Jun 21, 2010
“The Quiet Book,” by Deborah Underwood
In a world where children are constantly exposed to stimulation, there is not enough silence. But a new children’s title, The Quiet Book creates a space of stillness in which children’s imagination and attention can grow.
I have two young children, who are going on two and four. We don’t have a television in the house, and toys that make electronic noises are banned. From time to time we get gifts of toys that beep or (the horror!) play electronic music, but they’re passed swiftly on to our local thrift store or, where the toy has some value, the batteries are removed. In at least one case we’ve explained to a giver, as politely as possible, that certain kinds of noisy toys don’t fit with the atmosphere of our house.
Title: The Quiet Book
Author: Deborah Underwood (illustrated by Renata Liwska)
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Available from: Amazon.com.
Toys that make appalling electronic noises are pitched as “stimulating learning” and as “rewarding exploration.” I think they do the opposite. Our children love playing with sand and water and paint, exploring the properties of the natural world around them. They enjoy playing dress-up and playing with dolls and toy cars. They can happily spend hours having books read to them, or listening to stories that their parents make up. They’re naturally imaginative. My daughter can entertain us for ages with stories that she makes up for us. Our children don’t need flashes and beeps and electronic versions of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in order to become absorbed. On the other hand, children who learn that “fun” involves frantically blinking LEDs and manically chirping music will, I suspect, find it harder to settle down, think creatively, and use their imaginations. I’ve seen children sit in the midst of a seas of such toys, complaining that they’re bored.
Toys that make appalling electronic noises are pitched as “stimulating learning” and as “rewarding exploration.” I think they do the opposite.
It’s not that our house is exactly quiet. We have a toy piano. We listen to music (at the moment my three-year-old daughter insists on Vivaldi). There’s a lot of singing and dancing. And sometimes we’ll let the kids watch some Sesame Street on YouTube or watch a Thomas episode on DVD. And kids like to make noise just for the fun of it. They like to yell and bang things. And there are questions, questions, questions. So there’s plenty of noise But there’s a lot of quiet, too.
The Quiet Book, written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Renata Liwska, is — surprise, surprise — about quiet. It’s a book that teaches kids about the different varieties of quiet.
“Different varieties of quiet”? I know, gentle reader, I know. Isn’t all quiet the same? Kind of, you know, an absence of sound? Not quite.
- First one awake quiet,
- Pretending you’re invisible quiet,
- Right before you yell “surprise” quiet,
- Making a wish quiet, and
- Car ride at night quiet.
All in all there are 29 varieties of quiet in The Quiet Book, my favorite being “Best friends don’t need to talk quiet.”
Renata Liwska’s charming illustrations feature a cast of cute baby animals, but mostly a moose, a bear, a rabbit, a mouse, and a porcupine. They’re funny, and sweet, and they — quietly — dramatize the various kinds of quiet, giving us little vignettes that children and adults can empathize with. There’s the shame on the face of a moose calf being marched out of school by his no-nonsense mother (illustrating “Thinking of a good reason you were drawing on the wall quiet”) and the agonized wishfulness of a baby mouse pretending to be invisible while waiting to get a shot.
My children love this book. And so do I.
There’s a tendency to think that the solution to every problem is some new product, but what needs to change is our attitudes.
The Quiet Book teaches children empathy by presenting them with (mostly) real-life situations that they’re bound to experience at some time. It teaches children to appreciate silence, and the activities that take place in silence. It teaches children the value of focusing on one thing, and the value of paying attention. It teaches them the value of daydreaming, and of letting the mind creatively wander. It teaches them that valuable experiences come not from the Pavlovian rewards of complex flashing and beeping toys, but from the simple absorption of the mind in a simple activity.
In a world where our we simultaneously listen to music, surf the net, text, and do work, both the ability to concentrate undistractedly on one task and the ability to let the mind wander into creative pathways are under threat. The Quiet Book is a useful corrective to those trends. Of course it’s not enough in itself. There’s a tendency to think that the solution to every problem is some new product, but what needs to change is our attitudes. Our modern interconnected media are wonderful, but in order that we use those media rather than simply become hopelessly distracted by them, we need to learn discipline, and to teach discipline to our children. We need to learn to unplug — even if it’s just closing Facebook and switching off our phones while we read an article (online or on paper).
We need to learn to appreciate the quiet that allows for deep engagement. If we try to do that, and teach the value of silence to our children, The Quiet Book can help. At the very least, sitting down with your children and reading them this book will helps create a space of stillness in which their imagination and attention can flourish.