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‘The Sound of Silence’ traces a boy’s listening tour of Tokyo

“The Sound of Silence”
By Katrina Goldsaito, illustrated by Julia Kuo, Little Brown $17.99, 
ages 4-8

Boots “squishing and squashing through the puddles”; the “zaa zaa” of raindrops hitting open umbrellas; the blasts of horns and the putter and purr of car engines in the city streets: Yoshio, the perceptive hero of Katrina Goldsaito and Julia Kuo’s “The Sound of Silence,” joyfully registers every noise he encounters throughout this deeply resonant book.

Goldsaito’s story follows Yoshio as he embarks on a listening tour of a metropolis of more than 13 million people, “The sounds of the city swirled all around him — Tokyo was like a symphony hall!” But amid the cacophony of daily life one sound remains elusive — silence. It is the favorite sound of a wise musician Yoshio meets on the street: “ ‘The most beautiful sound,’ ” the musician tells Yoshio “ ‘is the sound of ma, of silence.’ ”

The idea intrigues the young hero, but no matter how hard he tries he can’t seem to hear it. It’s not in the bamboo grove where the stalks thwack against each other when the wind blows nor does Yoshio hear it in the night when a radio buzzes in the distance as he drifts off to sleep. When he finally finds what he is looking for — a noiseless moment — the emptiness, thanks to Goldsaito’s richly descriptive language, feels rewarding and full.

The meditative pleasures of the book deepen with the thoughtful, dramatic compositions and bright colors of Kuo’s illustrations, which convey a sense of the sounds through the pictures. But the connection between noise and image is never literal, only suggestive. Take a beautiful double page spread from early in the book. The sweeping images show Yoshio in motion as he skips through puddles on the street. His yellow umbrella punctuates the space at five points; its positions as it moves up and down resemble notes on a staff, a gentle melody on the page. Read the notes, listen closely, and you might be able to hear the music and the silence too. NICOLE LAMY

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