Beyond Words – Celebrating Wordless Picture Books

On Sunday, The Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards (Cybils) announced its winners for 2015. The winner in the Fiction Picture Book category is …

award winning wordless picture books

Sidewalk Flowers

written by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Sydney Smith
(Groundwood Books, 2015)

A distracted dad and his daughter take a walk home in this beautifully illustrated, wordless picture book. The story unfolds through a unique combination of graphic novel style format and traditional full-bleed or framed art. While the city seems drab and dark in the beginning, the little girl finds beauty around every corner. Details invite the reader to linger and pause over the pages, discovering along with the girl on her walk through the neighborhood. As she matter-of-factly shares her appreciation for things around her, color begins to spread beyond just the people and places where she distributes her finds. ~ Cybils Fiction Picture Book Judges Panel

Over the years, many wordless picture books have been nominated, but this is the first year a wordless picture book won the category. That makes it a little extra special in my book. One of the other things that makes wordless picture books special is that they offer limitless possibilities for storytelling.

Readers young and old alike will be charmed by this story of a little girl’s ability to stop and notice the weeds and her natural willingness to spread kindness in a busy, fast-paced world. The wordless aspect of the book makes it accessible to everyone, no matter what language they read or speak. ~ Cybils Fiction Picture Book Judges Panel

Like the little girl noticing the world around her, wordless picture books allow the reader to reveal the story in their own unique way. For them, the story is propelled by their imagination and the things they discover on a page. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? For some of us (me included), wordless picture books can seem harder to read than books that narrate a story for you. With that in mind, here are some tips for sharing – and enjoying – all that wordless picture books have to offer.

Fun with Wordless Picture Books

1. Don’t say a word.

With the first reading or two, just enjoy the imagery and let the story unpack itself. Go slow. As you move from frame to frame, look for the main characters and specific events that might be part of the plot, what emotions are being conveyed?

Sidewalk flowers images

Source: JonArno Lawson blog

It may help to view the story as a silent movie. Like in the page above, the illustrator has closeups of the little girl, but also pans out so you can get a perspective of her journey through the city.

Since there are no words, the characters don’t have pre-determined names. Invite your readers to name the characters and ask them why they picked that name.

2. Tell the story your way.

When you’re ready, tell the story. Some of us may be more comfortable with detailed stories that explore each frame.

On Saturdays, Micah loved to visit the corner store and smell the fresh fruit. Today, all she could think about was that yellow flower in her hand. She wanted to show Mr. Gomez her flower, but Uncle Max said it was time to go.

Others of us may want to paint the story with a broader brush.

Micah couldn’t understand why Uncle Max was in a rush and complaining about the “stinky city.” She loved the smells and how they were hidden in the tiniest places.

Your audience will also help you with telling the story. They aren’t shy about letting you know when they’re ready to turn the page!

3. Let them tell their story!

Kids have the most wonderful imaginations and they’ll see things that we may not. Giving young readers the create the story helps them build confidence as readers. They watch you read all the time – this is their chance to tell the story and be the reader.

Without getting too technical, letting kids create a story that has a beginning, middle, and end will also help them with sequencing (putting events in order) and communication (conveying ideas in a logical manner).

More Ideas for Wordless Picture Books

Wordless picture books aren’t just for “little kids” and emerging readers. These books can – and do – appeal to kids who can read themselves. Wordless picture books can be a great catalyst for other literacy activities – narrating a story, writing a script, making a video.

I’ll close with links to two resources on reading wordless picture books with children.

  • Wordless Picture Books by Marie Ripple at All About Learning Press. Great explanation of the skills wordless picture books support, as well as a list of books for different ages.
  • How to Read Wordless Picture Books by Erica at What Do We Do All Day. Step-by-step ideas for reading wordless picture books and link to 15 Wordless Picture Books list.



Bookcover image links to and includes the Cybils affiliate code.

Polar Vortex – Warm up with This Literacy Idea

polar vortex activityAccording to the weather map, many of us here in the States are feeling the effects of the Polar Vortex. Aside from the usual President’s Day shutdowns, things here in Mr. Jefferson’s city are at a standstill due to (yet another) winter storm.

We have just the thing to help you to push away that nasty polar vortex chill: a cocoa picnic. Back in the day, it was a favorite past-time in our house with a certain toddler / preschooler / Kindergartner / First Grader.

A Polar Vortex Cocoa Picnic

Truth be told, the weather was often just an *excuse* for a cocoa picnic. Sometimes we shared a cocoa picnic because we needed a quiet afternoon activity, maybe someone was feeling under the weather …. whatever the reason, its magic is in the spontaneity of enjoying time together reading.

What You’ll Need

  • Material that can be read aloud
  • Warm cocoa, or seasonal beverage of choice
  • Light, healthy snack (optional)
  • Blanket (optional)
  • Variety of pillows (optional but recommended)

Picnic Set-Up

Step 1. Find a great spot on the floor that isn’t your usual reading place. Maybe its the little-used living room, under the dining room table, or even the kitchen floor.

Step 2. Gather your books and set them in the center of your picnic area. Put snack in place, if desired.

Step 3. Invite your readers to join you at your picnic site. Once they’re situated, bring cocoa and share with each person.

Step 4. Start reading.

Recipe Variations

The key to a great cocoa picnic is that it fits your reading patterns, style, and goals. For example, when I wanted quiet reading time, I selected “quieter” books.

  • You can select all books or alternate picks with your fellow picnickers.
  • Include a toddler’s favorite book and ask them to *read* it to you.
  • Get elementary-aged students involved in setting up the picnic by letting them select books, pick the spot, etc.
  • Start or continue reading a chapter book.

Although our Polar Vortex cocoa picnic highlights books, don’t discount other literacy materials. Share and explore youth-oriented magazines (e.g., Highlights, Sports Illustrated for Kids, et al); play word games or work on puzzles together; incorporate crayons, coloring books, and/or drawing materials.

Got another idea on how to make the most of a stuck-inside kind of day? We’d love to hear about it!

The Cambodian Dancer, a #ReadYourWorld Review

#ReadYourWorldIt’s worth repeating: #ReadYourWorld is more than just a catchy hashtag. As readers, we inherently understand understand mirrors, windows, and doors. We travel through time and space; meet amazing and interesting people; and explore unreal places. It’s what we do. It’s what we love about books. Sharing what we read goes hand in hand with our love for enjoying a great book.

I am very excited to be part of Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2016 and #ReadYourWorld. Not just as a reviewer, but as a reader who loves the exploring, adventure, and learning found in the stories I read.

When you visit the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website and those of its 12 co-hosts (see links below) you’ll discover children’s literature that celebrates cultures, traditions, and personal stories from around the world. Please visit them and help celebrate this wonderful event not just this week, but every day.

Last week, Vietnamese Children’s Favorite Stories, retold by Tran Thi Minh Phuoc. Today I’m reviewing The Cambodian Dancer by Daryn Reicherter. Both books are published by Tuttle Publishing, and the publisher provided review copies.

The Cambodian Dancer: Sophany’s Gift of Hope

Cambodian Dancer Sophany written by Daryn Reicherter; illustrated by Christy Hale
Tuttle Publishing, 2015

When she was a girl Sophany learned the ancient ways of Cambodian dance.  She was an exceptional dancer who performed before royalty and taught dance to the next generation.  Dancing filled her heart.

When the Khmer Rouge outlawed dance and destroyed the ancient temple art, Sophany’s world crumbled. Her world – and her heart – were full of shadows. She made her way first to Thailand and then to the United States. Yet she never forgot her homeland or the dance. Slowly, in bringing her culture to young Cambodian American girls, her heart was full again.

The Cambodian Dancer is poetic and lyrical. Together, word and illustration create an elegant biography. When you read the Author’s Note in the back you are wowed again by the beauty and power of Sophany’s story. As soon as I read that, I immediately read the book again.

In describing how Sophany learned, then taught, Khmer dance, Daryn Reicherter chose to use nearly identical text. That gives the story a poetic feel, and  also makes it a nice choice for developing readers. The illustrations create the passage of time perfectly, allowing the narrative to remain fresh, despite being repeated.

The imagery really excels in capturing emotions and conveying them to readers. In expressing the dark period perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge, Reicherter chose the term “shadow.” Hale’s use of intricate shadow puppets not only captures the emotion, but does it in a culturally aware / relevant way. Exquisite.

My one quibble with The Cambodian Dancer is that it left me with no place to go next. This is Sophany’s story, but it is also a story of Cambodian culture and history. What other books would the author recommend?


Before The Cambodian Dancer, I knew nothing about Cambodia or Cambodian culture. This is my introduction, and now I want to learn more. I am sure I’m not alone, so I did a little research to find children’s and young adult books to add to my list.

Children of the River by Linda Crew

Sundara fled Cambodia with her aunt’s family to escape the Khmer Rouge army when she was thirteen, leaving behind her parents, her brother and sister, and the boy she had loved since she was a child. Now, four years later, she struggles to fit in at her Oregon high school and to be “a good Cambodian girl” at home. 

A good Cambodian girl never dates; she waits for her family to arrange her marriage to a Cambodian boy. Yet Sundara and Jonathan, an extraordinary American boy, are powerfully drawn to each other. Haunted by grief for her lost family and for the life left behind, Sundara longs to be with him. At the same time she wonders, Are her hopes for happiness and new life in America disloyal to her past and her people?

 A Path of Stars by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Dara loves the stories her grandmother, Lok Yeay, tells of the Cambodian countryside where she grew up – stories of family, food and the stars above, glowing in the warm, sweet air. There are darker stories too – stories of war and loss that Lok Yeay cannot put into words. Lok Yeay yearns to return to Cambodia to be with her brother. But when that dream becomes impossible, it’s up to Dara to bring Lok Yeay back to a place of happiness.

As part of a personal commitment to reading my world, I created a special shelf on GoodReads. I have already added these two books, and I expect to add many more as I visit the Multicultural Children’s Book Day co-host blogs and discover other books readers are Tweeting about. I’ll be looking for #ReadYourWorld for additional recommendations.

[Summaries are from Goodreads. Covers link to]

About #ReadYourWorld and Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Our mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these of books into classrooms and libraries.

Mia Wenjen (Pragmatic Mom) and Valarie Budayr (Jump Into a Book and Audrey Press) are the co-creators of this event. This year, 12 co-hosts “will also house the wildly-popular book review/blog post link-up the week of the event.”

Multicultural Children’s Book Day / #ReadYourWorld 2016 is made possible with the help of the following sponsors.

Medallion Level Sponsors!

Platinum: Wisdom Tales Press * StoryQuest Books * Lil Libros

Gold: Author Tori Nighthawk * Candlewick Press * Bharat Babies

Silver: Lee and Low Books * Chronicle Books * Capstone Young Readers * Tuttle Publishing * NY Media Works, LLC/KidLit TV

Bronze: Pomelo Books * Author Jacqueline Woodson * Papa Lemon Books * Goosebottom Books * Author Gleeson Rebello * ShoutMouse Press * Author Mahvash Shahegh * China * Live Oak Media