. Childhood imagination is so big and magical… I didn’t like them before, but now I love them!

    • Hi Sandy,
      I didn’t discover them until recently. I don’t think Wordless Picture books existed when I was a kid, and somehow they escaped me when my oldest, now 13, was little. I do love them too (after I figured out how to “read” them with my kids).
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Best Bedtime Books to Read AloudMy Profile

  10. Lisalee

    Looking forward to reading your list. I am a kindergarten teacher and I use wordless books to get kiddos talking and noticing what authors do. We transfer our thinking to Writers Workshop because in the beginning illustrating is one of their first skills. I also love Alexandria Day’s books about the dog, Carl.

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