A Quiet, Joyful Noise

Like the chewy chocolate center of a Tootsie Pop, there are peaceful moments of joy and connection hidden inside festive, yet sometimes hectic, family activities.


The winter holidays are everything at once. We string bright lights outside and decorate trees inside. We bake goodies, make gingerbread houses, write cards, wrap gifts, and stand in long lines at the post office. We dig ugly holiday sweaters out of the closet and wear them to the next-door neighbor’s cookie exchange. We make a whole lot of joyful noise before we sing "Silent Night."

With all the hustle and bustle around the holidays it’s helpful to remember that some of the most magical sounds of the season can only be heard when we’re still. Like the chewy chocolate center of a Tootsie Pop, there are peaceful moments of joy and connection hidden inside festive, yet sometimes hectic, holiday activities. We need only know where to look.  Author Deborah Underwood and illustrator Renata Liwska point us toward delightful moments like these in The Christmas Quiet Book.

Making snow angels,


building gingerbread houses,


and, drinking hot cocoa to warm up after playing in the snow.


The Christmas Quiet Book is the third picture book from this talented author/illustrator team that uses well-chosen words and evocative illustrations to explore silence and noise; the first two are The Quiet Book and The Loud Book!

Children’s book author Katrina Goldsaito and illustrator Julia Kuo also explore the different ways that silence is threaded through sound in their new book The Sound of Silence.

“The Japanese concept of ma is the silence between sounds. It’s the moment when musicians pause together, and is at the heart of traditional Japanese music, dance, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, storytelling, and even conversation!”

In The Sound of Silence, young Yoshio listens to raindrops splashing against his umbrella as he giggles and goes squishing through the streets of Tokyo. 


The evocative sound of a traditional Japanese stringed instrument being tuned by a street musician grabs his attention. Just as young karate students are often awestruck by their sensei (an honorific title for martial arts teachers), the mysterious street musician whom he calls Sensei also wows Yoshio. Yoshio asks his sensai to name the most beautiful sound, and she tells him that “The most beautiful sound...is the sound of ma, of silence". 


Page after page Yoshio looks for the silence between sounds but can’t find it...


...until the end of the book when he feels ma, the silence between sounds, and realizes it had been there all along. 


The Sound of Silence is recommended for ages four through eight, and it’s my guess that children at the lower end of this age range will have a hard time understanding what the Japanese concept of ma means. For younger children, the popular picture book Otis by Loren Long is another way to introduce the concept that silence is beautiful. 

Otis the tractor lives on a farm and sleeps in the barn with the animals. When the farmer puts a crying calf to bed in the next stall, Otis finds a way to lull the baby cow to sleep with the puff-puff-puffing sound of his motor. They quickly become friends. Otis works on the farm during the day and plays with the calf in the late afternoon. After a busy day of work and play, Otis and the calf walk to the top of a hill, sit under an old apple tree, and silently watch the sun set on the farm below.


Picture books, like these and The Listening Walk, written by Paul Showers and illustrated by Aliki, are fun springboards into conversations about silence and sound with children. Even better than stories and conversations though, is creating the time and space for them to hear the silence between sounds on their own. 

It’s as easy as taking a listening walk,


playing a mindful game like What Did I Hear? or Fading Tone,

Annaka Harris  teaching mindfulness in a LA public school.

Annaka Harris teaching mindfulness in a LA public school.


or, sitting quietly by a little stream.

casey altman