Author: Jane Yolen
Illustrator: David Small
Publisher: New York: Philomel, 2010
Genre: Picture book, fiction
Audience Age: Ages 4 to 8
Themes/Topics: New experiences, sounds
Opening Sentences: Elsie was a Boston girl. From the time she was a little child, hair in pigtails, she knew the cozy harbor where gulls screamed at fishing boats, where the fish merchants called, “Fresh cod, fresh!”
Synopsis: Boston is all Elsie has ever known, its sounds as familiar as her own breath. But when her mother dies, her father decides to move away from the sad memories Boston holds, and go to Nebraska.
Nothing in Nebraska is like home. There are no familiar sights, no familiar sounds. Elsie writes to her grandparents, “Here there is only grass and sky and silence.” She can’t hear – or doesn’t allow herself to hear – the sounds of the prairie.
The only comfort she has is her canary. She sings sea shanties to her canary, and he sings back. Until one day, Elsie forgets to close the canary’s cage, and he flies off into the vast silence of the prairie.
Or is the prairie silent? Are there sounds? Is the canary wiser than Elsie about this new home?
Activities/Resources: Reading this book could lead to discussion about new experiences, and how a person learns to adjust to them. A new house, a new baby in the family, a new school, a new step-parent, even new foods – what new things have kids experienced, and how have they dealt with them?
It’s sometimes scary to try new things, but there are ways to make it fun. Kids Activities Blogs has suggestions for new experiences for families to try together.
The other aspect of this book that comes through loud and clear is the sounds that are featured throughout the story, and that are so much a part of Elsie’s life. In the first lines quoted above, you can hear the raucous screech of the gulls, and the noisy cries of the fishmongers. On nearly every page, there is some reference to sound.
There are sounds all around us, but often we are so busy that we tune them out. A good activity to get kids (and adults) aware of the sounds around them is to sit quietly and listen, then each person take a turn in telling what they have heard. You might be surprised that someone else has heard something you didn’t even notice. This can be done outside or inside, in the country or in the city. Just listen.
Availability: This book is readily available in hardcover, online or at your local bookstore.
Every Friday, bloggers join together to share picture book reviews and resources, thanks to author Susanna Leonard Hill’s brainchild, “Perfect Picture Book Fridays.” Susanna then adds the books (and links to the reviews) to a comprehensive listing by subject on her blog. Find the entire listing at her “Perfect Picture Books.”