Picture books without pictures

I love a beautifully illustrated children's book just as much as the next parent who has read the same words 17 times today. But sometimes, I wonder if we aren't selling young children short by relying too heavily on the pictures. Wonderful children's books like The World of Pooh are long and punctuated by sparse black and white drawings, and yet even young children will sit and listen to full chapters of it. 

I'm not suggesting that we get all two year olds reading chapter books. But I am encouraging parents to expand our sense of what counts as a book for young children. Read on for three of my favorite children's books that are light on illustration but big on story. 


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The first pages of B.J. Novak's The Book with No Pictures invite the listener in on a secret: "It might seem like no fun to have someone read you a book with no pictures. It probably seems boring and serious. Except...here is how books work: Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say." 

Novak's book raises expectations for the reading levels young kids can handle, while capturing what all parents already know about books: when it comes to reading, the kid's in charge. We're all just following instructions. 


In Exclamation Mark, Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Litchenheld offer a common narrative--the quest for belonging--except that the titular character is a punctuation mark who experiences complicated emotions like "confused," "flummoxed," and "deflated." 

This book is certainly a picture book, as it features the expressive exclamation mark, periods, and question mark throughout. But the marks are both part of the text and part of the picture, making the book both a nice bedtime story and an early primer in punctuation. If you let your child finish each night's story, you'll be surprised at how quickly he learns the difference between "The End" and "The End!"


Maybe you don't even need a "book" at all, but rather a story starter that forces you and your child to be more creative at storytime. M.H. Clark's And Then Story Starters contains an oversized deck of cards, each with a single image and a paragraph to set a scene. Just remember to cap the number of nightly "and then"s so that all of you can pause the story and go to bed. 


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