Wordless Picture Books: Some Possibilities

Blue and black lines drawn on a cream piece of paper
A rainbow of colors painted on paper
Artistic blue waves with a white background

Have you read a wordless picture book? To put the slightly obvious into words: a wordless picture book is a children’s book that tells a story using only illustrations. What might be less obvious, however, is how enjoyable it can be for an adult to read one while alone. Reading the following books to myself has allowed me to enjoy many lovely moments of exploration and contemplation.

When I read a wordless picture book, my pace is reduced and my attention is increased. Without words to carry me along, I take the time to study the art of the illustrator, and to take in the vocabulary of color being used in the book. Turning the pages more slowly allows my thoughts to turn to how meaning is created, and to how I play an expanded role in that process when no words are present. At the same time, contemplating art and story allows me to pause for several quiet minutes, inhabiting space without hurry and with tranquility.

Below, I introduce some of the wordless picture books that I’ve enjoyed most, for adults who want to take a look at one – or perhaps more than one. I’ve sorted the selected titles into groups of three, because I found that my enjoyment only increased when I read multiple books speaking on one topic. Read together, the books strike up a conversation with each other, and this allowed me to think more about matters of art and meaning.

Looking at Lines: These books show how a simple line – drawn on the ground, etched in a frozen pond, written on a page – can convey many meanings and pose particular questions. A line can signal limits and also the possibility of moving beyond them. And sometimes, a line on the page can lead us to consider the difference between what’s real and what’s imaginary, or to notice when we cross the line from one to the other.

“Draw the Line” by Kathryn Otoshi 

“Lines” by Suzy Lee

“The Fish and the Cat” by Marianne Dubuc

Playing with Play: These books vividly illustrate the joys of play. Each author-illustrator uses color with meaningful precision, and each employs a palette that’s noticeably distinct from the others.

“Float” by Daniel Miyares

“Aquarium” by Cynthia Alonso

“Another” by Christian Robinson

Wondering about Waters: These books share setting and subject, depicting adventures that take place in (or near) the ocean. For me, the deep blues and serene greens whisper a lovely echo of actual oceans and waters. For this reason, these pages reminded me: illustrations in particular can be a wonderful way to evoke the wonders of the ocean.

“Flotsam” by David Wiesner

“Selkie” by Josephine Birch

“The Fisherman and the Whale” by Jessica Lanan

In a wordless book, pictures are possibilities. Opening a wordless picture book, you open up possibilities for enjoyment – and for inspiration and exhalation.


Laura, thank you so much for sharing this blog post! As someone who impatiently speeds through the pages when I'm reading, I really enjoy the way that wordless picture books make me slow down and really appreciate everything that's on the page. Have you read "The Paper Boat" by Thao Lam? It's one of my favorite wordless picture books. I will be sure to add the books you recommended to my list!

Zesha, Thank you for reading my blog. I do really like "The Paper Boat" by Thao Lam. I especially appreciate how it invites readers to think about issues of perspective. Laura

Recently I've really been enjoying reading a children's picture book on my lunch break. I find it relaxes me and, at the same time, it seems to activate a different part of my brain which helps me reset for the rest of my workday. I taught a creative writing unit on wordless picture books to my middle school students once. And though the unit went incredibly well I honestly haven't revisited wordless picture books since. You've inspired me to check some out for my own pleasure! I think I'll start with the ocean-themed ones. Thanks for the recommendations!

Jess, Thank you for reading and sharing. I agree: picture books are quite often a lovely way to reset. You might like "Bunny and Tree" -- it's a bit longer, and for more advanced readers, but I found the palette to be soothing. Thanks, Laura