43412969“John’s Whistle” text by Lili Ferreirós and illustrations by Sonja Wimmer. Translated from the Spanish by Jon Brokenbrow
Cuento de Luz, $16.95, 32 pp.

Review by David Steinberg
Starting with its front cover, “John’s Whistle,” is a very special book for young readers. It opens like a calendar. You flip the pages up, not turn them to the left.
The story is special. It speaks to the acceptance of youthful creativity and of the importance of friendship. The story is about a young boy who develops differently than other kids. He doesn’t talk, he whistles. Different whistling sounds – loud or soft, short or long, gentle or serious – carry their own meanings. John’s whistling attracted a rainbow of birds to his street. The kids on the block loved them. The adults thought the birds were a nuisance. In his early school years, John continued to whistle but didn’t learn to read and write. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t learning. “If (the class was) learning about trees, John would picture the way the branches moved in his mind and his whistling would accompany their graceful dance,” the book says.

John used his whistling to understand poems, stories and even geometry, drawing shapes in the air with whistles and pauses. Teachers noticed that his whistling actually helped his classmates to understand topics.
One day John noticed that his friend Taleb would be coming to John’s school and in fact would be in the same class. Taleb didn’t talk; he used drawing to communicate and he played the bender, a North African frame drum. The two boys played together. Then a girl named Claire came into their lives. She invited John to go into the woods to search for a bag of chestnuts. Claire hid but John couldn’t find her. So he tried to use his special whistle for Claire. Alas, he couldn’t produce a whistle.
Suddenly, “something unexpected, something miraculous happened…” A word traveled up through his throat and into mouth. He shouted “Claire, Claire, Claire.” John found her.
After that, John and Claire became inseparable. Taleb remained their friend. And the two boys still make beautiful music together.
A beautiful story with beautiful illustrations.