The Whisper

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
The Whisper Book Poster Image
Entrancing art invites readers to write their own stories.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

There's information about stories here, or at least the starts of stories.

Positive Messages

You have the power and imagination to invent your own stories. When you encounter obstacles, you can come up with solutions. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The girl loves loves stories and books. She's persistent and finds a way around obstacles; when there are no words in her book, she makes them up. She's imaginative, inventing intriguing openings for her stories. The fox, too, is inventive and reimagines his own story so it has a happy ending.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Whisper, by two-time Caldecott Honoree Pamela Zagarenski (Red Sings from the Treetops), is a book with gorgeous art that invites and inspires young readers to write their own stories. When a girl borrows a magical book from her teacher, the words escape, and a whispered voice encourages her to imagine the stories herself. On each page, she starts a story and trails off at an intriguing cliffhanger. Turn the page, and she starts another. The inventive art, with beautiful, dreamlike figures, invites readers to invent too. Will readers wish that full stories were provided? This is a book best read leisurely and many nights running, with time to spend on each fantastic page.

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What's the story?

In THE WHISPER, a unnamed little girl, wearing a red sweater and hat reminiscent of Little Red Riding Hood, borrows a magical book from her teacher. On the way home, the words escape and are collected in a net by a sly fox. Once the girl's home, she's upset to see that there are no stories but hears a whisper urging her to imagine the stories herself. After that, in each of the spreads, the girl is pictured in the corner, and the text narrates the start of an intriguing story she imagines based on the art. At the end, the fox gives her back the words, she hurries to school to return the book, and we see that the fox himself has reimagined his own story, the one we've just read.

Is it any good?

Pamela Zagarenski's art is fabulous, tailor-made for fables and other classic tales, and readers will lose themselves in its fantastic, magical detail. In this book, her first foray into writing as well as illustrating, she invites readers to riff on the images by giving each illustration an intriguing story start that trails off just as it has us hooked. For instance: "Blue Bear arrived on the first day of spring. He promised … " Or: "Before long, enormous white whales filled our once calm harbor. Amazing as it was to see, we had to do something quickly to ... " What happens in the story after that? It's up to the reader to imagine. Since each page turn starts a new story, the book can't be read quickly, otherwise the interrupted narrative feels choppy. Better to read it leisurely, on a night -- or over many nights -- when caregiver and child have time to pore over the art and talk at length about where the stories might go.

Will young readers wish Zagarenski had provided the full stories? We all enjoy being taken on a ride, and with art that's so transporting, we want to be transported. But her opening lines, as inventive as her art, evidence savvy storytelling know-how and capture our attention, and the dreamlike images can inspire budding storytellers with rich, fertile story fodder.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories. Do you like the way the stories start? What else do you see in the art that could help the story along?

  • Try to write more of each story yourself. What happens? Does it end happily?

  • Each story pairs some unusual characters or elements: a clown and a tiger, a mysterious man and a cloak, an owl and a key. Think of some characters or items you'd like to pair. Can you write a story about them?

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For kids who love art and making up stories

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