Mar 16, 2015

Do Children's Books Really Need Pictures?

Recently my 22 year old daughter Molly spent some time with her niece, 9 year old Charlotte. They went to the park on one of those beautiful spring-like days we've had of late to take some pictures. While they were together Molly causally asked Charlotte what her favorite school book was. Now, those of you who don't have a Charlotte Mason education experience might find that question to be a strange one. After all, how many children have favorite school books?

Charlotte didn't have to think twice with her response. In fact she waxed eloquently about her favorite book. She explained to Molly that she loved the book about the animals and about the man who spends a lot of time in the woods watching all of them. Some of the animals have funny names, Indian names, and she can't pronounce them too well, but oh, how she loves that book. She explained that she especially enjoyed (so far at least) the chapter about the owl.

"And do you know what else?

There are NO pictures in the book!

None at all!

But it doesn't even matter.

Do you know why?

Because the writer writes so well that I can see the pictures in my head. The book doesn't even need any pictures. And oh, I hope that someday I can write as well as he does."

These were the words (retold, of course, by Molly to me) of a 9 year old girl who is completely taken with a book, a book that has no pictures! Such high praise for the author, hoping that someday she would be able to write like he does!

So what is the title of this captivating book? Wilderness Ways by William J. Long. The book she is reading from is the one that I copied years ago from Project Gutenburg, (public domain books) and printed when Molly was just a bit older than Charlotte. I had it spiral bound at an office store and both Molly and her younger sister Anna read it. And now my grandchildren are reading it too.

Molly told me that she and Charlotte had a lively discussion about the book. Molly remembered a lot of it from when she read it. How many years ago was that? And I must admit when Molly recounted to me her conversation with Charlotte I actually had goose bumps! Yes, I really did. I was just so pleased that this book could bring such excitement to a 9 year old and also that my daughter would happily share her own pleasant memories of it with her niece.

William J. Long lived and wrote in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, sharing his adventures out in the woods among the Wood Folk. Wilderness Ways was published in 1900 and it is a living book in every sense. No twaddle here! Just lovely words, that evoke vivid images, about his observations in the wild.

“The rain was still falling, and the lake white-capped, and the forest all misty and wind-blown when we ran our canoes ashore by the old cedar that marked our landing place. First we built a big fire to dry some boughs to sleep upon; then we built our houses, Simmo a bark commoosie, and I a little tent; and I was inside, getting dry clothes out of a rubber bag, when I heard a white-throated sparrow calling cheerily his Indian name, O hear, sweet Killooleet-lillooleet-lillooleet! And the sound was so sunny, so good to hear in the steady drip of rain on the roof, that I went out to see the little fellow who had bid us welcome to the wilderness.”

Excerpt From: William Joseph Long. “Wilderness Ways.” iBooks.

The curriculum we followed while homeschooling included another book by Long, Secrets of the Woods, a book that all of us enjoyed. I read it out loud and loved every word. That book was our introduction to Long and after reading it we went on to read two others, Wilderness Ways and School of the Woods.

Last fall my daughter Alice read Secrets of the Woods to her children and they loved the stories as much as we did. Charlotte is now on her second William Long book and I'm sure additional titles will be making their way to their bookshelves soon. I cannot recommend his books highly enough.

The Baldwin Project has four of Long's books available online and three of the four are reprinted and published through Yesterday's Classics and also available at Amazon.

The original volumes that Long published included at least one beautiful black and white illustration in each chapter,

From Secrets of the Woods, "Meeko the Mischief-Maker" found at The Baldwin Project

but when I put together my copy of Wilderness Ways I had to copy and paste it from Gutenberg and at the time that I did there were no pictures or illustrations of any kind included with the text. This is the book Charlotte is reading at the moment, a book with only words and not a single, solitary illustration of any kind.

So do children's books really need pictures? Apparently not. At least not when the writer is William J. Long and the stories he tells are so engaging and unforgettable.


  1. LOL. Exactly.
    Yesterday we had a lesson by an experienced and humble preacher who said the same, he did not use power points because they detract from our imagination making a mental picture. He even drew two images with his hands, a circle with a line pointing outwards, a circle with a line going down to his shoes, to illustrate "subjective faith", and "objective faith".

  2. thanks for sharing that other title! though we too have enjoyed several of long's books, i hadn't heard of the one. i shall look for it. :)

  3. Hi Amy...You can find it at Gutenberg and it's also free for Kindle at Amazon. I hope you enjoy it!

  4. You post causes me to wonder. I've believed for a long time that narrative writing for subjects considered informational has gone out of style because of the emphasis on fact versus opinion thinking (however flawed that distinction is But, now I'm wondering if the ease of taking pictures and sharing them makes people think there is no need for words ("a picture is worth a thousand words") so they describe less.

    Thanks for making me wonder! I love when that happens. Oh, and I suspect that those folks from Dehli might be spamming you. LOL. I delete comments like that.

    1. Thanks for the link to the article....Extremely thought provoking!

    2. That's an interesting observation.

  5. Interesting thoughts! I think you might be on to something. It was certainly a pleasant discovery to my granddaughter that this book didn't even need pictures to engage her. The words created the pictures. I think today people aren't patient enough to create their own pictures with words when they can simply look at a picture.

    I wondered about the Dehli comments thinking they were somewhat strange. They commented on several of my posts. Thanks for letting me know.

  6. I hadn't heard of Wilderness Ways either. My children loved his books even though we live in a completely different setting & don't have the animals he writes about.

  7. Hi Carol...William Long definitely has a way with words. I hope you get a chance to share Wilderness Ways with your family. Thanks so much for stopping by!


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