Books without words: the starting point for introducing your child to reading. Dressing by Helen Oxenbury, Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins

Believe it or not, books with no words (or just a few) are the basis for introducing your child to reading.   It’s never too soon to introduce books and share books with your baby and books with no words or few words, with simple concepts and clear, undemanding drawings of everyday life are a great starting point.  Which is why I am going to feature a gem of a book, Dressing by Helen Oxenbury.

The edition of Dressing I shared with my children when they were babies had no text in it all.   Turn the first page and on the left is a cloth nappy, on the right a baby standing and wearing the cloth nappy.  Turn the page again and on the left is a vest and to the right the baby is now wearing the vest.  Page by page, then, we are gently introduced to a new item of clothing which is then worn by the baby – moving from the left (the item of clothing) to the right (baby wearing the item of clothing).  So straightaway a baby is introduced to the notion of working from left to right, helped by finger pointing from an adult.

The deliberate absence of words means that you can’t help but talk about what is happening on the pages.   And language is what it is all about – talking, reading, writing.  Dr Miriam Stoppard says that “we underestimate an infant’s desire and ability to imitate; if talked to often, a baby will start to imitate sounds as early as eight weeks, and has already taken the first major step towards speech acquisition.   This means that parents must surround their children with speech using talk, songs, rhymes, running commentary, specific conversations.” *   I found Dressing by Helen Oxenbury an invaluable little book to share with my children the language of an everyday activity, as well as introducing them to the concept of a book.

When there are no words, or very few, the pictures take on the role of the narrative or even perhaps work with the very limited use of words to provide something more.   This is what is happening in the classic children’s book Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins.   Here, it is no longer the narrator that is telling the whole story – the very few words used merely describe, very simply, the walk Rosie takes around her farm:

Rosie the hen went for a walk
across the yard
around the pond
over the haycock
past the mill
through the fence
under the beehives
and got back in time for dinner.

However, there is an awful lot more going on in the story than simply Rosie’s walk.   The pictures are telling us a whole lot more.   The words don’t tell us anything about the fox that is accompanying Rosie on her walk, nothing about whether Rosie knows about the fox or the imminent danger she is in, nothing about how Rosie is feeling on her walk.  And it is this that makes this book work so well, makes it so enjoyable.  The reader, the observer, knows something the narrator appears not to know.   And this is where the adult comes in – talking about the pictures, gently pointing out the irony between the words and the pictures.  This really is such an enormously fun book to share with little ones, made all the more fun by the fact that only at the very, very end does the reader find out whether Rosie makes it back to her hen house unscathed.  The anticipation, the not knowing, and seeing Rosie blissfully unaware of the danger all around her, is tormenting, right up to the very last page.

Just as an aside, Rosie’s Walk is also excellent as in introduction to prepositions – across, around, over, past, through, under.

To see how Rosie’s stroll around the farm continues and what other mishaps the fox encounters, you’ll just have to read the book.  Rosie’s Walk is a classic children’s picture book and is perfect for teaching children to read.

* Test your child Or How to discover and enhance your child’s true potential by Dr Miriam Stoppard

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