It’s ambitious and refreshing for an author to write a book for young readers about the silence that lies between the sounds of our loud, media-driven world (known in Japan as ma). Journalist and producer Katrina Goldsaito has done so in The Sound of Silence, illustrated by Julia Kuo.
Young Yoshio lives in Tokyo, a bustling, noisy city. To him, “Tokyo was like a symphony hall!” He loves to roam the streets and take it all in. He likes to hear his boots squish in puddles; he likes to hear his own giggling; and he loves to hear the koto player on the street. When he asks if she has a favorite sound, the musician tells Yoshio that the most beautiful sound is that of silence. That does it for the boy: Once the musician has sung its praises, he is determined to find the silence in his day.
And he tries valiantly: He looks for silence in a bamboo grove, beautifully illustrated by Kuo; as he walks home from school; during dinner at home; during his bath; and more. Giving it one last shot at bedtime, he fails when his eyes get heavy and he falls fast asleep. The boy is disappointed. All he heard all day was noise and more noise, especially since he was hyper-attuned to it. But when he gets to school early the next day and sits there alone, he discovers the silence and, furthermore, discovers that it was always with him: “It was between and underneath every sound.”
Kuo’s pen drawings, scanned into Photoshop, feature fluid lines and the detailed, graceful landscapes of Tokyo. Her busier, more crowded scenes parallel moments in the text where the boy hears noise and struggles to find the silence he seeks. The striking cover, with its pop of color in the middle, seems to show the boy post-discovery, walking along as if he has finally figured out how to find the rejuvenating silence even in the middle of a crowd. An afterword encourages readers to be collectors of sounds.
Meditative and thought-provoking, this one is a keeper.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.