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I Talk Like a River

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What if words got stuck in the back of your mouth whenever you tried to speak? What if they never came out the way you wanted them to? Sometimes it takes a change of perspective to get the words flowing. I wake up each morning with the sounds of words all around me. And I can't say them all . . . When a boy who stutters feels isolated, alone, and incapable of communicating What if words got stuck in the back of your mouth whenever you tried to speak? What if they never came out the way you wanted them to? Sometimes it takes a change of perspective to get the words flowing. I wake up each morning with the sounds of words all around me. And I can't say them all . . . When a boy who stutters feels isolated, alone, and incapable of communicating in the way he'd like, it takes a kindly father and a walk by the river to help him find his voice. Compassionate parents everywhere will instantly recognize a father's ability to reconnect a child with the world around him.


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What if words got stuck in the back of your mouth whenever you tried to speak? What if they never came out the way you wanted them to? Sometimes it takes a change of perspective to get the words flowing. I wake up each morning with the sounds of words all around me. And I can't say them all . . . When a boy who stutters feels isolated, alone, and incapable of communicating What if words got stuck in the back of your mouth whenever you tried to speak? What if they never came out the way you wanted them to? Sometimes it takes a change of perspective to get the words flowing. I wake up each morning with the sounds of words all around me. And I can't say them all . . . When a boy who stutters feels isolated, alone, and incapable of communicating in the way he'd like, it takes a kindly father and a walk by the river to help him find his voice. Compassionate parents everywhere will instantly recognize a father's ability to reconnect a child with the world around him.

30 review for I Talk Like a River

  1. 5 out of 5

    Betsy

    James Earl Jones stuttered. Marilyn Monroe stuttered. Joe Biden, Tim Gunn, Samuel L. Jackson, Kendrick Lamar, Nicole Kidman, the list goes on and on and on. Children’s books about stuttering? Thin on the ground. When you’re a children’s librarian, every interaction on the reader’s advisory desk can feel like a game of trivia. And if a child or parent comes up to you, asking for children’s books where a character stutters, or maybe just a picture book where stuttering is discussed, lord help you. James Earl Jones stuttered. Marilyn Monroe stuttered. Joe Biden, Tim Gunn, Samuel L. Jackson, Kendrick Lamar, Nicole Kidman, the list goes on and on and on. Children’s books about stuttering? Thin on the ground. When you’re a children’s librarian, every interaction on the reader’s advisory desk can feel like a game of trivia. And if a child or parent comes up to you, asking for children’s books where a character stutters, or maybe just a picture book where stuttering is discussed, lord help you. Until the moment I Talk Like a River was introduced to me, the sole book for kids I would have been able to conjure up from memory would have been the Newbery Award winning middle grade novel Paperboy by Vince Vawter. A fine and worthy book, but not one that could claim to be all things to all people. If you wanted picture books with stutterers there are plenty of books out there with titles like Katie: The Little Girl Who Stuttered and Then Learned to Talk Fluently or Stuttering Stan Takes a Stand. Serviceable books with pointed reasons for existing. Not beautiful books. Not books that speak beyond themselves. Not, in short, I Talk Like a River. Deft poetic language pairs with the resonant watercolors of Sydney Smith to create a book that is more than a memoir and more than conveying a message. This is pain, turned into art, and written for young children. Incomparable. “I wake up each morning with the sounds of words all around me.” It is one thing to know these words. To understand what these sounds are. It is another thing entirely to speak them. The boy explains that certain letters in particular can give him trouble. For example, the “P” in “pine tree” might grow “roots inside my mouth and tangles my tongue.” “C” and “M” fare little better. On this day, the boy is called to speak in front of the class. By the time his dad picks him up after school, it’s been a “bad speech day”. The two walk along the river and in time his dad tells him that the river’s rolling, breaking, bubbling habits are like his son’s. His son talks like a river. It’s not a magic cure, but it helps. Now, when the boy has trouble, he thinks of it. After all, “Even the river stutters. Like I do.” Purposeful picture books are picture books with jobs to do. They focus on a specific need and then go out there to meet that need with all the delicacy of a drill sergeant on the line. These are message books. They exist so that parents, desperate to show their children that they aren’t alone in the world, will have something to show them. Whether the books are about a jailed parent, peanut allergies, or even, say, a stutter, they are not built for beauty. You can’t really blame them for that. We didn’t invent them back in the 17th century to be pretty, after all. But, you see, that’s why it’s important to keep a sharp eye out for books that take a little time to break away from this mold. Jordan Scott’s words are the first indicator in I Talk Like a River that there is more going on here than representation. To read this book is to listen to Scott list and categorize words. I read this book not knowing it was a book about stuttering. I’m kind of sad that I’ve stolen that same surprise from those of you reading this review because if you walk into this book cold, without any context (the cover and title aren’t giving anything away) then you will get to these lines and not understand: “I wake up each morning with the sounds of words all around me. And I can’t say them all.” This is the introduction to the stuttering. The word “stutter” does not appear once in the picture book text, but the descriptions of what stuttering feels like ring true. According to a note in the back, Jordan Scott’s father really did say that young Jordan’s stuttering was like the river. Or, rather, he said, “You see how that water moves, son? That’s how you speak.” Part of what makes Scott’s comparison between a stuttering mouth and a river so sharp is the fact that it’s not a perfect pairing. You can tell someone they leap like a frog and that’s a pretty straightforward one-to-one comparison there. But to say that someone speaks like a large, moving body of water demands a little something extra from the listeners. The dad in this book isn’t trying to come up with the perfect equivalent to stuttering. He’s working with what he has, and what he has before him is a river. It just so happens that the imperfection in the comparison makes it absolutely perfect. I like to read Sydney Smith books partly to see what he does on any given page and partly to see what he doesn’t do. What an artist paints is almost as interesting as what an artist makes sure not to paint. Take, for example, that first shot of the classroom when our narrator says, “At school I hide at the back of the class. I hope I don’t have to talk. When my teacher asks me a question, all my classmates turn and look.” The page on the left is a half page image of a teacher at the front of a class. The teacher’s face is indistinct, but the paints used for this image are placed in cool, clear lines. The picture on the opposite side, taking up the whole page, is an image of all the classmates turned towards you, the reader. You are in the narrator’s shoes, and their faces too are blurred. But there’s more going on here than just that, isn’t there? The edges of the room have grown indistinct. The paints are fuzzy, almost resembling mold, and the colors have dimmed and dulled. You stare at that picture and the sheer levels of discomfort the boy is feeling come off of the page in waves. It’s a claustrophobic image, and a nightmare scene for any kid who has ever wanted to avoid being seen in this way. The image is what Smith has decided to include, but it works because what seemed so clear before has now been taken away from you. And right now I want to pull out that old phrase, “I don’t know how he does it,” to describe Smith’s art. The statement is literally true, but sounds so hackneyed and overused. Yet how on earth do you draw the reflective nature of a river? How do you make some parts of that river seem closer and others farther? How do you use thick paints to show the wake behind a duck’s body on that water and even though there’s nothing photorealistic about it, the duck and the river and the wake all look 100% real? Or what about the next page where the setting sun (this is an autumnal time of year so that sun’s on the move) peeks at you from behind a tree and you wince when you look at it, readers. Honest-to-goodness you wince. Because somehow a mix of white and yellow pigment convinced you, if only for a second, into believing that you were looking at distant incandescent plasma. I could, at this point, write entire novels about the way in which Smith paints light through ears and earlobes, but I’ll spare you. For now. Shared amongst friends recently, one person I read this book with wondered whether or not it would be of any interest to children. Does I Talk Like a River have sufficient child appeal? Regardless of how you feel about this particular book, that’s a pretty good question to ask yourself on a regular basis when you’re judging works for children. If the book in your hands only pleases adults over the age of 25, something’s gone wrong. So when I reread the book all by myself, I tried to see what about it that could appeal to kids. Obviously kids with stutters would like it, but what about kids that don’t? Yet let’s go back to some of those other points we were discussing. The lyricism in the language. The art in the paintings. That Author’s Note at the back called “How I Speak” might be something you eschew for most young people, but I think Scott nails the child-appeal angle. I don’t care what kid you are. When there’s something that makes you stick out from the crowd, something you don’t like about yourself, and then an entire classroom of heads turns your way, you’re gonna identify with that feeling. I wonder when picture books first started to market themselves directly to consumers with medical or personal difficulties? Some publishers have whole imprints dedicated to producing such books. This book’s publisher would not fall into that category, and yet it has produced a work of beauty that also happens to have a purpose. It builds empathy with stutterers, but might I offer a suggestion? If a teacher or librarian has a child in their class who stutters, I pray that they do not read this book by preceding it with a statement like, “Now THIS book is about stuttering, just like Josh over there. Josh, you’re going to LOVE this!” It’s going to happen. There’s no avoiding it. But hopefully in most cases the teacher/librarian will ease it into the reading without making a big show about it. Because taken in the right vein, at the right time, for the right reasons, I Talk Like a River could make a significant difference in a kid’s life. Or an adult’s. Or pretty much anyone’s. It’s just that good. For ages 4-7.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

    The language in this book. The unfolding of the words and the images. The illustrations. The way it serves to show us that the narrator talks like a river as they stutter and also that we are all like the river in some way, never on a smooth, "fluent," "perfect," path, but one that churns, bubbles, whirls, crashes as it flows. From the afterward by the author: "The river is a natural and patient form, forever making its way toward something greater than itself. Yet as the river moves, it stutter The language in this book. The unfolding of the words and the images. The illustrations. The way it serves to show us that the narrator talks like a river as they stutter and also that we are all like the river in some way, never on a smooth, "fluent," "perfect," path, but one that churns, bubbles, whirls, crashes as it flows. From the afterward by the author: "The river is a natural and patient form, forever making its way toward something greater than itself. Yet as the river moves, it stutters, and I do too."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Gary Anderson

    A boy wakes up each day “with the sounds of words all around,” but he cannot smoothly form and express those words. At school, his struggles lead to anxiety so debilitating that he needs to be picked up by a parent. The boy’s dad understands that “It’s just a bad speech day.” They go to the river to walk quietly and look at the “bubbling, churning, whirling, and crashing” water. With his dad’s help, the boy realizes that his speech is like a river as it works its way to “where the water is smooth A boy wakes up each day “with the sounds of words all around,” but he cannot smoothly form and express those words. At school, his struggles lead to anxiety so debilitating that he needs to be picked up by a parent. The boy’s dad understands that “It’s just a bad speech day.” They go to the river to walk quietly and look at the “bubbling, churning, whirling, and crashing” water. With his dad’s help, the boy realizes that his speech is like a river as it works its way to “where the water is smooth and glistening.” I Talk Like a River is one of the most impactful picture books I’ve ever seen. Jordan Scott’s precise description of the physical and emotional aspects of stuttering meld with Sydney Smith’s hauntingly impressionistic water colors to create powerful empathy and understanding for and about speech dysfluency. This picture book transcends that classification to become an important, rewarding reading experience for any age.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    Yes, we need a book about a boy who stutters (rare in books for youth) and how he copes and gets support from his father, but this story is also for those that feel lonely, isolated, bullied, or all of the above. Stunning art and poetry. I'll be buying this for my home library. Yes, we need a book about a boy who stutters (rare in books for youth) and how he copes and gets support from his father, but this story is also for those that feel lonely, isolated, bullied, or all of the above. Stunning art and poetry. I'll be buying this for my home library.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Krajewski

    One to share widely!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Brenda Kahn

    Absolutely gorgeous in every way.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Carlton Walker

    Beautiful! What a great thing to say for someone who has a stutter: I Talk Like A River. 24 Years and I still absolutely hate my stutter but that phrase let's me see a little beauty behind it. I love it. Beautiful! What a great thing to say for someone who has a stutter: I Talk Like A River. 24 Years and I still absolutely hate my stutter but that phrase let's me see a little beauty behind it. I love it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mary Lee

    Such a beautiful and important book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Krista

    Between the gorgeous illustrations and poetic writing I would have liked this book anyway. But as the mother of a child with a stutter, it was even more meaningful and important.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jillian Heise

    Powerful & poetic story about struggling with stuttering.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mo

    Beautifully written and illustrated children's book about how a boy's father helps him see his stuttering in a new way. As a retired speech therapist, I would have had this book on my shelf and shared it with students, parents, and other teachers. Beautifully written and illustrated children's book about how a boy's father helps him see his stuttering in a new way. As a retired speech therapist, I would have had this book on my shelf and shared it with students, parents, and other teachers.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    A stunning tribute to those who accept us, and a needed title about a child with a stutter. Beautiful painterly illustrations complement the spare text.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Penny

    Wow - short but so impactful. Jordan Scott, the author, stutters, and this is a poem about his experiences. I listened to him read it as an audio book and it is compelling.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Zoe's Human

    An autobiographical portrait of a day in the life of a boy struggling with a world which laughs at his stutter and his connection to his father and nature that heals him. Accompanied by lovely impressionistic art. Suitable for ages 4 to 8.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    What a marvelous book! The autobiographical story concerns the author's stuttering issues. Fortunately, he has a very wise father who finds the perfect words to restore his son's sense of self. The illustrations contribute magnificently to the grandeur of this book. What a marvelous book! The autobiographical story concerns the author's stuttering issues. Fortunately, he has a very wise father who finds the perfect words to restore his son's sense of self. The illustrations contribute magnificently to the grandeur of this book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    Sydney Smith is a stunner of an illustrator. The double-page spread in this book will knock you over, it's so powerful. Jordan Scott's words light up in these pictures. They resonate and make the simple story universal. Sydney Smith is a stunner of an illustrator. The double-page spread in this book will knock you over, it's so powerful. Jordan Scott's words light up in these pictures. They resonate and make the simple story universal.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Emma M.

    I have written and erased this review many times. What a powerful read; so powerful that I find my own words so inadequate. The way that the author writes his story stirs up so many feelings of empathy that extend beyond a speech impediment. It's a book that left me wanting to be kinder, and more patient and isn't that something we need so much more of? This is a stunning book that I very much look forward to adding to my colleciton. I have written and erased this review many times. What a powerful read; so powerful that I find my own words so inadequate. The way that the author writes his story stirs up so many feelings of empathy that extend beyond a speech impediment. It's a book that left me wanting to be kinder, and more patient and isn't that something we need so much more of? This is a stunning book that I very much look forward to adding to my colleciton.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sandy

    The author wrote this book based on his own personal experience with stuttering. I liked the honesty and the emotions that the author shared in this book. As I read the author’s note at the back of the book, he explains in-depth, his own personal experience which made this book more enjoyable. It’s not like he doesn’t know what to say, he has the words, they’re just stuck inside his head. Sitting inside his classroom, he’d rather participate quietly but when his teacher calls on him, every head The author wrote this book based on his own personal experience with stuttering. I liked the honesty and the emotions that the author shared in this book. As I read the author’s note at the back of the book, he explains in-depth, his own personal experience which made this book more enjoyable. It’s not like he doesn’t know what to say, he has the words, they’re just stuck inside his head. Sitting inside his classroom, he’d rather participate quietly but when his teacher calls on him, every head in the room turns and looks at him, just waiting to see what he’ll say. He’s been in this spotlight before and no one understands. This isn’t the place he wants to be. A phone call later, his dad picks him up and the situation has been diverted for now. Wow, this is so sad. This really frustrated me on many levels. I was glad that his father was there for him and that he cared a great deal for him. I’m glad that he was able to gather strength from the words from his father and from the river. I think many children will enjoy this book as they relate to this story and/or gain strength/knowledge from his example. 4 stars

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Drake

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Based on a true story which is told at the end of the book, I Talk Like A River is a powerful book about a boy who struggles due to his stutter. After a bad day at school, he is taken to a river by his father, who tells him that he talks like a river. The boy uses this to help him become more confident in himself, especially when he is speaking, and talks to his class at the end of the book, not afraid that they will judge or make fun of him. Speech difficulties are rarely a focus in picture boo Based on a true story which is told at the end of the book, I Talk Like A River is a powerful book about a boy who struggles due to his stutter. After a bad day at school, he is taken to a river by his father, who tells him that he talks like a river. The boy uses this to help him become more confident in himself, especially when he is speaking, and talks to his class at the end of the book, not afraid that they will judge or make fun of him. Speech difficulties are rarely a focus in picture books, especially not stuttering. I feel that this would be a great book to discuss with children, especially those that have a stutter and will be able to relate to this book on another level. The text reads beautifully and is accompanied by some gorgeous watercolour illustrations. I highly recommend this book to anyone – it is definitely worth the read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Riana (RianaInTheStacks)

    I really love this book! A young boy who struggles with dealing with his stutter finds solace in the words of his father one afternoon as they visit his favorite place, the river. After a particularly bad speech day, the boy and his father spend some quiet time at the river, broken only by the father telling his son that he just talks like the river. The boy keeps this with him from then on, helping him to understand his stutter in a new light. Based on a true story, I thought this was a wonderf I really love this book! A young boy who struggles with dealing with his stutter finds solace in the words of his father one afternoon as they visit his favorite place, the river. After a particularly bad speech day, the boy and his father spend some quiet time at the river, broken only by the father telling his son that he just talks like the river. The boy keeps this with him from then on, helping him to understand his stutter in a new light. Based on a true story, I thought this was a wonderful way for the dad help the son in feeling like he still belongs and to be able to relate to something in his surroundings that he really cares about. The illustrations are very fitting and beautiful, as the splashy watercolors remind you of the movements of the river.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dave Schaafsma

    “I wake up each morning with the sounds of words all around me.” I both read this (initially because I am a fan of the illustrator, Sydney Smith) and listened to it. This is a lovely book about a kid (who was actually Jordan Scott, the author) who grows up stuttering. Poetic, lyrical, capturing the pain, the social isolation, and also his coming to terms with who he is with some acceptance. Jordan Scott's reading of the book is poignant, and probably even important if you are a kid who stutters. "T “I wake up each morning with the sounds of words all around me.” I both read this (initially because I am a fan of the illustrator, Sydney Smith) and listened to it. This is a lovely book about a kid (who was actually Jordan Scott, the author) who grows up stuttering. Poetic, lyrical, capturing the pain, the social isolation, and also his coming to terms with who he is with some acceptance. Jordan Scott's reading of the book is poignant, and probably even important if you are a kid who stutters. "The river is a natural and patient form, forever making its way toward something greater than itself. Yet as the river moves, it stutters, and I do too." Here's the story read and shared on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWN3k...

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    What a gorgeous piece of art! The illustrations are vibrant even with the muted, earthy tones. The fold-out pages near the end of the book were breathtaking. The imagery used in the story is ingenious: speech is like a river! It is calm and smooth then, turn the corner and it churns, bubbles, whirls, and crashes. The author’s note provides added context to the story but this is a piece of work that will be valuable for those who stutter and for those who know someone who does.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    A boy struggles to speak, and he becomes the object of ridicule when the words don't come out smoothly. His father takes the boy to a place that the child finds comforting, the river. And while they are there, the father tells the child that he talks like a river. And this, too, the child finds comforting. Beautiful text. Beautiful illustrations. A boy struggles to speak, and he becomes the object of ridicule when the words don't come out smoothly. His father takes the boy to a place that the child finds comforting, the river. And while they are there, the father tells the child that he talks like a river. And this, too, the child finds comforting. Beautiful text. Beautiful illustrations.

  24. 5 out of 5

    June

    A boy has problems talking (stuttering) and after a bad day at school his father takes him to the river and says, "See how that water moves? That's how you speak." The boy looks and sees: bubbling, churning, whirling and crashing. Then the calm after the rapids. A beautiful story and wonderful to have as Biden becomes President. A boy has problems talking (stuttering) and after a bad day at school his father takes him to the river and says, "See how that water moves? That's how you speak." The boy looks and sees: bubbling, churning, whirling and crashing. Then the calm after the rapids. A beautiful story and wonderful to have as Biden becomes President.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Juli Anna

    This book fills a much-needed niche for children with speech impediments. What a beautiful, lyrical, and realistic look at struggling with speech. My brother stutters and this book beautifully captured some of the frustrations I saw in him every day growing up, as well as the unique beauties of "less fluent" speech. This book is a treasure. This book fills a much-needed niche for children with speech impediments. What a beautiful, lyrical, and realistic look at struggling with speech. My brother stutters and this book beautifully captured some of the frustrations I saw in him every day growing up, as well as the unique beauties of "less fluent" speech. This book is a treasure.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Shari

    This 2021 Schneider award winner for younger children couldn't be more timely. Readers follow the protagonist to school on "a bad speech day." His dad picks him up from school and takes him to the river. The protagonist is a stutterer. Stuttering has been brought into forefront of our consciousness by President Biden and poet Amanda Goren. The right book at the right time. This 2021 Schneider award winner for younger children couldn't be more timely. Readers follow the protagonist to school on "a bad speech day." His dad picks him up from school and takes him to the river. The protagonist is a stutterer. Stuttering has been brought into forefront of our consciousness by President Biden and poet Amanda Goren. The right book at the right time.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Holly Mueller

    This is a beautiful and important book about a boy who stutters and a father who comforts him by saying, “You talk like a River.” The illustrations are gorgeous and impactful. I love Sydney Smith’s work in other books as well. Pair with “A Boy and a Jaguar” by Alan Rabinowitz. Text set with “Paperboy” by Vince Vawter.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    This is a beautiful book about a boy who stutters. Accepting those who are "different" is such an important lesson to teach children. This book is spot-on for doing so. Every single educator should read this book aloud to her/his class. I can't wait to use it at school. This is a beautiful book about a boy who stutters. Accepting those who are "different" is such an important lesson to teach children. This book is spot-on for doing so. Every single educator should read this book aloud to her/his class. I can't wait to use it at school.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Christy

    When Tantoh Nforba was a child, his fellow students mocked him for his interest in gardening. Today he's an environmental hero, bringing clean water and bountiful gardens to the central African nation of Cameroon. Authors Miranda Paul and Baptiste Paul share Farmer Tantoh's true story. When Tantoh Nforba was a child, his fellow students mocked him for his interest in gardening. Today he's an environmental hero, bringing clean water and bountiful gardens to the central African nation of Cameroon. Authors Miranda Paul and Baptiste Paul share Farmer Tantoh's true story.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jolee

    My goodness.... this is beautifully, wonderfully done. Bravo! 👏

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