A Book Without Words for a Story Time Full of Words

I Don't Like to Eat is a wordless book from Adarna House. It's meant for older kids (6+) but my preschooler likes it, as she so proudly announced a few nights ago. I actually bought it last year but, understandably, toddler E wasn't ready for some of the illustrations (Marcus Nada's drawings are not your typical cutesy picture book fare) and the ideas of the story:

A boy refuses to eat healthy fruits and vegetables, choosing to eat only junk food. He eats so much that a junk food monster bursts out—Alien-style—from his tummy! (Parental guidance advised.)

Um, yeah, what was I thinking reading this to a toddler (probably, "Why won't you eat your food?"). But newly daring E said she wasn't scared of "monsters and bad guys anymore because I can defeat them" so we "read" it over and over again before breakfast.

"There are no words to read, E, so you can tell any story you want from the pictures," I explained to her. She looked at me, a bit confused. "No, you read it, Mommy. I can't read." "No, see?" I coaxed. "Do you see any words? There aren't any. You make up the words. I don't have to read to you. You can tell the story. I'd love to hear a story from you." She was hesitant at first—what a mind-blowing concept, a book with no words—but, flipping through the pages, her eyes lit up, and she began:

"This boy's name is Jacob. He doesn't like to eat good food. 'I want all the sticky sweets. I want all the chips and hotdogs,' that's what he said. So, suddenly, ..."

She told the story a few times, changing the hero from her baby brother to "Boy Ella" to "Baby Mommy" and "Little Boy Papa." It was interesting to hear the different expressions she would use for each character, some I had no idea where she'd picked up. As she told the story, her eyes would look upward, a sign that her brain was accessing its creative parts, her mind working animatedly to supply her with new ideas, connections, words, and images. What a wonderful thing to see, a child's brain at work.

Children make great storytellers because their inner world is so rich! I wouldn't be surprised if, by our next reading, the monster and all the fruits had names or there was a completely different ending.

Learning Doesn't End After the Story Ends

The best part about reading books together is that it usually starts a conversation. This morning, it was about nutrition. "Mommy," she asked, "Are ice creams sticky sweets?" We talked about how some food can be yummy (oh so yummy!) but not necessarily good for our bodies. She's really into the human body and how it works, so we had a good conversation about how some food gives us energy and helps our body heal or become stronger, while other food can make us feel tired, weak, or sick (or fill us with self-loathing and guilt after we eat the whole bag or box—but that's a conversation we'll never have). "Eating one 'sticky sweet' won't make us sick," I explained, "But if we eat only food that's not healthy, our body will not be very happy and we won't feel very good." "Mommy, I eat sticky sweets," she said, "But I also like nuts and cherries and milk." "Great! Your body wants to eat many different things!" I said. Yay, message received! I think it's important to teach our kids about balance (even better if we can model it—I'm working on that one.)

One final note: Parents, please use this book to start a conversation about proper nutrition, not to scare your child into eating. After reading this, she needed a little reassurance that a junk food monster wasn't going to make an appearance in our house. Lucky for her, she ate a filling breakfast of muesli, milk, yogurt, oatmeal, flaxseed, and coconut sugar—all in one bowl (Her choice. Blech! I am like a toddler: I don't like my food to mix, haha.).

This was our first wordless book, but it won't be our last! I hope I can find her a few more titles for preschoolers (3-6) that I've been eyeing.

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I can't wait to hear what stories she'll come up with!

Does your child have a favorite wordless storybook? Do share! I'd love to hear about it!