Review of I Talk like a River

I Talk like a River
by Jordan Scott; illus. by Sydney Smith
Primary    Porter/Holiday    40 pp.
9/20    978-0-8234-4559-2    $18.99

In this lyrical and empowering picture book, Canadian poet Scott tells a story based on his own experiences as a boy who stuttered. In simple, evocative language, he captures the isolation, social devastation, and self-doubt of a child who feels incapable of communicating his thoughts and offers an affirming way to think about difference. As the boy’s dad picks him up from school one day and takes him for a walk by the river to de-stress and relax, the narrative goes beyond the calming solace found in the natural world to make a more profound comparison and connection. The man reassures his son that his speech is like a river. Using this imagery and language, the boy is able to think about his dysfluency in a new way, realizing that sometimes his speech is “bubbling, whirling, churning, and crashing”; sometimes calm and smooth, just like the ever-shifting waters of the river. Smith’s (Town Is by the Sea, rev. 3/17; Small in the City, rev. 11/19) verdant and light-infused paintings pack an emotional punch and provide the perfect complement to the poet’s words. The varied layouts and dazzling spreads keep the boy center stage and lovingly framed. An expressive double-page close-up of the boy’s face opens to a spectacularly effective gatefold of the child in the embrace of the river’s sparkling water (Smith captures the play of light on water like nobody else). I Talk like a River is not mere bibliotherapy; it is instead a meditation for all children on self-acceptance, finding one’s voice, and reconsidering what is labeled as normative. An important and unforgettable offering presented with natural beauty and grace.

From the November/December 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Luann Toth
Luann Toth

Luann Toth is a former reviews editor at School Library Journal. She holds an MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh.

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