Making Kids Drunk With the Power of Reading: B.J. Novak’s The Book with No Pictures

by Tom B.

B.J. Novak’s The Book with No Pictures

Take that, Caldecott committee!

One of the many reasons why I love picture books is because they’re one of the few forms of literature that actually anticipate that you won’t be reading them alone. Sure, there are picture books that are made for kids to read on their own, but there are also those wonderful picture books that are designed specifically for parents to read aloud to their children. They’re almost more like a play-script than a traditional book. It’s this lovely little monologue, a screenplay with storyboards included, a script for your onstage debut, performing your lines for a bedtime audience of one. (Or two or however many kids you have.) And, if you’re looking for a great script for your next storytime performance, I would definitely recommend B.J. Novak’s The Book with No Pictures. Even if the book did made me scream “Blork!” and admit to my daughter that I’m really a “robot monkey.”

Let me explain…

You probably know Novak from NBC’s The Office, so I know what you’re thinking – celebrity author. It’s a total vanity project, right? NOPE. This is a great, great book, which isn’t that surprising because Novak released a collection of short stories earlier this year, One More Thing, which, I have to say, was excellent. So, we’ve established that the guy’s a good writer, but what’s remarkable about The Book with No Pictures is how well Novak understands the nuances of a great read-aloud book.

B.J. Novak’s The Book with No Pictures

I’m a what-now?

Any really, really amazing kids’ read-aloud book, first and foremost, has to turn the kids into engaged listeners. They can’t be passive. They have to be part of the performance. How do you do that? You give them POWER, or, at the very least, the illusion of power. Look at Mo Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. The book opens with the bus driver handing over his authority to the listening children, telling them “whatever you do, don’t let the pigeon drive the bus.” The parent then takes over the role of the curious pigeon and, while they get to ham it up as the pigeon, the kids participate by screaming “NO!”

Or look at perhaps the best read-aloud book EVER, Jon Stone’s The Monster at the End of This Book. It’s a genius bit of reverse psychology. Grover appears and essentially tells the listening kids, “If you turn the page, terrible, TERRIBLE things will happen!” (Which might be the best incentive for reading I’ve ever heard.)

Smartly, B.J. Novak’s first children’s book adopts a similar strategy, albeit with a clever twist. The title of the book lets the kids know from page one that, unlike most kids’ books, there aren’t ANY illustrations in this book. Why? Novak makes the case that the words are the fun part anyway because – and this is key – “Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say. No matter what. That’s the deal. That’s the rule.”

B.J. Novak’s The Book with No Pictures

He’s not wrong…

Of course, the book starts having fun with this concept almost immediately, making the reader (presumably the adult) say non-sequiturs like “Bluurf!” and “Aiiee!” or making them make wild declarations like “I am a monkey who taught myself to read” or “my head is made of blueberry pizza.” And, as the unseen narrator, read by the adult, protests, the kids get to laugh themselves silly as they watch their reader apparently fall under the control of a particularly malicious book. It’s a genius concept, the kind that elevates the picture book format and gives it a whole other level of interactivity like Herve Tullet’s Press Here did.

And, most of all, it’s funny. It’s really, really funny and my daughter laughed her butt off while I read it to her. Sure, she was drunk with power as I helplessly sang a song about my face being a bug, but that’s the thing about empowerment – it feels GREAT. The Book with No Pictures doesn’t need any pictures. It accomplishes more than enough with words alone.


AGE RANGE: The stated range is 5 to 8 years, but you could read this to a much younger kid and they’d enjoy the heck out of it.

PAGE COUNT: 48 pages

RELATED WEB SITES: Here’s the link to the official Penguin page for The Book with No Pictures.

BUY IT, BORROW IT, OR FORGET IT?: It’s funny and unique enough that I think this one might be a no-brainer to buy. I’d expect it’s going to become a VERY popular gift book in the very near future.


The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone, illustrated by Mike Smollin: One of the best “meta” kids’ book ever and definitely my favorite read-aloud book of all time. Like Novak’s book, The Monster at the End of This Book makes the reader feel like they’re completely in control of an increasingly crazy ride.

We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems: In this volume of the popular Elephant and Piggie series (one of my favorites), our two heroes realize that they’re in a book that someone is reading right now, prompting an existential crisis about what happens when the book ends. Also, Elephant and Piggie have some fun making the reader say whatever they want in a similar fashion to Novak’s book.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Renee October 3, 2014 at 2:22 am

It sounds like this book is destined to become one of my favourites to read to the kids during my library’s story time sessions, just as Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems and Press Here by Herve Tullet have been clear favourites for the past two years. What a fantastic find!


Larry October 1, 2014 at 10:53 pm

I use to love reading the Monster at the End of the Book to my children. I really did take it as an opportunity to perform. Maybe, my younger son would like this book. Thanks for pointing it out.


Zach Rosenberg October 1, 2014 at 12:22 pm

I was wondering about this book. I’d seen it mentioned around the internet and only found the same press release descriptions, so it’s good to finally hear some details. Thanks!


Michele October 1, 2014 at 12:59 am

This is the third time I’ve seen or read about this book in three days; it must be a sign.

My son and I like visiting bookstores. We were at our local independent one today and saw they had a display of signed copies of this book. I knew we were already going to hear it a Barnes & Noble storytime in a week or two so I didn’t pick it up. It looks like a fun read.


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