Monday 3 June 2024


Since you’ve found yourself here, at Picture Book Den, I suspect you'll agree with me that picture books are incredible. The best ones, even magical.

Listening to the rhythm, joining in with the words, trying out voices, pointing to the pictures... the pace, the pauses, the ups and the downs... all work together as the story unfolds, delivering an ending that make little hands want to read it all over again. Sharing a picture book creates time to talk, to learn, to feel and explore giving children space to see and hear and respond.

Yes. I am a huge advocate of picture books and the magic they hold.

But what about a book with little or no words? Can they support children’s development? Can they be magical too?

Harry Woodgate, me and Emma Reynolds outside Bologna Book Fair

I recently visited the Children’s Book Fair in Bologna where I spent quite some time in the Silent Stories Exhibit. The walls were literally lined with wordless wonders – several internal spreads from wordless projects enlarged and framed, and the full books below. I've written a little about my favourite titles below. In my view, wordless spreads absolutely CAN be as magical as books with words, maybe even more so. 

Here's why...


Cercas Gambas by Irene Frigo

There is a chair in the middle of nowhere. How it ended up there is unknown, but in the end it doesn't even matter. What is known is that that chair is missing a leg. Not that this makes it any less of a chair, but those who pass by are led to think that additional support could be useful. 

So, the most disparate things, from baguettes to umbrellas, from footballs to trumpets, are placed like prosthetics where the front right leg is not there. But baguettes are easy prey for hungry mice, umbrellas attract customers caught in the rain, balloons fly away and trumpets are made to be blown. 

This book made me smile. It made me think deeply about the wider world and that the chair was perhaps a metaphor for something else... and all through the exploration of a chair with a missing a leg.

Picture books make us think deeply, and without any words!


WINDOWS by Lana Alma

This book explores our perception of others through the metaphor of viewing fragments of people's lives through ‘windows.' It shows us how our beliefs shape our understanding, revealing that behind the curtains of perception, wondrous things might await, and our own monsters may not be monstrous at all.

This was another thought-provoking story - a simple but memorable wordless book poised to challenge readers and the judgements they make. 

Picture books can challenge stereotypes - and they can do it without words.  

PIANTALA by Alessia Roselli

This book featured a woodcutter who cuts down trees in the forest, disturbing the peace and balance in nature. But the woodcutter has a change of heart when they have a close encounter with a wolf who forces them to take refuge in a tree - nature bites back! 

 This wordless story tells us the importance of respecting the environment in which we live, which gives so much to us every day, without asking for anything in return. 

Wordless picture books have the power to inspire their readers to care and respect nature... and yet they have no words.  


Susy is a smart, curious little girl. She is happy in the house she grows up, and in her village, but with her fears also grow like a big black shadow that follows her everywhere. Her fear becomes bigger every day. When Susy notices the ugly monster behind her she is not afraid, she goes to the mirror to look at it better, even though it is really scary up close. 

This was an empowering - and at times, terrifying - story of courage and self-belief. 

Wordless picture books have the power to portray children's struggles and suggest coping strategies for difficult times. 

EVERY KINDNESS by Marta Bartolj

I also came across this book by Marta Bartolj. It's again, completely wordless, and depicts random acts of kindness across a community in a distinctive and deceptively simple way. There's plenty happening in the foreground and background of the illustrations and what goes around comes around for the main character.

Wordless picture books can encourage their readers to think about how their actions affect others. Wordless picture books can inspire empathy. 

SENZA FINE by Zongxi Deng

Probably the book that made the most impact on me, was this one by Zongxi Deng called Senza Fine. As with the other wordless picture books, it was powerful and deceptively simple, about a man who chooses which animal he wants to be reincarnated as after he passes away. Perhaps not everything disappears. Perhaps something remains... albeit in a different form. 

The Silent Stories exhibition was incredibly popular and at times there were several people crowded around the same book. When I read Senza Fine, I did so with another lady. We didn't communicate in words - I don't think we spoke the same language - but we made eye contact, we smiled and communicated through body language as we turned the pages and connected over our love for this book and its impactful end... and all without saying a word. 

Wordless picture books create connection, even without words. 

So, can you read a wordless picture?

Absolutely! You can!

Pictures books tell stories with or without the addition of words. And they do this through pictures. 

Visual literacy is the skill of inferring meaning from images - analysing them, interrogating them, making sense of them. Wordless pictures books still have characters, plots, crisis points, resolutions, themes... you can ask yourself them same who, what, where, when, why questions as you would with any other picture book... because they have pictures doing the work and telling the story. 

Picture books are praised for the high quality talk they provide. A wordless picture book can be even more powerful, with even more opportunities to grow discussion and to ask questions. And this is all thanks to the enchanting, terryfying, inspiring, beautiful, thoughtful, magical world of the illustrations.

OK, so you can't listen to the rhythm of the words or join in with the refrain and voices... 

But you can make up your own and that might be better! 

You can still feel the pace, the pauses, the ups and the downs... absorbing the story visually as it story unfolds. Sharing a wordless picture book still creates time to talk, to learn, to feel and explore through giving children space to see and hear and respond.

In fact, given that there’s no right or wrong way to tell a wordless story, it can lead to more talk time for co-creating the story together. There’s more opportunity to explore the detail, notice the nuance and challenging readers to look beneath the surface and bring their own experiences, attitudes, emotions and ideas to the characters and plot. 

In my opinion, wordless picture books are a challenge, a joy, a wonder. The ones I read at the Silent Stories exhibit, empowered me, inspired me, made me smile, made me think and brought me connection. When a story is shared, be it through listening, speaking, writing, we are all richer for it - be it through words, pictures or a combination.

These ideas are exactly what I was channelling when I wrote Moon Bear – an almost wordless, enchantingly illustrated picture book about a child called Ettie who is afraid of the dark. Ettie meets a bear is who afraid of the light, and together they learn about the magic of the night. Here I am holding a physical copy at the Quarto stand in Bologna! It's a sensational production and has been created with my co-collaborators - illustrator Carolina T. Godina, editor Claire Grace, designer Karissa Santos, and publisher Frances Lincoln.

This leads me nicely into the pitch for my next Picture Book Den article, coming in October. 

Can you write a wordless picture book?

Absolutely! You can!

Clare Helen Welsh is a children's writer from Devon. She writes fiction and non-fiction picture book texts - sometimes funny, sometimes lyrical and everything in between! Her latest picture book is called 'Moon Bear,' illustrated by Carolina T. Godina and published by Frances LincolmYou can find out more about her at her website or on Twitter @ClareHelenWelsh . Clare is represented by Alice Williams at Alice Williams Literary and is the founder of #BooksThatHelp. 

1 comment:

Anzal Khan said...

book cover maker
Just finished my book. Still have to make the cover and add author information.