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  • The Silent Boy
  • Written by Lois Lowry
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  • The Silent Boy
  • Written by Lois Lowry
    Read by Karen Allen
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Read by Karen Allen
On Sale: May 13, 2003
ISBN: 978-0-8072-1693-4
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Precocious Katy Thatcher comes to realize what a gentle, silent boy did for his family. He meant to help, not harm. It didn’t turn out that way.

“The author balances humor and generosity with the obstacles and injustice of Katy’s world to depict a complete picture of the turn of the 20th century.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred

From the Paperback edition.



My friend Austin Bishop lived next door and was to be invited to my sixth birthday party the next month. Austin was already six and said that he could read. I thought it was true because he showed me a book with a story in it and told me the story--it was about a mouse--and then he told me the story again, and the words were exactly the same. Reading, I knew, was what made the words always, always be the same.
Jessie Wood was to come to my party, too, and had told me a secret, that she was bringing me a tea set with pink flowers as a birthday present.  She had promised her mother that she would not tell. A promise was a very important, very grown-up thing, and if I promised not to tell something, I would never ever tell. But Jessie was often naughty. She disobeyed. She told me that the pink flowers were roses and the tea set was real china.
Austin's brother, Paul, was not invited because he was too big. Paul was almost fifteen years old and had his own desk, many pencils, and a book with maps. He had a pocketknife that was very sharp and we were not to touch it, ever. He tried to smoke his father's pipe but he was too young, and it made him sick. We saw him being sick out by the barn. It was yellow and splattered on his shoes.
Austin's father was named Mr. Bishop, and he was a lawyer, but at home he spent a lot of time out in the barn, pounding and sawing. He liked tools and steam engines and wheels and anything that moved its parts and made noise. Sometimes he said he wished he could be a train engineer. During the summer, when Austin's birthday was coming, Mr. Bishop and Paul worked many days out in the barn. It was a secret. No one could peek. They made a lot of noise, and it was a surprise for Austin's birthday.
My mother said, when she saw what they had made, that it was a amazing. I had never seen a amazing before. It had wheels, but it was not a velocipede. Everyone had a velocipede, even me.
I was allowed to ride mine to the mailbox, but then I was always to turn around and come back.
Austin could sit in his amazing. He pushed with his feet on the pedals and he traveled down the walk. I supposed he could go to town in the amazing if he wished. Perhaps he could go to his father's office. Or to the library, or Whittaker's Dry Goods! A amazing could go anywhere.
I hoped that someone was building me a amazing for my birthday, but I didn't think that anyone was because there was no noise coming from the Bishops' barn or from our stable, except the plain old noise of the horses snorting and stamping their feet as Levi cleaned their stalls.
Our horses were named Jed and Dahlia, and they were brown but their manes and tails were black. Our cook was named Naomi, and she was also brown. Everything has a color, I remember thinking. I could not think of a single thing that had no color, except the water in my bath. You could see through water, I realized--could see your own hand when you tried to hold water in it, but then it ran away, right through your fingers, no matter how hard you tried to keep it there.
Austin had one more thing besides the amazing, one more thing that I wished I had. He had a baby sister! She had horrid black hair and cried a lot and her name was Laura Paisley Bishop.
How they got Laura Paisley was very, very interesting to me. Austin's Nana took him on the train to Philadelphia for a whole day. How I wished my grandmother would do that for me! My own Gram lived in Cincinnati and came by train in the summers to visit, but she never took me with her on the train. Austin said it was noisy and clattery and you could look through the windows and see trees go by as fast as anything. Sometimes, when the train was going around a curve, you could look ahead and see the engine and know that you were part of it, still attached. It was hard to imagine.
They rode to Philadelphia and went to a museum, where they saw stuffed creatures, like bears, posing as if they were alive, and then they had lunch in a restaurant, with strawberry ice cream for dessert. Then they went back to the train station and came all the way home on the train again. When they arrived at our town, Austin's Nana used the telephone at the railroad station to call his home and see if anything exciting had happened while they were away.
"My goodness!" she said to Austin, then. "There will be quite a surprise at your house when we get there."
So they walked all the way home from the station, and when they got to Austin's house, he saw the surprise. It was a baby sister!
They had found her out in the garden. That's what they told Austin: that his mother had gone outside to pick some tomatoes for lunch, and when she looked down, she saw a lovely baby girl there.
"Fibber!" I said to Austin.
I did not believe him because I had been playing in my own backyard almost all day, and never once heard a baby, and did not see Mrs. Bishop go out with her tomato basket at all. In fact, my mother had told me to play quietly because Mrs. Bishop had a headache and was lying down most of the day.
So I called Austin a fibber and he was angry and threw some dirt at me and said I could never hold his baby. But I asked my mother later and she said it was true that Mrs. Bishop had found the baby in the garden. Mother said that she hoped someday we would find one in ours.
So I decided I would look carefully each day. But it seemed a very strange thing, that babies appeared in gardens, because it might be raining. Or it might even be winter! I hoped that the babies were bundled up in thick blankets then!
I had to apologize to Austin for calling him a fibber. His big brother, Paul, was there when I did, and Paul laughed and said I shouldn't bother. Paul said I was the smartest child on the street. (It was not true, because I couldn't read yet, no matter how I tried.) But his mother, who was sitting in a rocking chair holding Laura Paisley, said, "Shhhhh," so Paul shushed and went away and slammed the screen door behind him, which startled the baby, so that her eyes opened wide for a second and then closed again.
I hoped her hair would improve because it really was horrid to look at. It was exactly like Jed and Dahlia's manes.

From the Paperback edition.
Lois Lowry|Author Q&A

About Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry - The Silent Boy

Photo © Bachrach

“As a child, I was always writing lists and keeping journals—much like Anastasia does. Today, I still do these things. I guess I’ll always be like Anastasia; I’m still a kid at heart.”—Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry has twice won the prestigious Newbery Medal for Number the Stars and The Giver. In Gathering Blue, the compelling companion to The Giver, Lowry transports young readers to another futuristic society.


Whether she’s writing comedy, adventure, or poignant, powerful drama—from Attaboy, Sam! and Anastasia Krupnik to Number the Stars and The Giver—Lois Lowry’s appeal is as broad as her subject matter and as deep as her desire to affect an eager generation of readers. An author who is “fast becoming the Beverly Cleary for the upper middle grades” (The Horn Book Magazine), Lois Lowry has written over 20 books for young adults and is a two-time Newbery Medal Winner.

Lois Lowry was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and attended junior high school in Tokyo, Japan. Her father was a dentist for the U.S. Army and his job entailed a lot of traveling. Lowry still likes to travel.

At the age of 17, Lowry attended Brown University and majored in writing. She left school at 19, got married, and had four children before her 25th birthday. After some time, she returned to college and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Maine.

Lois Lowry didn’t start writing professionally until she was in her mid-30s. Now she spends time writing every single day. Before she begins writing a book, she usually knows the beginning and end of her story. When she’s not writing, Lowry enjoys gardening during the spring and summer and knitting during the winter. One of her other hobbies is photography, and her own photos grace the covers of Number the Stars, The Giver, and Gathering Blue.

Lois Lowry has four children and two grandchildren. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


A Companion to The Giver

—A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year


—A Newbery Medal Winner
—An ALA Notable Book for Children
—An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
—A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
—A Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Book
—A Booklist Editors’ Choice
—A Regina Medal Winner


—A Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College Best Book of the Year


—An ALA Notable Book for Children
—An International Reading Association Children’s Book Award
—A School Library Journal Best Book for Spring


—A Boston Globe–Horn Book Award


—A Newbery Medal Winner
—An ALA Notable Book for Children
—A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
—An American Bookseller Pick of the Lists


—An ALA Notable Book for Children


—An American Bookseller Pick of the Lists


—An IRA–CBC Children’s Choice


—An ALA Notable Book for Children

Author Q&A


Q. The Silent Boy has an unexpected and startling ending. Did you write the story with the ending in mind?
I wasn’t certain how The Silent Boy would end when I began writing it. But I did know that the boy Jacob . . . the “silent” boy . . . would have experienced something profoundly disturbing. I knew that because of the photograph, the one on the book jacket, which was the starting point of the novel. It was a real photograph taken by my grandmother’s sister in--I think--1911, but I knew nothing about the boy. Yet looking at his face led me to believe that he was a damaged boy who had experienced some trauma . . . and was perhaps blamed for something . . . for which he was not truly responsible.

Q. As an old woman, Katy looks back on this story as a defining moment in her childhood. Do you think every child has a moment or experience like this that changes his or her life? Were you thinking of any such moment in your own childhood when you decided to write this story?
A. I suppose all humans experience defining moments both in childhood and later. But it is only those who are introspective who recognize and remember those moments. I was a very introspective young person and I can look back on a number of moments in my life . . . including my childhood . . . when a particular set of circumstances changed my way of looking at things. (One such moment is the topic of a short story called “Empress” that was published quite recently in an anthology called Open Your Eyes.)

But I wasn’t thinking of my own defining moments when I wrote The Silent Boy. I was writing fiction, and in fiction one tries to create those pivotal scenes; moments in which characters undergo a change are what an author works toward as a plot progresses.

Q. In the prologue, Katy explains that in a way she is writing this story for her grandchildren, to answer their questions. One also senses that she is writing the story as a way of dealing with her past, as a kind of therapy. Why do you write?
I think it is quite clear that Katy, now an old woman, feels a need to tell a story that has haunted her. It was true for me when I wrote my very first book, A Summer to Die, the story of my sister’s death years before . . . one I had told to myself so often. Another book of mine, Autumn Street, does the same thing: the retelling of a childhood tragedy, as a way of explaining it. That is what Katy is doing in The Silent Boy.
I suppose people whose talents reside in art, say, or music, might do the same thing. Mahler, for example, did it when he wrote Kindertotenlieder . . . “Songs on the Death of Children.” But my skill lies with words, and stories, and it is through the genre of literature that I find ways to explore my own life’s events.

Q. Do you prefer writing for children and teens? Have you written any books for adults?
A. I’ve done both, and like doing both. But I sense that writing for young people is the more important work. Literature for young people affects them in profound ways, and at a time when they are still accessible to change.

Q. Where did you find the photographs in the book?
Several of the photographs in The Silent Boy–including the jacket photograph–came from the collection of Mary Fulton Boyd Wood, who was my great-aunt and who was a photographer in the early 1900s. I started the novel from the photographs I inherited from her. Then, when I decided I wanted an old photo to open each chapter, I had to find others. I got them from friends and from a New Hampshire antique shop. The photograph near the end, of Paul and his mother, he in uniform, was a particularly lucky find, I think . . . their expressions and postures say so much.

Q. You write in many genres–how does writing historical fiction differ from writing science fiction, and from writing fiction set in contemporary times?
Of course the difference lies in the research and in the struggle for accuracy of details. You get to make that stuff up, in most fiction! But when you deal with actual historic events, as I did in Number the Stars, or in historic times, as in The Silent Boy, you need to place things specifically. The research is fun, actually. I only wish my mother . . . who was born in 1906 . . . had still been alive when I wrote The Silent Boy, because she could have told me so much about clothing, games, furniture, all those things. As it was, I found a lot of details in an early Sears catalogue! But it wasn’t as firsthand as it would have been from my mom.

Q. Why did you decide to write this story from the perspective of Katy as opposed to the viewpoint of Jacob himself? When you want to tell a story, how do you choose from whose point of view you’d like to tell it?
Jacob is without a voice, really. So I looked for the right “voice” to tell his story and remembered that my own mother was a child then. I dug out old photographs of her, and she became Katy (my mother’s real name, incidentally). That decision provided a wonderful challenge for me as a writer because it meant I would be using an unreliable narrator . . . that is, a child who is too young to fully understand the events she is describing, but who is articulate enough to describe them.
I like writing either in the first-person or the limited-third-person point of view. Somehow each story chooses its own narrative viewpoint.

Q. It seems you often write about a child who is isolated from the world by a special gift or special knowledge (as in the The Giver). Jacob is also isolated from the world by a difference in mind. What drives you to tell these stories?
The most interesting protagonist for a novel is always an intelligent, observant, and articulate person . . . whatever the age. Jacob is not really the protagonist of The Silent Boy, though the story is about him. It is Katy, the narrator, who has the keenness of understanding and recollection to tell his story. . . . Of course it becomes her story as well.
But it is true that Jacob is the outsider in this book. Those who are set apart for some reason are always fascinating characters for a writer to explore.

From the Paperback edition.

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