Thursday, 10 November 2016

The power of books without words - How wordless picture books are still a huge part of our favoured reading material - A ReadItTorial

When Charlotte was very young and just developing her own language skills, wordless picture books were a fantastic way to let "Daddy" take a back seat and let her actually relate the tale.

Visual language - illustrations of course - are the reason that children's picture books are still such a huge draw (if you'll pardon the pun).

Even though Charlotte will firmly maintain that most picture books are 'for babies' we both still crave picture-heavy stuff. But what of wordless books? Do they still retain their magic now that Charlotte is a competent and confident reader?

We recently picked up Aaron Becker's fabulous "Journey" series where the whimsical and adventurous plot unfolds entirely without words. A female hero makes her way into a dreamy surreal land, tripping between 'real life' and a fantasy realm and instantly challenging the 'reader' to tell her story in their own way.

With "Journey", "Quest" and "Return" forming the trilogy, we were on the edge of our seats as the adventure opened out. Moments of peril, of triumph, plotted in such a fantastic way once again let Charlotte firmly tell me her own interpretation of the tale - and if there's one thing all adults need to learn, listening to your child let rip with their imagination is one of the most splendid pleasures you can enjoy when they're young.

Wordless picture books are of course a huge benefit to children who aren't confident readers, or indeed adults who lack the confidence to read aloud to their kids for one reason or another. I have nothing but huge admiration for authors and illustrators who can 'script' a story in wordless form, where the emphasis is placed firmly on the visual language being universally 'translatable' to the point where even with some wiggle room for your own interpretation of the plot, the characters and the audience will arrive at their destination conveying a solid message.

I think we've seen one or two instances where the wordless picture book format has been stretched far too thin, perhaps too open to a wider perspective, where the tale's track gets obfuscated and lost but it's a rare thing and I think once authors and illustrators get used to the fact that their storytelling medium will not feature words, merely pictures, they can really start to have fun with the format and let their own imaginations go to town on it.

I thoroughly recommend Aaron's books if you haven't already encountered them, and of course we're always interested to hear your own wordless book recommendations in the comments below.