Book Ideas: Wordless books are WONDER-full

by Mary Hynes-Berry

Whether a child’s home language is English, Spanish, or Swahili, wordless books are a great tool for supporting the child (and her family) in developing mathematical thinking and language. Because it is the illustrations that carry the story, the child and the adult who read along are literally constructing the meaning. In last month’s newsletter we saw how rich language around number comes from Anno’s Counting Book. Equally rich conversations that count can come from exploring Eric Carle’s 1, 2, 3 to the Zoo, which also represents each number with visuals, numerals, and number words.

Both Anno and Carle have always had a strong mathematical strain in many of their picture books, which rely on the illustrations as much or much more than on the text. In Anno’s Journey, children and adults can talk out the voyage in time and space that takes place as we turn from one page to the next.

Two other wordless books that can get children using positional, sequential, and other words as they tell the story are Tomie dePaola’s Pancakes for Breakfast and an old but still available book by Mercer Mayer, A Boy, a Dog and a Frog. Changes, Changes by Pat Hutchins adds yet another twist. A single set of building blocks gets reconfigured as a block man and his wife build a house, use pieces from it to create a fire engine to stop the fire that destroys it, and then move off. They use a boat to get to a new land where they once again build their house. We’ve seen gifted block builders literally reconstruct the story page by page with their own set of blocks.

Some other stories that get told through pictures and with very minimal text can be used to develop and support the positional language that is so important to dual language learners (DLL). The Early Math Project has been using Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins for years. In addition, Have You Seen My Duckling by Nancy Tafuri is a kind of “eye spy” game that will get children explaining exactly where the ducklings are hiding in the background of the picture.

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