CHARLOTTE AND THE QUIET PLACE
Charlotte and the Quiet Place is a most appropriate picture book for this time of year, which gives new meaning to the word hectic, and hectic might as well be another word for NOISY! What makes this picture book so special has a lot to do with its author, Deborah Sosin, who is also a psychotherapist specializing in mindfulness therapy. By the end of the story, we understand “mindfulness,” but first and foremost, Charlotte and the Quiet Place is a children’s picture book I heartily recommend for all families.
Charlotte is a young girl living in New York City. We all know New York City is big, really big, and its noise is also big. But this is not a book only for children and families who live in big cities. The noise in all our lives does not depend on the size of the city in which we live. Charlotte, and I suspect, all of us, would like a bit of rest from that noise. It is impossible for Charlotte to avoid city noise – honking traffic, police sirens, jackhammers; the list is almost endless. Well, you might ask, why doesn’t she just stay in her house, which happens to be in an apartment building? Hmm. There’s the TV blasting, her dog, Otto, yapping, and even the floorboards creak! The children’s section of the library, which should be quiet, is not. And Charlotte’s school, in the classroom or out on the school yard, is not a quiet place, either.
One day, Charlotte takes Otto for a walk in the park, hoping to escape the hustle bustle of the city. That seems like a nice, calm thing to do, right? Almost. Her dog, on a leash, sees a squirrel. In one quick lunge, Otto tears after the squirrel, leash now flying loose, with Charlotte tearing after Otto through the park, across a bridge, until finally, in a secluded grove, the crafty squirrel takes shelter high up in a tree, leaving Charlotte and Otto exhausted and out of breath.
Can you remember what it sounds like to be out of breath? Sosin does, and cleverly writes that sound: “hoo ahh, hoo ahh,” all over the pages as Charlotte and her dog collapse against a tree. Even better, award-winning illustrator, Sara Woolley, has drawn the words in puffy white letters, exactly how the sound might look if we could see it. This the fun part of reading to a child, whether one in your lap or a circle of children at your feet. I can imagine, at this point in the telling, that everyone listening will now begin to mimic the sound, “hoo ahh, hoo ahh.” How much fun is this?
But it doesn’t stop there: “Together, they sit down to rest. They close their eyes. Charlotte’s belly rises up and down, up and down.” Until finally, one, long, billowy white, “hoooo ahhhh.” Charlotte has found a quiet place. And where is this quiet place? In the park? Yes, but not just in the park. The author poetically describes the quiet place as “a place deep in her belly, where her breath is soft and even, a place deep in her mind, where her thoughts are hushed and low, a place as quiet as the small silence on the very last page of her favorite book, the silence right after ‘The End.’”
Charlotte and Otto walk back home, out of the grove, across the bridge and through the park, back home to all the noises she heard before; but something is changed. Charlotte remembers that quiet place which is really inside herself, and now when she needs a little peace, she knows how to get back to the “hoo ahh,” always there for her whenever the world is too noisy.
Sara Woolley’s illustrations, which fill entire pages with color and emotion, both lively and peaceful, perfectly compliment Deborah Sosin’s marvelous text. I’ve never been a fan of the “time out” threat used by a generation of parents frustrated when their children seem out of control. Charlotte’s quiet place would be a helpful alternative, for children and parents. I wish Sosin were older and could have written this book when I was raising my three kids. We could all have used Charlotte’s quiet place. – Sunny Solomon