Sunday, 17 March 2013

Silence Will Fall

I don't think a picture book has left me pondering what it all means hours after I've sat down and read it to the girls. I read Ben Morley's The Silence Seeker to them this morning. They are off playing now, and I'm still trying to make sense of it; I guess that might be the point. Take some stereotypes, challenge them, then leave a big open ending for you to fill.
The Silence Seeker is the story of Joe, who asks his mum about the Asylum Seekers who have moved in next door. He doesn't quite understand and thinks the boy next door  is a 'Silence Seeker', and wants to help. The reasons for the family seeking asylum are only revealed to us through Joe's mum: 'he has come from far away, looking for peace and quiet'. No attempt to give Joe an understanding of war, or oppressive regimes, or any other reason a family may seek asylum; but I guess it's just a true reflection of how we sugar coat everything for our kids.
Joe takes his neighbour for a walk, trying to find a nice quiet spot for him. Every quiet space Joe can think of is filled with people. Some just having fun, some being antisocial, as well as some homeless people. This city is loud and scary. On a deeper level, it exposes a bit of the darker side of our society and made me think about how we are so quick to judge others, and how hypocritical we can be about ourselves as the perfect society about to be over-run. Fear can work both ways. Joe is upset to find that his neighbours have spirited away in the night. Have they been driven out, or rehoused? Have they been deported? We never find out. It's up to us to draw our own conclusions, to hold a mirror up to ourselves and see what thoughts might be staring back at us.
I'm leaving the first stereotype in the book to last. This book is a story of a black boy and a white boy, who on the cover are sitting together on the steps outside their building. There's a lot of jumping to conclusions in our everyday lives about where people are from. How often do trolls post 'send them home' when they see a black or Asian person accused of something, with only an assumption of someone's origin from their skin colour. Can you be British and black? Are white people ever oppressed? The best thing about picture books is they can make you look at yourself without saying a word. 

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