Wordless books, with their rich illustrations, open up an entire world of talk and discussion. By removing the need for the text and language to be decoded, wordless books can engage all readers, including those with English as an additional language.
These texts can also provide challenge and stretch. Often open to multiple interpretations, children could be invited to share what they think is happening, using their inference skills and applying their knowledge of other texts they have read and enjoyed.
Beyond this, by including wordless books in your classroom collection or school library, you will increase the diversity of texts on offer to children and provide further opportunities for them to fall in love with books and reading.
Here are some recommendations for wordless books, across the primary ages:
Early Years Foundation Stage
Before After from Anne-Margot Ramstein and Matthias Arégui (Candlewick Press, 2014) is packed with bold illustrations that invite rich discussion. Most pages feature a spread with an illustration on each page: before (e.g. an acorn or a caterpillar) and after (e.g. an oak tree or a butterfly), whereas other comparisons are spread out across a few pages. At 176 pages, there is a LOT to discuss and explore within this book.
Owl Bat Bat Owl by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick (Walker Books, 2018) is a great text to spark conversations about getting on with others. A family of owls are living happily together on a branch, until one day a family of bats move in … I love the way this book can also be enjoyed upside down!
Key Stage 1 (Years 1 and 2)
Professional Crocodile, by Giovanna Zoboli and illustrated by Mariachiara Di Giorgio (Chronicle Books, 2017), was originally published in Italy. There is lots to discover and talk about within the illustrations of this book. Expect the unexpected as you explore the fun story which invites multiple interpretations.
The blurb of Island by Mark Janssen (Lemniscaat, 2020) reveals that the book features a father, daughter and their dog who have been shipwrecked on an island that ‘is not what it seems to be’. The vibrant and colourful spreads will engage young readers and encourage multiple revisits to this book.
Lower Key Stage 2 (Years 3 and 4)
Museum Trip by Barbara Lehman (Clarion Books, 2006) tells the story of a boy who gets separated from the rest of his class during a school trip. As he wanders through the museum he discovers a secret door, and that’s when things get really strange …
Hike by Pete Oswald (Walker Books, 2021) is a beautifully illustrated book, depicting a father and son’s adventures in nature. The illustrations show their journey from different angles, and the combination of single- and double-page images alongside different panels ensures there is plenty to talk about.
Mirror by Jeannie Baker (Walker Books, 2010) tells the stories of two children, side by side. One is a boy living in inner-city Sydney, Australia, and the other lives in Morocco. As well as highlighting the differences between the two boys’ lives, this text also shows how their lives are similar and interconnect with each other.
Upper Key Stage 2 (Years 5 and 6)
Migrants by Issa Watanabe (Gecko Press, 2020) is a striking wordless book, featuring a group of animals who have to leave their forest behind. A powerful exploration of migration which will foster empathy and encourage rich discussion.
Shaun Tan’s The Arrival (Hodder, 20162014) is another book that focuses on migration. A man leaves his wife and child behind to travel to another country. The surreal images will intrigue readers and invite conversation.
Author bio: Matthew Courtney is a teacher and Curriculum Lead. You can find Matthew on Twitter here @mattheweduk