Making It Up: CSELC Publishes Wordless Books

Wordless books provide illustrations, while children and other language-learners create their own stories

Page proofs from one of the wordless books being published by Clare Swan Early Learning.

When children turn the thick pages of the board book Making Akutaq, they find soft, pencil-drawn illustrations and a recipe for the titular delicacy. One thing they won’t find? A story.

Making Akutaq is the first in a series of wordless books being published by Clare Swan Early Learning Center (CSELC) under a kindergarten preparedness grant paired with a Yup’ik Language Nest grant. The books support the curriculum taught in Anchorage’s first infant/toddler Yup’ik immersion language class. While creating wordless books to teach language may sound counterintuitive, the lack of a written story actually encourages language practice, said Ashley Bowen, La’a Kenu project manager at CSELC.

Pages of a wordless book being printed by Todd Communications.

“With wordless books, the picture allows you to interpret the action any way you want,” she explained. “Children will come up with the funniest stories based on the pictures. They’ll take the book home and tell their parents a story, and they can use any language to do that.”

Teachers, meanwhile, can interpret the pictures any way they like: Wordless art can allow for storytelling, teaching vocabulary, or language practice. “They can go off book and make it a more enriching experience for the students,” Ashley said.

CSELC’s cultural collaborative, which is made up of early childhood education specialists, community members from different Alaska Native regions, and Elders, created literacy guides to accompany the wordless books. The guides offer questions and conversation topics to help parents or teachers reinforce the language their children are learning. Making Akutaq also has a QR code printed on its back cover that links users to a video demonstration of preparing akutaq at home.

While the majority of the books will be wordless, some will act as flashcards, depicting a single subject and offering the English word for what is pictured. Children will be able to learn the words for Alaskan land and sea animals, and the six seasons recognized by some Alaskan languages, which include “almost spring” and “almost fall.”

The Alaskan element is threaded throughout each book, not only in content but in the creation of thee art.

“It was important to us to pair up with Alaska Native artists,” Ashley said. “And when Clare Swan’s daughter, Boots, came on board, it seemed like it was meant to be. She was able to put our vision into her art.”

Boots Swan created the artwork for Making Akutaq, while artist Amanda Rose Warren painted the pictures for eight additional books. The series was printed by local publisher Todd Communications.

When Making Akutaq was initially published, CSELC provided copies of it, along with a “body” book in Yugtun and a book about fish camp, to all head starts and preschools in Alaska. CSELC staff hopes to create kindergarten readiness kits equipped with copies of the newly printed books to provide parents.

To learn more about CITC’s early learning subsidiary, visit CSELC’s website.