Friday, March 13, 2015

PPBF: Silent Music

Today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick

Silent Music, by James Rumford, courtesy Amazon
Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad
Written and Illustrated by James Rumford
Roaring Brook Press, 2008
non-fiction, grades K-3
AR Level: 3.8,
Lexile 830L, Level E

Culture, Historical, Art

"My name is Ali. I live in Baghdad. I love playing soccer in the dusty street with my friends. I love loud parent-rattling music. I love dancing. But most of all, I love calligraphy . . ."

Through paint and digital collage, James Rumford brings the flavor of Iran to this story of a young boy named Ali. He is just like any other boy, except he is passionate about his country's tradition of beautiful handwriting. The story compares ordinary things in Ali's life to the calligraphic strokes. The author parallels Ali's experience during a bombing of Baghdad to the experience of the famous calligrapher Yakut during the Siege of Baghdad in 1258. Ali is able to find joy in the midst of fear and hope for the future in keeping his traditions alive. There is one page of back matter about Yakut and information about the country and its writing sprinkled throughout the text.

What I Love:
The book is beautiful, to start. The calligraphy throughout is Rumford's own. His comparisons are lyrical: Ali's little sister's name is a lovely, energetic swish, his grandfather's is tall and stately. Some strokes twirl and fly like a soccer match. Some strokes are as complicated as the busy streets. These comparisons are an inventive way of drawing young readers into the text.

James Rumford's collage, traditional patterns, and hand-calligraphy 

I was also impressed with the author's ability to take a tiny piece of history and build a book around it. More likely, he wanted to share his love of the Iranian calligraphic art form, then traced a parallel between the war-torn past and present. He sneaks details about calligraphy into the text which might have been dry in the hands of another writer.

1. You can learn more about the history of the city at The University of Baghdad website.
Calligraphy by Sultan Mahmud II
2. Explore the changes in Persian Calligraphy from 500 BC to modern times. Then view the work of modern Persian calligraphers.
3. Introduce kids to other Islamic arts like architecture on History For Kids.
4. Read about the real Yakut Ul'Musta-simi from
5. You'll find dozens of other calligraphers, their work, and their biographies on the Journal of Ottoman Calligraphy.
6. For authors studying through ReFoReMo, you can find his thoughts on structuring a biography on his website.
7. Diane Tulloch has a great interview with the author / illustrator on her website, Patient Dreamer.
8. If you enjoyed this book, here are a few more Perfect Picture Books you might enjoy.

Joanna's review
Laura's review
Kirsten's review
Jarm's review
S. N. Taylor's review
Barbara's review

Joanne's review
Wendy's review
Diane's review

Have you reviewed a Perfect Picture Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday
for March 13, 2015, available on Susanna Leonard Hill's blog.


  1. I wish I could read everything Roaring Brook has published! What a lovely introduction to a culture that I'm unfamiliar with. I recommended Rain School too! This is an author to watch. :)

    1. You're right, Wendy. Sorry. Here's the link.

  2. I love James Rumford's books and have somehow missed this one. He has such a unique style about his stories and illustrations. The artwork in this story is beautiful. Will look this one up. My favorite will always be Rain School, which I have given to many kids as a gift. Nice choice.

    1. I love his style. I read Rain School, and Tiger and Turtle this week, as well. You can be sure I'll let you know if I read any more of his books.

  3. This author is new to me but looks very intriguing. I'm pinning. Thank you!

    1. Thanks. That's how I keep track of my book lists too!

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks, Cathy. He hS a biography of Sequoia I want to read too.

  5. This looks like a gorgeous book. Thanks for sharing it... I definitely want to find it now.

    1. I hope you can find a copy. Let me know what you think. Thanks.

  6. I always love your recommendations and the additional books you suggest. I add a few to my library list each week. :)

    1. Thank-you. I use Pinterest to try to keep track of all the picture books on my "to read" list. It's always growing!

  7. This sounds like a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it and all the other suggestions you provided!

    1. It was a nice surprise and now I'm looking for more of James's books

  8. I'll join in the chorus saying that it looks like a beautiful and wonderful book! I look forward to reading it. The calligraphy looks amazing!

    1. Reminds me of that old Bugs Bunny cartoon! Glad you are excited about the pick. Let us know what you think.


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