Talking with Wordless Books

Sometimes I wonder if the differences in my boys' attention spans is my fault.  You see, with Robbie I was intentional, not just about reading, but in slowly lengthening the words on the page.  We began with the simple board books, but I kept pushing his attention span to see how much print he would tolerate without pictures.  By three, he was listening to me read The Hobbit.  And I know he was listening because later he pretended to float down  river on a barrel.

Then we began The Chronicles of Narnia, which we read for about a year straight.  Over and over again, always skipping The Last Battle because it is scary.

But when Peter came along, reading time was also usually nursing time.  I held Peter with one arm and Narnia with the other.  And as soon as Peter could move, he wanted to do whatever Robbie was doing.  He never wanted to just sit still.  And if by any chance he did want to read, Robbie would bring over Narnia.  Peter was close to one when I realized I had sorta skipped board books with him.  So I began to try to reintroduce them.

But of course, the differences may just be that they are different boys.  Robbie was purposefully trying to communicate by four months.  Peter was purposefully being silent until he was almost one.  He's just not into words the way Robbie is.

Whatever the reason, I have been trying to work with him this summer to just sit and look at books.  He's recently been fascinated by dogs, so I went to the dog storybook section in the library (Way to go, JPL on genre-fying the storybooks!) and found a book about Carl the dog.  I checked it out with perusing it.

This series by Alexandra Day is the story of a lovable Rottweiler and a little girl.  The two always wander off somewhere, play, and return home without anyone noticing.  Once you let go of the parenting questions of why this little girl isn't better watched by her parents, the story is very sweet.  The thing is, there are rarely any words except on the first page.

Peter loves these books!  And I do too!  What I have noticed is that because there are no words, Peter can control how long we stay on each page.  Also, he becomes the storyteller.  His communication may be simple: "Dog. Ball. Wet."  But he is trying to tell me the story.  It also increases my communication with him throughout the story: "What do you think will happen next?  What other animals do you see on this page?"

Looking through a few articles on wordless picture books, I found that many educators use them for pre- and struggling-readers for these same reasons.  It also teaches children to analyze a page before moving on.  As a reading teacher, I know the difficulty of getting students to slow down and look for information.  In a wordless picture book, the information is only there if I look for it.  In fact, I've missed information the first time that Peter caught.  I didn't noticed the bunny was hiding behind the snowman because he wanted his carrot nose.

But the most exciting thing is that Peter, who usually is "all done" half way through a book, will ask for "more" at the end of reading a Carl book.  He is engaged.

Reading Rockets (a wonderful website for parents and educators of pre- and early-readers) has a wonderful list of wordless picture books.  I hope they get you and your little readers talking.