Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2017-08-20 
Review Score: 5 out of 5 star From 7 user ratings

"Silent Music by James Rumford tells the story of Ali who lives in Baghdad, loves loud music and soccer. When the bombings get too scary, he turns to the art of calligraphy, the "silent music" for comfort. His art is inspired by the words of master calligrapher Yakat who lived and worked 800 years ago.

Accompanying the text are intricate illustrations that weave together Ali's calligraphy with pictures from his life and that of Yakat's. It's done in a style evocative of Arabic mosaics. They appear to be multimedia collages but were apparently done in pencil and finished on the computer.

Although it's a picture book, it would best be suited for upper elementary grades. Besides the history and language lessons of Arabic script, the book covers the invasion and bombing of Baghdad. The book could be used in tandem with a social studies or history unit.

Before using the book in class, read the Blogs Burt Lit post. It has an in depth analysis of the book in terms of language, themes, and historical context.
" said.

"Published: 2008, Roaring Brook Press
Age: 7-12
Ali lives in Baghdad and likes to play soccer and listen to loud music: But most of all, he likes writing calligraphy. He compares it to watching a soccer game in slow motion. He describes how it goes from right to left and the loops and “masts” that turn. Ali tells the story of Yakut, the most famous calligrapher in the world who lived in 1258 when his city was bombed. He compares this bombing from over 800 years ago to the night in 2003 when it was attacked again. He is like Yakut, hiding out and practicing calligraphy to bring him peace of mind.
This story will spark an interest in what calligraphy is and how to write it. The pages are full of the flowing lines of calligraphy in bold black ink. The background illustrations fill the pages and are multimedia collage They picture Iranian designs of modern and traditional. The last pages end with the words “war” and “peace” in calligraphy. The author adds a history of calligraphy and of Yakut at the back of the book.
" said.

"I'll start out by saying that the pictures are beautiful, and lyrical, and evocative of Baghdad so we should have some understanding of it.
That being said, there is one line that has really annoyed me. At one point, the work of 13th century calligrapher, Yakut is brought up as an influence for the young protagonist in the story. There is a Mongol invasion of Baghdad, and through it Yakut created beauty. Fast forward to 2003, and the writer passively states that, " (B)ombs and missles fell on my city and death and distruction once again filled the streets." The boy finds solace in calligraphy. Though subtly pro-American, it does a huge disservice by naming the Mongols, but not the Americans.
I understand this a picture book, and the audience might not be ready to hear about American atrocities perpetrated during what has become an unpopular (and illegal) war, but if children are not old enough to hear the truth from the book, maybe this is a subject best left to be covered when older. Children don't need or want such evasive writing.
Incidentally, I don't know any kid that wants to read a book about a boy into calligraphy anyhow..... But the pictures are lovely.
" said.

"Ali is a young boy living in Baghdad during the American invasion of Iraq. Like most boys his age, Ali loves soccer, loud music, and dancing. Most of all, Ali loves calligraphy. This is a story of how the art of calligraphy fills a young boys mind with peace. Ari is inspired by Yakut, a 13th century calligrapher who escaped to a tower to avoid the evils of war. In the tower, "Yakut created beauty. He shut out the horror and wrote glistening letters of rhythm and grace." Ali, taking inspiration from Yakut, is able to shut out the bombs and missiles in Baghdad with the beauty of his calligraphy.

"Silent Music" is a wonderful book for students in grades 2-6. Younger children will be engrossed in the flowing story of Ali and his beautiful calligraphy. Teachers and students can discuss and explore different cultures. They can compare similarities and differences in their day to day lives. Older children can talk about the effects of war on children. "Silent Music" is a great introduction to this topic. It can be followed by the Deborah Ellis book, "Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees." Ellis has interviewed 20 children telling their heartbreaking stories about the effects of war on their lives.

Done in pencil and charcoal, the illustrations in "Silent Music" are beautiful. Rumford was inspired by photos posted on the internet by American service personal in Iraq. The calligraphy is done by the author, who studied the art in Afghanistan.
" said.

Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad, tells the story of Ali, a boy that is much like other boys in his city. He likes to play soccer in the streets, listen to music and dance, but there is one thing that sets Ali apart from the other kids, he enjoys the art of calligraphy. Ali gets lost in his art of writing calligraphy, and uses it as a form of escape. Calligraphy is his silent music that drowns out the war going on outside his door. This story brings together many different elements, connecting cultures, as well as connecting the past to the present. The book is filled with lively images of Ali and his family, as well as pictures and diagrams that give the reader a better idea of his culture. The background images were filled with example of Arabic text and give the reader a better understanding of their writing system. For many students this type of text is completely new and different. The letters used in Arabic are different than what we see here in the English language. Also, they write from right to left, where as we write from left to right. I really enjoyed the fact that there were so many little cultural details given throughout the story. There were images of different aspects of their culture such as, soccer, their money, different words.

This book would be great for K-3 grade readers. It is interesting and engaging enough to keep their attention, and the illustrations were insightful and provided a lot of extra information that wasn’t detailed in the text. This would be a good book to look at if you were going into a unit on cursive or calligraphy. It gives students a better understanding of different styles of writing.

Rumford, J. (2008). Silent music: A story of Baghdad. New York: Roaring Brook Press.
" said.

" I had high hopes for this book based on the Goodreads description, but I found it to just be bland and even confusing. As an adult, I can tell you it was about the beauty of learning to write Arabic calligraphy and how the boy uses it as an escape from reality when the bombs come crashing down the same way a famous calligrapher did centuries before. It just needs something more. " said.

"Silent Music is a book about a young boy named Ali who enjoys soccer, “parent-rattling music,” and calligraphy. Ali is growing up in Baghdad, and his greatest joy is to create beauty with the elegant art form that is calligraphy as his pen “dances to the silent music” in his head. Ali is compared by his mother to Yakut, the world’s most famous calligrapher. Yakut is Ali’s hero, and like Yakut, he uses calligraphy to create beauty and shut out the horror of the world around him. He vows to practice until the word Salam, meaning peace, flows freely from his pen.

Strengths: This book in written from the perspective of a child, making it easier for young children relate to the main character. The book is also written about a child from a culture of which most Americans have very little insight. It does a great job of accurately depicting a snippet of the Iraqi people and culture. The illustrations provide a richness of detail concerning the Iraqi people, including a collage of writing samples, paper money, flash cards, and stamps all depicting the beautiful calligraphy described throughout the book. Silent Music both honors the diversity of Ali and his culture, and celebrates the cross cultural bond that comes from searching for peace in troubled times. The book goes in-depth about how Ali uses calligraphy to help him through the hard times that ensue from what we as Americans called “The War on Terror.” Silent Music shows Ali’s every-day interactions with his friends and family, as well as his reactions when his cultural group interacts with the American cultural group in a war situation.

The story of Ali is thought-provoking. He is depicted just like any other young boy, making him easy to relate to. If Iraqi children can be this easy to relate to, maybe we can begin to relate to them on a completely different level, giving them a second chance as we explore their lives through literature. As mentioned earlier, Silent Music is unique because the story is told through the eyes of a child, and one that relates closely to a historical figure, nonetheless. The story is laid out in an appealing format, with a balance between text and pictures, and has an enduring quality in its style and language use.

Weaknesses: The story mentioned the bombing that occurred in Baghdad in 2003, but includes few other details. As an older reader, I remember reading about these events in the newspaper and seeing the lights of the night bombing on the news. However, a young reader may have no idea what historical event this is referring to. Knowing this particular event is not necessary to the story, it’s true, but a bit more detail could be beneficial. Without being graphic in the description, a bit more time spent on the subject could make this occurrence stand out more to the reader, as the event would have definitely stood out to Ali.
" said.

" Truly mesmerizing! This is a story about a young boy and his passion for calligraphy. Great prints! " said.

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