Values: Confidence, Acceptance and Kindness.
I have put off writing this blog for some time; not because I don't like the book or value it. Rather, that I think it is so powerful and so unique that I was worried I if I had interpreted it correctly or was truly understanding all of its many layers. In essence, I didn't want to not do it justice. If you have read I Go Quiet, and have different interpretations, please do let me know as I would be fascinated to talk about it.
The book is the story of a girl (unnamed) who is very shy and perhaps feels misunderstood, excluded or isolated from her peers and the wider, noisy world. She has a vivid imagination and uses this to imagine how she would fly away if she could to a world where she feels accepted and included. For the protagonist, reading is an escape. It enables her to see that she does have a voice and that she is important. Reading provides knowledge that she is part of a wider community, a wider natural world and that her words, however quiet, are valued. This realisation enables the girl to believe that there are opportunities in her future that will allow her to speak and be heard.
As you can imagine, this is an incredibly emotive and complex book. And yet, it has so much that we can all relate to. I am sure most adults will connect to the words and illustrations which perfectly convey times and places where we have felt anxious, different and the centre of (unwanted) attention - imagined or real. There will be many children who feel like this every day at school and this book may be the one pivotal text that connects them to others. I, like many other teachers, have taught children who are selectively mute at school; it is not to say that this is specifically what Ouimet is implying in this book, but it is an example of children who may for the first time see a book reflect their own reality. Additionally, Stephen Fry has written on the back cover, "Ouimet understands that to comfort means to strengthen, not to coddle." This is so important, and so easy to forget. I Go Quiet is a challenging book for children, because it holds some uncomfortable truths that some children will relate to, even if they don't recognise this at first.
The Values that I would connect with I Go Quiet would be confidence, kindness, acceptance, hope, empathy and many more. I have chosen a few to discuss here, with UKS2 in mind (or even KS3). I would personally not use this book with children younger than Year 5 without carefully thinking through how this would be done as I think some of the images could be quite unsettling. Furthermore, the metaphorical meanings may be lost on younger children, but that's my personal opinion.
Firstly, the Value of confidence. The girl in this book comes across at first as lacking in confidence, particularly in social or busy situations. The words, even forming an inverted pyramid, reflect the feelings of being small, intimidated or ignored. The readers realise though that the girl gathers confidence from the books she reads. She builds an inner confidence that she knows will give her a voice (literally and metaphorically) when the time is right. She learns that she may appear, "mousy" to others, but that, "When I am heard, I will build cities with my words." What an unbelievably powerful page in the book!
This provides two great opportunities. The first being that we can talk to children about who/what gives them confidence. This may lead to ways that we can foster confidence in others. It may also be interesting to consider whether children have thought about the difference between inner and outer confidence before: this may be a new concept to them. The second opportunity is to discuss people who have changed the world with their words. How words are the building blocks of change. People like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai spring to mind, but you could easily link this to topics.
Secondly, the Value of kindness. Most children will be able to infer from the pictures that the girl is shown little kindness from her peers. They appear stand-offish and distant; she is often pictured alone or isolated in the middle of a crowd. Even the illustrative choices that Ouimet has made, such as under a spotlight or surrounded by empty chairs or the girl facing one way and everyone else facing another, are very clever in reinforcing this feeling that her peers do not reach out to her. There are great opportunities for discussing how we can tell when somebody needs a little kindness. Explicitly discussing how we can offer kindness to others is really important: a smile, a compliment, an offer of a seat or a 'hello'. To some children, these concepts won't be obvious.
Thirdly, I think the Value of acceptance is really important. Learning to accept others who are different to ourselves is a lesson that must be taught very young, in my opinion. If we can accept and celebrate (not tolerate!) difference, the world is a richer place and we provide people with the freedom to be themselves. We do not always have to understand the ways others behave or speak or the choices they make. However, we can teach children to accept people for the way they are. Books like I Go Quiet are really important in reminding all of us of the diversity of human life. I like the way the girl finds acceptance in herself at the end of the story and this provides her with a positive view of her future. As teachers and leaders, let's teach children that accepting ourselves is very important for developing strong self-esteem and an inner core set of values. We can't all be good at everything and that's ok. This, of course, ties in with many schools' work on growth mindset or resilience too.
I haven't even gone into all of the layers of interpretation that are so rich in this book. The animals; the fantasy; the masked figures; the contentment on the girl's face in the final pages; the way the pages are purposefully laid out! There is so much detail I could go into, but I am staying focused on the Values in this blog. I listened to a fascinating interview by Nikki Gamble on her podcast 'In The Reading Corner'. She talks to David Ouimet about I Go Quiet and I Go Loud (the sequel) as well as his other creative inspirations and outlets. To find out the personal resonance that this book meant to him brings yet another emotive layer of depth. I highly recommend a listen. (I also highly recommend the other interviews on the podcast!)
If you want to get hold of this book, you can grab it from both mainstream and indie bookshops. You can also follow David Ouimet on Twitter (@DavidOuimet3) and find the website for this book, specifically here. Lastly, on this blog you can find other books that discuss the same Values via these links:
And, to finish, a powerful and poignant page that anybody who has found solace in a book will relate to...