Reading Before Reading

Birdsong: A Story in Pictures by James Sturm. Toon Books, 2016. 9781935179948.

birdsongTwo kids playing in the woods torment a bird, hitting it with sticks and chasing it up a mountain. A wizard turns them into monkeys who are exhibited at a zoo. After they are released, they learn to live in peace in the forest.

At least, that’s my story. The book is wordless, each page with a new picture. The format is based on the art of kamishibai, where an itinerant storyteller would wander Japanese neighborhoods telling tales based on the painted panels displayed in a miniature theater mounted on the back of his bicycle. Birdsong started out as panels for a kamishibai theater. As a book, the story is to be told by the children reading it to their parents, a tremendously smart way to get them thinking about how books tell a story before they can read.

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