I Talk Like a River

Author: Jordan Smith

Illustrator: Sydney Smith

Publisher: Neal Porter Books

Release Date: September 1/20

Reviewer: Laurie

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for a digital eARC of this book.

I am an admirer of Canadian author and illustrator Sydney Smith, but shame on me for being unaware of the talent of Canadian author Jordan Smith. One of the purposes of this blog that Kathie and I discussed was we wanted to promote Canadian literature along with debut authors and those “maybe you missed this great book” and so already three days in I am expanding my knowledge of the many authors and illustrators in Canada.

I Talk Like a River is deceptive – I was initially drawn to it because of the reference to nature and being familiar with Sydney Smith but oh my, when I read the description I could not wait to read this book.

First off there is the analogy of the river, and it comes from Mr. Scott’s father and is in reference to Scott’s own personal experience. Mr. Scott is also a poet, which for me makes the story so much more powerful – it left me feeling haunted, yet hopeful.

This is a book about stuttering. Now, how many other books can you name or list about stuttering that would be suitable to young readers? Exactly. I had trouble too. Another void that needs to be filled and even though we have this book and now off to an exceptional start, more titles are still needed. It is so important for EVERYONE to see themselves in books and have an #ownvoices author share the story.

The story begins by having a little boy wake up in the morning and express the difficulty he has speaking. He uses nature to help describe how it feels to try and make the sounds of certain letters.

“The P in pine tree grows roots inside my mouth and tangles my tongue. The C is a crow that sticks in the back of my throat. The M in moon dusts my lips with a magic that makes me only mumble.”

I am sure that the phrasing will look different than the sentences above. I had the digital version and know the text in the physical book will be more striking, but it provides a glimpse into something tangible for readers to think about when someone is struggling to speak. And so instead of struggling, he stays “quiet as a stone”.

From I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott, illus. by Sydney Smith

At school we see how he sits at the back hoping he won’t have to speak. When he is asked to share, all the children are looking at him, and you can feel the humiliation and the sadness from Sydney Smith’s illustrations. Notice the blank faces as there is no one he can look at for support and the trees, crows and moon etched around and over his face – I felt the sadness and the embarrassment.

Yet at the end of the day, his father recognizes he has had a bad speech day and takes him to the river where they sit surrounded by the forest. His father asks him to look at the water churning and whirling and explains that he talks like a river. So the boy remembers to think that the river has a place to go and moves at different speeds just like the way he speaks.

From I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott, illus. by Sydney Smith

In the end he is able to share his favourite place with his classmates and speaks of the river and how it moves and how he too, talks like a river.

A powerful story with a beautiful author’s note by Mr. Scott providing the background to this story and sharing the difficulties he had speaking. He also asks the reader to pay attention to their own fluency and speech and the feelings one has when speaking and our own body language. Powerful messages that will evoke some great discussions.

A stunning and important story, long over due.

OTHER BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR: Blert , Silt , The Nocturne (Nocturne Trilogy, #1) 

OTHER BOOKS BY THIS ILLUSTRATOR: Small in the City, Sidewalk Flowers, and Inkling