What’s in a Wordless Book? | A Reading of My Street

By Supriya Prakash, Educator

A wordless book? The name seems to say it all—it is a book without text where the story is told solely through the art. Images tell the stories and they must be read as carefully as any text. Artists are literally writing with pictures. While similar pictorial choices are made when illustrating books with and without text, in a wordless book the art requires a more intense visual focus on communicating the narrative. The absence of words challenges authors and illustrators to convey complex emotions, intricate details, and a compelling narrative solely through art, pushing the boundaries of visual storytelling.

The sheer versatility of a wordless book is astounding! It tells us that every story in the world has already been told, and that it is the unique perspective of the storyteller that makes it truly spectacular. The development of literacy skills in a young aspiring reader begins with sharing thoughts and ideas coherently through speech and through the pictures that form in our head- we know this historically, as early writing began with pictographs—a pictorial symbol for a word or phrase—drawn into clay with pointed tools. Wordless books build the art of talk effortlessly. Pictures amalgamate into written language and eventually into pieces of writing that are tuned to an audience.

A book reading by Sadaf Siddique, the author of the wordless book My Street, on Day 1 of the Neev Literature Festival 2023, was an eclectic one to say the least. ‘Reading’ the story with cohorts of students was akin to embarking on a journey of discovery, the turn of each page revealed a plethora of options that made the readers of the story live the life of the author…free to tell as they please.

In a world where words dominate our life, wordless books are a spectacular reminder of the fact that powerful stories transcend language. Be it a parent sharing a quiet moment with their child or a teacher inspiring young minds, wordless books certainly offer the versatility that none other do- it invites us into the age-old art of creative thinking as the yarn of a story spins through the minds of the reader.

The emotional connection that a wordless book offers is simple but profound. It veers the reader towards the story and ensures a close bond as they empathize with the character, and in a sense ‘walk in the character’s shoes’. Young and emerging readers have always had fresh perspectives that have been both fearless and bold and wordless books light that fire with panache.

The reading of My Street offered a wonderful frame for young readers. Habib Ali’s illustrations opened up a world of possibilities pushing us to tell the story in endless ways and taking us on a fabulous voyage, allowing readers to tell stories as they see it, unbridled.

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