Picture Books: Boosting Your Toddler’s Vocabulary

By | 3. February 2016

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of reading with a toddler you’ve probably noticed that “reading” is a relative term. They rarely have the patience to listen to longer texts, love to flip through pages at their own speed, and you never know if they’ll want to read the same book three times in a row or switch to another one halfway through. What often works best, at least in our experience, are picture books that capture attention with vivid images and contain little text.

While all picture books are pretty great for reading with a toddler, there’s a type that Birdy particularly enjoys and it comes from Germany. In fact, these books are so German that there’s not even a proper word for them in English: they are often simply named “wimmelbooks” from the German name Wimmelbilderbuch.

So what are these picture books and why do we like them so much?

Wimmelbücher picture books

“Wimmelbilderbuch” can be translated as “teeming picture book” and means pretty much exactly that – a picture book with almost no text where each page is packed with lots of different characters doing lots of different things. These books are usually quite large, sometimes even double the size of typical toddler books, and can be quite confusing at a first glance because so much is happening on the same page. The most popular example in the English speaking world for this kind of picture books (although meant for older kids) is the “Where’s Wally?” series.

I must admit that I was a bit skeptical when hubby bought our first set of wimmelbooks. I was quite certain that our daughter will find the overcrowded pictures confusing and, at first, she did. But it appears that Birdy’s enjoyment of these picture books grows with each time that she browses through them, points out the things that she already recognizes, and discovers new elements in the pictures already familiar to her.

Wimmelbuch example page 1

There’s several reasons why these picture books are ideal for toddlers:

  • They’re great for boosting the vocabulary: you can start by pointing out and naming animals, people, and objects, then build up on that by explaining what each of them is doing and why. Sooner than you’d expected your toddler will be showing and telling things to you;
  • They’re easy to adapt to the age and interests of the toddler: with so much happening on each page it’s easy to pick and choose that what interests your child the most;
  • They teach abstraction: animals, plants, and objects like cars or houses appear in all shapes and sizes showing the toddler how different they can be. Most of our German books could use a little more variety of people, however;
  • They train the toddler’s attention: one of the most fun ways to “read” these picture books is asking your little one to find certain things, e.g., all the dogs in the picture below;
  • Last but not least, bilingual families will appreciate that they work in all languages: most of these books have little or no text, each person can read it in their own way, with their own words.

Wimmelbuch example page 2

Birdy loves browsing through her teeming picture books and often brings them to us to read together. We also always make sure to pack at least one of these picture books when travelling as they’re guaranteed to keep the little one occupied for long stretches of time.

What are your favorite books for reading with a toddler?

Picture books - boosting vocabulary

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