Silent Sally Speaks
Tellwell Talent (2021)
Reviewed by Eve Panzer, The Barefoot Librarian, for Reader Views Kids (07/2021)
“Silent Sally Speaks” addresses Selective Mutism, a severe anxiety disorder that literally renders a person unable to speak. The book describes the journey of Sally, a girl around six-year-old, as she begins to overcome the anxiety that is causing her communication challenges. The author, Payal Burnham, is a registered Speech-Language Pathologist with the College of Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists of Ontario (CASLPO) and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). She uses her expertise gained from personal experiences to tell the story and provide tips for caregivers, parents, and educators working with children with Selective Mutism.
Sally doesn’t look different from children her age. However, her shyness is so crippling she cannot talk to anyone but her parents. She often knows the answer to many questions asked at school and wants to speak to others. However, her anxiety prevents her from speaking. Her classmates say, “Sally doesn’t speak,” which causes Sally to feel even more frightened. And her parents worry that she only talks to them and herself.
Sally’s desire to speak starts to win out over her fears. She begins mouthing words and eventually talking to her friends in a low voice. Sally feels encouraged when she manages to say “hi” to her teacher, and the teacher acts naturally, as she would with any of her other students. Sally feels supported by being allowed to go at her own pace. She knows one day she will be able to say, “Thank you for helping me speak today!”
This picture book is perfect for introducing the concept of Selective Mutism to children and allowing children with this anxiety disorder to see that it can be overcome. The author does a remarkable job of explaining Sally’s feelings so that children can relate to her. The reader learns that the proper support is crucial to overcome Selective Mutism.
The rhyming text is straightforward and engaging. The illustrations are kid-friendly and colorful. The diverse children depicted are a welcome addition.
The book contains added value beyond telling a story. The author has included thoughtful questions to ask children in conjunction with reading the book. Some examples of these discussion questions include:
- How does Sally feel when she has to speak at home?
- How do you feel when you have to speak at home with your parents/siblings/pets?
- How does Sally feel when she has to speak at school?
- How do you feel when you have to speak to your friends at school? On the playground?
- How does Sally show that she is brave?
In addition, there are tips for parents of children with Selective Mutism. The author’s suggestions include:
- Avoid placing speaking demands on your child. Do not force your child to speak when they don’t want to.
- Do not criticize your child for not speaking in any given situation or with specific people.
- Remember that children who are Selectively Mute or who demonstrate anxiety are NOT choosing not to speak. Rather, their lack of speaking is an expression of their high level of anxiety in a given social situation.
Thankfully, there is a growing trend in children’s books today to embrace diversity. Diversity can and should go beyond skin color, ethnicity, religion, etc. Children should learn about the challenges others face, and children with challenges should see characters like themselves in books. Kudos to the author for shedding light on this communication challenge, explaining it so that children can understand it, and for providing tips for parents.