Ben Morley’s picture book The Silence Seeker tells the story of a child who seeks to help his new neighbour who his mum tells him is an asylum seeker. He misunderstands and tries to help the older child from the new asylum-seeking family to find silence. This steady, kind story helps key stage 2 children move forward in their empathy and understanding of asylum seekers and is a perfect way to gently open discussion around the refugee crisis. We often use the beginning and end of this book to start a conversation in the classroom and we have known teachers use it with Key Stage 3 pupils.
KEY QUESTION: Do I feel welcome everywhere?
Ben Morley’s picture book The Silence Seeker tells the story of Joe and his quest to find a quiet place for his new neighbour who his mum tells him is an asylum seeker, but Joe misunderstands. The story shows a friendship developing between the two boys, but it also makes Joe realise that actually he can’t find a peaceful and quiet place for his friend, and learners are introduced to the threats or tensions that exist in our local environments.
1. A good starter activity with this book may be to explain to the class that the story is about a boy who comes from another place, and makes friends with Joe, his new neighbour. Then you can show the cover and learners can consider which is Joe, and which the new boy. This may raise issues about assumptions about race, but is also a good media activity as observations about body language, expressions etc will make the answer clear.
2. Read the book to the class once, allowing them to comment on things that they notice, and asking questions to check understanding (especially make sure everyone understands the ‘misunderstanding’ that forms the basis of the book). At this point it may help to explore what an asylum seeker is, using the UN web link to the right. Another key point that may come up is the style of the images, which is explored in an extension activity.
3. Ask volunteers from the class to lead a discussion by asking ‘why?’ questions to each other, such as ‘why does Joe’s friend disappear?’ and answering each other, but also identifying where the class would need to find out more in order to answer, or where there is no right answer.
4. Explore some of the themes in the story by asking learners what they think the author’s message is. Some themes that you might mention or explore would be: asylum; cities; safety and security; assumptions about race.
5. Another way to do this is to ask learners to imagine that they are the boy, and that they do not speak English, and to add speech bubbles to each page showing what they imagine the boy may be thinking. To do this thoughtfully and meaningfully they may have to do some research about asylum seekers and their experiences.
6. Use the key question and ask whether the community that the Silence Seeker moves to make him welcome. Encourage the group to think about the different characters in the story, including Joe, Joe’s mum, and the groups that make noise. Then you could also consider who, if anyone, has sent the boy away again on a plane, and what community they are representing. Does the government department that accepts or rejects asylum applications represent us, as part of the UK community, when it does this? This will hopefully provoke debate and discussion.
7. Explain that the story is going to be used to learn about word choice and word imagery. Share with the class the definition of homonym, and ask them to vote on whether ‘silence seeker’ and ‘asylum seeker’ are homonyms. Do the same for synonym – is the boy really seeking silence, and does silence mean the same as it usually does? Is peace the same as silence?
8. The story can also be used to teach the following linguistic / persuasive writing techniques and even how to structure a story, within the meaningful context of how the author presents Joe and his relationship with where he lives: noun phrases (up-to-no-goods); onomatopoeia; repetition; alliteration; different types of sentences.
Note: This would be over a series of lessons, with corresponding writing tasks and practice opportunities for learners to try out using these themselves, perhaps by describing some of the places in their own local environment that cause them to feel uncomfortable / unwelcome. There is a match and sort downloadable activity sheet (right) with short extracts from the book, to complete once some of this work has been done, or with a class that are already aware of the names of these techniques.
These ideas have been developed in collaboration with, and are inspired by, the Tide~ Book Club at the Tide~ Centre in Birmingham.
The publisher of The Silence Seeker, Tamarind, offer a thought-provoking and useful activity sheet on their website to support work on The Silence Seeker.
|From Silence Seeker by Ben Morley, published by Tamarind. Used by permission of The Random House Group Limited|