Listen is one of those magical picture books that, on the surface, seems like an effortless story about the sounds all around us. It’s the kind of book that makes some (overly self-confident) types say, "I could have written that . . . " Having worked as a librarian, bookseller, and assistant to a literary agent who represents some very talented people from the world of children’s books, I have read thousands of published books and manuscripts and very few of them tell a story and capture experiences of engaging, feeling and empathizing the way Snyder and Graegin do here. To read Listen is to listen – the text and illustrations are so powerful that you genuinely experience the story along with the protagonist. Snyder includes superlative back matter that expands on and deepens the experience of reading this marvelous book.
I’ll be honest, as I read the first pages of Listen, which begin with a brown skinned girl with two Afro-puffs, a sibling in a stroller and a white-skinned, red headed dad headed to school, I thought, "This is another book, set in a big city, filled with sounds of the city." Reading on and enjoying Snyder’s alliteration and onomatopoeias (sounds for readers to notice are printed in bold, rusty orange), I wondered, "Why do kids need to be told to listen? Aren’t they being told to listen, in a variety of ways, at school?" Turning the page where Snyder invites readers to listen to the sounds that new words make, "some pop, like quick and snappy, while others stretch, like looong an leisurely. Listen," I felt myself slipping into the experience of reading this book. Listen is not a book about sounds, but about the many ways there are to listen and the many sounds to listen to.
Snyder writes, "Listen past the NOISE . . . What can you hear?" The meditative nature of Listen carries readers through the book, as does Graegin’s predominately cool blue palette. The quality of listening shifts and deepens with each new environment, each new soundscape, as the protagonist goes from a walk through a noisy city to clatter and clamor of school to the interior of home. Snyder writes, "Listen past the quiet . . . What can you hear?" Sitting in her room, her cat by her side, the protagonist hears the, "Rumble of belly. Whoosh of breath," and the voice insider of her.
Reading Listen and noticing the sense of calm the experience gave me, I thought about the students at the school where I was the librarian and how much of their time was spent on devices, with earbuds in their ears. Then I thought about how much of their time outside of the classroom was spend with a screen in their face. I hope that this book finds its way to every classroom, every school library, so that kids can experience that moment of pause, a moment of peace, and experience the act of listening. To this marvelous meditation, Snyder adds succinct, powerful listening related words, concepts and definitions. In addition to "startle response," "bottom-up response," and "top-down response," readers learn that, "Hearing is automatic. You don’t even have to try. But listening is a skill that takes practice. The key difference between hearing and listening is attention." The section ends with, "Listening to feelings," telling readers that listening to, "the feelings carried in voices," will help you notice when someone is, "sad or angry or scared. Listening shows caring and makes you a better friend."
Thank you to Gabi Snyder and Stephanie Graegin for Listen and presenting us with the important aspects of this sense that many of us don’t think twice about.
August 31, 2021 at 01:05PM Tanya