Silent Letter Words in Picture Books

As a prep parent reading volunteer, I have enjoyed watching my son, and other kids, decipher letters, sound by sound, on their way to fluent reading. Jolly Phonics is a jolly technique they use to decode the words, with letter sounds, accompanied by actions. Their eagerness to read was evident in the concentration with which they would sound and act out each word. So adorable!

Phonics is a great learning technique and over three terms the children have made immense progress with their reading. However, kids do get stumped on words with silent or sleeping letters. These words will not divulge themselves with a jolly action sequence! While the spelling of such words seems absurd, the silent letters exist for several reasons:

  • two & too—distinguish identical sounding words
  • made & mad— the magic ‘e’ at the end stretches the “a” vowel, so each word has a distinct pronunciation
  • knee, knock—remnants from past life before migrating to English

Once we accept that in some words there are letters that remain mute, we can move on and learn some silent letter rules:

  • ‘g & k’ are silent when preceding ‘n’: gnome, know
  • ‘w’ is silent in: who, whose
  • ‘b’ is silent after ‘m’: climb, thumb, numb

The best way to get a handle on all these rules is to read, read, read!

Picture books contain a wealth of wonderful words, including tricky silent letter words.

When children encounter such words as part of a story, which is reread and enjoyed many times, the words become familiar and they will read with ease.

If your child isn’t reading age, all they need is to hear the word and that will leave an impression in their mind, where later on at the correct time, the recognition, pronunciation and spelling will all fall into place.

If they are learning to read, a glance at the word and a quick reminder of the silent letter rule is all that is required. Listed below are some books that helped Tomu identify and read words with silent letters.

Helpful hint: Read with dramatic expression to emphasise the word.

Who/ Whose

  • Who’s up in the air?…is it the little bear? by Sam Taplin & Stephen Barker

Who’s holding a net? Whose feet are all wet? Who has a yellow beak?

This is an awesome interactive book of rhyming questions. On every page, there is a different question starting with ‘Who’s, Who has or Whose’, great for kids to learn the context of how these words are used. The illustrations are colourful busy scenes with lots to look at!

  • Who Saw Turtle? by Ros Moriarty & Balarinji

Who saw the turtle, as she journeyed through the seas to return home and lay her eggs.?

Turtle is migrating back home because it is time to lay her eggs. This colourful book documents her journey through the ocean and lists all the creatures she encounters, in beautiful indigenous design. The shark and octopus, fish and prawn, dugong and stingray all see her. She swims past crocodile too and safely reaches the beach to dig the nest for her eggs. But, did goanna, who wouldn’t mind an egg snack, see the turtle and her eggs?


  • The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland

Gnash your teeth with a sleepy bear who is cranky at being disturbed from slumber.

Four friends, a moose, lion, zebra and sheep have found shelter from the rain, in a nice dry cave. They are unaware that the cave is occupied by a sleeping bear! Bear, awakened by their din, and very angry, kicks them out. The friends come up with hilarious ideas to cheer bear up so they can get back in the cave.

  • Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

More teeth gnashing as you sail with Max and encounter frightful wild things.

When mischievous Max is sent to bed without dinner, his bedroom becomes a forest at the edge of an ocean and he sails for over a year to a faraway place of the wild things. Max tames these wild things, becomes their king and romps around with them until they finally go to sleep. Then Max realises he is lonely and hungry. A delicious smell, makes him sail back home, to find his supper in his room, and still hot.


  • No, No, Gnome! by Ashlyn Anstee

What happens if you put a gnome in the middle of a garden harvest? You get a botched up harvest!

It is harvest time at Greenthumb Elementary school garden and the children are excited, including Gnome. They all head out with their assigned tasks but very soon an overenthusiastic Gnome goes from helpful to wild. The children cry out ‘No no, Gnome’ and the teacher tries him on some other tasks, which all go haywire too. To the children’s dismay, the garden is ruined and no one is friends with Gnome anymore. A sad and sorry Gnome wants to make amends and gets to work straight away!

Knobbly knees

  • The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler

Who has knobbly knees, and turned-out toes, and a poisonous wart at the end of his nose? Why, didn’t you know? A gruffalo!

Come for a stroll with the little brown mouse in the deep dark wood, where he encounters fox, owl and snake. The quick-thinking mouse invents a gruffalo, with all sorts of scary features including knobbly knees, terrible tusks and purple prickles, to dodge the predators that are after him. Even when he comes face to face with his imagined creation, the clever mouse cooks up a plan to escape the gruffalo too.

Knock Knock

  • Knock Knock by Tammi Sauer

What does a bear have to do to hibernate in peace? He has to get through a series of knock-knock jokes!

The big bear in this story is all ready in his pyjamas and teddy in tow, to hibernate for winter. Before he can get some sleep, there’s knocking commotion at his front door. One by one, a whole bunch of his friends arrive at his house. A tired and grumpy bear is in no mood for jokes. But they all just want to say they’ll miss him when he hibernates. Finally, his buddies tuck him in for a comfy winter snooze! The whole story is narrated through jokes.


  • Schnitzel von Krumm, Dogs Never Climb Trees by Lynley Dodd

Schnitzel von Krumm is a remarkable dog, with many skills, but can he climb trees?

Multi-talented dog, Schnitzel von Krumm is an expert digger and fetcher. He’s skilful at running and dispersing birds. His moves on the skateboard are noteworthy, while his nose is a genuine sniffer. Schnitzel can roll in the mud like no other dog. But, we are continually reminded through this book, that dogs NEVER climb trees. Unless, maybe, if you are a dog like Schnitzel von Krumm!

Thumb/ Numb

  • My Thumb by Karen Hesse & Rich Deas

How strong and special is the bond between a thumb-sucking toddler and her thumb

This book explores thumb sucking and what it means to a little girl in her own words. She describes her thumb as a hug and a mixed taste of pears and carrot stew. Sometimes she is numb and inconvenienced by just having one free hand, but the bond they share is unbreakable by anyone. Together they are best chums and have comforted each other through the flu. She truly loves her thumb, albeit soggy and wrinkled, it is the best, sweet-scented of milk and honeydew!


  • Bernard’s Plane Trip by Adele Jaunn

Which seat would you choose for your first plane trip – window seat or aisle seat?

Experience the excitement of first time flying with Bernard as he gets on a plane to visit his friend for the holidays. The whole process is well detailed from the airport to arrival and learn of everything that happens on the plane. Bernard is amazed when the plane flies above the clouds. He finds out that plane toilets are a tight squeeze and that turbulence is very shaky. Although he was nervous, he enjoyed his plane trip but was happy to arrive at his destination and see his friend.

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