Phil Cummings (text), Shane Devries (illus.), Boy, Scholastic Australia, May 2017, 32pp., $24.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781760277055
Here lies a powerful story, in more ways than one. Whilst the king and his knights fight the dragon with all their strength, the true empowerment comes in the form of a young, hearing-impaired boy who, with the power of communication, resolves the misconstrued conflict between them.
Award-winning author Phil Cummings is legendary for his skill in approaching difficult concepts with sensitivity and astuteness. The clever choice of a protagonist with a disability beautifully distills any myths about ability, as well as relating the important link between effective communication and understanding. Boy, the main character, connects with those around him using a variety of tools, including sign language (dancing hands), drawings, the written word, and a sense of emotion. It is these perceptive qualities that make him the perfect candidate for facilitating awareness, acceptance and community inclusion.
When Boy unknowingly steps into the middle of the unnecessary kerfuffle, the battlers are confounded by his obliviousness. But upon Boy’s questioning of their intentions, the king, knights and dragon realise that they were indeed the oblivious ones. And perhaps not as brave as they were letting on, either. I love the heartwarming ending with the recognition for Boy displayed accordingly by the whole village.
The enlarged and interweaving text, and fun onomatopoeia, along with the remarkably fluid and textured digital illustrations, are the best ingredients for a lively yet intuitive blend of charisma, warmth and consideration. Devries has brilliantly integrated a mix of body and facial expressions against the appropriately chosen coloured backgrounds, allowing for a visual storytelling experience, even on its own.
Boy is an encouraging, simple and gentle story of power and ability, perception and conflict resolution that has the power to validate every child’s strength. It also provides opportunities for discussions on the ways different people communicate, both physically and effectively in varying situations. Boy allows readers to discover something new with every read. Highly recommended for children aged four and up.
Reviewed by Romi Sharp