I was browsing in a bookstore with my sister-in-law Emily a few weeks ago, and I decided I had to give this book a read. I grew up hearing countless songs about women with my name (although the only one that ever seemed to have been written about me was “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria”); it instilled in me a deep love of all things name-related – ugly key chains, charm necklaces, and yes, of course, picture books.
Really, I just grabbed it as a lark, and because I wanted to tease Emily with it a bit (she’s not in the least loud, but that was neither here nor there in the moment). I didn’t expect to get teary over it. I wasn’t planning to refuse to let Emily have my copy (although as the younger “sister,” it’s my prerogative to be stubborn about silly things like that). I certainly didn’t think I would lend it to so many of my friends with baby girls to remind them of how absolutely wonderful it is to meet a woman with an unapologetically loud voice.
But I did. I’ve cried every time I’ve read it, in fact. Just at the part when her family and teacher are admonishing young Emily to keep quiet because they fear she won’t have an easy life if she speaks so loudly, and then again when she finds her first advocate in the cook, who is delighted to find “a lass who speaks up!”
There’s something about the connotation of the word “loud” that led me to believe this would be a book about the importance of learning to be quiet. It’s a garish term, a reprimand in itself. The crowd or the class or the children are too loud, and they bring to mind headaches and frustration and a complete lack of control. One of the only times we encourage people to be loud specifically (rather than boisterous or enthusiastic) is at sporting events. In almost all other circumstances, we’re more likely to associate it with ostentatious, vehement, deafening.
When I was teaching preschool, I used to spend about five minutes before we sat down for circle time – the most focused part of our day when I would need the class’ attention for fifteen minutes – leading the children in the loudest songs I could come up with. We stomped and gnashed our teeth; we screamed and clapped and laughed and were as loud as we could possibly be. At the beginning of every school year though, it was a struggle to convince the class that I really meant for them to let loose and use the biggest expressions their bodies could come up with because they had been taught by word and example that loud was bad.
In this book, the message is loud is useful. Loud is necessary. Loud is endearing to the right community, and loud is not something to change, but to count as a strength. There are too few books encouraging people, especially children, to speak up. This one manages it without stigmatizing loud’s opposite. Instead, loud is a part of something greater, a single color in a kaleidoscope of traits that are neither good nor bad. Emily is loud. It does make it a challenge for her to find the place where she fits best, but that’s true for all people, especially when they choose not to change to fit in. Finding a story that celebrates that journey is as wonderful as learning to love a little girl who is loud.
For more about Alexis O’Neill, head over here. To learn about Nancy Carpenter, go here.