This is a very thought-provoking picture book that focuses on the Japanese concept of ma, or the silence between sounds.
The Sound of Silence
by Katrina Goldsaito; illustrated by Julia Kuo
Little, Brown and Company, 2016
Picture book, fiction, Tokyo, Japan
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 22 x 29 cm
Interest Level: K-5; Reading Lvl: 3.0
4 out of 5 stars
A young boy named Yoshio is walking to school one day in the rain. As he walks through the busy city of Tokyo, he becomes aware of all the sounds that surround him — cars honking, rain on his umbrella, tires on the pavement, the squish of his boots. Through all that, he also hears a koto player. The sound fascinates him and he stops to listen. When he asks her what is her favorite sound, she answers, “The most beautiful sound is the sound of ma, of silence.” So Yoshio continues on to school, but now he is determined to find the sound of silence. It is not in a bamboo forest, his bathtub at home, or in his bed as he goes to sleep at night. Will he find ma?
Julia Kuo’s illustrations are a perfect accompaniment to the story. Drawn in pen and colored digitally, the illustrations transport the reader on Yoshio’s journey to find ma. His bright yellow boots and umbrella and his red hat make him easily recognizable in the busy Tokyo scenes. Kuo has done a wonderful job depicting the busyness of the city and then following Yoshio’s search for ma, we see the scenes becoming more tranquil and the colors more natural.
Yoshio finds ma in the stillness inside him, and learns it had been there all along. This book has so many good reasons to share it with children. It exposes children to Tokyo and Japanese traditions, and can be used to teach about calmness and ma. While it is a picture book, it really does require a lot of thinking and understanding about abstract concepts, so young children may not appreciate its beauty.
This book could be used in conjunction with yoga or meditation activities, lessons on Japanese culture, or in music class to pair with Toru Takemitsu, who is a contemporary Japanese composer who said that “without silence, sound would be meaningless.”
I gave the book 4 out of 5 stars because I feel the illustrations and story are unique and fit well together. It is a diverse offering that can teach young American children about Japanese customs and introduce them to life in Tokyo. It is perhaps more deep thinking than children are accustomed to, so it will be appreciated by a select audience.
For some digital projects related to The Sound of Silence, visit http://thesoundofsilence.org/.
The music of Toru Takemitsu can be found on YouTube. One of his pieces is titled “Rain Spell” and makes a good companion to The Sound of Silence.