There is no doubting the power of words. Plenty of research has been done highlighting the very many advantages of stories and the magic of books and there are countless case studies of young people unhappy in the real world who find hope in the characters and lands they can explore through literature. It is this idea which forms the basis of David Ouimet’s stunningly illustrated book, I Go Quiet.
A young girl travels through her daily life in self-imposed silence. People don’t understand her, she is worried about saying the wrong thing, she is different and so she dreams instead: what if she could fly? What if she could soar? What if she could ride through forests on the back of magical beasts? Parallels can be drawn here with the recent Truth Pixie books by Matt Haig which have a similar theme of a young girl struggling to find her voice. The message in I Go Quiet is so heartfelt that although a children’s book at its core many adults will think back to their own childhoods as they read and smile at the message of hope and promise which, with hindsight, they will have the luxury of recognising.
The images are dark and really do give a feeling of living in a sombre place until she flies, she soars, she rides. The figures in the illustrations have similarities to those of L.S Lowry, so many in number and, like Lowry’s, set against an industrial cityscape. Initially this oppressive city overwhelms the young protagonist but through reading she realises it could be something far more, she could create something far more.
Alongside these alluring images there is a beautiful extended metaphor of a musical note which draws the short story together starting as a “the note that’s not in tune” and ending as “a shimmering noise.” This is an altogether charming book which can be read and read over and over again and still leave the reader smiling by the final turn.
Graphic novels have the potential to use few words (or indeed, no words at all) to convey something greater, and David Ouimet's I Go Quiet is an exquisite example. Following the story of an introverted girl who is struggling to find her place in a noisy world, it focuses on her silence: the world is loud, she is quiet; she tries to talk and is misunderstood, and so she goes quiet once more. Through books, creativity and imagination, the possibilities unfold before her, allowing her to envisage a future in which she builds cities with her words and knowing that one day – if not yet – she will make a shimmering noise and be heard.
The illustrations are gothic and haunting but beautiful, paired with sparse words that deeply convey isolation and loneliness felt within a young girl. Though dark in one sense, it's wrapped in wonder and hope. That notion of hope is key; there's no rush, no need to force a change, instead a crack in the door that she can walk through when she is ready.
It's the kind of book you wish you could send to your childhood self, and the kind that warms the heart as an adult. A simple but stunning story.
The haunting illustrations paired with words that dive deep into the depths of loneliness and isolation felt by children makes for an astonishing, almost genre-defying read. But Ouimet pairs these factors with themes of hope and wonder, spurring on children to find their voice, their potential, their happiness at their own pace and in their own time. Books that encourage those who feel different from the world around them to embrace their uniqueness are ones that will resonate with many a millennial and, more importantly, their children. It’s clear that I Go Quiet belongs in this category and will remain iconic for years to come.
Words and pictures
There are a comparatively small number of hard to classify books, by highly talented artist/writers, that seem to me to fall somewhere between the graphic novel and the older children’s picture book. They are generally characterized by few words, if any at all, yet often deal with very sophisticated subject matter, brilliantly explored through stunning artwork. Too often overlooked as being unchallenging for more able readers (which is most certainly not the case) they not only provide a rich and stimulating independent reading experience but also make wonderful resources for imaginative, thoughtful teachers and their classes. David Wiesner and Shaun Tan are prominent amongst artists-authors who have produced some truly mind-blowing books of this type. And David Ouimet’s recently published I Go Quiet is a particularly outstanding example.
The very short text is superficially simple, but is actually profound in its ideas and implications. It shows perfectly how a few words can say a very great deal. A young girl feels herself alienated from a noisy world, and so turns inward; literally and metaphorically, she goes quiet. Yet she frees herself through imagination. This book is itself a compelling testament to all books, to their power to liberate, to educate in the fullest send. And, in the end, the loud, clear message of I Go Quiet is superbly positive, supportive, encouraging. Silence will find its voice in good time, and what a voice that will be.
Yet it is David Ouimet’s detailed, idiosyncratic and compelling illustrations which carry the greatest power within this work, adding multiple layers of both meaning and mystery to the text. Primarily monochrome, yet playing mesmerisingly with darkness and light, they are often disturbing, hauntingly surreal. The countless people who populate this world all carry masks of conformity, which they sometimes do and don’t wear, yet their faces are mask-like either way. Across one double page spread, these hordes seem to pass through some vast, dark machine, like product on complex conveyors. In another they are arrayed as a vast ancient army, malevolent terracotta warriors. At what appears to be school, ranks of desks with their masked/unmasked pupils stretch, towards infinity, multiple indoctrinated clones. It is no wonder our girl goes quiet. Yet, when her imagination is freed, the drawings rush, swoop and soar towards flight in exhilarating abandon. And, in the vast library, the girl climbs and climbs up the dark stacks of books until her hand reaches towards the light, the sky, the grass.
These are images that ask questions, many questions, questions in their wholeness and even more in their detail, more questions than answers. But therein lies their power and their potency.
This is a book to disquiet, but ultimately one to comfort and support too. Support for those who feel intimidated , those who feel alienated, and perhaps do not even want to belong, for those who go quiet, for those who read and learn and imagine. It provides the encouragement, the hope, the certainty, that someday they will make a ‘shimmering noise’.