Wordless picture books are a great way to promote literacy for a variety of audiences. ELLs and emerging bilinguals can use them to develop vocabulary and use the language that they know. They can also be used for emergent readers to get them to develop a deep understanding of story structure and tell the story in their own words. Wordless picture books can also be great for older students who need to develop skills with inferring and identifying foreshadowing. These books can tell amazingly complex stories with nothing but illustrations. These are some of the best wordless picture books that I’ve read and those suggested by the Picture Book Brain community!
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Best Wordless Picture Books
Forever Home by Henry Cole
What child hasn’t wanted a pet? How many parents have asked their kids to show that they can be responsible to get a pet? In this book, a boy with dog fever sets out to prove to his dads that he can be responsible enough for a dog going so far as to go on walks with a leash. He finally proves it to them and he notices a stray dog that he eventually rediscovers at the humane society. The boy follows through with all of his plans for his dog being a responsible dog, something many kids need to see, as he gives the dog its forever home. Henry Cole finds ways to communicate some of the deepest messages and changes in time while still including a lot of action and heart. He has another couple of books on this list as well. In the spreads with only the most essential color to draw attention, he tells a story that every student will relate to and inspire them to try similar things in their lives.
Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell
A girl and a wolf cub are lost in the middle of a snowstorm. They both help one another find their way to their loved ones. This book won the Caldecott Medal! A great story about friendship and trust and its setting make it a really good winter read aloud. I love this book for analyzing character feelings especially since the only visible part of the girl’s face are her eyes.
Chalk by Bill Thomson
Three children find a bag of chalk that makes their chalk drawings come to life. One drawing in particular causes quite the problem! How do the children solve their problem? Your students will love debating whether it actually happened or if it was all in their imaginations.
Journey Trilogy by Aaron Becker
Aaron Becker wrote a 3 part series following 2 children who use magical crayons to access a magical world where they go on a journey. Complete a quest, and finally they return one final time in the book Return. A truly amazing trilogy that I’ve used with students in first grade to practice inferring and with students up to fifth grade who learn about foreshadowing. Truly some of the best wordless picture books for kindergarten through upper elementary!
Flotsam by David Wiesner
A boy goes to a beach and enjoys searching through all of the flotsam and jetsam finding a number of interesting things. The most interesting piece he finds, though, is an underwater camera. The camera reveals some incredible images, and David Wiesner’s illustrations and their details will spark debate and create a sense of wonder in your students.
A Stone For Sascha by Aaron Becker
I don’t even know where to begin with this story. It makes me cry EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. A girl and her family are grieving the loss of their family dog before leaving for a family trip. With the discovery of a special stone, the girl and readers discover an age-old truth about the cycle humans and dogs have gone through for millenia. While the cover material states that the dog was Sascha, I prefer to not tell this to students and have them discuss what they think the title means and who Sascha is. A really great way to increase discussion with one of the best wordless picture books.
From a tall tree growing in the forest–to the checkout counter at the grocery store–one little bag finds its way into the hands of a young boy on the eve of his first day of school. And so begins an incredible journey of one little bag that is usedand reused and reused again.
In a three-generation family, the bag is transporter of objects and keeper of memories. And when Grandfather comes to the end of his life, the family finds a meaningful new way for the battered, but much-loved little bag to continue its journey in the circle of life. In addition to being one of my favorite wordless books, this is also one of my favorite Earth Day books for elementary with its recycling theme.
Sector 7 by David Wiesner
A boy goes on a field trip to the Empire State Building with his class. While he’s at the top, he meets a friendly cloud who takes him to the Sector 7 Cloud Dispatch Center where he meets many more clouds. The boy helps the clouds but eventually must return. A great story to springboard into science subjects such as wind and weather and cloud formations.
Field Trip to the Moon by John Hare
A group of students go on a field trip to the moon. One student gets distracted and starts drawing all of the craters and trenches and falls asleep. When he wakes up, he realizes that his class has left. As he waits for them to return, he continues drawing and meets some unexpected friends who enjoy drawing just as much as he does. A great book for introducing outer space, the moon, and earth science.
Pancakes For Breakfast by Tomie dePaola
Talk about a classic book! Tomie dePaola’s first wordless picture book tells the story of a woman determined to make pancakes for breakfast. It’s a delightful, charming tale filled with humor. It’s a lovely book, and was actually recognized as a Common Core Examplar text for Grades K-1.
Inside Outside by Lizi Boyd
A great story that students love because of cut-outs on every page. Through the cut-outs, the inside becomes part of the outside and the outside comes inside throughout the four seasons of the year. Lots of details on each page will encourage students to examine each page more critically to discover elements that they didn’t notice at first glance.
Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day
This isn’t completely wordless, but it might as well be. Mom leaves Carl to watch over the baby. A hilarious adventure about the house ensues while Carl, ever the good dog, takes care of the baby. It’s part of a series, but this book is the first in the series. Many teachers recommended this one, and I can now personally say that it thoroughly freaked out my in-laws when I left them this book to read to my daughter.
The Story of… by John S. Goodall
The author has a variety of books in this series including the one pictured above: The Story of an English Village. I remember poring over these books when I was younger seeing how different things like a village or a farm changed over time. Beautiful illustrations that your students will love to look over!
Tuesday by David Wiesner
How could a Caldecott Medal-winning book not make the list of the best wordless picture books? You’ve heard of the phrase “When pigs fly?” This book examines what would happen if FROGS could fly…on lily pads.
The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
Another great winter read for primary grades. A boy makes a snowman and then dreams of what fun he would have with his snowman if it came to life. This is truly a classic wordless book. You can find a Youtube video made about the book using the original illustrations.
Snowman’s Story by Will Hillenbrand
This was a recommendation from Amy in the Picture Book Brain community who is an art teacher, so you know the illustrations must be awesome! Similar to the Frosty the Snowman tale, a hat lands on a newly made snowman and brings it to life. The snowman reads a story to some animals and a mischievous rabbit takes his book!
Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner
This was a recommendation from Kristie in the Picture Book Brain community. I should have known it was good: David Wiesner is pretty much synonymous with Caldecott. The story is genious, and it isn’t exactly wordless, especially if you can read alien language. Mr. Wuffles is a cat who is easily bored by his toys. Here he finds an alien spaceship, and Mr. Wuffles’s interest leads to an alien/insect alliance. Your kids will love trying to interpret the alien language.
Zoom by Istvan Banyai
This book is one that will always have you questioning what it is that you’re looking at. It starts looking at a rooster’s comb and ends in outer space. This is a fun discovery book for primary grades and a book that I with upper elementary to talk about perspective. This is especially powerful to look at for social studies and history. I use it to tell students about how history is nothing more than a snapshot of a bigger picture and that this picture doesn’t always show what truly happened.
Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole
A book that shows how powerful illustrations can be. We see at the beginning of the story that it takes place during the Civil War in the South. A girl goes to the barn and notices that someone is hiding there. Goes back inside ready to tell everyone. What does the title mean? Your students will enjoy debating what was “unspoken.” This is one of my favorite wordless picture books for older students.
Window by Jeannie Baker
Trudie from the Picture Book Brain community wrote a beautiful description of this book written by her compatriot Jeannie Baker. She says: “A favourite picture book even though there are some words on birthday cards and signs. It does not matter if you can not read as the pictures truly tell the story of man’s impact on the environment.
We see the world through a boy’s window, as he grows from a newborn to a young man, and the once isolated house is surrounded by progress. The book ends with the now 24 year old man holding his own baby looking out the window of a house in an isolated area.
Mirror by Jeannie Baker
Trudie also writes of this book: ‘Mirror’ is about the boys of two families; one living in a city, Sydney, in Australia and the other lives in the Valley of Roses in southern Morocco, North Africa. She wrote the book after travelling in Morocco as a stranger, yet welcomed with friendliness and generosity from “strangers”.
I’m really excited to read this book myself as soon as it arrives at the library.
The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
This book is another Caldecott Medal winner. It tells the classic tale of the lion and the mouse and how the mouse unexpectedly helps the lion out of quite the predicament. The highly emotive illustrations make it one of the best wordless picture books on this list.
Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson
In this wordless picture book, a little girl collects wildflowers while her distracted father pays her little attention. Each flower becomes a gift, and whether the gift is noticed or ignored, both giver and recipient are transformed by their encounter. “Written” by award-winning poet JonArno Lawson and brought to life by illustrator Sydney Smith, Sidewalk Flowers is an ode to the importance of small things, small people, and small gestures.
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Best Wordless Picture Books
What are some of your favorite wordless picture books? Are there any must read wordless picture books that I left out? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll add it!