It would be fair to say that many of us take talking for granted. Lots of people would say many of us probably talk too much. But not everyone finds talking so easy and for some it can be a daily challenge and an overbearing part of life. The author of ‘I Talk Like a River, Jordan Scott, has a stutter and has used his own experiences to create a beautiful, moving and important book.
A boy wakes up in a world surrounded by sounds and words that he finds difficult to say. No one can see the letters and words that get stuck in his mouth. At school, it is easier to stay quiet than to talk. To slink into the shadows, to hide at the back in the hope that no one sees him, to be the invisible child. Just to wait for the day to end and to escape.
After another difficult day at school - ‘a bad speech day’ - he feels lonely, frustrated and embarrassed so his dad takes him for a quiet walk by the river. A river that in many ways is just like the boy. The river does not flow smoothly. It bumps, it crashes, it stumbles, it stutters before eventually getting to where it wants to be. Just like the words in the boy’s mouth that churn and bubble and whirl and crash before making their way into the world. The boy talks like a river.
When you want children to understand something that they have not experienced themselves, you need a book that is clear, engaging, insightful and develops empathy and understanding. Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith are right on the mark with ‘I Talk Like a River’. Everything is perfect. The personification that is given to the letters as the boy battles to speak is brilliant - it makes stuttering relatable to young readers. Every one of Scott’s words is filled with raw emotion and feeling - they are powerful, punching a hole into the heart of the reader. Smith’s illustrations, as always, are lush, immersive and bring emotion and meaning to the boy’s words. A lovely author’s note at the end titled ‘How I Speak’ adds further context to the book and Scott’s own experience with his stutter.
There is no happy ending in the book, the stutter doesn’t magically disappear and this is a good thing. Readers are not given a solution, what they are left with is the choice to understand and to empathise. As for the boy, whilst at the river he has a moment of realisation and understanding. Yes he has a stutter and there will be difficult days but he can own the stutter and take control. He feels so empowered that he is able to speak in front of his class the next day.
This book though is about more than just a child with stutter, it is for every child who has felt alone, bullied or that they simply do not fit it. It is beautiful, atmospheric and a read that can only make each and everyone of us better and kinder people.
Recommended for 6+.