Friday, February 4, 2011

Happy Birthday David Wiesner - February 5

Happy Birthday David Wiesner - February 5, 1956

How do I read a "wordless" storybook to my children?  Then, if I figure that out, will they even like a storybook without words?  Historically, I have avoided these questions by quickly placing this type of book back on the library shelf.  Even as a teacher, I wasn't willing to buy into the hype that wordless books are great for reluctant readers and writers. It was time to "experiment," as I told my children, with wordless books as we celebrated David Wiesner's birthday this week.

"The more ambiguous the problem, the more he liked it, and the better it served his inventive mind," said David Macaulay, one of David Wiesner's teachers at Rhode Island School Design.  David Wiesner went on to publish over 20 books for children including three Caldecott Medal winners and two honor books. At the center of these books is Wiesner's imagination and illustrations, both of which have been with him since childhood when he would create "wordless comic books, such as Slop the Wonder Pig, and silent films like his kung-fu vampire film, The Saga of Butchula." (Houghton-Mifflin).  Later, these imagination and illustrations started to take the form as wordless stories with his senior degree project that was "a 48-page, wordless picture book where I took a story by fantasy writer Fritz Lieber and told it in wordless format. It was an incredible learning experience." (Bookpage).

David Wiesner's first Caldecott Medal came in 1992 for Tuesday that stemmed from a magazine cover he designed for Cricket Magazine.It is considered a wordless book even though there are a few words that establish a timeline throughout the book.  Before reading this book we had already experienced Wiesner's other Caldecott winners, The Three Pigs and Flotsam.  I "read" the books to my children by orally adding words to the pictures without text.  However, I wanted to give them the opportunity to tell the story of a wordless book. I told them we were going to "experiment" by videotaping each of us reading Tuesday and then watching the recording to see how our stories were similar. First, I was shocked that they were excited to do this, maybe it was because I used the word "experiment".  Or maybe it was a clue to something important I had missed about wordless picture storybooks.  My daughter told a story of a frogs that began to fly on lily pads into the "shadows" and "over the city".  My son commented "Look at that frog. It's upside down." and "The frogs are chasing a dog."  I was impressed at their ability to pull something meaningful from each page.  The coolest part was when the story was finished they both were able to retell the story with a beginning, middle, and end.  To conclude the activity I asked them both what they thought of reading the book. My daughter said, "It was weird, because I have only read books with words."  My son replied, "Cool."

I think my daughter's reaction of "weird" is very reasonable.  From her viewpoint "Books have words and I like to read them."  It is a little "weird" and sometimes difficult to analyze a picture, derive meaning, and orally tell the story.  Later in the day, my daughter asked for another activity so I suggested writing the words for a David Wiesner story. I gave her post-it notes to then place her words in the book.  This idea came from the blog Together Time 4 Families.  She chose the book Sector 7 (Caldecott Honor Book), which was one of our favorites by David Wiesner, for this activity.

I feel more confident "reading" a wordless book to my children; generating words to orally tell a story that matches the pictures.  Additionally, I know my children enjoyed the activities of reading and writing along with the books by themselves.  This was excellent learning "experiment" for our family this week. I learned that book by David Wiesner is a perfect author to check out if your family has never experienced wordless books.  Also, I learned that I should no longer be apprehensive about wordless books. Just because they don't have words, doesn't mean they do not have a story to tell.

Check out David Wiesner's latest book (note: it is not wordless), Art and Max:

Many of David Wiesner's books were added to our list for the Picture Book Reading Challenge sponsored by There's a Book!  Click Here to see what else we have been reading!


1. David Wiesner Website - Houghton Mifflin Books
2. Biography from Houghton Mifflin
3. Flotsam Website -
4. Video Interview from ALA - YouTube
5. Flotsam Trailer - YouTube
6. Text Interview - Houghton Mifflin, Powells, Scholastic
7. Video on David Wiesner's Book Making Process from TeachingBooks (Cool Video!)
8. David Wiesner at BookFest 2002 - Library of Congress
9. Audio Interview - NPR (he is the second person interviewed in the clip)
10. David Wiesner discusses Art and Max - Amazon (Clip 1, Clip 2, Clip 3)
11. Creative Writing through Wordless Picture Books Lesson Plan - Read Write Think
12. More ideas for activities involving Wordless Picture Books - eHow
13. More ideas for using Wordless Books with your kids - Together Time 4 Families
14.  Interesting paper on available research on Wordless Picture Books - American Reading Forum


  1. David Wiesner is an incredibly talented author/illustrator. The details in his pictures are fantastic. Flotsam is one of my son's favorite books. We like to make up our own stories about some of the things in the pictures. It's a new adventure every time.

  2. I found your blog through Together Time for Families. What a great idea to highlight authors on their birthdays. Wordless picture books can be weird! I used them often when I taught children who were learning English as a second language. We would talk about the pictures and use post-it notes just like Susan suggested. Two of my favorite wordless picture books are Deep in the Forest by Brinton Turkle and Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola - my daughter loves pancakes and really enjoys "reading" this book by looking at the pictures. Here is a post I did recently highlighting A.A. Milne on his birthday:

  3. I just added a new post on my blog Emmy's Book of the Day. I am taking up the challenge of reading 200 books - that really shouldn't be too hard for me and my little one. Thanks for posting about the reading challenge. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts in the future!

  4. Wordless books -- I have never attempted reading such a thing, but you've given me the impetus to do so! I love the way you engaged your kids in exploring the books and experimenting with them.

    Art and Max is on my list to be reviewed for the Read-to-Me Picture Book Reading Challenge... I must get to it soon!

    What a wonderful idea to celebrate authors on their birthdays! I'm so glad that the Read-to-Me challenge led me to your blog!

  5. I have to agree with Elizabethanne that this is an inspired idea to read and celebrate book authors' birthday. It's also great to know about the links you posted at the end of your review. We're having a Wordless Picture Book Special over at GatheringBooks for the month of March and April, and Flotsam was one of the books we also reviewed, I am not sure whether you've seen that yet. At any rate, here's the link:
    Hope you can come and visit again, and we'd definitely check out the other titles you have over here.

  6. Oh how I love David Wiesner. Sector 7 is one of our favorites. His books take us back to traditional storytelling. You can highlight different elements in the retelling each time. I also like "You Can't Take a Balloon Into the National Gallery" by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzmann, another wordless book.

    1. Kirsten, I love this "You can highlight different elements in the retelling each time." I never thought of that as a positive element of wordless books. I love it! Thanks so much for sharing.


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