Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say (9780545927611)
This is a picture book biography of James Castle, an artist who lived in Idaho. But it is so much more than a biography, thanks to the work and talents of Say, who has recreated the story of Castle’s life and also his art. Castle was born premature and was deaf, mute, and autistic. He never learned to speak, write, read or use sign language though he was sent to school. Castle instead communicated via his art, created in lofts and sheds on his family’s property. Drawing on scraps of salvaged paper using matchsticks, he created the spaces he wanted to live in, filling his bare attic with furniture drawn on paper. He drew friends to be with him. At least twice, Castle’s work was left behind as the family moved. Later in life, after being denied art at the school’s insistence, Castle’s work was discovered and he was given space in a gallery. Still, he continued to live much the way he always had, creating art with spit, soot and scraps.
In Say’s Author’s Note, the wonder of this book becomes even more apparent. Say had been asked to draw a portrait of Castle to donate to a library. Upon discovering Castle though, Say was intrigued by the lack of details on the artist and the conflicting tales about him. Thanks to that interest, this book was created, telling the story of Castle’s quietly tragic life that resulted in amazing works of original art. Say writes with a compassion that makes this book shine, never languishing in moments of loss or opportunities that failed to come to fruition, instead it is a testament to the power of art to transform lives in large and small ways, to communicate despite a lack of words.
The art by Say is quite simply astonishing. Using the same materials that Castle used, Say has recreated some of his work, drawing the small lonely spaces that Castle worked in, showing his time at school. The art that depicts Castle’s life flows together with works meant to show Castle’s artwork, creating a scrapbook of sorts that leads the reader through the artist’s life.
Filled with grace and a deep understanding, this picture book biography is truly exceptional work from a master. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Arthur A. Levine Books.