I Talk Like a River


Jordan awakens with the ‘sounds of words’ all around him, such as a P for pine tree, a C for ‘the crow in its branches’ and M ‘for the moon fading’. Though he hears the sounds of the words, he can’t ‘say them all‘ for the words tangle, stick and mumble.

Though he may be silent at breakfast, ‘stay as quiet as a stone‘, he has school to face, with questions, and answers and the full focus of classmates. Bad-speech days arrive, that prompt his father to take him to the river. There Jordan watches the river calm, lull, stumble and force. He realises that ‘I Talk Like a River’. 

We watch Jordan through the course of a bad speech day, wherein he goes to the river with his father to ‘walk along the shore’ as he retracts and recovers from the watching and twisting, twirling, giggling and laughing of school. Yet the water… we watch with Jordan and realise that the river’s course, its changes and issues are like his speaking. Furthermore as his connection grows, shown stunningly by a series of slide-type illustrations by Sydney Smith, we become fully immersed in the river’s flow and Jordan’s experience.

Jordan Scott’s heart-breaking, lyrical, personal and exposing text is crumpling. We are silenced by his situation. We watch the river and watch Jordan. I Talk Like a River is an outstanding, breath-taking, magnificent picture book.

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I Talk Like a River

Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith

(Walker Books)– hardback

I Talk Like a River, ‘bubbling, whirling, churning, and crashing‘. When Jordan’s father takes him to the river on ‘a bad speech day’ it’s to look at the water and realise that as the ‘water moves/ That’s how’ he speaks.
On days when the ‘word-sounds‘ are stuck in his mouth, Jordan prepares to hide, from eating his breakfast ‘without a peep‘ to hiding in the classroom. It feels as though he has a pine tree, a crow ‘Caw! Caw!‘ and ‘moonlight that shines from [his] open mouth’. Can it be that from watching the river, Jordan can stop himself from crying, or from ‘not wanting to speak at all‘? After all there are places where the river is calm, and others where the river is proud and stumbles, just as Jordan does when ‘the words around [him]are hard to say’. 
Jordan Scott uses his own experience as a stutterer within this lyrical, heart-wrenching text. Thereafter, award-winning illustrator Sydney Smith of Small in the City and Town is By the Sea builds evocative pictures of distance, anguish, realisation and depth. It seems as though her use of colour and textural awareness is emotionally tangible.
Bookwagon counted down until I Talk Like a River became available in Britain. It was worth the wait for this picture book is quite magnificent in its story, message and construction.

New York Times Picture Book of the Year


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