It may seem counter-intuitive to give new readers, students with disabilities, or ELL students books without words to help build vocabulary, but that is exactly what I’m going to suggest.  They can help all readers develop a more descriptive vocabulary, help teach visual decoding, assist readers in understand multiple viewpoints, and teach readers to interpret meaning from visual objects.  According to a 2011 Utah State University study, parents use more complex language when discussing wordless picture books than they do with books with text and pictures.  Not to mention the fact that they can be less intimidating than traditional books and they can be exceptionally entertaining. The last few years some fantastic wordless books have been added to the collection at the Davenport Public Library, so pick these books up for an emerging reader or for yourself!

floraandtheflamingoFlora and the Flamingo by Molly Schaar Idle

The newest wordless addition to the library collection, Flora and the Flamingo tells the story of a girl named Flora and a flamingo as they learn to dance together.  The beautiful illustrations are full of humor and call back to the mimicking game many played as children.

aballfordaisyA Ball for Daisy by Christopher Raschka

Daisy, a dog, has a great time with her ball, until it is lost.  Her story is told through bright, primary colored illustrations.  The story is perfect for toddlers and preschoolers, but would delight all children (and adults!) that love dogs.

unspokenUnspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole

The detailed pencil drawings set the scene in this story of a southern girl helping a runaway slave.  The format is perfect in setting the quiet, but intense mood of this story.

whereswalrusWhere’s Walrus by Stephen Savage

After escaping from the zoo, a clever Walrus disguises himself to outsmart the zookeeper that is pursuing him.  With vintage style illustrations, this humorous picture book will appeal to kids and adults.

waterloo&trafalgarWaterloo and Trafalgar by Oliver Tallec

This anti-war tale, with tri-colored die-cut illustrations is a perfect example of using a wordless book to facilitate conversation.  While the subject matter is somber, the book has expertly used humor throughout.

beardespairBear Despair by Gaëtan Dorémus

Never, ever, under any circumstance steal a bear’s teddy bear.  This humorous story follows the plight of a bear after his closest pal is snatched by a mischievous wolf.

The Boys by Jeff Newman

A book about being the shy new kid, Newman’s The Boys employs subtle humor and a sense of nostalgia that shapes this water colored wonder into an instant classic.

met nijinsky

When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky by Lauren Stringer: This is the story of how the famous composer, Stravinsky, and the famous dancer, Nijinsky, collaborated to create a performance of Stravinsky’s work that was so shockingly avant-garde that it caused a riot in the streets of Paris.* Can you imagine a ballet so shocking that it caused fistfights and screaming matches across the aisles of a sophisticated French theater in 1913? Astounding!

This book is to be read with “The Rite of Spring” playing in the background or not at all – the illustrations complement the music in a way that’s truly special. It’s so necessary to really enjoying the book that I’m a little mad it doesn’t include a CD, but of course you can always get the music independently from the library – whether you want it on CD or if you want to download it directly from Freegal!

when stravinsky“The Rite of Spring” is the music playing during the death-of-the-dinosaurs segment in Disney’s Fantasia, or as my childhood self knew it, “one of the scary parts!” This is powerful music, and accompanied by powerful, beautiful illustrations, this book is one to check out.

 *Please note: the library cannot be held responsible for any damage done to your home or car by riots this book/music may cause.

If you think children’s literature isn’t worthy of discussion, pick up one of these books and prepare to eat your words. These books are not just beautiful, simple, cute stories for children: they have big ideas, big hearts, and important messages to teach readers of all ages. Whether you have a little one to share them with or not, I highly recommend all of them.

oliverOliver by Birgitta Sif: gorgeous, rich, layered illustrations in muted earth tones and fluid character lines that suggest life and movement – brava. So beautifully done, and each page has so much going on; you can follow the unwritten story of the mouse on each page, and careful readers will see that many characters turn up over and over (besides Oliver, of course). Olivia is there all along, living her life parallel to Oliver’s; you can see that they will become best friends. So precious and wonderful.


anna the bookbinderAnna the Bookbinder, by Andrea Cheng and Ted Rand: A fantastic picture book! Anna’s father is a bookbinder; she’s helped him in the shop her whole life, and she knows the process very well. When her father is called away from work, Anna steps in to complete an important order. It’s odd to see these historical books where children and parents are coworkers as well as family members, since it’s so unusual now. Despite this book’s happy ending, I found myself wondering if Anna would be able to go to school, to travel, to marry for love – or if her father’s need of help in the bookshop would keep her tied to home forever. Maybe I’m thinking about it too much. 

miss mooreMiss Moore Thought Otherwise by Jan Pinborough and Debby Atwell: Oh Anne Carroll Moore! How I wish I were you. This book – the story of how Miss Moore created the Children’s Library space as we know it today – will make you thankful for children’s libraries. Miss Moore blazes her own trail, she has agency and verve and it’s just so satisfying reading about her successes! Since this is a children’s book, it is biased towards the positive, which made me wonder what Anne’s life was really like, and whether she ever wanted to give up, and what she dreamed of doing but couldn’t finish, and who were the intractable powers-that-be that she overthrew to make her dreams a reality for children everywhere? (It also really, really made me want to time-travel to the opening of the NYPL. Where’s my tardis?)

Rabbityness by Jo Empson: because neon paint splatters. And because of the word ‘rabbityness.’ And because this is a book that doesn’t pretend bad things don’t happen, it’s one that acknowledges that good & bad and old & new change in relation to each other all the time; and one person (or rabbit) can have a big impact.

When the Iowa weather is gray and bleak, it can be a relief to enter the colorful world of picture books! Here are a few books that have thrilled me lately from the “E” section:

  • beware of the frogBeware of the Frog by William Bee: vividly colored illustrations and a sinister frog make this twisted fairy tale unforgettable.
  • And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano: more lovely illustrations from Caldecott winner Erin E. Stead of A Sick Day For Amos McGee. Here, the story is about seeds planted at the beginning of a long gray spring and the anticipation that follows. A gradual increase in color and warmth marks the passage from winter to spring, and as in Amos, touches of humor are added in the illustrations that aren’t part of the  text.
  • oliviaOlivia and the Fairy Princesses: Ian Falconer’s beloved pig is NOT just going to be a pink frilly fairy princess like all the other girls (and some of the boys)! Olivia is at her feisty finest in this tale of individuality and being true to yourself. I adore the contrast of turquoise and pink on the cover, too!
  • Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters: Of the picture books I’ve written about, this is the only one in which the text was more memorable than the illustrations (although the pictures are great too). For example: “Cousin Clara’s cottage was consumed by a crocodile…[Lester] added crocodiles to his list of Suspicious Stuff Starting with C.” Thus, cousin Clara comes to live with Lester and his family, and as a “curiously speedy knitter,” Lester’s wardrobe is soon bursting with hideous handmade creations that he is forced to wear to school, leading to the inevitable humiliation and eventual sweater-murdering. Lester is a brainy, neurotic young man, and the way he squirms out of this pickle is satisfying.
  • this is not my hatThis Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen: Klassen’s second book exactly mirrors the plot of his first, but from the point of view of a thief, rather than a victim. Also, it’s fish instead of woodland critters. Just as beautiful, just as funny, just as appealing as I Want My Hat Back.

beetle book“Line up every kind of plant and animal on Earth and one of every four will be a beetle.” If your reaction to this fact is an uncomfortable mix of fascination and horror, get your hands on The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins. In this fact-filled picture book (written for children, but hey, this twenty-something learned a lot reading it), there are big, beautiful illustrations of bugs: hissing cockroaches, June bugs, fireflies, dung beetles, ladybugs, and hundreds of other creepy crawlies – all of them beetles. The full-color bugs are set against ample white space and accompanied by thematically grouped facts. Small (or big!) all-black silhouettes on every page show the actual size of the beetles that have been magnified for illustrations. Staring down the five-inch mandibles of a six-spotted green tiger beetle gets a lot easier when its 3/4-inch-tall silhouette reminds you just how tiny the beast really is!

A few other great books for the budding naturalist or the latent scientist:

  • A Butterfly Is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston, an artistically illustrated look at the life cycle of a butterfly. Lots of facts and gorgeous images make this appropriate for all ages. (if you like this, look at her others: An Egg is Quiet, A Rock Is Lively, and A Seed is Sleepy)
  • Step Gently Out by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder, a poem about the beauty and variety of nature illustrated with huge, zoomed-in photos of insects and plants.
  • You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim, a rumination on the interconnectivity of nature and humanity accompanied by lovely, lighthearted illustrations.

It’s been absolutely ages since the last time I read a picture book, but these excellent titles make me wish I’d picked them up more often. I have been missing a lot of awesome stuff! Like any great book, the appeal of these titles isn’t limited to one audience or one time or one interpretation: whether or not you have children in your life, these books are interesting and worth your time.

Stuck (words and pictures by Oliver Jeffers): “Stuck is a book about trying to solve a growing problem by throwing things at it,” Oliver Jeffers says in this video, where he reads most of the book. I could not stop giggling when I read it! Compulsively, obnoxiously, making-the-other-people-in-the-room-give-me-weird-looks giggling. When Floyd’s kite gets stuck in a tree, he chucks up his shoe to knock it down. When the shoe gets stuck too, he hurls up another shoe. Pretty soon, he’s lobbed everything he can think of at the tree and he has to think outside the box to solve the problem. Oliver Jeffers is a big name in picture books for good reason – the tidy blend of humor, art, and lessons learned make this a no-brainer for reading to kids.

A Sick Day For Amos McGee (words by Philip C. Stead, pictures by Erin E. Stead): animals acting like humans is standard fare in children’s literature, but this book improves on the concept with a subtly playful story and illustrations that are just plain jaw-dropping. A zookeeper called Amos has a daily routine: chess with the Elephant, footraces with the Tortoise, quiet time with the shy Penguin, etc. When he takes a sick day, his friends at the zoo brighten his day in return. The pictures are warm and wonderful, with thoughtful expressions on all of the characters’ faces (animal and human alike). Picture-only subplots add yet another layer of story to this 2011 Caldecott winner.

I Want My Hat Back (words and pictures by Jon Klassen): I can’t believe I’m about to write this about such a simple book, but I actually don’t want to reveal too much about it for fear of spoiling the ending! Imagine: spoiler alerts for a picture book. But here we are. I truly do not know how Jon Klassen gets so much deadpan humor and plain-as-day emotion into the faces of such simply drawn characters, but he manages it on every page. The ending has a refreshingly pithy, humorous, unapologetic taste to it. I’m eagerly anticipating getting my hands on a copy of his second book, This Is Not My Hat.

Extra Yarn (words by Mac Barnett and pictures by Jon Klassen): For an extra helping of Jon Klassen’s art, this book fits the bill beautifully. If you are a knitter or crocheter, you’ll be totally enamored of his illustrations here. A little girl discovers a box of infinitely replenishing color-changing yarn, and proceeds to knit sweaters for all of the animate and inanimate denizens of her town. The white space and gradual introduction of color, along with the touching story, make this a really special book.