Why Picture Books Matter: Speaking and Hearing

Language; communicating with each other can be tricky at the best of times. But when children have difficulties hearing or making themselves heard it can be a little more than ‘tricky.’ Walker Books has just published two picturebooks that display these problems with understanding. Sometimes, all it takes is a change of perspective to make a huge difference.

I TALK LIKE A RIVER

author: Jordan Scott

illustrator: Sydney Smith

Walker Books (4 February 2021)

ISBN: 9781406397222

A boy wakes each morning with the sound of words all around him. But he can’t say them all. After a day at school, hiding in the back and hoping he won’t be called on; after a day of trying and being unable to make the words come unstuck from the back of his throat, he can’t stop thinking of all the eyes on him watching the words twist in his mouth. The boy and his Dad go down to the river for some quiet time. “It’s just a bad speech day,” Dad reassures him. The boy watches the water bubbling, whirling and churning, and he sees a new way to think about how he speaks. Even the river stutters…like him. “I talk like a river.”

Exquisitely moving, Jordan Scott has created a book (based on his own childhood experiences) full of wonder and empathy. The language is clear, demonstrative and so very poetic, with a sense of the boys’ feelings of isolation and difference throughout, ultimately resolving into self-acceptance. This is perfectly echoed by the gorgeous, painterly illustrations that lend a true picture to the boys’ feelings; the panic of being called on, the desire to want to fade into the background…his aloneness. Everything is shown with great sensitivity in word and image and as his understanding of his own stuttering, that which made him feel so different, begins to flow into another way of seeing it, the tone of the illustrations shifts ever so slightly, creating a sense of calm, beauty and compassion towards himself. He turns his difference into something beautiful, something poetic. This is such a powerful book, in every way. It is a story to feel, rather than analyse. Compassionate, empathetic, a real gift. https://www.walker.co.uk/I-Talk-Like-a-River-9781406397222.aspx

CAN BEARS SKI?

author: Raymond Antrobus

illustrator: Polly Dunbar

Walker Books (4 February 2021)

ISBN: 9781406382624

Little Boy Bear can’t hear Dad Bear coming to wake him up in the morning, but he can feel the floor vibrate as Dad Bears’ heavy steps get closer. He can feel the bed rumble and the windows tremble. At breakfast, Dad asks him a question, “Can bears ski?” At school, Boy Bear only grasps bits of what his teacher is saying. He doesn’t really understand the jokes his friends are laughing at. All the time, everyone is asking him the same question, “Can bears ski?” Why do they want to know? What does it mean? Then, Dad Bear takes him to see an audiologist and Boy Bear gets hearing aids. Suddenly, the world seems LOUD, like the clothes he he wears. And he understands the question everyone has been asking him; “Can you hear me?”

With heart and humour, this is a gorgeously painted story of the world as perceived by someone who can’t hear. The bright, boldly-outlined illustrations bring us along through Boy Bears’ world as the text reflects the depth of his misunderstanding and frustration without any overt heaviness or drama. Boy Bear is surrounded with support at home and at school, as he blithely navigates daily life…knowing there is a problem, but because his deafness is so ordinary to him, not knowing what the problem could be. The story is fun and lively, the pictures are colourful and friendly, and the whole effect is joyous, particularly when we get to the moment when Boy Bear can hear and understand. While offering a unique insight into hearing impairment, it does so with love, laughter and understanding. https://www.walker.co.uk/Can-Bears-Ski-9781406382624.aspx

A huge thank you to Walker Books for sending me these wonderful picture books to review.

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