PB: A Sound Like Someone Trying Not to Make a Sound


Title: A Sound Like Someone Trying Not to Make a Sound
Author: John Irving
Illustrator: Tatjana Hauptmann
Publication Date: 2004
Publisher: Doubleday
ISBN: 0385746806
Format: Picturebook (hard cover)
Plot summary: Based on one of the stories written by a character from John Irving’s A Widow for One Year, A Sound Like Someone Trying Not to Make a Sound is a story about Young Tom waking up in the middle of the night after hearing a noise in the house.  He conjures up possible cause: “a monster with no arms and no legs…trying to move [by wriggling and sliding] on its fur”,”one of Mommy’s dresses [that] came alive”, “someone pulling the nails out of the floorboards under the bed”, “a dog trying to open a door”, “a ghost in the attic”…and finally, “a sound like someone trying not to make a sound”.  The father offers a simple explanation at the end — that there was a mouse in the wall.  This comforts Tom, but not Tom’s baby brother, who does not know what a mouse was.
Audience: Ages 4-8 (approximate, based on various reviews)
Strengths:
John Irving fans will appreciate that this is a “spin off” from his book A Widow for One Year.
-Irving’s writing style is stellar.  Adults will love the imagery and rhythm of the text.
-Hauptmann’s beautiful artwork were in soft greys and blues, done with color pencils — giving a sense of quietness and calm despite the things that are potentially scary to Tom.
-The presence of Tom’s teddy bear and assumed-presence of his dad (he was never actually shown in the pages) as he investigates the mystery sound are reassuring.  This book can help children confront their fears of nighttime monsters.
Weaknesses:
-The same grey and blue illustrations add a sense of loneliness/creepiness…might not be suitable for younger children before bed time.
-The images Irving paints (see examples in the plot summary) might actually be frightening to kids with overly wild imaginations.  Though most reviewers state the targeted audience to be as young as four/preschool, this might not be appropriate for all kids.
Uses: 
-Read-aloud with kids 1st grade and up; paired with other books about nighttime fears, being scared of the unknown, facing uncertainties, being brave, etc.
-A lesson on literary devices such as metaphors and personification, as well as the use of rich imagery…for older grades.
Read-alikes:
-Mercer Mayer’s There’s a Nightmare in My Closet (1992) and There’s Something in My Attic (1992)
Ed Emberley’s Go Away, Big Green Monster! (1992)
-Dick Gackenbach’s Harry and the Terrible Whatzit (1984)
Awards: Best Children’s Books for the Year, 2004 (Bank Street College of Education)
Other: AR Points 0.5; Interest Level: Lower Grade; Book Level 3.3 (Children’s Literature Reviews)