#NoWords – Introduction

#NoWords – a celebration of wordless picture books

POSTER no words web


The wordless picture books featured in this exhibition are all ones I have personally collected over the past few years. Most are not first editions, or even special versions, but simply ones published in English editions that I have been able to obtain easily.

My interest in the subject began when, as a young newly qualified infant teacher in the 1970s, I had the opportunity to observe at first-hand how young children would ‘read’ the images in picture books long before they could read the text. Back then, I saw how much children enjoyed books where the pictures told a separate story to the text, such as Rosie’s Walk (1968) by Pat Hutchins and Come Away From The Water, Shirley (1977) by John Burningham. I also discovered books that had long sections with no words at all, such as Where The Wild Things Are (1963) by Maurice Sendak.

But it wasn’t until I had moved on from teaching to journalism and had become the children’s books editor for Practical Parenting magazine that, one month, I decided to review a selection of picture books that told their stories through images alone. The titles I chose – including perhaps the most well-known wordless picture book, The Snowman (1978) by Raymond Briggs – seriously ignited my interest, and in 2009, when I began an MA in Children’s Literature at the University of Roehampton, I chose wordless picture books as the topic of my final dissertation.

I focused on books published in English editions and, as well as scouring both academic and public libraries, I began to buy titles from new and secondhand bookshops, galleries and museums, and also to search online. I looked for reading lists created by librarians and educationalists, and checked out titles mentioned in academic texts. In addition I asked friends for recommendations and used social media to request suggestions. Indeed one of my all-time favourite books, The Arrival (2006) by Shaun Tan, was discovered as the direct result of a reply to a tweet.

Many of the books came from old library stocks, often from the USA and often with the original tickets inside (fascinating bits of historical evidence themselves) while others came from individuals’ bookshelves. I wasn’t looking for first editions or pristine copies, though these were obviously a bonus, but was content with well-thumbed versions or recent reprints. In order to get a sense of an artist’s work, I would usually buy just one or two in a long series – for instance those by Mercer Mayer or by Alexandra Day, whose Good Dog, Carl (1985) series has run to 15 titles.

Now my collection numbers over 200 books, and is growing constantly. I am as much in love with the genre as I ever was, and I am forever discovering new artists/authors to delight and entertain me.

I very much hope they will delight and entertain you, too.

Clare Walters, London, November 2018


#NoWords is produced by The Story of Books, an initiative to create a dynamic working museum that tells the ongoing story of books. We create unique experiences ‘where stories are told and books are made’. Find out more about our latest projects on the homepage of www.thestoryofbooks.com