A quiet girl by Peter Carnavas
University of Queensland Press, 2019. ISBN: 9780702260025.
(Age: 4-8) Highly recommended. Themes: Sounds, Listening, Personal characteristics. Peter Carnavas's distinctive illustrations have a calming, soft and peaceful quality perfectly suited to the themes of this book. His previous publications, including The Children Who Loved Books and The Elephant, tend to encourage treading lightly on the world and stopping to appreciate the world around us, and A Quiet Girl is no exception. Mary is a free-spirit and the house seems to be full of things that she has made out of rubbish: bird feeders, wind chimes, pots and vases. She is also very quiet: she walks quietly, talks quietly and thinks quietly. 'Because Mary was quiet, she heard things nobody else heard. A dragonfly buzzing through the air. The soft sigh of the sleeping dog next door'. The problem is, Mary is so quiet nobody hears her. 'Use a nice, LOUD voice', says her dad over the racket of the blender. 'Speak up, honey', says her mum over the roar of the hairdryer. But she just can't do it, so instead she becomes quieter and quieter until it almost feels like she isn't there and the illustrations show her gradually lose colour and disappear. The story ends with Mary and her noisy family sitting down together and listening 'for all of the small wonderful things that lay hidden in the world'. It is beautiful to see them all entering Mary's world for a little while and it highlights the importance of recognising and appreciating differences and personal characteristics; she is different to the rest of her family, but that is okay. Mary's gentle interaction with the world encourages the reader to take note and revel in the wonder in the world: 'the smell of freshly cut grass . . . the tickle of the breeze ruffling her hair'.
This book is a little reminiscent of Margaret Wild's recent The Sloth Who Came to Stay in its message to slow down and enjoy the little things around us, but it is also about taking note of those children who are quieter and sometimes get lost or misunderstood in the ruckus of everyday life: a beautiful and thought-provoking message for all teachers, parents and noisy friends. Teacher notes are available.