Ask Design Mom: Books Without Words

September 21, 2010

We discovered a fun book called Chalk by Bill Thomson — it’s a picture book with no words. Do you or your readers have suggestions for other picture books that require the reader to invent the story? Thanks for your great site! — Andrea

That’s such a fun question, Andrea! Books without words are great for all ages. One of the recent wordless favorites at our house is The Lion & the Mouse which I posted about a few weeks ago. We also love Zoom.

What about you Dear Readers? What are your favorite wordless picture books?

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{ 75 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Elena September 21, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Wave by Suzy Lee is one of my favorite wordless picture book.


2 Design Mom September 21, 2010 at 3:34 pm

I haven’t heard of Wave. Can’t wait to check it out.


3 Isabel @AlphaMom September 22, 2010 at 6:38 pm

I second Wave. It’s one of my all-time favorites and the first that jumped to mind.


4 Jordan September 21, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Also check out the award winning Flotsam by David Wiesner. Wonderful.


5 Design Mom September 21, 2010 at 3:35 pm

David Wiesner is great! Shall we count his Tuesday as wordless also?


6 Alea September 22, 2010 at 10:37 am

I love Tuesday, and we also have Sector 7 by him. It’s about a school field trip to the Empire State Building on a cloudy day and the boy is taken to the cloud factory by his new cloud friend.


7 Pamela September 21, 2010 at 3:13 pm

I second Flotsam. So enchanting!


8 Design Mom September 21, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Enchanting is the perfect word.


9 Asha {Parent Hacks} September 21, 2010 at 3:23 pm

I love Good Dog Carl. Miss those books with my (now older) kids! Must dig them out.


10 Design Mom September 21, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Good Dog Carl? That’s new-to-me. Thanks for the suggestion.


11 Kate The Great February 14, 2011 at 3:17 pm

All the Carl books by Alexandra Day are wonderful. We started with Carl’s Masquerade, in board book form. There’s a few lines of text at the beginning, and at the end. There are signs and labels, but all paintings. Some of them are clearly made in the eighties because of the model’s clothes, but still good reads.


12 Steph September 22, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I was just going to add a comment about the Carl books by Alexandra Day. They feature a rottweiler who is the perfect babysitter — based on a dog of Day’s — and have a really lovely retro feel. Everyone in our family loves him, from two-year-old Vivi to Grampa. You’d probably want to start with the original “Good Dog, Carl.” (The site doesn’t do the retro prettiness of the books justice.)


13 Leslie September 21, 2010 at 3:28 pm

I would recommend The Red Book by Barbara Lehman and The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg (this one does a very minimal words, but REALLY encourages the reader to invent/finish the story).


14 Design Mom September 21, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Great ideas, Leslie!


15 Claire September 21, 2010 at 3:36 pm

I love Zoom, too! Goodnight Gorilla by Rathmann and Tuesday by Wiesner are also favorites. Oh! And any of the Carl dog books :)


16 Design Mom September 21, 2010 at 3:36 pm

I forgot about Goodnight Gorilla! Our boardbook version was lost somewhere years ago. So glad for the reminder.


17 jen September 21, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Easy. My son loves The Adventures of Polo by French illustrator Regis Faller. This is my usual go to birthday present. Wonderful illustration and the stories left to the reader. My son loves to “read” this book on his own.


18 Jennifer September 22, 2010 at 4:58 pm

My daughter has loved all of the Polo books too.


19 Beth September 21, 2010 at 3:54 pm

I was also gonna suggest all the Carl books by Alexandra Day. My kids really love those.


20 DeAnn Campbell September 21, 2010 at 3:58 pm

There is an adorable wordless picture book by Scott Franson. It is called “Un-brella” and features a girl who uses her umbrella to turn winter to spring and back again. He’s a digital animator and every single snowflake in the book it is different. You should check it out. It is our favorite.


21 Angel September 21, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Good Night, Gorilla has very few words. Pretty much just “good night”. My daughter likes when readers narrate to her rather than read which makes it more interesting, but can make certain book choices a little tougher.


22 Lauren September 21, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Wonder Bear by Tao Nyeu is magical. It fills me with happy wishes every time we “read” it.


23 Laura September 22, 2010 at 10:40 am

We love Wonder Bear!


24 Andrea -- September 21, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Thanks for the great suggestions, everybody! Now I’ve got a nice list of books to request from the library!

I was really surprised that my kids would like a book without words. Even my older kids thought Thomson’s CHALK was great.

Here’s how a 9 year old, a 7 year old, a 5 year old, and a baby all enjoy a picture book together!


25 R. Pyper September 21, 2010 at 4:23 pm

I also wanted to pledge my mom love to Tuesday. If you’ve got boys (or girls) who like frogs, it’s a sure bet!


26 Anne September 21, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Hug by Jez Alzborough, 10 Minutes Till Bedtime by Peggy Rathman, and The Snowman by Raymond Briggs are all fantastic.

My teen-aged son recommends The Arrival by Shaun Tan.

I love the Carl books, Goodnight Gorilla, and Tuesday as well.


27 Katie September 21, 2010 at 4:58 pm

I was beat. Love Wave!


28 Hannah September 21, 2010 at 5:03 pm

Suzy Lee, the author of Wave, has a new one out called Shadow which is also delightful.

David Wiesner is a favorite of mine, but he’s already been mentioned.

I also love The Snowman by Raymond Briggs.


29 r.pinnegar September 21, 2010 at 5:04 pm

I second the suggestion about Chris Van Allsburg’s Mysteries of Harry Burdock!


30 Sarah Buttenwieser September 21, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Molly Bang’s The Grey Lady & The Strawberry Snatcher is pretty epic (& a bit dark, but truly wonderful).
Ditto many readers have already noted.

Also, a little known Ezra Jack Keats’ book, Kitten for a Day.
Tomie DePaola’s Pancakes for Breakfast (practically without words, so great).
1-2-3 to the Zoo by everyone’s friend Eric Carle. He says it was his first solo book because he was afraid to use words.


31 meg September 21, 2010 at 5:14 pm

my boys love the Owly books which have very few words


32 carrie kram September 21, 2010 at 5:49 pm

The Snowman – Raymond Briggs. My favorite.


33 Jenny September 21, 2010 at 8:39 pm

The animated DVD for the Snowman is awesome too. No words, just music. It’s a favorite in our house at Christmas.


34 Kathleen September 21, 2010 at 6:02 pm

I second or third Tuesday by David Wiesner.
I couldn’t remember what it was called at first so I asked my 13 year old and he remembered it right away!


35 Kathleen September 21, 2010 at 6:05 pm

P.S. then we “read” it together again. *teary*


36 lisa September 21, 2010 at 6:15 pm

My family grew up reading Peter Spier’s books – such beautifully detailed illustrations! I remember one called Rain, and one about Christmas . . . I know he did lots more than that. Even as an adult I like looking through the books and finding new things in his illustrations.

My 17-month-old’s current favorite is Good Night, Gorilla. It’s fun to see his reaction to the story line and to hear him say “gilla.”


37 Leslie September 22, 2010 at 10:43 am

Peter Spier is great! Another one of his that I love is Noah’s Ark.


38 EJ September 21, 2010 at 6:29 pm

I love all this talk about books!

But I can’t help but notice that no one has mentioned that you can always get great book recommendations from your public librarian. Seriously — just about every public library in the country has a youth librarian who specializes in service to children and families, and they should be able to make fabulous, personalized recommendations about the books that would work best for you and your kids. Try it out!


39 anna p. September 21, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Welcome to the Zoo! by Alison Jay
Fun and whimsical. My four year old loves to see what funny little scenes she can find.


40 Christina September 21, 2010 at 10:45 pm

I second this one. And I’d like to mention that we got it in the mail through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. It’s a great program that anyone can qualify for that sends a book each month to both my boys (based on their age so it’s different books) until they are age 5. You can check out the Web site to see if your state/county is participating and sign up. I love the program and I like to tell everyone I can about it.


41 Marta September 22, 2011 at 2:22 pm

I also posted this book, which how I came upon this post, but I want to thank Christina for talking about the Imagination Library. I never knew about this and it sounds amazing (I just went to the website, Makes me want to get it started where I live!


42 Leslie September 21, 2010 at 8:09 pm

We love so many that are mentioned already, Hug, Goodnight Gorilla, Flotsam.

Another favorite of ours that hasn’t been mentioned yet is Rainstorm by Barbara Lehman. We got it from the library and loved it so much we had to buy it.

Her other books, The Red Book and Museum trip are also fabulous and wordless. (Gabrielle – The Red Book is a Caldecott Honor Book. I know how you like those.)


43 Anne September 21, 2010 at 8:25 pm

“Oops” by Arthur Geisert…wonderfully detailed illustrations about a pig family and what happens when one of them spills milk and the chain of events it leads to… (think Rube Goldberg)


44 Liz Whittington September 21, 2010 at 8:42 pm

South by Patrick McDonnell is incredibly popular with our 3 year old (and me). Beautifully illustrated and a heart-warming story. We also love so many that were already mentioned, including Goodnight Gorilla and the Snowman.


45 Ainsley September 21, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Wave is a favorite in our house. My husband has the best sound effects for it that completely delight my boys. Its so much fun that even my 1 yr old chimes in with sound effects:-) What a fun post – I love all the suggestions!


46 Catherine September 21, 2010 at 9:30 pm

I post about these ones on my blog last week:

My post is in French, but you’ll get to see pictures of the books.

My 21 months-old son like these books a lot.


47 Alea September 22, 2010 at 10:56 am

We have that book in English with all the seasons together. It’s a good one too.


48 Jennifer September 22, 2010 at 12:45 pm

We LOVE this book “In the Town, All Year ‘Round.” My four year old has spent hours reading it. We’ve given it for gifts and it’s gone over well.


49 Adri September 22, 2010 at 1:38 pm

“In the town…” is my favorite too. Endless stories!


50 Catherine September 22, 2010 at 2:48 pm

I’ve seen the one with the four seasons together and I plan to buy it for my son’s second birthday… Have you seen “In the night”? It’s also SO beautiful!

51 Kathleen September 21, 2010 at 9:35 pm

I really like Tana Hoban books for wordless books. They are mostly out of print, but you can usually find them at the library.

Great book recommendations all around!


52 Meggan Britton September 21, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Most of my favorites have already been mentioned (love David Weisner and Chris VanAllsburg), but our favorite Peter Spier book was, “Bored, Nothing To Do”. I also love Rube Goldbergs books…we had one growing up and I would read it for hours…


53 caroline September 21, 2010 at 9:36 pm

I LOVE that Andrea asked this question – oftentimes, people are thrown off by the lack of words and aren’t to sure what to do with a wordless book, but they offer fantastic opportunities to look closely and figure out possible stories.

I enthusiastically second (or eighth or ninth) the recommendations of books by Barbara Lehman (LOVE The Red Book, also Museum Trip, Rainstorm, & Trainstop) and David Wiesner. If you’re a fan of Flotsam and Tuesday, look for Free Fall and Sector 7. Gabby, I bet your kids would get an extra kick out of Sector 7 because it begins with a class trip to the Empire State Building… I can’t get enough of that book, and it totally changed the way I look at clouds :)

Other recommendations: Eric Rohmann’s Time Flies – great if your kids are into dinosaurs. Istvan Banyai’s Zoom and Re-Zoom are interesting exercises in perspective. Why? by Nikolai Popov (if you can find a copy) is a compelling exploration of war and destruction, and how they can arise from the smallest beginnings.

This is turning into a novel, but I’d be remiss not to encourage everyone to pore over the book Anne’s teenage son recommended: The Arrival by Shaun Tan. Just a stunning book. Happy reading, all!


54 Andrea -- September 22, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Great suggestions! I love how my kids change the story a little (or a lot) every time they “read” a wordless book.


55 Kate September 21, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Has “Good Dog, Carl” been mentioned? (I don’t have enough time to read all of the comments at the moment… but I will.) It’s for sure our favorite no-words book.


56 Eija September 21, 2010 at 11:16 pm

So many of my favorites have already been mentioned! Wave by Suzy Lee, Sector 7 by David Weisner, The Snowman by Raymond Briggs , Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann.

I love Suzy Lee and think she is best for the 3-8 age range. She has two new books this year!
David Weisner is amazing for ALL ages, adults included.
Banyai is great for older children and deserve immediate second and third readings.
Goodnight, Gorilla can make my toddler aged kids belly laugh.
I have a special place in my heart for The Snowman because I loved the movie growing up and it always always reminds me of Christmas and my family.

Indestructibles Books are good for babies and toddlers. Beautiful pictures, bendy, chewable. :)


57 Brandi September 22, 2010 at 8:16 am

I have to second the Polo books by Regis Faller. There are many of them and they are wonderful. There is also a website where you can explore Polo’s world.


58 Wendy September 22, 2010 at 8:24 am

I didn’t have time to stop and read the 44 comments before me…so I am certain someone mention anything by Suzy Lee. Wave is one of them. LOVELY books! Beautiful illustrations. My kids adore her books!


59 Leasa September 22, 2010 at 9:43 am

Check out Why? by Nikolai Popov


60 Alea September 22, 2010 at 10:54 am

We got a book last Christmas called Anno’s USA by Mitsumasa Anno. He visited our country and studies things, then drew a book that starts as a traveler arriving in our country from the west and travels eastward while moving backwards through time. There are drawings of all sorts of major events and landmarks in our country, and then the traveler rows his boat off the east coast as you see a settler’s ship arriving. I think he has a similar book based on Europe. I just wish it came with a study guide!

I love that we get to talk about books here! I always have Amazon open in another window to check everything out and add it to my wishlist!


61 Andrea -- September 22, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Oh! I had forgotten all about the Anno books! The Europe book is called “Anno’s Journey”:

For the longest time we had “Anno’s USA” and “Anno’s Journey” checked out so often from the library, it almost seemed that we owned them. Such wonderful books! I’m adding them to my wishlist now…


62 Lindsay September 22, 2010 at 11:50 am

“Good Dog Carl” by Alexandra Day and “Tuesday” by David Weisner. Also, “Dinosaur!” by Peter Sis, and “Noah’s Ark” by Peter Spier.


63 Melissa September 22, 2010 at 1:10 pm

We have a little set of season books by Gerda Muller that we love. My youngest sister had them when she was little, and then my mom bought us a set when I had my oldest. The pictures are sweet and old-fashioned, and you can make the stories as short or as long as you like–depending on how tired you are when you’re putting the kids to bed!


64 Michelle T. September 22, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Most of my favorites have been named, but here are a few more:
A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog by Mercer Mayer
Frog on His Own by Mercer Mayer
I’m a Speech Language Pathologist and wordless books are great for eliciting language, I use them all the time :)


65 M September 25, 2010 at 12:36 am

My two-year-old LOVES Ten Minutes Till Bedtime by Rathman. We also like the Red Book, Mercer Mayer’s Frog books, and Flotsam.


66 Kiasa September 25, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Has anyone mentioned “frog goes to dinner” by Mercer Meyer? It’s one I loved to “read” to my mom and now my 4 yr old loves it. I think Mercer Meyer has a couple more, but I’m not familiar with them.

I LOVE this list and can’t wait to get some for our library!


67 becky f September 26, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Un-Brella by Scott Franson. The digital illustrations are amazing!


68 Cass September 26, 2010 at 11:42 pm

The Red Book- by Barbara Lehman. My boys look at this over and over.

Barbara Lehman has also written a couple others (Museum Trip and Rainstorm), but this one is our favorite!


69 Still The Students September 28, 2010 at 7:16 am

Just last week, my kids and I enjoyed “reading” Once Upon A Banana.
Jennifer Armstrong.

There’s something so Choose-Your-Own-Adventure about these wordless books, isn’t there?


70 Rebecca September 29, 2010 at 11:50 am

We were given a gift from friends in Germany: a book called “Sommer-Wimmelbuch” by Rotraut Susanne Berners. It has wonderful illustrations, and no words so it doesn’t matter that we don’t speak German in our house. I can’t find it on Amazon, but it does look like they have others in the series. Here’s the link for the Winter version:


71 Jennifer October 13, 2010 at 1:45 pm

There’s an English version that has all four seasons. It’s called “In the Town, All Year ‘Round.” We keep hoping they’ll publish more of her books here.


72 vanessa @ silly eagle books September 22, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Wave by Suzy Lee is my favorite, but we also enjoy The Adventures of Polo by Regis Faller.


73 Marta September 22, 2011 at 2:09 pm

I love Welcome to the Zoo by Alison Jay — her illustrations decorate my son’s room.


74 Rebecca September 22, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Like other have mentioned, Good Night Gorilla is a perennial favorite in our house. My 2.5-year-old will read it to me at night.


75 Jennifer September 22, 2011 at 7:37 pm

We just discovered The Umbrella. It’s a fun no words read.


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