“Silent Sally Speaks” – An Interview with Author, Payal Burnham

“Silent Sally Speaks” – An Interview with Author, Payal Burnham 172 265 Reader Views Kids

Silent Sally Speaks

Payal Burnham
Tellwell Talent (2021)
ISBN 978-0228845584

Payal Burnham is a registered Speech-Language Pathologist with the College of Audiologists and Speech Language Pathologists of Ontario (CASLPO) and a member of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). She attended the State University of New York at Buffalo State where she obtained her Master of Science in Education degree in Speech-Language Pathology. She also has an undergraduate degree in Linguistics and a minor in French from the University of Toronto.

Payal has experience with the pre-school, school-aged, and adult populations in a variety of settings including schools, private practices, and hospitals. She has worked with children with a variety of communicative disorders and challenges, including Selective Mutism, Autism and Down Syndrome.

Payal is an optimistic and dedicated speech therapist who continuously focuses on the individual needs and interests of her clients. With the release of Silent Sally Speaks, the first published book of the Teach to Speech series, she hopes to provide insight on a range of speech and language challenges. She also hopes that parents, teachers and professionals alike will use this book as a teaching tool and help students with their communication needs and support them in becoming confident speakers.

Hi Payal, Welcome to Reader Views Kids, we’re delighted to talk to you today! Tell us a bit about “Silent Sally Speaks.”

Silent Sally Speaks is about a young girl, Sally Smith, who is reluctant to speak to her classmates and teachers. At home, this is not the case. Sally is extremely comfortable speaking to her parents. This story follows Sally on her journey to becoming a brave speaker.

This Teach to Speech book helps guide children who are reluctant speakers or selectively mute to

become bold, brave and resilient, like Sally in this story. This book also helps parents and teachers to understand what students who are selectively mute or reluctant speakers may be going through or may experience on a daily basis. In addition, since this book touches upon the topics of courage and bravery, it may also resonate with children who are a little shy or nervous about going to school on their first day.

What is Selective Mutism and how common is this disorder?

Selective Mutism is a childhood anxiety related disorder where a child may not speak in some situations but will be more comfortable with speaking in other situations. This condition affects less than 1% of the population and affects girls and boys equally.

What was your inspiration behind writing a storybook for kids on this subject?

This story was inspired by the children that I work with who demonstrate challenges with speaking in various social contexts. As a Speech Pathologist by profession, I have worked with several reluctant speakers or students who have been diagnosed with Selective Mutism, and have been inspired by how brave and resilient these students have become over time. Imagine you had to deliver a presentation or performance in front of a large audience or crowd every day for long periods of time. The feelings of nervousness and anxiety would really impact your behaviours, attitudes and socialization. Consequently, for our students with Selective Mutism or extreme anxiety, these situations can make communication very challenging. 

I am truly honoured and extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to work with these students. It is an amazing experience to watch them slowly come out of their shells and become shining stars. I admire their courage in developing the confidence to communicate across different settings and with different people, as it’s not as easy as one might think!

What motivates the young female protagonist?

Sally is motivated by her parents in the story. She recognizes that the most important people in her life are worried about her, as she doesn’t speak to anyone else but them.  Recognizing this and not wanting them to worry any longer, Sally realizes that she needs to find courage to slowly begin to speak. With time, Sally begins to mouth words without her voice and then begins to whisper as she becomes comfortable and recognizes how supportive her classmates and teacher are by giving her time and making her feel comfortable to communicate with them.

Does Sally encounter any bullying or teasing from other kids? How does she rise above this?

Sally does experience some teasing because she doesn’t speak. When other students try to speak to Sally, even before she gets a chance to respond, students often jump in and say “Sally doesn’t speak” or “Sally can’t talk.” Unfortunately, these comments only make Sally more anxious and reserved in the classroom environment. Over time, I think Sally comes to find a few students in the class and her teacher who show her support and don’t make her feel different or bring attention to her lack of speech. These situations and the support from those around her ultimately helps her develop the courage to speak to other students in the class.

What kind of role model is she for young girls?

Sally is definitely a positive role model and an inspiration for not only young girls, but for all students who are shy, nervous, anxious or reserved about entering new situations with different people. Sally really shows children that despite feeling extremely anxious to speak, they can take small steps to achieve their goal, whether it is to speak with others or to make a new friend.

What is the most important message you hope young readers take away from “Silent Sally Speaks”

I think this book conveys two important messages. One for parents and the other for children. This book highlights the importance of time for parents and educators with children who are reluctant speakers. Sometimes as adults, we worry and want quick fixes or we want our children to become better quickly. However, we have to remember that this is not something that is within our control. The most we can do is be supportive, have conversations with our child about how they’re feeling about certain situations and get a better understanding of how we can help them overcome their challenges.

For children, I think Sally definitely portrays a significant amount of bravery about speaking in school. I hope that children will be able to relate to and empathize with Sally in this story and will learn courage to overcome their communication challenges.

Did you work with an illustrator or do the images yourself?

I worked with an illustrator from Tellwell Talent, a Canadian Self-Publishing Company based in Victoria, BC. My illustrator’s name was Bonnie.

What was it like working together with your illustrator to bring your story to life? (Or, how do the illustrations bring your story to life?)

Bonnie was fantastic! While we had limited direct contact as most of the communication was done via a middle person from Tellwell, Bonnie really understood the vision for my story. I think she did a great job of capturing the expressions on the characters faces, which were very important for conveying the emotions and feelings of Sally in the story.

What is the biggest challenge writing for a young audience?

The greatest challenge with writing a story for a younger audience is in creating an engaging story that will be well received by young readers. In today’s market, there are a number of fantastic children’s books and thinking about how your story will stand out or will resonate young readers is definitely a challenge when it comes to writing. In addition, the illustrations are so important in captivating the attention of young readers as well. For Silent Sally Speaks, I spent a lot of time detailing the illustrations for my illustrator, as I wanted to ensure that the illustrations captured the story that I envisioned. I truly believe that “A picture is worth a thousand words” and that young readers look to the pictures to understand the context and make meaning of the story. 

What do you like to read and what are some of your favorite children’s books authors and stories?

As a new mom, I really enjoy reading children’s books to my daughter. Some of my favourites include ‘Guess How Much I Love You’ by Sam McBratney, ‘Big Bear Hug’ by Nicholas Oldland and ‘How Many Hugs’ by Heather Swain .

During my spare time, I enjoy reading books by Jefferey Archer, Sarah J. Maas and more recently Brandon Sanderson.

Which writers have inspired your own work as an author?

My books were definitely inspired by authors such as Bill Martin Jr. and Marianne Richmond. I looked to these books time and again to think about how to tell my story in verse, as these books are so engaging and make you keep wanting to turn the page. I was also inspired by Paulette Bourgeois’ Franklin series, who does an excellent job of sending a nice message to young readers. I also wanted to leave my readers with an important message and these books really guided me on how I could leave a lasting impression in my children’s book.

What do you enjoy outside of writing?

Outside of writing, I enjoy spending time with my 17-month old daughter, Iyla. She definitely keeps things fun and exciting for me!  I also enjoy travelling, going on walks, scuba diving, dancing, playing the piano and of course, reading. I also love drinking a warm cup of tea, no matter what the season!

So, what’s next? Do you have another story in the works?

Yes, I do! I actually have a couple of projects on the go. In the coming months, I will be releasing a book that focuses on the speech production of the ‘k’ sound with a story about cute little cat named, Kingsley. I am also currently working on a story about students with Dyslexia, which I am really excited about. So, stay tuned!

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, about writing or about life in general?

The best piece of advice I have received is to follow your dreams and to never give up. Over the last few years, I have learned that I am very ambitious. Last Fall, I remember running down the stairs and telling my husband that I was going to write a children’s book. He was a little skeptical and thought I was joking…but almost a year later, it’s turned into reality! I am so thrilled that I followed my heart and took on this project and I would encourage others who have big dreams and who aren’t sure if it is possible to pursue them.  For me, becoming a children’s author was a dream come true!

Do you have any advice for aspiring/emerging picture book authors?

Go for it! If you aren’t sure where to begin, connect with indie authors and self- published authors through different social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. There is a huge reader, author and illustrator community online and everyone is there to help! My experience in participating in various social media groups has been so positive! Everyone has been so supportive and willing to share their experiences, offer advice and feedback on your ideas and work. I have also been able to make some connections in this industry and I would encourage others to do the same.

Payal, thank you so much for joining us today on Reader Views Kids!

I would like to thank Reader Views Kids and The Barefoot Librarian, Eve Panzer, for such an amazing review and for this opportunity to share more about myself and my Teach to Speech books. It’s been a wonderful experience!

I truly hope that readers enjoy Silent Sally Speaks and that it will be a useful resource in helping children develop the courage and find their voice!


Readers can visit my website to learn more about Teach to Speech books and upcoming releases and events. There will be a live reading of Silent Sally Speaks on September 12th 2021. Please visit my website for more information. Please feel free to post feedback, share ideas and connect with me on social media – I would love to hear from you!

Website: www.teachtospeechbooks.com.

Facebook: @teachtospeechbooks

Instagram: @teachtospeechbooks

Twitter: @teachtospeech

Read the Barefoot Librarian Book Review of Silent Sally Speaks!

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