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Book clubs for people with intellectual disabilities: the evidence and impact on wellbeing and community participation of reading wordless books

Sheila Hollins (St George’s University of London, London, UK)
Jo Egerton (Leeds Beckett University, Leeds, UK)
Barry Carpenter (University of Worcester, Worcester, UK)

Advances in Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities

ISSN: 2044-1282

Article publication date: 5 September 2016




The purpose of this paper is to introduce the social and scientific rationale for book clubs, whose members read wordless books together, and give examples of storytelling with picture books in libraries and other community settings for people with intellectual disabilities and autism.


The authors consider the impact of book clubs reading picture books without words, alongside an understanding of the underlying neuroscience (see Table I for search strategy). The authors compare differences in the neuroscience of information and emotion processing between pictures and words. Accounts from book club facilitators illustrate these differences in practice.


Many readers who struggle with reading and comprehending words, find pictures much easier to understand. Book clubs support community inclusion, as for other people in society. A focus on visual rather than word literacy encourages successful shared reading.

Research limitations/implications

No research has been published about the feasibility and effectiveness of wordless books in community book clubs or shared reading groups. There is very little research on the impact of accessible materials, despite a legal requirement for services to provide reasonable adjustments and the investment of time and resources in developing storylines in pictures, or “translating” information into easy read formats.

Practical implications

Book clubs whose members read picture books without words are growing in number, especially in public libraries in the UK. Expansion is dependent on funding to pay for training for librarians and volunteer facilitators.

Social implications

There is a shortage of fully accessible activities for adults with intellectual disabilities in mainstream community settings with a primarily social purpose.


To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first paper describing the theory and impact of wordless book clubs for people who find pictures easier to understand than words.



The authors are grateful to Stas Smagala, Sue Carmichael and Jane Williams for providing accounts of the books being used.


Hollins, S., Egerton, J. and Carpenter, B. (2016), "Book clubs for people with intellectual disabilities: the evidence and impact on wellbeing and community participation of reading wordless books", Advances in Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities, Vol. 10 No. 5, pp. 275-283.



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Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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