The sound of sounds

The following picture books — two nonfiction, three fictional — engagingly and informatively explore the topics of hearing, sound, and speech for young readers. See also Five questions for Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith about I Talk like a River centering a protagonist with a stutter.

Can Bears Ski?
by Raymond Antrobus; illus. by Polly Dunbar
Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.    g
11/20    978-1-5362-1266-2    $16.99

Bear’s home is loud — full of Dad Bear’s rumbling, shaking, and trembling — and our protagonist enjoys the commotion. Perplexingly, though, Dad and everyone else seems to keep asking, “Can bears ski?” Bear brushes it off — until one day Dad Bear takes the young narrator to meet an “au-di-ol-o-gist.” What follows is a thoughtful sequence that illustrates what a visit to an audiologist might look like. Bear has hearing loss, and while there are different therapies available, Bear tries hearing therapy and lip-reading lessons first. Later come a pair of “plastic ears called hearing aids.” At this point in the story, a suddenly bright double-page spread shouts the words, “CAN YOU HEAR ME?” — and the startled protagonist realizes that this was the question everyone had been asking all along. The ink-and-paint illustrations are subtle and understated. Warm tones softly illuminate the story, punctuated by bold primary colors, in this compassionately told book. MAIJA MEADOWS HASEGAWA

Ten Ways to Hear Snow
by Cathy Camper; illus. by Kenard Pak
Preschool, Primary    Kokila/Penguin    32 pp.    g
10/20    978-0-399-18633-2    $23.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-11123-9    $11.99

When she wakes to discover that it blizzarded the night before, Lina isn’t deterred from her plans to walk to see her grandmother (in Arabic, sitti). Outside, the bright sun’s reflection makes it difficult to see, so Lina focuses on her sense of hearing. She makes mental notes of how certain sounds can be ways to “hear snow”: boots “crunching snow into tiny waffles” (“Snyak, snyek, snyuk”) or the scraping noises of shovels digging out sidewalks (“Scraaape, scrip, scraaape, scrip”). Lina arrives at her grandmother’s building, and they begin to fill and roll grape leaves together; although Sitti is losing her eyesight, she remains an adept teacher. While Lina wonders if she had even known about the blizzard, Sitti tells her that sometimes “no noise is the sound that means it’s snowing.” From the snowflake composed of grape leaves on the title page to the cookbook-like diagram of how to roll a grape leaf, digitally rendered illustrations emphasize not just the beauty of pristine snow from multiple visual perspectives but also the significance of Lina’s ethnic Arab heritage. While grandmothers and grape leaves are common tropes in Arab American literature, the emphasis on sensory exploration forges new ways to think about intergenerational, intercultural connections. JULIE HAKIM AZZAM

Sound: Shhh…Bang…POP…BOOM!
by Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv; illus. by the authors; trans. from Ukrainian by Vitaly Chernetsky
Primary    Handprint/Chronicle    64 pp.    g
10/20    978-1-4521-7978-0    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-1-7972-0271-6    $13.99

With a color scheme featuring bright pink, teal blue, lemon yellow, and pops of orange, this attention-grabbing informational book starts with a bang: a rapid-fire tour of all things sound. Chock-full of whimsical infographics created with digital tools and traditional print-making processes, Romanyshyn and Lesiv’s artfully arranged pages introduce the anatomy of an ear; various musical instruments (even a theremin!); human singing voice types; and the sounds of a human body, a house, a city, nature, and animals. Other spreads describe decibels and hertz (the greater wax moth has the sharpest hearing), recording and playback devices, jobs that involve audio work, and different human languages, including sign language. Then, after a few images depict breakdowns in human communication, there’s a surprising tonal shift. The book’s tour guide — a man toting a phonograph to collect sounds throughout the book — takes a break: “Sometimes, we need to spend time in silence.” An umbrella (handed to him by a hearing-impaired woman) shields him from a torrent of onomatopoeic words raining down in overlapping vertical lines. With a page-turn, the deluge of visual graphics subsides, and a love story unfolds, told mainly through minimalist illustrations surrounded by generous white space. It’s a transcendent ending — a quiet meditation on hearing, listening, silence, communication, and understanding. Appended is a list of sounds “worth listening to,” with websites including an interactive world sound map and a Big Bang simulation. TANYA D. AUGER

Your Name Is a Song
by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow; illus. by Luisa Uribe
Preschool, Primary    Innovation    40 pp.    g
7/20    978-1-943147-72-4    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-1-943147-91-5    $10.99

Roll call can be difficult for a child with an unusual name. A young girl describes how her name “got stuck” in her teacher’s mouth and kids “pretended to choke” or “seemed afraid” while hearing it or attempting to pronounce it. As they walk home, Mom reminds her that her “name is a song” and many other names are as well: “Olumide is a melody…Mamadou is a beat.” She also imparts a lesson about descendants of enslaved Africans in the U.S.: “Their real names were stolen long ago so they dream up new ones.” When the girl returns to school, she sings the names of her teacher and classmates, then her own name: Kora-Jalimuso. Throughout the story all names are followed by phonetic spelling. Names are represented visually as colorful swirls and air currents, stars, or fiery sparks through which the girl’s mother lovingly leads her. A glossary of names, meanings, and pronunciations is included, by which we learn that the girl is named for a “harp of a female griot,” a person who “passes on oral history through song.” A bighearted, reassuring book that imparts a simple yet important message: we all deserve to have our names pronounced correctly. JULIE HAKIM AZZAM

I Heard a Sound
by David J. Ward; illus. by Eric Comstock
Primary    Holiday    40 pp.    g
7/20    978-0-8234-3704-7    $18.99

Bright, eye-catching digital illustrations provide the first signs of a stimulating adventure. Ward delivers on this promise but also offers a solid and informative introduction to one of the five senses, as readers/listeners are asked to notice, investigate, and learn about sound. The book opens with a young boy hearing a sound — a card catching on bicycle spokes. The author explains that the “card moves back and forth very fast” and that both card and spokes are making a sound because they are vibrating. Turn the page and there’s another sound, this time made by a cricket. “Its wings vibrate. That’s what makes the sound.” Listeners are then asked to take a Slinky-like toy and discover how to make sound waves. For those youngsters lacking the equipment, Comstock’s illustration clearly shows the process. This pattern, of introducing a concept and then ­providing simple experiments to demonstrate it, continues throughout, as readers are asked to create high and low sounds, a simple musical instrument (a pan flute), and a string telephone. Colored rectangles throughout highlight main ideas, and the repetition of words such as vibrate, as well as the concept that vibration creates sound, ensure understanding. Experiments requiring adult help are indicated as such, and many of the materials used are everyday items. The book concludes with a glossary. Imagine this sound — the vibration from two hands quickly clapping: bravo! BETTY CARTER

From the November 2020 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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