Sonam and the silence by Eddie Ayres

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Ill. by Ronak Taher, Allen and Unwin, 2018. ISBN 9781760293666
(Ages: 5+) Highly recommended. Themes: Afghanistan, Taliban, Music, Children in war. Denied music at home after the Taliban take over Kabul, Sonam is told by her brother to wear a headscarf once she turns seven. She is now expected to hep her mother who sew shirts and dresses to sell at the market. Selling gum one day Sonam runs through the backstreets to home, but hears a sound she has never heard before. Following the sounds she comes to a walled garden of mulberry trees and finds an old man playing a musical instrument. She is captivated, the music seems to come from the earth, from her heart and she returns each day. He gives her her own instrument, a rubab made from a piece of the mulberry tree. She is able to hum to herself some of the music she has heard and this keeps the sound of war from her ears. But her brother, hearing her hum, bans music, taking her rubab from her. Her world becomes silent.
But planes and foreign soldiers appear, and things change. She goes to the old man's garden and finds him gone, his trees almost dead. She picks the last pomegranate and plants its seeds in her own garden. Digging she comes across her rubab buried by her brother, and so plays it again in the old man's garden. The old man is still there in the music, in her heart.
A modern allegory reflecting the power of music in one's life, Ayres has used his time living in Kabul, teaching music to children uprooted by war, with compassion. His story not only shows how music fills the heart, but also shows us the lives of children besieged by war, unable to learn that most basic of emotional tools, music.
The illustrations by Iranian-Australian film maker and designer, Taher, are wonderful, using a variety of techniques to show Sonam living through the worst of times, supported by her love of music. Torn tissue paper is used to build up collages, the images reflecting Ronak's Iranian background.
This is a wonderful read aloud, and will engender much discussion about the healing power of music.
Fran Knight