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Show Me the Pictures! The Importance of Storytelling and Reading Aloud Without Words

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Wordless books provide an opportunity that no other book can offer—a personally crafted storytelling experience from you to your baby. “Reading” aloud from picture books with few or no words promotes creativity, is accessible regardless of reading level or language, and allows flexibility while honing in on what the baby likes most. You can take your baby on an imaginative journey—building vocabulary, comprehension skills, and emotions—just by adding your own words to a picture book.

Here are some tips for telling a story with wordless books!

  • Pick a book that is visually interesting to you. Your level of engagement as you create the story will be much higher if you are looking at something you like!
  • Look around the page for things that are happening. Are there characters? What are they doing? Is there scenery? What does it look like? Describe aloud what you see. This is your story. There is no right or wrong way to tell it—it’s up to you!
  • Focus on facial expressions. Babies love faces, both in pictures and in person. Identify characters in the pictures and mimic their expressions and actions. Make up things that those characters might say, or faces that they might make, and see how your baby responds. Tailor the story to reinforce positive responses!
  • Vary the tone and voices you use throughout your story. You can go from a low, slow voice to a higher, faster one. Your baby will follow changes in sound and be further engaged in this sensory experience.
  • Sing your story! You can select characters to communicate musically (birds or whistlers, for example) and tell their parts in song. Even adding simple humming broadens the range of audio exposure for your baby.
  • Incorporate exaggerated movements and gestures. Physical expression adds entertainment and helps develop motor skills. Clap your baby’s hands together, wave them in the air, pretend you’re a plane—act out movement together!
  • Tell the story in different languages. If you live in a multi-lingual environment, wordless books provide the perfect opportunity for others to tell the story in their own languages. Encourage family members and friends to participate using familiar verbal dialects of their own!
  • Let the story go where you want to take it! You don’t need an ending, nor does it need to make sense. You can use the same pictures to tell a different story every time. You can make a new story out of one picture. You can even create your own story for books that already have one! The most important thing is that you’re relaxed, happy, and bonding with your baby through a dynamic and imaginative exchange.

Just like playing make-believe, there is no one way to do something—it’s up to you and your imagination when you “read” wordless books. Everything you share is a unique moment between you and your baby that strengthens a loving bond and healthy developmental growth. Have fun, be silly, and enjoy sharing a story!

Here are some recommended wordless books for storytelling:
  • The Red Book by Barbara Lehman (Houghton Mifflin, 2004)
  • Wonder Bear (Dial, 2008) and Bunny Days (Dial, 2010) by Tao Nyeu
  • Wave(Chronicle Books, 2008) and Shadow (Chronicle Books, 2010) by Suzy Lee
  • Dinosaur by Peter Sis (Greenwillow, 2000)
  • Where’s Walrus by Stephen Savage (Scholastic, 2011)
  • The Snowman by Raymond Briggs (Random House, 1999)
  • Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie De Paola (Sandpiper, 1978)
  • A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog by Mercer Mayer (Dial, 2003)


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