Books Without Words

by | Dec 5, 2018 | Blog

Twenty years ago, in 1999, when I was Books Editor of Practical Parenting magazine, I wrote a ‘Bookshelf’ feature on wordless picturebooks (also known as ‘silent books’) for under-5s. It included Peter Collington’s The Tooth Fairy (1995), Quentin Blake’s Clown (1995) and Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman (1978) – made into a perennially popular Christmas film in 1982.

The article whetted my appetite for this slightly unusual area of children’s publishing and I began to collect various examples of these titles. Then some years later, when I was studying for an MA in Children’s Literature at the University of Roehampton, my interest gathered pace as I chose wordless picturebooks as the subject for my dissertation.

A book without words is one in which the pictures tell the story. That is, there is no accompanying text, and the tale is told through a series of images shown in a particular sequence. These images move logically from one event to the next, so you can easily follow the story’s progress. Because these books contain a narrative, the artists and illustrators who create them can also be considered as their authors – although in some cases a separate author writes a storyboard that an illustrator then follows.
My collection now numbers more than 200 books. A few are first editions, but most are not. Many aren’t even particularly ‘smart’ copies. Typically, a book is well thumbed, reflecting its origins in a personal bookshelf, a school classroom, or a public library.

The titles date from the 1960s to the present day, and there are examples from countries across the world, usually in English-language editions. The contents cover all age ranges, from baby board books to simple first stories, from comic strip-style titles to books for young adults that border on graphic novels.

If you would like to see the collection, it is currently on view in the #NoWords exhibition at The Story of Books in Hay-on-Wye – see – until the end of December 2018 (please call 07879 373 431 to check opening times). Alternatively to see a selection of titles online, go to my new website or Instagram account

I hope you enjoy discovering these beautifully conceived books as much as I love collecting and writing about them.

Clare Walters