Wordless – at the Eric Carle Museum

The new exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is:
Speechless: The Art of Wordless Picture Books

Wordless books?  How can that be?  How can you read a wordless book to a child?  I’ll tell you just how to do that.  But first, let me back up and tell you about the first wordless picture book I read to my students when I was a new teacher – over thirty five years ago.

“Rain” by Peter Spier
My copy is ‘well loved’ and worn.

The book opens with children playing outside in the sun, yet at a distance a storm is approaching.  As soon as that caught the eye of a child, we all jumped in with both feet, wondering what will happen next.  What will happen next?  That’s the key, the ingredient that triggers questions, creative thinking, and most of all- language.  The more we looked, the more we talked.  It took forever to go through the entire book.  We were late for lunch, but no one cared.  One of the pages shows the children building a complex block structure.  That afternoon we worked to recreate the structure (math.)  The ripples in the water from the rain were all circular (science.)  I think you get the picture- pun intended.

From that point forward my collection of picture books included wordless books.  This is a very small selection:

The opening day of the exhibit was a treat for members, as David Wiesner spoke and gave a tour of the exhibit.  Yes, the David Wiesner, author of “Flotsam” and many other award winning books.  I was fortunate to meet David before the event.  What a great guy!

We talked about how wordless books are the best for promoting language, and how they ignite and create words and conversation.  We talked about many books, and I told him about the final book in “The Farmer And The Clown” trilogy.  I was thrilled to share the news of a new book.

The exhibit is one of the best!  The first wordless book was published in 1932… and the next one wasn’t published until 1962.  Wow!

David Wiesner introduced “Rain”.  Yes, I nearly jumped out of my skin.  This was my first wordless book, and I was seeing the real illustrations.

It is quite moving to see the art of picture books, especially when it is a beloved book.  When that book is wordless, the art is, well, everything.  This is one of my favorites:

“The Farmer And The Clown” was part of the exhibit.

“Truck” by Donald Crews
A picture book timeline

“The Lion and the Mouse” by Jerry Pinkney

My favorite David Wiesner book is “Flotsam”, one of his many Caldecott winning books.

It starts with a boy on the beach looking at a crab.

Uh, oh!  I will let you decide what is happening here.

Wait.  Is that a camera?

Look at the picture.  There’s more than one.

This hardly scratches the surface of all that’s within this book.

Words of wisdom from David Wiesner:

Wordless picture books are a visual problem solver.  The pictures are the words.  “What do you see?”
     Yes, a visual problem solver.  This is also how to start reading a book.  Look, ask       questions, and let the child find the answers.

It’s up to you what you make of the book, because the the author isn’t telling you.
     There is no right or wrong because each reader sees something different.  The same thing happens at an art museum, yet there is only one piece of art.  With a wordless picture book, there is a journey of art.

Wordless books give the freedom to let out the imagination.
The adventure of reading can take any path the mind travels. Freedom!

The child sees the story in their own way, in their own time.
     When the child wants to ‘see’, ask them to tell you about it.  Talk.  Listen.  Language and creativity will follow.

Let the child put in their own words.
     The reader-aloud is only the guide.  “Something is happening.”  “What do you see?”

Pictures are the clues to narratives.
     Hear, Hear!

While the exhibit primarily focuses on wordless picture books from other artists, the number of books and illustrations will take you on one of the best visual journeys the Eric Carle Museum has displayed.  I highly recommend visiting!  In the museum’s own words:

The Carle is the international champion for picture books. We collect, preserve, and present picture books and picture-book illustrations for audiences passionate about children’s literature.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in art, Author interview, Book Review, children's books, David Wiesner, Early Education, Eric Carle, Expressing words and feelings, Imagination, Inspiration, museums, picture books, reading aloud, reading aloud, The Arts and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

52 Responses to Wordless – at the Eric Carle Museum

  1. beth says:

    I love, love wordless books.

  2. Ritu says:

    I love the imagination that wordless books allow children to Foster! And the vocabulary 😊

  3. This is just fascinating! Three years ago, I was very surprised to discover that the Association of College & Research Libraries has seven standards for visual literacy. The ability to read and interpret images is becoming increasingly critical in today’s world. https://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/visualliteracy

    • Jennie says:

      Wow! I didn’t realize that standards for visual literacy had been established. This is comprehensive. And all along, I have intuitively known this and done this. I hope you pick up a wordless book the next time you go to the library. Studies have shown that images in a book are more effective than images on a screen. That’s not surprising to me at all.

  4. Dan Antion says:

    These are wonderful books. Thanks for the tour, Jennie.

  5. Thank you for this! I have loved wordless books since childhood and keep coming back to them time and again. You have some of my very favourites included here (especially Flotsam!) But I’m always adding to my wordless shelf. Have you read Over the Shop by JonArno Lawson & Qin Leng, yet?

  6. wordless books give children the freedom to see the story through their own voice

  7. quiall says:

    They do say a picture paints a thousand words.

  8. beetleypete says:

    I’m sure it was you who recommended a surreal wordless picture book about Frogs? I bought a copy some time ago and enjoyed reading through it with our grandson. It is in his house, so I can’t give the exact details.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  9. I love wordless picture books Jennie. Talk about opening up your imagination!

  10. Mireya says:

    Yes now that you mention it wordless books are an invitation for your curiosity to play. Yay

  11. Wordless books are the best. Well, that is unless you are trying to get a story done quickly. Thanks, Jennie.

  12. I can see how Kindergartners would love this kind of book. They are quite happy to make up their own stories and share their interpretations of the pictures.

  13. Jermena says:

    I think I had never really heard about picture books before…
    Now, I will start to pay attention 😁
    Thank you.

  14. petespringerauthor says:

    Where the beautiful act of reading a book begins. Children look at the images and tell you what they see, often in the most elaborate manner. When kids are sitting with a wordless book, they are modeling for books with words. It is a crucial step on the road to reading words.

  15. CarolCooks2 says:

    What a wonderful exhibition, Jennie…I love sitting with a child and a wordless book it opens up great dialogue they are wonderful 🙂 x

  16. These are lovely. In one of my grad school classes, I teach a lesson on writing non-traditionally, one of those ways without words. These are great examples.

  17. Kally says:

    Oh I love wordless books and bought a lot for my 4yo. She loves making up stories as she reads them.

  18. I love wordless books too. Flotsam looks great. I need to check that one out.

  19. ibrahimmohamedsaboon says:

    wow nice books

    On Tue, Aug 17, 2021, 12:01 PM A Teacher’s Reflections wrote:

    > Jennie posted: “The new exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book > Art is: Speechless: The Art of Wordless Picture Books Wordless books? How > can that be? How can you read a wordless book to a child? I’ll tell you > just how to do that. But first, let me back ” >

  20. damielolah says:

    Well done Always interesting when going these books with the littles ones! They always come up with different stories….

  21. Thanks for the great report on the new exhibition, Jennie! This museum is really wonderful xx Michael

  22. Mary Graf says:

    My favorite wordless picture book is A Boy, a Dog and a Frog by Mercer Mayer. I have recommended the series to countless pre-readers over the years. They all loved that they could tell the story themselves! Weston Woods produced live-action short films based on the books. Also wordless.

    • Jennie says:

      Mary, thank you so much for this! I look forward to reading “A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog”. I love Mercer Mayer. “There’s a Nightmare in My Closet” is a favorite. Discovering wordless books and sharing them in school is a joy – for me and certainly for the children.

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