Blogger Amy Steinbauer

Wordless Books in Story Time

I recently observed a story time of a newer story time presenter. I saw their passion and playfulness with the preschool crowd, but felt them trip over the words of the story a bit. Afterwards, we followed up– and I admitted that I only take the words of the books as a suggestion. A tip that I love sharing with parents and caregivers— you don’t have to read every word of the book, every time you read that book. There are many retellings of favorite books, and words are only one part of the story for “reading” the book. 

My takeaway from the observation was that they should try wordless books, as they are very animated, expressive, and play to the energy of the audience. However, I have also been advised by others that only more experienced story timers would try a wordless book.

I disagree, and would like to make the case for wordless book story telling.

  1. I often implore parents/caregivers to check out wordless books. If parents can handle it, then anyone else can (who regularly reads to children) There are many benefits:
    1. Have the ability to tell your own story– use bigger/rare words to build vocabulary
    2. Use it to allow children to build their narrative skills and retell it how they view the story
    3. Have fun while reading! Try using the pictures to re-tell the story as a scary story or a funny story! It can be so much fun!
    4. Very accessible to multi-language use to build skills, or interactions with language barriers (like caregivers who don’t speak English as their first language), for example read one page in English, then answer it in Spanish.
    5. Talk about emotional skills— how can you tell what the characters are feeling without words? I think that can build general empathy skills– look at the faces and see their emotions.
  2. Move your role from story time presenter/reader to story teller! If you are the type of person who loves hamming it up or getting silly at story time– this is the easiest role for you! There is a freedom to losing words– you can say what you feel and “read” the visual literacy of the page.
  3. Ability to tailor story to your audience. In public library life– you may plan a preschool story time, and then get a room of babies, or vice versa. Having the ability to change the story, gives you the freedom to work off and with the audience that you have.
  4. I think wordless books allow more conversation from audience. You can ask for help in reading them– what do they think is happening? What are the actions on the page? The emotions on the page? It utilizes the underused TALK component of early literacy, within a formal program. We typically don’t love lots of talking in programs– but this one way to facilitate it in a way that makes sense for the context of the program.
  5. Ability to retell stories over and over without getting bored!

My favorite wordless books for story time/read alouds:

Chalk by Bill Thomson

A journey with magical chalk that brings your creations to life, captivate three friends on a rainy afternoon.

Wave by Suzy Lee

A playful day at the beach with a wave that uses the gutter of the book (the middle) to tell the story.

Any of the Flora books by Molly Idle

Great for allowing movement in programs, and showing how the book can be used differently. Lots of subtle emotional work in shown in these books.

Any David Wiesner book

I love his imaginative worlds! These books are really interesting to share with preschool and elementary students. I think even adults would love to look at these and think through them. I think Sector 7 is my favorite.

Where’s Walrus? by Stephen Savage

A walrus escapes from the zoo, and a zookeeper is off to find it. The graphics are so visually appealing.

How do you feel about wordless books in story time? Do you love them or hate them? Do you think you need to be more experienced to use in story time? Comment below, and we can have a good discussion!


  1. Kelly Doolittle

    I don’t think one necessarily has to be an experienced storytimer to do wordless books, but you must certainly have the ability to be a story TELLER. I don’t have that in abundance, so wordless stories don’t work for me. I like having words in front of me for the most part, because I tend to trip over my own tongue when in conversation. I totally ham it up and get silly in storytimes, but I just can’t ad lib very well. Give me If I Ran the Zoo by Seuss, a tongue -twister if there ever was one, and I can go to town! (I don’t use that book in storytime, though, because it’s way too long, but maybe you see what I mean…)

    I can handle a book that has the occasional page or two without words and will highlight the whole what-do-you-see? aspect, (think If You Plant a Seed by Nelson Kadir – wonderful book!) but I do that with worded books, too. Before I read the words on a page I often ask the children what they think is going to happen, what is going on here, or how do you think this character feels, and how can you tell? So you don’t necessarily need to use a wordless book to achieve some of those great goals outlined in this post.

    One wordless book I know of that can’t be wrecked by wordless book-o-phobes like me: This is Not a Book by Jean Jullien. It’s one of the funniest books EVER! If you want to try a wordless book, but you’re a little nervous – go for that one 🙂 All I had to say was “This is not a book – it’s a…” and they supplied the answers – with much hilarity!

    All that said, wordless books are indeed wonderful in so many ways and if you want to try them, do – especially if you are a natural story teller! But don’t feel bad if it doesn’t work for you.

  2. Bria

    I usually tell the kids that they have to help me tell the story, and for each page I ask them what’s going on. I usually feel a little clunky doing it, but it seems to work out alright. I might try hamming it up while I tell the story next time though.

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