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Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad Hardcover – March 18, 2008


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

“My name is Ali. I live in Baghdad.” In just a few lines per page, a young Iraqi boy describes his favorite things: soccer, loud “parent-rattling” music, dancing, and, most of all, Arabic calligraphy: “I love to make the ink flow . . . stopping and starting, gliding and sweeping, leaping, dancing to the silent music in my head.” When bombs fall on the city, Ali, inspired by his hero, Yakut, a thirteenth-century calligrapher, calms himself with his pen: “I filled my room with pages of calligraphy. I filled my mind with peace.” Rumford, who has included Arabic calligraphy in previous titles, such as Calabash Cat and His Amazing Journey (2003), fills his multimedia collages with large, looping script that spells out the words and phrases that Ali writes. Many children will have questions about Arabic writing and where the individual letters stop and start, but they’ll connect with Ali’s first-person voice, which echoes the calligraphy’s graceful rhythm and tells a simple, powerful story about a child’s everyday survival and hope in wartime Baghdad. Grades 1-3. --Gillian Engberg

Review

Publishers Weekly - Starred Review
Art sings on the pages of this visual celebration of Arabic calligraphy as Rumford’s (Sequoyah) collages of floral and geometric designs and flowing lines deftly echo Arabic language and patterns. “Writing a long sentence is like watching a soccer player in slow motion as he kicks the ball across the field, as I leave a trail of dots and loops behind me,” says narrator Ali, explaining his love of calligraphy. Spreads incorporating stamps, money and postcards reinforce the Baghdad setting and complement representational scenes, such as an intricate collage of Ali huddling under a blanket next to his cat, writing. Arabic words, translated in places, sometimes embed in the pages as part of the illustrations, even patterning Ali’s mother’s dress. Like his hero, the famed calligrapher Yakut, who wrote through the destruction of Baghdad in 1258 (“he shut out the horror and wrote glistening letters of rhythm and grace”), Ali turns to calligraphy during the bombing of Baghdad in 2003. In an eloquent ending, he discovers that while the word “war” flows easily, the pen “stubbornly resists me when I make the difficult waves and slanted staff of salam—peace.
 
 
Kirkus Reviews
A boy’s ingenuous voice introduces American readers to the beauty and discipline of Arabic calligraphy in this mood piece set in Baghdad. Ali directly addresses readers, explaining how much he loves playing soccer and listening to loud music, and how he loves calligraphy even more: “my pen stopping and starting, gliding and sweeping, leaping dancing to the silent music in my head.” His hero is Yakut, a 13th-century calligrapher who took solace in his art amidst the Mongol invasion. Like Yakut, Ali finds comfort in practicing his letters during the turmoil that has reigned in Baghdad since 2003. Rumford’s sense of design is one of the keenest in the field; he incorporates patterned papers, collage elements and, over and over, the Arabic words themselves in his dusty, desert-colored spreads. The quiet text doesn’t dwell on politics or conflict, simply on one boy’s desire to find peace in his own life and how he uses calligraphy as a vehicle....
 
 
The Horn Book Magazine
Ali, a young boy growing up in contemporary Baghdad, likes soccer, loud music, and dancing. But more than anything, he loves to create the letters of Arabic calligraphy. He loves the right-to-left movement, the flow of the ink from his pen “stopping and starting, gliding and sweeping, leaping, dancing to the silent music” in his head. His hero is Yakut, the thirteenth-century calligrapher who is thought to have fled to a high tower to write and “shut out the horror” when his Baghdad was destroyed by war. In the first-person text, Ali is a boy any child can understand, and when he writes his sister’s name, Yasmin, and describes it as easy and beautiful, we know he is expressing brotherly affection. Later, when he has no trouble writing harb, the word for war, but struggles to draw the word for peace, sala-m, readers will feel Ali’s pain for his country. Rumford’s mixed-media illustrations echo the collage work of Ezra Jack Keats and Patricia Polacco while still being all about the calligraphy. Told plainly and without bathos, this is one story of how people use art to find understanding. r.l.s.
 
 
School Library Journal Starred Review
 
Gr 2-6–Ali describes how he loves soccer; "loud, parent-rattling music"; and calligraphy–forming the elegant Arabic letters, pen "gliding and sweeping, leaping, dancing to the silent music in my head." His "secret hero" is Yakut, a renowned 13th-century calligrapher, and Ali tells how, when Mongols invaded Baghdad in 1258, the man fled to a high tower to shut out the violence by creating beauty, writing "glistening letters of rhythm and grace." Similarly, the boy sought solace from the missiles and bombs that fell on the city in 2003 by practicing calligraphy in his room. Since then, "one war has become another," and he continues to write, contemplating how some words, like "HARB–war," flow easily from the pen, while others, like "SALAM–peace," are more difficult to perfect. Jewel-toned illustrations done in pencil and charcoal and then computer enhanced accompany the lyrical text. Ali and his family are depicted with warmth and personality, and their interactions add intimacy to the story. Elaborately detailed designs appear throughout–intricate tile arrangements, delicate floral motifs, colorfully patterned clothing, even a backdrop that incorporates subtle images of warfare (army vehicles, helicopters, etc). Graceful lines of calligraphy flow across and are incorporated into the artwork. In addition to engendering appreciation for this art form, Rumford’s book sheds light on life in war-torn Iraq and builds empathy for those caught in the crossfire.
 
 
Booklist
 
“My name is Ali. I live in Baghdad.” In just a few lines per page, a young Iraqi boy describes his favorite things: soccer, loud “parent-rattling” music, dancing, and, most of all, Arabic calligraphy: “I love to make the ink flow . . . stopping and starting, gliding and sweeping, leaping, dancing to the silent music in my head.” When bombs fall on the city, Ali, inspired by his hero Yakut, a thirteenth-century calligrapher, calms himself with his pen: “I filled my room with pages of calligraphy. I filled my mind with peace.” Rumford, who has included Arabic calligraphy in previous titles, such as Calabash Cat and His Amazing Journey (2003), fills his multimedia collages with large, looping script that spells out the words and phrases that Ali writes. Many children will have questions about Arabic writing and where the individual letters stop and start, but they’ll connect with Ali’s first-person voice, which echoes the calligraphy’s graceful rhythm and tells a simple, powerful story about a child’s everyday survival and hope in wartime Baghdad. — Gillian Engberg
 

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

Ad 7-10 yrs

Rumford, whose interest in non-European languages has brought young readers Sequoyah (BCCB 1/05) and Seeker of Knowledge (BCCB 4/00), offers here a fictional tale of a young Iraqi boy whose interests comprise not only soccer and “loud, parent-rattling music”, but also Arabic calligraphy. Ali’s dedication to developing his skill prompts his mother to nickname his Yakut, after a thirteenth century calligrapher who “shut out the horror” of a Mongol invasion by fleeing to a tower where he could write in peace. And that, indeed, is just what Ali has done_ blocking out his fear during the 2003 invasion to “[fill] his mind with peace.” Having remarked that many words are easier to form than others , he closes with the weighty observation that “war” flows easily off the pen, while “peace” is much more challenging to master. Clothing and backgrounds are rendered in dense geometric patterns of Arabic decorative art, while text boxes, snippets of Ali’s writing, and an assortments of jottings in various formats are layered into mixed-media collages in radiant, strongly contrasting hues. The view of one boy’s experience in a war-torn country is compelling, especially in light of the historic precedent. Having hooked his audience on the beauty, elegance, and skill of Ali’s craft, however, Rumford gives no real explanation of how written language is constructed (apart from its right to left direction); the few Western alphabet letters he occasionally lays alongside an Arabic word do little to help audiences visualize how or where the component strokes are joined. Children inspired to attempt a bit of calligraphy on their own will therefore need to look elsewhere for guidance, but this may be an inviting peek for Western children into another culture. EB


Jane Addams Children's Book Award Press Release

Silent Music:  A Story of Baghdad written and illustrated by James Rumford, an Honor Book for Younger Children, is a Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.  Ali, a boy living in Baghdad today, loves soccer, parent-rattling music, dancing, and, most of all, calligraphy. His lively life, extended family and thoughtful nature flow from pages that weave calligraphy, intricate patterns and backdrops of golden brown into their design. Drawing strength from explicit visual and textual references to Iraq’s long history of literacy, the story of Ali’s passionate practice of calligraphy, first, highlights the power of literacy as a creative force in the midst of war, then, as a metaphor, invites reflection on the difficulty of practicing peace.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 4 - 8 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - 3
  • Lexile Measure: 830L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (March 18, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596432764
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596432765
  • Product Dimensions: 11.2 x 0.4 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #239,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
5 star
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4 star
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See all 7 customer reviews
I love James Rumford's books, illustrating his writing with pictures and flowing words.
Freda C. Shamma
Its great when you can find books to share with your kids that give them a different perspective of the world.
E Star
Each time i read this book - to myself, or with others - I find something new to marvel at.
Peter G. Blue

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By mcHaiku on April 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
ALI is a schoolboy with a yen to play soccer and listen to loud music. Sound familiar? No surprises there. Now consider that Ali is a contemporary Iraqi boy who lives in Baghdad and has everyday acquaintance with most aspects of the war/occupation.

The fearsome noises and sights of war send Ali to take refuge in his practice of calligraphy. James Rumford shows this in a somber 2-page spread while "one war has become another." The author-artist draws images of war from many sources - - yet, if readers open to any page they will ask themselves what writing can be more beautiful?

James Rumford creates a three-generation family we can truly 'connect' with. Warm relationships are evidenced in his drawings. Watch Yasmin's name flow from Ali's pen, making another statement of rhythm and beauty. Experience the love flowing between grandfather or parents, and children.

Ali finds it difficult to make the transition with his pen from the word War/HARB to Peace/SALAM. In Rumford's Persian-style graphic of an interlocking pattern in which birds escape there are suggestions of M. C. Escher's geometric fantasies such as "Dissolving Boundaries." James Rumford has created another song for Freedom.

Art can make strong arguments for Peace, and each fragment of drawing or calligraphy in this splendid book makes me yearn to know and better appreciate this culture. It took only one glance at "SILENT MUSIC" to know it will be the recipient of many accolades
more impressive than these words by mcHaiku.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By meoc on June 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of Ali, a young boy who lives in contemporary Baghdad. Ali loves playing soccer and listening to loud music, but more than that, he loves writing calligraphy. This celebration of writing and art invokes the story of the master calligrapher Yakut, who lived in Baghdad eight hundred years ago, also during a time of war. This timeless story is sure to enchant students and parents alike.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Surplus Sunshine on July 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover
A beautiful picture book that helps American children relate to a child of Iraq. It also makes the reader work at the quiet-yet strong message that war is easy-peace is hard. A must have in philosophy circles or world geography class. As a teacher of grade six - this is relevant and poignant for students to make so many connections while building schema. ENJOY the Silence.
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Format: Hardcover
Ali is a boy who lives in Baghdad with his family and friends. Baghdad is the capital of Iraq and is the largest city in that nation. He loves to play soccer, loves loud music, loves to dance, but most of all he loves to practice calligraphy. Calligraphy in his language are letters that flow from the right to the left. Ali is very passionate about his language and says "I love to make the ink flow-from my pen stopping and starting, gliding and sweeping, leaping, dancing to the silent music in my head."

As you can see by the calligraphy in this book, the Arabic language is a very beautiful one to write. Just look at his little sister's name Yasmin. Isn't that beautiful? Ali says that some of the words are very hard to write and can "turn into tangled knots of ink" and he has to practice them many times over to get them right. Yakut, his hero, was a famous calligrapher and Ali would certainly have a long way to go to match that talent! Calligraphy was one of those things that Ali practiced a lot in 2003 when the bombs came crashing into his city; it was something that made him comfortable and warm inside. If you want to know how to write the word SAL'M (peace) you can learn how in this book.

I loved the graceful flow of this book and the masterful illustrations illuminated the tale. There are enough examples to spark the interest of the reader to want to pick up a pen and at least try to write a few of the words illustrated in the text. This book is a lovely way to introduce children to another language and culture. In the author's note he discusses the importance of calligraphy in the Muslim world and gives a very brief biographical sketch of Yakut, Ali's hero.
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