Book Review: Speaking Out

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

Other Books by This Author

• Crispin: The Cross of Lead

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Silent Movie, the new book by award-winning author Avi, is a wonderful example of how to say more with less. In other words, the pictures do the talking in this one.

Just like the old silent movies, the words serve to give you more information, not all the information.

And in this wonderful story of an immigrant family who moves to America in the early 20th Century, the pictures are the star of the show.

C.B. Mordan, the illustrator, expertly relates the look and the feel of the period in his oldtime-photo-type pictures that tell the story of Gustave and his family, as they send Papa ahead to America to secure a job for himself and place for the family to live and then overcome difficulties common to immigrants coming to America.

Because the pictures have to tell the whole story, the people in them are especially expressive. And the pictures are even drawn in the style of an old silent movie, with the soft focus from the black borders to the black-and-white images in the middle, ringed by a while halo of background.

The trick for Avi, the writer, of course, is to not to include so many words that the words overwhelm the pictures. He has to choose his words carefully, and he does this well, saying just enough to get his point across, just enough to clarify anything the viewer might be confused about, and not too much so as to steal the thunder of the pictures.

You can flip through this book quickly and summarize the plot in a matter of 5 or 10 minutes. Understanding what is really going on in this book takes a good deal longer: This book gives you the opportunity to view a silent movie, like people did many years ago, frame-by-frame. If something went by too quickly in the movies (and this is still true today), you can't just hit Rewind and go back and watch the scene again (unless you're watching the VHS or the DVD). This book gives you the feeling that you're watching a movie that you can really delve into, studying the pictures in detail and seeing the nice little outches that the illustrator includes.

For instance, take a close look at the picture below. How many people are sleeping in the bed on the right? And what size do you think those beds on the left are?

Time and again in this book, the viewer is rewarded by looking closely at the pictures and letting the images do the talking.

The plot also parallels the success that many immigrant families found in America (although Gustave's family in this book finds an unexpected stroke of luck that enables them to succeed where a great many others failed).

All in all, I highly recommend this book. For Avi fans, it's an interesting change of pace, a trip back in the author's head to memories from his childhood. For fans of picture books, it's a chance to see a great minimalist artist at work. And for fans of history, it's yet another chance to relive the immigrant experience (although this time it's through the eyes of the movie camera).


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