Full Text Reviews:
School Library Journal - 07/01/2016 K-Gr 4—On a rainy, bustling morning in Tokyo, a young boy is surrounded by a symphony of sounds: boots squishing, raindrops pattering, cars rushing, and, to his delight, a koto player producing a range of high, low, and "twangy and twinkling" notes as she tunes her instrument. When Yoshio asks the musician what her favorite sound is, she answers, "Ma," the silence between sounds. Intrigued by her comment, the boy spends his day in search of the elusive ma. Kuo's art provides the backdrop for the child's quest in scenes of contemporary Tokyo, from the high-speed Shinkansen trains that pass through its stations ("whoosh") to the bamboo grove near the school playground that whispers "takeh-takeh-taheh." Most of the images (in pen, with color added digitally) span spreads, offering wide-angle views of the city, but there are a few single-page pictures, proffering their own unique perspectives. The art is rich in detail and features a variety of concentrated colors that give way to muted grays and browns when suddenly, while reading, Yoshi experiences ma, something that feels peaceful, "still inside him." In an author's note, Goldsaito acknowledges the influence of the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, who believed that "without silence, sound would be meaningless." VERDICT This book will be especially welcome in settings that teach yoga or mindfulness, but its message and striking art will be appreciated anywhere the din of daily life can overwhelm.—Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal - Copyright 2016 Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and/or School Library Journal used with permission.
Bulletin for the Center... - 09/01/2016 Yoshio is a city boy right down to his bones, reveling in the cacophony just outside his door (“Toyko was like a symphony hall”). When it rains on the way to school, so much the better, as city noise merges with the patter of raindrops on his umbrella, the squishing of his boots, and the merriment of his own giggles. Then a new sound creeps out of the din and Yoshio traces it to a gray-haired, kimonoed koto player tuning up under a wooden canopy, a tiny island of calm and dry amid the crush of passing umbrellas. The boy lingers to add this musical sound to his sonic collection, but when he politely asks the player about her own favorite sound, he’s surprised at her response: “The most beautiful sound . . . is the sound of ma, of silence.” So begins Yoshio’s quest—to track down even a fleeting moment of silence. The Tokyo setting in which he searches may be novel to most young Americans, but they’ll agree he’s looking in all the right places. However, even in the most well-regulated classroom, somebody is always discreetly rustling around; even in the deserted park (or in Yoshio’s case, a bamboo grove), the wind stirs the vegetation; within lulls in dinner conversation, there is still clicking and chewing and swallowing; in the bathtub, water swirls and drips. When your own home quiets, there are neighbors with late-night radios and early morning yapping dogs. It is when Yoshio is the first to arrive at school, settling undisturbed into his desk with a favorite book, that he becomes aware of the absence of sound: “Peaceful, like the garden after it snowed. Like feather-stuffed futons drying in the sun.” And he also realizes that ma has been everywhere all along, beneath and between and before and after the pings of everyday sounds are minuscule moments of quiet. You just have to listen. Although the text is a smooth, self-contained bit of storytelling, Kuo’s digitally colored pen drawings perform glorious double duty, introducing the bustling street scenes and orderly private interiors of Yoshio’s beloved Tokyo, and translating the concept of ma into literal and figurative imagery. Kuo indulges in posting ads for her favorite retailers on the dense urban signage (Muji, Mitsukoshi, Uniqlo); tucking Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World into the hand of one pedestrian; costuming another as a lolita with knee-hi’s, fascinator and stuffed toy dangling from her shoulder bag; strapping a germ mask on a pot-bellied gent on the bullet-train platform. As the mainstreamers and outliers rub shoulders in the crowd, the koto player’s relative isolation just steps away from the crush takes on added meaning as the embodiment of ma, the silence that can be identified and appreciated by a sensitive seeker. When Yoshio’s climactic Aha! moment arrives, Kuo designs a protective ring of nothing around him, pushing away his thoughts of noisy urbanites, and then follows that scene with a more profound depiction of Yoshio and his school desk set against a completely blank background. As the audience ponders their own experience of silence, they can also conduct a visual hunt for yin/yang imagery embedded in the illustrations. Author’s and illustrator’s notes do exactly what such notes are supposed to do—offer something additional to think about. Goldsaito speaks of her father’s acquaintance with Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, whose attentiveness to silence within music inspired this book. Kuo remarks on the fun she had incorporating contemporary cultural references into her artwork, perhaps launching a fleet of internet searches. Enterprising librarians or teachers might want to pass around instruments for a group “performance” of John Cage’s 4’33” to extend a blessedly peaceful storytime. (See p. 25 for publication information.) Elizabeth Bush, Reviewer - Copyright 2016 The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.
Booklist - 07/01/2016 Tokyo is alive with noise, and young Yoshio revels in it. When he encounters a musician (a koto player) on the street, he asks her what her favorite sound is. Ma, she tells him: the sound of silence. Confused, Yoshio starts trying to hear it, but it seems like there is always sound, whether it’s the distant hum of the city or the sound of wind in the bamboo. Where, he wonders, is silence? Yoshio’s journey, rendered in pen and digital color, beautifully captures the bustle of Tokyo on a rainy day. Yoshio, easily distinguished by his bright yellow umbrella and rain boots, darts energetically from page to page. Later, the images grow simpler as he grows more introspective, trying to find that elusive silence. This is best for larger collections, as the concept as a whole may be a little too abstract for some younger readers to grasp, though an afterword elaborates on the Japanese idea of ma for those who, like Yoshio, are ready to hear it. - Copyright 2016 Booklist.