Willow speaks so softly that everyone either ignores her (the class mean girl), patronizes her (her teacher), or thinks she’s aloof (“She must like sitting alone,” says a schoolmate who can’t hear Willow accept his invitation to join him at the lunch table). But with a nudge from an understanding father (“Your big, strong voice got stuck way inside you.... But one day your voice will wiggle its way out”), Willow creates a “magic microphone” from a cardboard tube and gains the confidence to speak up. Seinfeld got a lot of memorable narrative mileage out of a character who was a “soft talker,” but such is not the case with this story from debuting author Button and Howells (Berkeley’s Barn Owl Dance). In their diligence to make sure every spread stays on message, the team lets the story sag into didacticism. Howells’s digital, minimalist line drawings feel more instructional than emotional, and the book comes off feeling like a pamphlet proffered by a well-meaning adult. Ages 3–7. (Feb.)
What first seems to be a narrow lesson becomes cheerful inspiration, even for readers who don't share this specific quandary. "[W]hen Willow spoke, her words slipped out as soft and shy as a secret," causing lonely frustration at school. Nobody hears Willow's acceptance of a group invitation to eat lunch, so she eats alone; the teacher mishears Willow's juice preference and pours orange, which makes Willow's lip crinkle; a bully grabs Willow's toy because whispers can't stop a bully. At home, mellow dad has faith-"one day your voice will wiggle its way out"-but Willow's own steam produces the solution: a glitter-covered cardboard tube. This "magic microphone" amplifies her voice, solving everything, until a drop to the floor makes it (implausibly) "crumpled"; but by then, her loudness has had enough experience to emerge talisman-free. Font sizes change to convey volume. Smiley Photoshop kids with black-dot eyes, though stiff-armed and visually unsophisticated, have enough facial energy to carry the plot's emotions. A victory for any reader who struggles to be heard, even metaphorically. (Picture book. 3-5)
- Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Poor Willow. No matter how she tries, every word she says comes out in a whisper, "too tiny to hear." When asked to join others at a table in school, she answers so quietly that they think she likes to be alone. She cannot even express her juice preference, or her right to play with the baby doll, or to be Line Leader, loudly enough to be heard. One morning, Willow decides to make herself a "magic microphone." Her voice is suddenly loud and clear; she gets what she asks for. Unfortunately, at the end of her good day, the microphone falls and crumbles. But Willow finds that she is still able to say it is her turn anyway, and everyone cheers. Howells creates her cast of characters with Photoshop, using simple shapes that require no elaborate backgrounds. The illustrations resemble colored drawings; faces have black dots for eyes, curved lines for other features, hands have no fingers. But Willow's smile when she finds her voice fills a final page. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 1—Willow speaks in whispers so low that no one can hear her. She wants to speak louder, but she just can't, so everyone ignores her. Her father tells her that a big voice is stuck inside her, and will one day come out. Then she gets an idea. She makes a magic megaphone from recycled items and presses it to her lips; her voice comes out loud and strong. All day her classmates and teacher hear her and include her in their activities. But at the end of the day, she drops the megaphone and it breaks. Wanting to be heard, she speaks out in her own strong voice. Everyone cheers. Simple cartoon illustrations capture the child's emotions as she struggles to be heard. Crisp lines with added color on a white background provide an overall sense of unity and balance to the story. Limited text and simple sentences, combined with a strong character who solves her own problems, make this a successful selection.—Margaret R. Tassia, Millersville University, PA
Lana Button works in early childhood education. Her writing has been published in Ladybug magazine and Today's Parent. Willow's Whispers is Lana's first book for Kids Can Press.
Tania Howells's illustrations have appeared in Chirp and Today's Parent, among other publications. She is the illustrator of Berkeley's Barn Owl Dance and Willow's Whispers.Tania lives in Toronto, Ontario.