The Silent Boy

The Silent Boy

4.0 41
by Lois Lowry

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Precocious Katy Thatcher comes to realize what a gentle, silent boy did for his family. He meant to help, not harm. It didn’t turn out that way.

“The author balances humor and generosity with the obstacles and injustice of Katy’s world to depict a complete picture of the turn of the 20th century.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred

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Precocious Katy Thatcher comes to realize what a gentle, silent boy did for his family. He meant to help, not harm. It didn’t turn out that way.

“The author balances humor and generosity with the obstacles and injustice of Katy’s world to depict a complete picture of the turn of the 20th century.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Nine-year-old Katy describes the unlikely friendship she develops with a "touched" farm boy. "The author balances humor and generosity with the obstacles and injustice of Katy's world to depict a complete picture of the turn of the 20th century," wrote PW in a starred review. Ages 12-up. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
This compassionately written novel chronicles a story set in the early 1900s, inspired by the period photographs that illustrate each of twenty chapters. Narrator Katy Thatcher's voice provides enchanting evidence of her developing cognition. Six-year-old Katy's precocious intelligence contrasts with her naïveté. Her doctor father explains science and medicine to his future-doctor daughter, giving her an advanced but credible medical vocabulary, while her linguistic errors and concrete thinking reveal her innocence. Katy sees Jacob, the silent boy, watching when she and her father come to cart away his sister Peggy to be their hired girl, and she becomes acquainted with him while with her father on a medical call. Jacob is revealed to be gentle and good with Katy as his kind, understanding, and curious friend. Peggy and Jacob's sister Nellie is the hired girl next door who falls for a young man of the house in a lopsided relationship. Katy's growth enables her to understand and explain Jacob's bizarre action but innocent intent in carrying Nellie's unwanted infant to leave it for Mrs. Thatcher, a woman whom he has judged a caring and nurturing mother. Lowry's latest achievement delivers complexity disguised as simplicity-providing depth through her child-narrator's eyes. Themes of birth and death weave throughout; period news and truths add substance, and town life is contrasted with country. Farm girls cease formal education when hired out, but town girls may study further. Farm girls understand maternity; Katy believes babies arrive in the garden. Overlaying this setting, touched in the head, nonverbal Jacob Stoltz appreciates sounds and communes with animals. Readers sense that Katy'spatient understanding of his behaviors and motivations surpasses adults', and realize that Lowry has wrenched their hearts again. VOYA Codes: 5Q 4P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, Walter Lorraine Books/Houghton Mifflin, 192p,
— Cynthia Winfield
Deeply reminiscent of Harper Lee's classic To Kill a Mockingbird, Lois Lowry's The Silent Boy is a touching story of a series of tragic events in a small town in the years immediately preceding World War I. In the book's prologue we meet our narrator, Katy Thatcher, now an elderly woman and a retired physician. The rest of the book is her recollection of her friendship with and growing understanding of Jacob Stoltz, a mentally retarded boy who rarely speaks, loves animals, and possesses the capacity for tragedy and heroism. As in To Kill a Mockingbird, The Silent Boy describes the beauty and the ugliness of rural life through the eyes of a young girl, the only character in the story who understands Jacob's actions and his heroism. The text is enriched with antique photographs interspersed throughout, and Lowry inserts historical events (e.g. the San Francisco earthquake, the first automobiles) into the narrative to provide a rich historical context. The Silent Boy is a gentle, bittersweet, and well-crafted novel. 2003, Houghton Mifflin Co, 178 pp., Ages young adult.
—F. Todd Goodson
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, March 2003: Inspired by old photos (reproduced at the beginning of each chapter), Lowry has fashioned an affecting and ultimately tragic tale set nearly a hundred years ago in a small farm community. Katy, the young daughter of the local doctor, tells the story. She is curious and clever, and plans to become a doctor herself; we know from the prologue, which is set in 1987, that she achieves her goal. When Katy is almost eight, she accompanies her father on a trip to the countryside to bring home their new hired girl, Peggy, and briefly glimpses Peggy's "touched" younger brother, Jacob, who is 13. Jacob doesn't speak, or go to school, but he helps out on the farm and has a special, gentle way with animals: when a mother sheep rejects her lamb, he convinces another sheep to suckle it. Over the next year, Katy forges a friendship of sorts with shy Jacob. In contrast, Peggy and Jacob's older sister Nellie, a hired girl at the household next door to Katy, is an outgoing, flamboyant type, who responds to the advances of the teenage son in that family. When Nellie becomes pregnant, she returns home to have the baby, but rejects it when it is born. Jacob then takes the fragile newborn and carries it for miles through cold and rain to Katy's household, hoping, perhaps, that Katy's mother, who has recently had a baby herself, will care for this unwanted infant, like the sheep did with the lamb. But the baby is found dead in Katy's sister's crib, and Jacob is taken off to the asylum, never to be seen by Katy again. Much of the story is given over to Katy's happy reminiscences of her childhood, from making a snowman to getting a kitten as a gift fromJacob, seeing the town's first motorcar, and celebrating her ninth birthday. The few dark notes, such as learning about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and visiting the asylum with her father, do not prepare the reader for the events at the end that unfold so tragically and yet so logically, giving them an even greater impact. This is a thoughtful and dark work, with carefully drawn characters, that imaginatively brings to life a rural community of a century ago. Like many of Lowry's other works, it raises moral and ethical issues in a challenging and subtle fashion. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2003, Random House, Dell Laurel-Leaf, 178p. illus., Ages 12 to 18.
—Paula Rohrlick
Children's Literature
Great anticipation lures readers to the newest novel of a Newbery Award winner, especially a two-time winner like Lois Lowry. She does not disappoint in The Silent Boy. Her splendid images are ripe with possibility from the first paragraph of her acknowledgments: "To glimpse other lives (in photographs) makes me shiver with imagination." Each chapter opens with a turn-of-the-century photograph, connected--at least in the reader's imagination--to the people and events in that chapter. Jacob is the silent boy; "touched in the head," says his sister; autistic we would probably say today. We learn the taunts and cruelties the wider world showers on boys like Jacob, but through his sister Peggy, the young protagonist Katie, and her wise doctor-father, we also gain an appreciation of Jacob's qualities and the joy that can come from befriending and understanding such a young man. There are wonderful windows on American life in the early twentieth century, when telephones and automobiles were often considered toys that appealed to the "extravagant foolishness of men." There are also windows on the innocence, wisdom and eternal impulsiveness of youth. The conclusion of the story is intense, filled with suspense and surprise; until that point, the book is a rich but quiet drama of daily life, brimming with sensitive characterization and moral contemplation rather than action and intrigue. Lois Lowry brings her characters to adulthood before the story ends, but by that time you feel so connected to this family that you are not ready to bid good-bye.
—Karen Leggett
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-The Silent Boy (HM, 2003) by Lois Lowry (The Giver, Number the Stars) recounts the early 20th century childhood of Katy Thatcher and her special relationship with an autistic boy. Lowry subtly recreates the lifestyle, customs, and attitudes of the time period, weaving well-researched details seamlessly into the narrative. Told as a flashback by an elderly Katy, this poignant work of historical fiction is read superbly by actress Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Perfect Storm). Her gravelly yet soothing voice perfectly suits the elderly Katy Thatcher. Allen captures the playful innocence of young Katy, the patience of her deep-voiced father, and the quiet strength of her mother, while her voice is weighted by years of sorrow. There are a handful of awkward moments in the flow of the reading, but not enough to detract from the story. Background music plays at the close of the final chapter. The overall aural quality is excellent. Middle school girls will especially appreciate this insightful and compelling audiobook. While well-handled, the tragic ending may upset younger or more sensitive listeners.-Leigh Ann Rumsey, Penn Yan Academy, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Around her private trove of atmospheric old photographs, Newbery winner Lowry (The Giver, 1993; Number the Stars, 1990) spins a patchy but sensitive tale of a country doctor's daughter observing the lives of those around her-in particular the women, and a mentally disabled teenager with a strong affinity for animals. Writing as an older adult, Katy looks back to 1911, the year she first became aware of the new hired girl's brother Jacob. "Touched by God," according to his mother, dubbed "imbecile" by ruder locals, Jacob never speaks, does not go to school, and never makes eye contact. But he ably helps to care for the livestock on his family's farm, whether it be with routine milking, or the delicate task of persuading a ewe to accept a lamb rejected by its own mother. Taking her cue from the steady, tolerant adults around her, Katy treats him with respect, learning to be comfortable around him in their occasional meetings, and even to understand him a little. Jacob passes in and out of view as other events, from the arrival of a new baby in her household, to the planning of her ninth birthday party, not only absorb more of Katy's attention, but give her narrative an episodic structure; several of the characters, in fact, seem constructed more to flesh out the photos at their heads than to advance the story. Jacob's story ends in a tragedy deftly foreshadowed. Katy wraps up the loose ends by describing what became of the other major characters. Though well-crafted and narrated by a perceptive, large-hearted child who goes on to follow in her father's profession, this lacks the focus of Lowry's best work. (Fiction. 11-13)
From the Publisher

“The author balances humor and generosity with the obstacles and injustice of Katy’s world to depict a complete picture of the turn of the century.” Publishers Weekly, Starred

“Lowry’s latest achievement delivers complexity disguised as simplicity—providing depth through her child–narrator’s eyes.” VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)

“Emotionally devastating and infinitely haunting.” Horn Book

“Not since Autumn Street has Lowry written a novel that injects childhood experience so deeply with adult tone.” The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

“Lowry excels in developing strong and unique characters.” School Library Journal

“Well-crafted and narrated by a perceptive, large–hearted child.” Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt


My friend Austin Bishop lived next door and was to be invited to my sixth birthday party the next month. Austin was already six and said that he could read. I thought it was true because he showed me a book with a story in it and told me the story—it was about a mouse—and then he told me the story again, and the words were exactly the same. Reading, I knew, was what made the words always, always be the same.
Jessie Wood was to come to my party, too, and had told me a secret, that she was bringing me a tea set with pink flowers as a birthday present.  She had promised her mother that she would not tell. A promise was a very important, very grown-up thing, and if I promised not to tell something, I would never ever tell. But Jessie was often naughty. She disobeyed. She told me that the pink flowers were roses and the tea set was real china.
Austin's brother, Paul, was not invited because he was too big. Paul was almost fifteen years old and had his own desk, many pencils, and a book with maps. He had a pocketknife that was very sharp and we were not to touch it, ever. He tried to smoke his father's pipe but he was too young, and it made him sick. We saw him being sick out by the barn. It was yellow and splattered on his shoes.
Austin's father was named Mr. Bishop, and he was a lawyer, but at home he spent a lot of time out in the barn, pounding and sawing. He liked tools and steam engines and wheels and anything that moved its parts and made noise. Sometimes he said he wished he could be a train engineer. During the summer, when Austin's birthday was coming, Mr. Bishop and Paul worked many days out in the barn. It was a secret. No one could peek. They made a lot of noise, and it was a surprise for Austin's birthday.
My mother said, when she saw what they had made, that it was a amazing. I had never seen a amazing before. It had wheels, but it was not a velocipede. Everyone had a velocipede, even me.
I was allowed to ride mine to the mailbox, but then I was always to turn around and come back.
Austin could sit in his amazing. He pushed with his feet on the pedals and he traveled down the walk. I supposed he could go to town in the amazing if he wished. Perhaps he could go to his father's office. Or to the library, or Whittaker's Dry Goods! A amazing could go anywhere.
I hoped that someone was building me a amazing for my birthday, but I didn't think that anyone was because there was no noise coming from the Bishops' barn or from our stable, except the plain old noise of the horses snorting and stamping their feet as Levi cleaned their stalls.
Our horses were named Jed and Dahlia, and they were brown but their manes and tails were black. Our cook was named Naomi, and she was also brown. Everything has a color, I remember thinking. I could not think of a single thing that had no color, except the water in my bath. You could see through water, I realized—could see your own hand when you tried to hold water in it, but then it ran away, right through your fingers, no matter how hard you tried to keep it there.
Austin had one more thing besides the amazing, one more thing that I wished I had. He had a baby sister! She had horrid black hair and cried a lot and her name was Laura Paisley Bishop.
How they got Laura Paisley was very, very interesting to me. Austin's Nana took him on the train to Philadelphia for a whole day. How I wished my grandmother would do that for me! My own Gram lived in Cincinnati and came by train in the summers to visit, but she never took me with her on the train. Austin said it was noisy and clattery and you could look through the windows and see trees go by as fast as anything. Sometimes, when the train was going around a curve, you could look ahead and see the engine and know that you were part of it, still attached. It was hard to imagine.
They rode to Philadelphia and went to a museum, where they saw stuffed creatures, like bears, posing as if they were alive, and then they had lunch in a restaurant, with strawberry ice cream for dessert. Then they went back to the train station and came all the way home on the train again. When they arrived at our town, Austin's Nana used the telephone at the railroad station to call his home and see if anything exciting had happened while they were away.
"My goodness!" she said to Austin, then. "There will be quite a surprise at your house when we get there."
So they walked all the way home from the station, and when they got to Austin's house, he saw the surprise. It was a baby sister!
They had found her out in the garden. That's what they told Austin: that his mother had gone outside to pick some tomatoes for lunch, and when she looked down, she saw a lovely baby girl there.
"Fibber!" I said to Austin.
I did not believe him because I had been playing in my own backyard almost all day, and never once heard a baby, and did not see Mrs. Bishop go out with her tomato basket at all. In fact, my mother had told me to play quietly because Mrs. Bishop had a headache and was lying down most of the day.
So I called Austin a fibber and he was angry and threw some dirt at me and said I could never hold his baby. But I asked my mother later and she said it was true that Mrs. Bishop had found the baby in the garden. Mother said that she hoped someday we would find one in ours.
So I decided I would look carefully each day. But it seemed a very strange thing, that babies appeared in gardens, because it might be raining. Or it might even be winter! I hoped that the babies were bundled up in thick blankets then!
I had to apologize to Austin for calling him a fibber. His big brother, Paul, was there when I did, and Paul laughed and said I shouldn't bother. Paul said I was the smartest child on the street. (It was not true, because I couldn't read yet, no matter how I tried.) But his mother, who was sitting in a rocking chair holding Laura Paisley, said, "Shhhhh," so Paul shushed and went away and slammed the screen door behind him, which startled the baby, so that her eyes opened wide for a second and then closed again.
I hoped her hair would improve because it really was horrid to look at. It was exactly like Jed and Dahlia's manes.

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Meet the Author

Lois Lowry is known for her versatility and invention as a writer. She was born in Hawaii and grew up in New York, Pennsylvania, and Japan. After several years at Brown University, she turned to her family and to writing. She is the author of more than thirty books for young adults, including the popular Anastasia Krupnik series. She has received countless honors, among them the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, the California Young Reader’s Medal, and the Mark Twain Award. She received Newbery Medals for two of her novels, NUMBER THE STARS and THE GIVER. Her first novel, A SUMMER TO DIE, was awarded the International Reading Association’s Children’s Book Award. Ms. Lowry now divides her time between Cambridge and an 1840s farmhouse in Maine. To learn more about Lois Lowry, see her website at

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