Wordless books and literature in the classroom

Every morning brings us news of the globe, and yet we are poor in noteworthy stories. This is because no event comes to us without being already shot through with explanation. In other words, by now almost nothing that happens benefits storytelling; almost everything benefits information. Actually, it is half the art of storytelling to keep a story free from explanation as one reproduces it. . . . The most extraordinary things, marvelous things, are related with the greatest accuracy, but the psychological connection of the event is not forced on the reader. It is left up to him to interpret things the way he understands them, and thus the narrative achieves an amplitude that information lacks

Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections

Wordless picture books (let’s call them this for the sake of simplification) bring us back to the beginning. Back in the time when words don’t come first. Do they ever come first?

Today I want to invite you to explore the world of pictorial narratives where words are left out to open space for YOUR verbal narrative; the narrative of the reader, the watcher, the observer… Kids are very good at it. Adults who have kept their childhood inside them are too. In pictorial narratives what you can see is what you get. Just like in verbal ones. The difference is that in verbal narratives pictures come later. In both cases, your repertoire plays a crucial role.

Building a repertoire is the best we can do by reading varied literature genres. Combining life experience with reading experience is enriching in many aspects. That’s the reason I read with kids, with my daughter. Kids can read since they are babies. They read with their whole body. They have this perceptive reading of things. They read images, voices, and gestures, and that is how they start connecting the dots of written language. We are all the results of that first beginning. So, let’s not underestimate the power of wordless picture books. Bring them to you and your kids.

노란우산 – *Le parapluie jaune (Yellow umbrella) by Ryu Jae-Soo is the book I am exploring this week with my students. I just wanted to state that this kind of picture book invites readers to speak more than usual, so if you are reading this with children, let them speak up. A good strategy is to let them watch you turn the pages with the background sound first and then do the same thing but this time you let them say whatever they want about it. Let them have a conversation about it. To conclude you can ask punctual questions about, colour, weather, clothes, quantity, their interpretation and the famous ‘what do you see here?’. Just make sure you won’t spoil the magic of reading by telling them what they should see and demanding they stay quiet. Don’t give too much information. Do not build the narrative for them. Let them do it.

‘It is left up to him (the reader) to interpret things the way he understands them, and thus the narrative achieves an amplitude that information lacks’

Walter Benjamin

Yellow Umbrella by Ryu Jae-Soo with music by Dong Il Sheen; Published in France in 2008, by Mijade editions: Le parpluie jaune.

This book was thought to be read while listening to instrumental music composed specially for it. It’s fabulous the effect it has on readers. The following animation was found on youtube and I would not show this to kids before reading the book with them. Would you? I think the magic of reading is waking up the imagination. I’d let them with their first impression of the reading and in a second meeting, to refresh their memories, I’d show this sweet animation. I love it.

*Luis Girao (@luischangmin ) is the Brazilian specialist in south Korean books who made me discover this book. For those who speak Portuguese he has now a series of videos and short courses related to children’s literature together with Juliana Padua. You can find them on instagram @julianapadua . Thank you, Luis Girao.

Sue .


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