To wrap up October’s My Take/Your Take, we discuss The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy. In a town where silence is law, a rowdy rooster enters the scene and demands to be heard. We will discuss how this playful picturebook illustrates individuality, voice and opposition in relation to the other stories we’ve explored this month.
Holly: Our final discussion this month is about a picturebook, The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!. What a wonderful book! It really brings together several of the themes we have been discussing this month. It starts in a small town where everyone sings their own song. Because of that singing, however, there is a tendency for the town to be noisy, and soon people begin to complain that they cannot hear, think or sleep. They fire the mayor and elect a new one who begins with a request that there be “no loud speaking in public.” But this new request eventually develops into oppressive laws whereby no noise is tolerated, and the town becomes silent.
One day a gallito–a rooster–enters the town and sings his song. The mayor tries a number of interventions to keep the rooster quiet, including isolating the rooster, not feeding the rooster and then putting the rooster in darkness. The conflict between the mayor and the rooster eventually comes to a head when the mayor threatens to kill the rooster. The rooster reminds the mayor, “a song is louder than one noisy little rooster and stronger than one bully of a mayor. . . . And it will never die–so long as there is someone to sing it.”
This picturebook succinctly chronicles the importance of voice and being heard, regardless of oppressive authority that attempts to silence songs and stories. The book can be used to introduce the other three books we have discussed, all of which would make a great text set about voice, standing up for what is right and remembering that justice is stronger than the oppressive forces that attempt to contain it. How did this book resonate with you two?
Jean: Well… there are some current political connections that this book hints at, but I really don’t want to go there. However, I will mention the parallel to whole language. That is a song that has been reduced to an undercurrent hum, but the volume seems to be up a notch recently. As in The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!, a good song cannot be completely suppressed.
I also appreciate the ending. While the bully mayor moves on, the village is alive with people singing their songs. “This made for a very noisy place to live.” There has to be room for all the different songs. Whether we like the songs or not, we do need to hear them and to make space for them — including the “quiet song” of the mayor.
One of the things I have mentioned before is that concept of assumptions. At the beginning the text says, “And no one knew what to do. So they fired the mayor.” When I first read the story, I thought that was a little too quick. It seemed like there was an assumption made that the mayor could not handle the problem. There wasn’t any discussion, any investigation, just “out you go.” The same thing happens with the new mayor. An assumption is made that he can solve the problem. Again, there is no discussion, no looking into who this person is. Sometimes the assumption is that others don’t care.
I think the mixed media illustrations by Eugene Yelchin enhance the story. He sometimes creates large figures that take up an entire spread or sometimes don’t even fit on the page. Other pages show multiple smaller scale figures. The pictures reflect the tension in the story with both size and color as well as composition.
Getting back to song: I remember hearing Ashley Bryan talk about poetry. He said that you have to say a poem over and over until you make it your own. Your poem — your voice. All of these books are hoping that you not only find your song, but that you also have the courage to sing it loud and strong. I would like to find some poetry to integrate into the discussion of these books.
Marilyn: In the Author’s Note at end of The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!, Carmen Agra Deedy first notes that roosters love to sing all the time, whenever they please. Then she writes,
Much like roosters, human children are born with voices/ strong and true —and irrepressible./ Then bit by bit, most of us learn to temper our opinions,/ censor our beliefs, and quiet our voices. /But not all of us./ There are always those who resist being silenced,/ who will crow out their truth,/ without regard to consequence./ Foolhardy or wise, they are the ones who give us the courage to sing.
Deedy’s words capture what the main characters in our previous three books all came to know. Each character had to go through a process in which they discovered their voices and then found the courage to use them. Discussing Deedy’s book with students will promote opportunities for them to consider how they might use their voices to advocate for truth. The characters in the novels we have read also learned to use their voices, and did so despite the consequences.
Perhaps reading such books will inspire students to use their own voices to advocate for their own truths. The rooster in this deceptively simple picturebook was a hero who, even though he was tortured and his life threatened, spoke truth to the power. In doing so, he woke up the people of the village to what they had been missing: “And that’s just the way everyone liked it.” There are also parallels to today’s political scene. Let’s hope that young readers will be inspired by the books we have discussed and “sing” just as Rooster did.
Holly: I couldn’t agree more. Given current circumstances, these books are especially timely, as I noted when we first began our discussion. Rooster is especially relevant as more people are using their voices — their freedom of speech — to address oppression, abuses of power and to generally inform those in power of their dissent. Rooster and the other texts give readers great examples of how to resist the silencing that becomes oppression. Don’t back down, speak your truth, sing your song!
Title: The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!
Author: Carmen Agra Deedy
Illustrator: Eugene Yelchin
Date Published: January 31, 2017
This is the final installment of October 2017’s My Take/Your Take. To follow these continuing conversations, check back every Wednesday.