Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say (review)
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Reviewed by
Say, Allen Silent Days, Silent Dreams; written and illus. by Allen Say. Levine/Scholastic, 2017 [64p]
ISBN 978-0-545-92761-1 $21.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 4-9

James Castle is the classic American outsider artist; born profoundly deaf, likely autistic, and probably dyslexic (he never learned to read) in rural Idaho in 1899, he loved art ever since childhood, and, after failing at school, devoted himself solely to his self-taught creations for the rest of his life. He was discovered by the art world late in life, and now his work hangs in museums across the globe. Say writes Castle’s fictionalized biography in the voice of the man’s nephew, which lends an air of wistful intimacy to the story of a life with family who called the boy who couldn’t communicate “Dummy” and “Crazy Jimmy.” The still, thoughtful text traces Castle’s life, but it’s really the art that speaks most vividly of and for him. Illustrations, multiple boxed scenes per page, vary between precise line-and-watercolor images that document Castle’s life from the outside to charcoal-like impressions of Castle’s art and replicas of his handmade doll figures. The effect is to balance out a textual narrative of a man who lived largely voiceless with an eloquent and prolific visual voice, making the artistry central to the reader experience of Castle’s life. Though none of Castle’s art is included or linked to in the end matter, a detailed author’s note gives more information about Castle and describes Say’s artistic explorations in echoing his work, and an extensive bibliography is appended.

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