Boy by Phil Cummings

cover image

(Ages: 4-8) Highly recommended. Perception, communication, deafness, power. From the author and illustrator of Wang Wang and Funi comes this modern fairy tale that cleverly conveys important moral messages. The title character, Boy, lives in a small village on the edge of a forest. He also happens to be deaf. He communicates with his 'dancing hands' and by drawing pictures in the sand, but only his parents are able (or want to) understand him. The dragon that lives in the forest is always fighting the king and their battles are always noisy ('Cling clong clang!', 'ROAR!'). While Boy can't hear the endless fighting he can feel and see the fear. One day, when he accidentally finds himself in the middle of the battlefield, he writes a question in the sand: “Why are you fighting?” When the dragon and the king start talking, they discover that their fighting is the result of misunderstanding and a lack of communication. Because of his influence in solving the problem, the villagers finally see Boy as a person worthy of their time and make an effort to communicate with him.
There are many layers of both simple and complex messages here; the most obvious being that we need to make an effort to understand others and that we shouldn't make assumptions. Boy may not communicate like the other villagers but he does have important things to say and the dragon may be big (and called a dragon) but he is not scary or mean. It reiterates that the pen is mightier than the sword and that power can be silent rather than loud and aggressive. There is potential to use this story to discuss issues faced by those with a hearing impairment as well as how society often overlooks or ignores the voices of people with disabilities (and even just those who are not as loud or who don't communicate in the dominant manner). It may also open more general discussion regarding different forms of communication and the importance of communicating effectively. The overall tone is one of hope and optimism; it implies that if we communicate and make an effort to hear the voices of everyone in our community everyone will get along better. This is supported by the rounded, soft illustrations in which even the dragon is cute rather than scary. There is a lot of symbolism in both the text and the illustrations and it will engage and stimulate children of different ages on different levels.
Nicole Nelson