Friday, October 4, 2013

Wordless Books & Visual Literacy

For a child who cannot yet read--who cannot decode letters as symbols that represent sounds--wordless books such as Journey by Aaron Becker give them a way to tell the story they see. 

From Journey by Aaron Becker
Children will notice the only colors that pop in the opening pages of Journey: a boy's purple crayon, and a girl's red one. Like Crockett Johnson's Harold and his purple crayon, the girl uses her red one to create a world. In her case, it leads her out of her alienating sepia-toned cityscape and into a lush world of forests, interconnected waterways and steampunk airships. Eventually, a purple bird leads her back to the boy and his purple crayon. She is no longer alone. 

Stephen Savage's Where's Walrus? is a terrific introduction to wordless books for children. Its direct, implicit puzzle--finding Walrus, who's escaped from New York's Central Park Zoo--allows them to pick the hero from a line-up based on his unique characteristics (flippers, tail, tusks, etc.). The book gets them thinking about patterns, likenesses and differences. Generous white space and bold colors repeated for maximum effect make this an ideal book for giving children the idea of how to "read" a purely visual narrative. 

Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger includes a few words, to describe the bountiful shades of green that she showcases in the book, but the larger narrative goes unstated. A parent-child relationship that centers around a tree, which begins as a sapling and grows to be the anchor of their home, suggests the cycle of life. Her greens go from the concrete and literal ("lime green" / "pea green") to the more abstract ("all green" / "never green"). She uses die-cuts in the pages to train children's eyes on the details she wants to reveal to them. It's an ingenious way to demonstrate ways to inspect artwork carefully and unlock its secrets.

Jerry Pinkney's Caldecott Medal–winning The Lion and the Mouse, with its breathtaking landscapes of the Serengeti teeming with hidden treasures, invites children to pore over the pictures for flowers and creatures, large and small. Pinkney's gorgeous spreads of grandeur composed from the tiniest details echo Aesop's overriding theme of the interconnectedness and interdependence of nature's plants and species. 

Open any one of these books (and hopefully all four) to unlock how much your youngster has to say about what he or she sees.

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