cover image The Silence in the Mountains

The Silence in the Mountains

Liz Rosenberg, Chris K. Soentpiet. Orchard Books (NY), $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-531-30084-8

This portentous picture book about a child exiled by war gets tripped up by its pacing. While the book's opening sounds like a fairy tale (""Once there was a boy named Iskander who lived in a land so sweet, so beautiful, some people called it paradise""), with the turn of a page (""Then war broke out""), the peaceful family picnic scene is abruptly transformed into barricade explosions and street fighting, and the next spread shows Iskander and his family packing up to leave their farm. The balance of the book takes place in America, where everyone tries to console the homesick boy, but only his understanding grandfather knows that the peaceful woods alone can comfort Iskander. More than the text, it is Soentpiet's (More Than Anything Else) portraits of lined faces and the sunlit countryside that lend the book its emotional appeal. Unfortunately, both Rosenberg's (Monster Mama) text and the artwork muddy the title metaphor. Although the reader is told that Iskander's initial paradise was ""changed"" as ""the fighting went on,"" the family departs from a peaceful farm where Iskander can still hear ""the silence high up in the mountains."" Iskander's desire for pre-war ""silence"" in his own war-torn country seems too subtle for the grasp of most young readers who may wonder why he is not happy with his peaceful new land, or what the silence in the mountains represents. Ages 5-9. (Mar.)