Book Review: “Boy” by Phil Cummings and Shane Devries (@ScholasticAUS @EasternRegional)

Boy (Scholastic Press, 2017) by Phil Cummings and Shane Devries

It’s often said that reading improves children’s emotional intelligence and increases empathy. It helps kids better understand others, especially those who have different life stories.

Reading also helps us better connect with other perspectives and human experiences. It helps improve children’s capacity – and that of adults – to appreciate what others are thinking and feeling.

Empathy starts early, and it starts by listening as a genuine attempt to make contact, to reach out across real and imagined barriers that separate “us” from “them”. Without listening, we cannot begin to comprehend.

This is an important lesson from Boy, winner of the 2017 Children’s Peace Literature Award, an Australian literary prize awarded biennially by the Australian Psychological Society. The award encourages the dissemination of information related to “peaceful means of resolving conflict and promoting peace at the global, local and interpersonal level”.

Published by Scholastic Press, Boy is written by Phil Cummings and beautifully illustrated by Shane Devries, It tells the story of a boy who is deaf.

Boy lives in silence: “He spoke with dancing hands and he drew pictures for people in the sand.” Boy’s parents understand him perfectly, but those in his village think him “strange”

Worse, near the village is a forest that has been burnt out by a dragon’s fiery breath. Angered by the loss of the forest, the King has fought many battles against the dragon.

“Boy couldn’t hear the battle cries, but he had seen the fear in his mother’s eyes and felt it in his father’s hands when he held him close.”

The war goes on and on – until one day Boy unknowingly steps right into the middle of it. Here’s the turning point as he writes in the sand: “Why are you fighting?”

The finger-pointing begins, as expected. However, this is the first time the King and his numerous knights as well as the dragon get to stop what they’ve been doing and to truly listen to each other’s point of view.

And that changes everything.

The book has perhaps the cutest dragon in the world, with perhaps the most adorable excuse for having descended upon the King’s domain. It’s also full of special sound effects that will surely delight both children and adults throughout the reading, from “ROAAAR!” and “CHAAARGE!” to plenty of “CLING CLANG CLONG”,

More importantly, the book is gentle and subtle about so many things. As observed by Romi Sharp from Reading Time, children’s book news and reviews from The Children’s Book Council of Australia:

“[Boy] connects with those around him using a variety of tools, including sign language, drawings, the written word, and a sense of emotion. It is these perceptive qualities that make him the perfect candidate for facilitating awareness, acceptance and community inclusion.”

In 2021, Boy was chosen by the International Board of Books for Young People as one of the Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities – a well deserved honour. The book is highly recommended for children aged four and above.

Note: This book review was originally published under the title “The importance of listening” by Ranges Trader Star Mail on January 18, 2022, P.9.

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