A child is too intimidated to speak in a dark, forbidding environment.
Appearing small and isolated among richly detailed, atmospheric, even frightening illustrations that present a bleak, dystopian, mechanistic world where grim uniformity is the norm, the school-age narrator describes feeling misunderstood and alone. Because the child is timid and small and different, the child chooses silence. The world surrounding the narrator is oppressively populated; it’s primarily awash in somber shades of browns, blues, and grays. Both the white-appearing narrator and diverse classmates resemble hollow-eyed, sorrowful automatons and occasionally wear mouse masks. Some students sport peculiar hairdos. It’s unclear if the sober society depicted is real or if the author/illustrator is suggesting that this world feels this strange to the introverted, shy, and quiet. Yet all isn’t hopeless in this disquieting story: Though the narrator seems troubled at being muted, the child possesses a lively imagination and recognizes how important silence is when reading, which is depicted as liberating. At the end, the protagonist is confident that this love of reading will someday enable a powerful voice that will finally be heard. Ouimet overplays his pessimistic hand, for, at this point in the narrative, his colors, oddly, don’t significantly brighten. This is off-putting and belies what seems to be meant as an uplifting, empowering message about books and communication.
Not very child friendly, though it’s thought- and conversation-provoking for older readers willing to engage with picture books. (Picture book. 7-12)