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Review of Silent Days, Silent Dreams

Silent Days, Silent Dreams
by Allen Say; illus. by the author
Intermediate, Middle School    Levine/Scholastic    64 pp.
10/17    978-0-545-92761-1    $21.99

Born in 1899, James Castle was a deaf, self-taught artist in Idaho who created prodigiously — and privately, until a gallery “discovered” him in his middle age. Say imagines a biography for Castle (told from the perspective of a nephew), painting him as a mute, solitary, bullied child and man whose hermetic representations of the world around him were extraordinary. The illustrations, copious and paneled in a variety of sizes, range from Say’s characteristic fine-lined watercolors to naive-style drawings on notebook paper to cardboard assemblages (made by Say’s wife) to intimate and emotive portraits created with “soot and spit,” a favorite medium of Castle’s. Many of the pictures are imitations of Castle’s own work, and this can cause some confusion, as on a page where realistic pencil sketches of four children sit atop more abstracted, Castle-style, pencil drawings of the same subjects. But it’s all Say — as is the choice of subject matter, the artist who is at once removed from and highly attuned to his surroundings. Appended material provides more information about Castle, Say’s techniques, and a bibliography; much of Castle’s own work can be viewed at

From the January/February 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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