Great books, Reading theory

Book With No Pictures speaks 1,000 words (give or take)

If I could have written the perfect book that would get kids reading, this would be it.

It’s The Book With No Pictures, by B. J. Novak (you’ll know him from the American version of The Office–he was the young intern, Ryan. Oh, and he wrote the friggin’ series. And, like, executive produced it. And, like, directed. Frig. But I digress.)

This book is so brilliant because it hooks kids on reading by making their parents say silly stuff. It’s an inside joke with the kid who is being read to. An inside joke between the kid and the book itself–leapfrogging over the adult who is reading, who isn’t in on the joke.


The book starts out with a contract. “The rules” of book reading. And rule number one is that the reader has to read all the words, as written. There is no deviating from the words printed on the pages.

And with that established, The Book With No Pictures just proceeds to have its way with the adult. It lays out a series of silly noises the parent “has” to read, like blork and bluurf. And “makes” the adult say stuff she doesn’t want to, like “I am a monkey who taught myself to read.”

And you can imagine that the child listening to all of this–particularly if their adult is rather serious–is just in hysterics. The child cannot wait to hear what their silly parent is going to have to say next!

And there you have it. That child has been shown the power of books. If books can make people do silly things, then what else can they do? Transport you. Protect you. Inform. Subvert. Tickle you. All of those book-super-powers that we typically learn slowly, as we read more and more books, but which the kids listening to this book will understand almost immediately.

This book is a shortcut to understanding the power of the written word.

And once given a glimpse of that power, the child will be hooked on reading.

Check out this video of Novak reading his book to some kids. Just watch their reaction when he reads, “Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say.” There’s a titter of laughter that sweeps across the audience, because many of the kids already get it–their first glimpse of the power. They know what’s coming. So, so good.

There are so many reasons not to love kids’ books written by celebrities–they usually suck, for one thing. Celebs often have a “big idea” that sounds good but has nothing to do with the reading enjoyment of the kid, never mind a literacy principle. And then the celeb typically just exploits that gimmick often eschewing things like, oh, pacing and plot and logic, for instance. And their books typically take over the big bookstores with their sucky, sucky books that suck. And for another thing, celebs have a day job and aren’t writing in the trenches like the rest of us (the average salary for a Canadian writer is about $13,000) so if you’re a kidlit writer it’s easy to be a bit… bitter. BUT (you knew this was coming) this is a huge exception. For one thing, Novak is a writer, so this book is brilliantly paced. For another thing, he’s a freaking genius to have THOUGHT OF THIS BRILLIANT BOOK IDEA THAT I WISH I’D THOUGHT OF which is way beyond just a gimmick. (Watch this 10-minute video of him speaking to the freaking ALA about the freaking reading theory behind his book, which I just found a minute ago after I’d already written this post.

But I digress.

This here Book With No Pictures is a wonderful thing on several levels. It will hook kids on reading. Not only that, but Novak has generously set up you (the adult reader-out-louder) to be a superstar, because you’re playing a brilliant straight-person to your kid and making him howl with laughter.

And ya just gotta love that.

The Book With No Pictures, by B. J. Novak (on the cover, there are no spaces between the B. and the J. but, c’mon) published by Penguin Random House’s Penguin Young Readers Group, about $12.


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