‘The Silence Seekers,’ by Ben Morley and Carl Pearce (picture book)

The Silence Seeker

Two children begin a restrained friendship, conducted on the steps outside their block of flats and on long walks through their bleak, urban environment. Caps are often pulled down over faces and a great deal said without being spoken out loud.

The whole story hinges on the child-narrator’s apparently naive mistake in hearing ‘asylum seeker’ as ‘silence seeker’. This ‘mistake’ reveals how a child’s misunderstanding is so often not so much a lesser understanding as a new perspective on an old problem: the child-narrator has an empathic realisation that his Silence-Seeker friend, who has run from violence, war, trouble of many kinds, must now very much need quiet (along with peace, safety). There’s a wistful quality to the child-narrator’s voice here, a sense of a felt gap in understanding between the two friends: experience which just can’t be shared. This seems mature but the child-narrator’s voice somehow never feels less than realistic, his longing to make a connection with the other child is touchingly drawn.

There are many kinds of silence in ‘The Silence Seekers’: there’s the nuance in the pauses, the things left unsaid; there are the gaps in the narrator-child’s understanding; the palpable sense of the refugee child’s unwillingness or inability to name his troubles, and the silence of his resignation – no one will understand; lastly, the silence as our child-narrator listens so respectfully. Perfectly attuned to all that a silence seeker just can’t say. There’s a quality of stillness to this story that becomes gently haunting. And the book has a subtlety which lets it speak to adults as well as to children (the twist-in-the-tale on the last page makes you softly catch your breath). A book that feels essential, every school library ought to have a few well-thumbed copies, I reckon.

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Jo Ely

Described as "an intelligent, creative, imaginative, original writer" by Guardian Book of the Year author Trevor Byrne, Jo Ely has been Shortlisted for the Fish International Short Story Prize and has had a short story selected for an anthology edited by New York Times Notable Book of the Year author Sandra Tyler (Woven Tale Press, US ed. 2016). Jo has published short stories, children's books and written interviews with writers for the Woven Tale Press. She also reviews for the world's first online Empathy Library. 'Stone Seeds' is Jo's first novel, published by Urbane Publications (Amazon.co.uk).

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