Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Books With Very Few Words, Some With None At All - Karen Saunders

This might be quite an unusual post for a writer, but today I wanted to blog about picture books that have limited, or no text. 

These sorts of books offer extensive opportunities for discussion with children, through talking about the pictures and what they can see on the pages.  They also offer children the chance to ‘read’ a book by themselves, as they can understand so much of what is happening just from looking at the illustrations, encouraging reading confidence. 

The pictures within these sorts of books can be interpreted so many different ways and imaginations can run riot, something that’s so important for encouraging creativity in the young. They also allow readers a chance to experience the subtle world of expressions such as body language and intonation, and begin to understand how these things work.  

So here goes, my top five books that fit into this category.

            You Choose, by fellow Picture Book Den blogger Pippa Goodhart, illustrated by Nick Sharatt

My toddler adores this award-winning picture book. We’ve found it’s particularly good for him to read and look at in the car by himself. Pippa has blogged about her book here in detail, but essentially it’s a book that's not actually a story as such, but one where children can make choices. They can decide where they’d like to live, where they’d like to go, who they'd like their friends to be, what they’d like to eat…there are many excellent discussions to be had from this book!


      Rosie’s Walk, by Pat Hutchins

Rosie the hen goes for a walk, while a wily fox tries to catch her. Rosie is completely oblivious to everything that’s going on behind her, as the fox gets out-manoeuvred at every turn. The way the fox gets his comeuppance causes much hilarity for the reader, because although what happens to the fox is never vocalised, no words are necessary for this very visual humour. This book has limited text, but you can get the complete gist of the story from the pictures alone. 

      Hug, by Jez Alborough

Ah, the book that really tests an adult’s reading skills, getting them to interpret just one word, ‘Hug’, in many, many, different ways. A monkey walks through the jungle, looking for his Mummy, seeing other animals hugging along the way. It’s a great demonstration of the intonation of language, how a word can mean different things depending on how it’s said, and also of body language – we understand how the monkey is saying the word just from the expression on his face.


       The Snowman, Raymond Briggs

A Christmas classic that can be enjoyed anytime (For some reason, Christmas books go down particularly well in our house in the height of summer). The Snowman tells of a young boy who builds a snowman that comes to life. Beautiful illustrations do all the story-telling work, and the expressions on the young boy’s face show us how he is feeling and what he is experiencing. A wonderful first opportunity for young children to ‘read’ a story.


      The Baby’s Catalogue, Janet and Allen Ahlberg

The Baby’s Catalogue is a fabulous book, which features very little text, instead it shows the lives of several babies and what they do in their days. The babies sleep, eat, watch their mummies and daddies, cause chaos in the house, play with their pets and siblings, sit in their high chairs, have their baths and go back to bed. There’s no story as such,  but there are plenty of familiar things to see and discuss.

These are five books I’ve loved sharing with children, but which are your favourites?

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Abie Longstaff said...

Karen - I love your choices. We also like 'You Choose,' and 'Rosie's Walk' is a classic; it's impressive how funny that book is with so few words. We have 'Moonlight' by the wonderful Jan Ormerod - it has no words in at all but is a lovely story about a girl who doesn't want to go to bed. The illustrations are beautiful and our old copy is now held together by sticky tape after so many readings.

Karen Saunders said...

I haven't come across Moonlight before - will make a note to investigate further!

Moira Butterfield said...

I'd also add Flotsam by David Wiesner, for older pre-school children, and actually I think children even older than that still love it. It's got fabulous illustrations and a fascinating premise. I was recently asked to write a book with no words! Instead I was asked to choose a range of photos that had a narrative thread and gave readers plenty to talk about. I began the work wondering quite what I had said 'yes' to, and found that it was very absorbing.There used to be a problem with VAT - back in the day books without words were deemed VATable. but that seems to have changed, thankfully.

Pippa Goodhart said...

I remember a book from my childhood that did have words, but they meant nothing to me. It was in a foreign language, and I don't even know which one. But that didn't matter. The pictures alone were enough for me. We naturally fill the gaps, and the story I got from that book was probably quite different from the one concocted by the author, but who cares?!
Thank you for the You Choose mention!

malachy doyle said...

Shaun Tan's books are wonderful - especially The Arrival (though they're definitely for older children.) A student 'read' it to us on a course I was leading recently, and it was an incredibly moving experience.
I also really like Window by Jeannie Baker.
I've done a picture book with 40 words (The Happy Book, for Bloomsbury), but no words at all would be a real challenge!

malachy doyle said...

And, of course, the lovely wordless books (Sunshine, Moonlight etc.) by Jan Ormerod, who sadly died this week.

Jane Clarke said...

Flotsam is my favourite, too, Moira.

Jane Clarke said...

Flotsam is my favourite, too, Moira.

Lynne Garner said...

My favourite book of all time is written by Martin Waddell with fantastic illustrations by John Bendall-Brunello. Some pages just have the one word but that's all that's needed.

Juliet Clare Bell said...

Moira, I'd love to hear more about your wordless project at some stage (on- or off- list). I love wordless books and those with few words.

Juliet Clare Bell said...

I've used books with few words with lots of young children and those in the first couple of years of school who have not had much exposure to books. You Choose is brilliant and the Ali Mitgutsch books are amazing, too. I'd recommend them to everyone (they're German, but it doesn't matter as they're wordless). My favourite book of mine that I've written that hasn't been picked up by a publisher is only 25 words long.