Ben Morley, illustrated by Carl Pearce,
The Silence Seeker
Tamarind Books, 2009.
British author Ben Morley’s picture book debut, The Silence Seeker, handles the largely unexplored topic of asylum seekers with a feather-light yet sure-handed touch.
Next door to Joe’s house, in an unnamed inner-big-city neighborhood, a new boy and his family move in. Joe, a spectacled, friendly-looking young boy, immediately sees the new boy as a potential friend, and can’t wait to play with him outside.
When Joe’s mom explains that the boy is an asylum seeker, having never heard the expression before, Joe hears “silence seeker”. Knowing his neighborhood, as he does, like the back of his hand, he is convinced that he can help his new neighbor find some silence amidst the chaos of traffic jams, road work, and what not outside their door.
Joe invites the boy, who seems quite a bit older than he is (and we never get to know the boy’s name, where he came from or what brought him there), to follow him. He proceeds to take him to the quiet spots he knows of: the laundry room in the basement of his building; the bridge over the canal; even the dump… but everywhere they go, people are gathered, making noise. Silence is nowhere to be found.
However, even if they don’t realize it themselves, the quiet interaction between the two boys throughout the day seems to be, itself, the safe haven they search for. The picture of them holding hands – a plane flying above overhead – after sharing a jam sandwich, is very touching, and will likely convey to kids that sometimes the smallest gestures of kindness can make a world of difference.
The open ending, which has Joe waking up the next morning to the news that his newfound friend left with his family in the middle of the night, will leave readers of all ages with enough to imagine and interpret on their own. It also makes for a perfect opportunity for parents to initiate a conversation about the difficult and uncertain situation of refugees and asylum seekers, and what they can do to offer a helping hand.