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A Little Book Experiment: Wordless vs. Pictureless

By Tate Johnston on May 10, 2016 in Literacy, Skills, Teaching Reading

How would 4 year olds experience a wordless book (an illustrated story, no words) vs. a pictureless book (all sounds, no pictures to look at)?

One day I went in to a preschool classroom to debut a draft of my book: Buffalo Joe’s Sound Rodeo.

I haven’t illustrated it yet since it’s still in draft mode; so the kids sat in a semi-circle, listening to the words and also making sounds.

After all, what would Joe lasso if there weren’t any sounds?

Debuting drafts of my books is delightful because I get to see whether the kids enjoy them, and what needs to be modified or scrapped completely or might not work for a certain age group.

I also took in one of my new favorite books: Journey by Aaron Becker

It reminds me of Harold and the Purple Crayon, but with fewer words and more magnificent illustrations!

(I like the illustrations in Harold, too, which really fit the text and storyline; Journey’s illustrations simply have more detail and grandeur.)

It happens to be a wordless book.

Wordless vs. Pictureless

An interesting juxtaposition. One book the kids listened to was all sounds. The other: all pictures.

How would the kids (4 year olds) interact with the books?

I know two of the kids in the preschool and took my own son in, too, since he was on February break.

The next day, I saw both of the children I knew and asked if they enjoyed the books I read to them yesterday.

The first said, “Yes,” enthusiastically.

“Which one did you like best?”

“The one we got to tell with you.”

Ahh… I’m just discovering the wonder of wordless books (More on that another time).

As I had turned the pages, I had invited the children to describe what they saw and what was happening. As we “told the story together,” we also naturally made predictions about what would happen next.

So many (pre)reading skills being developed!

Along with such beauty.

And such participation.

Kids can participate when we read to them in many ways. (Predicting the final word in a book that rhymes. Predicting what will happen. Describing what just happened, etc.)

But there is nothing quite like a wordless book to enable a child (especially a child that hasn’t learned how to decode (sound out) words yet) to tell the story with you.

The kids participated in both books.

With Buffalo Joe’s Sound Rodeo, they “lassoed” sounds along with Joe by identifying words that had that sound in it. They came up with other words that had that sound. They laughed at some of the silly sentences. And I invited them to make pictures in their minds as I read.

With Journey, they took turns telling the story with me.


How amazing!

How empowering!

That evening, I went to dinner with a family who had a child in the preschool class.

I decided to do some more investigation: “I had fun reading to your class yesterday. Did you like the books?”


“Which one did you like best?”

“The one with the pictures.” (0 for 2 for my picture-less book. Good thing it’s still a draft ; ) )

“Of the girl with the magic red crayon?” I asked.


“I really like that one, too.”

Then I told his sister I thought of her when I was reading one of the lines of the book I was writing:

In my imagination,

There’s a station

With trains to every faerie nation,

And even made up destinations

Like the city on the sun.

“Oh, I know that one,” the little boy interjected.

“You read it to us yesterday. I yiked that book.” (he still says /y/ for /l/; he’s so yittle.)

“You remember that?”

“Yeah, (Score! 4 year old remembers a line from the pictureless book he listened to a whole day ago!) “and before you came, we read one of your other books.”

“Oh? Which one?”

“Hmm.” Face squnch. “The one … Pup.”

Bup Pup?”

“Yeah, Bup Pup. I yove that one.”

“That makes me really happy,” I smiled. “I’m really glad you yiked it!”

About the Author

Tate JohnstonView all posts by Tate Johnston


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