Storysharing: Reading Without Words
By Pam Leo

My new favorite baby books “were invented by a mom of triplets, Amy Pixton, after bits of traditional board books found their way into her babies mouths.” They are my new favorite baby books because babies can hold, grab, chew, pull, and bend these books and they won’t rip or tear. They are made from nontoxic ink, tyvek material, and have been safety-tested and meet or exceed ASTM-F963 and COSIA guidelines. They are literally indestructible, thus their name, “Indestructibles.”

These baby books really appeal to my frugal nature because, not only are they less expensive than board books, they also save money because they don’t get “chewed up” and can be passed on from sibling to sibling, cousin to cousin, or family to family. They provide babies with books that they can safely read “the way babies read books, with their hands and mouths.” Since they are 100% washable in the dishwasher, the washing machine, or by hand, there are less worries about passing on the drool. These books are so lightweight and bendable you can carry them in your pocket, purse, or diaper bag, so you can always have a book with you for those “found” moments or waiting room times. They make ideal baby shower gifts that support new parents in already having baby books to begin reading to their babies from birth.

Besides being economical and practical, these books are vibrantly illustrated and they are wordless books. With wordless books the reader “reads” the pictures and discusses them with the child. I call this alternate method of reading aloud, “Storysharing: Reading Without Words.” Although it is different from “traditional” reading, it has equal, if not even greater literacy building value to young children. I adapted the Storysharing: Reading Without Words, from the dialogic reading work of Grover J. (Russ) Whitehurst and the Stony Brook Reading and Language Project. Their dialogic reading method,which “adds” having conversations with the child about the pictures to the traditional reading of the text, has been successfully used with many preschool children to help them become better prepared for school.
Storysharing is my adaptation of the concepts from dialogic reading. It uses the “having a conversation with the child about the pictures” method to “replace” traditional reading for those readers who either do not yet read, do not read English or never learned to read. Once we understand that the illustrations in picture books tell the story as much or more than the words do, we can learn to just enjoy talking about the pictures with the child and spend as much time talking about each page as we choose. With wordless books there is no text to signal that it is now time to turn the page. Storysharing wordless books is halfway between reading and storytelling. No two people ever read the same wordless book the exact same way. You can do storysharing with any picture book, I just find I am not distracted by the words with wordless books.
The benefits of storysharing go beyond empowering all parents to share books with their children and help them build a strong foundation for literacy. Storysharing creates an emotional connection between the adult and child storysharers. When previously non-reading parents start storysharing books with their children, it changes the family culture from that of being a non-reading family to becoming a family that values and enjoys books. The strongest indicators that a child will arrive at school ready to learn are the number of books in the home and being read to in the preschool years. The children most at risk for arriving at school not ready to learn are the children living in poverty with no books and the children living in homes with non-reading adults or both. Providing families living in poverty with books to read to their children, and providing free storysharing family reading classes, can change the lives and futures of the most at risk children for not learning to read.

I will be offering to do free family classes on Storysharing: Reading Without Words, at our local libraries this fall, as part of the Book Fairy Pantry Project’s commitment to all children having books and all parents being empowered to share books with their children. You can bet that the Indestructibles wordless books will be some of the wordless books that I will bring to share!

Pam Leo, is a family literacy activist, the author of Connection Parenting, and a new poem, Please Read To Me. Her enduring love of children's books, her passion for literacy, and her commitment to empowering parents, are combined in her new role as the founder of the Book Fairy Pantry Project, whose mission is "No Child With No Books," because "Books change children's lives... For good."