Wordless Picturebook

What is a Wordless Picturebook?

It is a misunderstanding that all books that are without words are all picturebooks since not all of them have stories in the traditional way. Hence, some academics such as Rowe prefer to call them “sequenced picture texts” (1997) while Beckett (2012) suggests the term “wordless narratives''. Nières-Chevrel (2010) also explains it as a text where the visual image carries the significance of the meaning and the absence of words is entirely appropriate and consistent with the topic, not just a simple artistic achievement. In other words, lack of words plays an important role and contributes to the overall meaning of the narrative. Additionally, in the field of children's literature, the term "picturebook" without a space in between is also frequently used to denote the interdependence of word and image (Arizpe, 2013). 

Beyond the Text: The Educational and Literary Significance of Wordless Picturebooks

From both an educational and literary perspective, wordless picturebooks are regarded as an ideal medium for extracting specific research data. In the field of education, studies suggest that using wordless picturebooks will be a useful tool for examining language development, storytelling and other skills (Arizpe, 2013: 3). While from the literary standpoint, pictures from wordless picturebooks are considered to be a narrative tool which can be analysed to see how semiotics of image have changed over time (Arizpe, 2013: 4).  

Current Changes: Reader Engagement and Versatility in Contemporary Wordless Picturebooks

Scholars in related fields emphasize that the implied reader (Nodelman 1988; Rowe 1996; Nikolajeva and Scott 2001; Nières-Chevrel 2010; Bosch 2010 and 2011; Bosch and Duran 2009; Beckett 2012; Ramos and Ramos 2012) is now expected to participate more actively. It appears that picturebooks with words and those without are identifieddistinguish themselves primarily by the level of reader engagement required, allowing the reader to co-construct meaning (Arizpe, 2013).

On the other hand, according to Beckett (2012), the versatility and the appeal to readers of all ages are the main reasons for the current popularity of wordless picturebooks. It is also the interactive and cinematic qualities of them that make it suitable for the digital age. 


Arizpe, E. (2013). ‘Meaning-making from wordless (or nearly wordless) picturebooks: What educational research expects and what readers have to say.’ Cambridge Journal of Education, 43(2): 163-176.

Arizpe, E. (2013). ‘Wordless picturebooks: historical, critical and educational perspectives on meaning-making.’ In: B. Kümmerling-Meibauer (ed.) Aesthetic and Cognitive Challenges of the Picturebook. London: Routledge. pp.1-3.

Beckett, S. (2012). Crossover Picturebooks: A Genre for All Ages. London: Routledge. 

Bosch, E. (2010). ‘El juego de Pululeer y juegos para releer.’ Bloc. Revista Internacional de Arte y Literatura Infantil, 6: 6-21.

Bosch, E. (2011). How many words can a wordless picturebook have? History and Theory of the Picturebook International Conference, September 2011, Tübingen, Germany.

Bosch, E. and Duran, T. (2009). ‘OVNI: un álbum sin palabras que todos leemos de manera diferente.’ AILIJ Anuario de Investigación de Literatura Infantil y Juvenil, 7(2): 39-52.

Dowhower, S. (1997). ‘Wordless Books: Promise and possibilities, a genre comes of age.’ In: K. Camperell, B. L. Hayes and R. Telfer (eds.) Yearbook of American Reading Forums. Logan, UT: American Reading Forum. pp.57-79.

Nières-Chevrel, I. (2010). ‘The Narrative Power of Pictures: L’Orage (The Thunderstorm) by Anne Brouillard.’ In: T. Colomer, B. Kümmerling-Meibauer and C. Silva-Díaz (eds.) New Directions in Picturebook Research. London: Routledge. pp.147-156.

Nikolajeva, M. and Scott, C. (2001). How Picturebooks Work. London: Garland.

Nodelman, P. (1988). Words about pictures. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Ramos, A.M. and Ramos, R. (2012). ‘Ecoliteracy Through Imagery: A Close Reading of Two Wordless Picture Books.’ Children’s Literature in Education, 42: 325-349.

Rowe, A. (1996). ‘Voices Off: Reading Wordless Picture Books.’ In: M. Styles, E. Bearne and V. Watson (eds.) Voices Off: Texts, Contexts and Readers. Cassell: London. pp.219-234.