Picture books are often dismissed as “mere” children’s fare, and categorized as just fluffy tales filled with bright colors and simplistic plots. This can be true, and some of the best and most beloved picture books would fit neatly into that stereotype. But there are other types of pictures books, written by authors that know that their audience is not just drooling toddlers, but also older children, sometimes even second or third graders who can read on their own but still enjoy having looking at illustrations.
Silent Music is such a book. It’s protagonist, Ali, looks like he is about eight, and I would say that that would be a good age for the book’s reader (or listener, if the story is being read aloud.) Ali lives in Baghdad. He loves all of the things you would expect a little boy to love: soccer, his friends, music. But he also loves calligraphy, and writing, the silent music they make across the page. His love of the form, and its historical significance, helped him through the tough times when bombs were falling overhead. He notes that while “war” is easy to write, “peace” is more difficult, taking more effort, a fantastic analogy. The illustrations in the book are gorgeous. Author/illustrator James Rumford used mixed media, including traditional designs and patterns from Iraq.
This is a more solemn book than the typical primary colored picture book, but it is deeper and more rewarding as well. The very brief references to war are done in a way that makes it clear that this time was upsetting without being overtly scary, as is appropriate for the intended audience.