Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Sound of Silence, by Katrina Goldsaito & Julia Kuo -- finding silence within and around us (ages 5-10)

One sign of a wonderful book is that it draws us back into its pages again and again. In The Sound of Silence, Katrina Goldsaito and Julia Kuo help readers think about how we hear silence, how we actively seek out still moments in our world and within ourselves. It's a perfect book for the chaos of today's world.
Young Yoshio walks through the the busy streets of modern Tokyo on his way to school, wearing bright yellow rain boots and carrying a yellow umbrella. As he makes his way through the bustling city, he hears a symphony of urban sounds around him: “raindrops pattering on his umbrella,” “boots squishing and squashing through the puddles.”
“Yoshio listened to the sound of his boots squishing and squashing through the puddles, and the tiny raindrops pattering on his umbrella. The sound of his giddy giggles made him giggle more.”
When Yoshio comes upon an elderly koto player, the sounds delight him. “The notes were twangy and twinkling; they tickled Yoshio’s ears!” He asks her, “Do you have a favorite sound?” Her reply surprises him. To her, the most beautiful sound is ma, the sound of silence.
“‘The most beautiful sound,’ the koto player said, ‘is the sound of ma, of silence.’ ‘Silence?’ Yoshio asked. But the koto player just smiled a mysterious smile and went back to playing.”
Yoshio begins listening for silence, trying hard to hear it at school and at home. But whenever he listens really carefully, he always hears noises all around him. When he finally stops trying to listen (and gets lost reading a book), Yoshio hears the silence that the koto player was describing.
Goldsaito and Kuo work together beautifully--combining lyrical descriptions with detailed illustrations to help readers think about where we can find silence in our busy lives. My students noticed how well the illustrations help them think about the author's message. They could relate to the importance of finding quiet moments in between sounds and within themselves.
“Suddenly, in the middle of a page, he heard it. No sounds of footsteps, no people chattering, no radios, no bamboo, no kotos being tuned. In that short moment, Yoshio couldn’t even hear the sound of his own breath. Everything felt still inside him.”
One student said that Kuo used the bright yellow of Yoshio's book to help readers focus hard on him, just the way Yoshio was trying to focus on the sound. When Yoshio gets lost in his book, the color around him fades away.

Definitely explore the site WeDokiDoki that Katrina and Julia developed to go along with the book. "Doki doki is the sound your heart makes when you see someone or something you love." This site collects sounds and matches them with snippets of the story, music and simple illustrated GIFs.
From the WeDokiDoki site: "Tsuru Tsuru. Yoshio listened as everyone at the table slurped their noodles. The louder the slurp, the more delicious the noodle."
If you're looking for a respite from the cacophony that surrounds us so much of the time, seek out this book. Talk with your children about how they find that stillness within themselves, how they notice moments of peace around them. This is a book I've been returning to each week, finding new details and new moments each time I share it with a child. A true delight.

Want to read more? Check out:

Illustrations © Julia Kuo 2016. The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Little Brown. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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