It’s such an unassuming cover. White with black words. The Book with No Pictures* by BJ Novak. (Yes, that BJ Novak). (*affiliate link)
The kids didn’t look impressed.
“We’re going to trick Dad into reading that tonight,” I whispered to my oldest, as I bustled about the kitchen making dinner.
“What? Why do we need to trick him?”
“Just read a little, then you’ll see.”
He thumbed through the first few pages of the plain looking book sitting on the counter. His eyes lit up. He began to giggle. One of his brothers came over and had the same unimpressed-turned confused-turned giggly reaction.
When bedtime came, I noticed my two oldest — the sneek-peekers — were exceptionally speedy as they got all jammied up and settled in for stories. My kindergartener, who hadn’t been privy to the inside joke was skeptical.
“No pictures? Boo!”
My husband played clueless as he teamed up on our kindergartner’s side.
“Yeah. No pictures. Lame!”
He feigned reluctance as he began reading (which really is the best way to read this book). Soon the boys — ALL the boys, skeptic kindergartner and goofy toddler included — were laughing.
I may have been giggling a bit too.
Once the book was finished (and my husband had finished pretending to be offended by the boys’ trickery) the book succeeded in capturing the best review a book can get from a child:
“Now, I want to read it!”
(Though, in keeping with the trickery of this book, it sounded more like, “Oh no, now I have to read it?”)
This book is ridiculously brilliant! Not only because it’s a new and clever concept, but because it also does some powerful teaching at the same time. (Though, honestly the kids are too busy laughing it up to tell you about it.)
Any time you get kids excited about a book, you can chalk up one win for literacy. But this book is particularly effective at teaching several specific literacy skills. The first is the concepts of print. Concepts of print are essentially an understanding of “how books work“. That’s the whole premise of this book! Print carries meaning. All by itself. The words on the page mean something — and OH BOY do they mean something in this book. They mean EVERYTHING!
Speaking of meaning, there are plenty of words in this book that actually don’t mean anything. Nonsense words that won’t be found in any dictionary or on any vocabulary tests. These silly words not only get kids giggling, but they help beginning readers recognize that words are a combination of sounds and that sometimes even adults need to stretch out the words.
Lastly, this book falls flat without the right expression and affect. Kids pick up on this. As they take their turns reading the book, they add vocal inflections for meaning and dramatic flair. This is a skill that not only makes reading more enjoyable, but it also helps kids build comprehension skills. Kids who learn to read with expression learn to remember what they’ve read.
You can listen to an audio sample on Amazon* (click beneath the picture of the book) to hear the author read almost the entire book with his own inflection. It will give you a good taste for the book, and for the best way to read it.
As I thought about the absolute playfulness of this book, it reminded me of this passage from Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home* (*affiliate link):
“In The Levity Effect, Adrian Gostick and Scott Christopher argue that “levity” is a highly effective tool for helping people to work better; humor helps people pay attention, eases tensions, and enhances a feeling of connection.
When I first read this argument, I thought, Well, I can’t use levity, because even when I try to joke around, I rarely manage actually to be funny. But apparently, that doesn’t matter. Showing levity is less about being funny and more about being able to have fun and see the humorous side of everyday situations — especially difficult situations.”
Showing your willingness to have fun, along with the oxytocin (the “bonding hormone”) released when people share a laugh together, builds relationships. And as I’ve written many times here, “There is no development without relationships.”
Words of Caution
There is a warning that comes with this book. A warning my second grader had a good laugh at:
But in all seriousness, the only caveat I would give is that this book does use the word “butt”. Well, “boo boo butt” to be more precise. So if that’s an offensive word in your home, consider yourself warned.
Also, fair warning to all grown ups who visit our home: The kids have a book they’d love for you to read!
Check out this article in Vanity Fair to learn about what prompted BJ Novak to write this book (not surprisingly, he gives pretty funny interviews) and to watch a video of BJ reading his book to a roomful of giggling school kids.
Find The Book with No Pictures* by BJ Novak (Yes, that BJ Novak) through Amazon. (*affiliate link)