These children’s books may not have words, but their images say so much

(published in the News and Observer, July 7, 2018)


In March I met with Mary Andrews and Nancy Zeman, the founders of Family Reading Partners (FRP) to share new wordless, or near wordless books.

I’ve recommended wordless books for years. They increase imaginative opportunities, allow to feel successful and create family sharing adventure. They are crucial to the success of FRP.

Both Andrews and Zeman believe family sharing establishes life-long reading and furthers communication. Zeman exemplifies their dedication with a story about Andrews, whom she secretly nominated last year for the Toyota Family Teacher of the Year. Andrews won, and Zeman set up an event so that a Toyota representative could deliver an oversized $20,000 check to further the programs of FRP. He had a hard time presenting it because Mary fussed him out for interrupting her read-aloud session.

FRP shares books with adolescent parents, parents of newborns, underserved families with preschool and school age children, refugee families, and mothers who are recovering from addictions. They go wherever they’re invited, return for months, and sometimes years.

In informal ways, they deliver information about how literacy increases academic success and suggest methods to encourage meaningful conversations. They model techniques with books and leave these books for family sharing because “the intimacy of the voice of a loved one penetrates the heart and imagination in lasting ways.”

Here are some guidelines for choosing wordless books that succeed:

1. Choose books with “longevity.”

These books that work with a toddler and an older children will be read over and over. In Mo Willems’ “A Busy Creature’s Day Eating!” (HMH, ages 2-6), the book’s horizontal pages provide plenty of room to view a brightly-colored creature’s alphabetic feasting adventures. Toddlers can identify foods and objects while slightly older children will recognize how alphabet letters correspond to what the protagonist eats. Finally, a child will grow into the humor. There’s disgusting alliterative levity, like “huge hot-sauce halibut hoagie.” The alphabet is also a silly organizing structure. The creature’s eating turns to tummy ache and then P signals a run for the “potty,” and V stand for “vomit” before the exhausted creature is “zonked.”

2. Back matter enhances discussions.

Brendan Wenzel’s near wordless “Hello Hello” (Chronicle, ages 1-5) has a visually strong layout that encourages animal comparisons using concepts like size and color. The back matter identifies all animals and the author writes of his purpose, his fear of their endangerment.






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