Review + Teachers’ Notes: ‘Sonam and the Silence’

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Title: ‘Sonam and the Silence’
Author: Eddie Ayres
Illustrator: Ronak Taher
Publisher: Allen & Unwin 
Age Range: middle – upper primary
Themes: music, resilience, courage, curiosity, Afghanistan, Taliban.

Click on title links or cover image to purchase.

A lyrical fable-like story by the well-known musician, author and broadcaster Eddie Ayres, about the irrepressible power of music and a young girl in Kabul during the occupation of the Taliban. ‘Sonam and the Silence’ will fill your soul.

In Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, Sonam’s world is dark and silent. One day, she follows a melodious sound to a walled garden, and her world is silent no more. The sound is music, and it lifts her up amongst the stars and takes her deeper than the tree roots in the earth. Following the sound, Sonam discovers an elderly man playing music in a garden filled with pomegranate and mulberry trees. As he teaches her to hear music with her heart and create her own music, her spirit soars. But when her brother discovers her instrument and takes it away, darkness again descends for Sonam. How can she hold on to the feelings of joy she has experienced in a world where music is forbidden?

Many adult readers will at once understand that this story is more than a fable about courage and finding your joy. It is also a story based on fact. When the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in 1996 all music was banned.  Artist Ronak Taher adds a visual beauty to this story which is worthy partner to the poetic text. The colours of the garden evoke thoughts of mulberries and pomegranates and in fact these two colours are part of the colour palette for the book – such a rich and delicious pairing both visually and in taste! Taher makes great use of textures and layers in each double page spread, drawing the reader in and inviting them to explore more deeply the truly stunning images. In the image below the eye is immediately drawn in to this window to where the brother and mother are working, and then to the movement of Sonam as she swings around the tree trunk.

I particularly like that Eddie Ayres includes an Authors Note at the back where he explains a little more of the story and asks the reader to ponder what it might be like to live in a world without music, or something else that the deeply love. A powerful question on which to end such a multi-layered and soulful story.

About the Author

Eadric Ayres is named after Eadric the Wild, a resistance fighter in England after 1066. Eadric grew up in England, studied music and has adventured throughout the world as a viola and cello player. After working in an orchestra in Hong Kong, he decided to cycle from England back to Hong Kong (that’s 16,000 km), took a little violin with him, and played to Greek shepherds, Iranian police and Chinese truck drivers along the way. Eadric’s big desire in life is to introduce classical music to as many different people as possible, so for ten years he worked as a broadcaster with the ABC, ultimately presenting the popular breakfast programme. Eventually Eadric’s adventurous spirit demanded more, and he moved to Afghanistan to teach music there for a year. Eadric was born Emma, and transitioned just before his fiftieth birthday.

Follow it Up in the Home, Classroom or Library

Teachers’ Notes prepared by Children’s Books Daily

Title: ‘Sonam and the Silence’
Author: Eddie Ayres   Illustrator: Ronak Taher


  • English
  • Visual Arts


  • Reading
  • Critical and Creative Thinking
  • Literacy
  • Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Capability
  • Personal and Social Capability



  • Discuss the front cover of the book. There is a child in the centre of it. Do you think the story is about him or her? What is she holding? What could it be? The character has something on her head. What could it be? Have you seen something like this before? What is it used for?
  • Read the title of the book. What could it mean? What do you think the word ‘Sonam’ could mean?
  • Have a look at the back cover of the book. There are buildings on it. Are the buildings like the ones we have in our country? Why/ Why not? Where could the story be set?
  • Look closely at the illustrations. What has the illustrator used to produce this?
  • Read the blurb on the back cover. Does it give us a glimpse into the book? Does it make us want to read more? Find Afghanistan on a world map. How far away is it from where we live? Discuss fables and what they are.
  • Open the book and look at the end papers. How has the illustrator created them? What has she used? Does it make you want to touch it? Does it look real?  Do you think real leaves were used to create this?
  • Read about the Author, Eddie Ayres and discuss his link to Afghanistan.
  • At this point you may choose to read further about Ayres at the back of the book, or you may like to leave that until last.
  • Read about the Illustrator, Ronak Taher and discuss her links to Afghanistan. Find Iran a world map. Is it close to Afghanistan?


Content Description: ACELA1469
Understand the use of vocabulary about familiar and new topics and experiment with and begin to make conscious choices of vocabulary to suit audience and purpose


  • Interpreting new terminology drawing on prior knowledge, analogies and connections with known words

The book introduces our audience to new vocabulary. When reading the book, pause on these pages after reading the text on that page to discuss the following. Draw on students’ prior knowledge.

  • P6 ‘metal beaters’ (students should know what metal is and what beating is, so bring these two together), ‘food sellers’ (What do we call them?), ‘beggars’
  • P6 ‘makes a storm in her head’ (What does this mean? How could we say this differently?)
  • P11 ‘making music’ (What does this mean?), forbidden
  • P11 ‘you can only hear music if you listen with all your heart’ (What does this mean?)
  • P12 ‘It needs nurturing and love to thrive and give fruit’ (What does this mean? What does ‘nurturing’ mean then?)
  • P12 ‘rubab’ (What is this? Maybe research it, listen and watch it here)
  • P15 ‘hum’ (Can you demonstrate what it is? How is it different to singing?)
  • P15 ‘shrill car horns’ (What does ‘shrill’ mean in this context?)
  • P15 ‘Now she cannot hear these sounds of fear.’ (What does this mean?)
  • P16 ‘forbids’ (What does this mean? Why is it forbidden?)
  • P19 ‘withdrawn’ (What does this mean?)
  • P19 ‘Her spirit is dull and tired’ (Discuss ‘spirit’, ‘dull’ first then put the sentence together to discuss it as a whole’
  • P19 ‘The music drifts away like clouds’ (Discuss the meaning of ‘drift’ first then put the sentence together. What does it mean?)
  • P20 ‘foreign’
  • P20 ‘angry and electric’ (What does this mean?)
  • P20 ‘Sonam’s music stays silent.’ (What does this mean? Why does she feel this way?)
  • P22 ‘withered’
  • P22 ‘Now the music floats into Sonam’s mind, but it is still broken’ (What does float mean in this context? Why is it broken?)
  • P24 ‘The silence is full of the old man’s music.’ (What does this mean?)
  • P26 How can music be clear, red, bright blue and pale soft green? What is Sonam trying to describe here?
  • P26 ‘It brushes her skin and strokes her hair’ (How can music do that? Discuss ‘goosebumps’ and how having your hair stroked can be soothing).
  • P26 ‘As it flows back into her, she realises the old man is with her now and always will be.’ (What does this mean? Discuss the memory of someone special.
  • P 28 ‘Because Sonam’s heart is opening, and the music is there inside.’ (What does this mean?)


Content Description: ACELA1483
Identify the effect on audiences of techniques, for example shot size, vertical camera angle and layout in picture books, advertisements and film segments


  • noting how the relationship between characters can be depicted in illustrations through: the positioning of the characters (for example facing each other or facing away from each other); the distance between them; the relative size; one character looking up (or down) at the other (power relationships); facial expressions and body gesture
  • observing how images construct a relationship with the viewer through such strategies as: direct gaze into the viewer’s eyes, inviting involvement and how close ups are more engaging than distanced images, which can suggest alienation or loneliness

1. Look at the first inside title page there is one solitary flower with the words ‘Sonam and the Silence’ written underneath. Discuss:

  • What does the single flower represent?
  • Why do you think there is a love heart drawn inside of the flower?

2. Discuss the illustration on P7:

  • Why is Sonam upside down?
  • Is it showing her hair flowing in the wind?
  • Sonam is much larger than the cars beneath her. Why is that?

3. Discuss the illustrations on P8 and 9:

  • Why has the illustrator shown Sonam walking to the right? (walking towards the house, directing our eye towards the house)
  • On P9 the old man’s house is drawn in a circle. Why is this? Does it highlight it? Does it make it seem special? Where else may you have seen this done?
  • The trees are framing the house and leaning in towards it. Does it make it feel like it is ‘nurturing’ the house? Does this make it appear safe?
  • There are birds flying on the page. This is the first time we have seen birds in the book. Why? (We’re now in a forest/ does it depict clean air?).
  • The birds are all flying in the same direction. Why is this? Is it leading our eye to the next page? Or are they flying away from the city to the forest?

4. Discuss the illustrations on P10 and 11:

  • On these pages who is drawn larger? Why do you think this is?
  • We cannot see all of the instrument on P10. Why has the illustrator done this? We don’t know the name of the instrument at this point so maybe it is trying to capture us to know more about it?
  • The birds are flying around Sonam on P11. Why is this? Is it because she is part of the forest now?

5. Discuss the illustrations on P13:

  • Sonam is drawn holding her instrument surrounded by Pomegranate trees that are leaning in towards her. Why has it been drawn this way? Does she look nurtured? The text talks about music being like a pomegranate tree, needing nurturing and love to thrive and give fruit. Does this tie in with the illustration.
  • We can’t see Sonam’s facial expression, so we don’t know how she feels, but by combining the text and the illustration, what do you think Sonam is feeling?

6. Discuss the illustrations on P14 and 15:

  • What colour are the cars and trees? Why are they black? What does it show? (scary, sad, death, smog, darkness, sorrow?)
  • There is some bright red and blue on the page. What is it an image of? It’s Sonam and the Pomegranate trees. Why is it drawn like this? Why is it in bright colours? What do bright colours allude us to think?

7. Discuss the illustrations on P16 and 17:

  • Why are the illustrations drawn in two separate circles? (focus, separation of the two places)
  • Sonam and her brother are both drawn in red. Why is this? Does red mean anger?
  • What colours are the city? What colours are the forest? Why have they been drawn this way?

8. Discuss the illustration on P18:

  • This is a very powerful illustration. Why is Sonam tied up with string? Is she really or is it just a feeling? What is the illustrator trying to show us by doing this?
  • Sonam is surrounded by Pomegranate fruit. Why? What direction are the fruit drawn? What does this allude us to believe?
  • Sonam is looking up. What do you think she is looking at? (the music leaving? Is she day dreaming?
  • Sonam’s head scarf is standing up? Why is it drawn this way? What does it make us think is happening in this two dimensional illustration? Is it like she is falling?

9. Discuss the illustrations on P20 and 21:

  • What colours has the illustrator used? Why?
  • The soldier’s mouths are drawn open. Why is this?
  • There are not just planes, but something else flying in the sky. What are they?

10. Discuss the illustrations on P22 and 23:

  • These pages are drawn in colour. Why is that?
  • Sonam’s colours stands out on this page. Why is that? Is she at the centre and a focus point for us? Do the trees once again look as though they are surrounding her?
  • How can we tell that the trees have withered and died?
  • What has happened to the birds? Why? How can we tell that they are dead?

11. Discuss the illustrations on P27:

  • The solitary flower has returned. Why do you think it is leaning in towards Sonam? Why is there are love heart in it?
  • There are pink leaves around Sonam. What direction are they going? Why do you think the illustrator has coloured them pink?
  • Sonam is sitting in a particular postion with the rubab. Why do you think she is sitting like this? What is it trying to tell us? Who else used to sit like this in the book? By cradling the instrument is she showing love for it?

12. Discuss the illustrations on P28 and 29:

  • The old man is drawn much larger than Sonam. Why is this?
  • Why are Sonam and the old man looking at one another?
  • Sonam’s clothing is drawn floating up and out. What is this telling us? Is she an angel/ angel like?

13. Discuss the illustrations on P30:

  • The flower is drawn much larger than Sonam. Why is that? Why is Sonam holding onto it?
  • The love heart is drawn large. Why is this?
  • The illustration/material shows white pomegranates. What is this telling us?
  • Sonam’s skin colour is white in this illustration, whereas all throughout the book she has had pink skin colour. The old man had white skin colour too. What is this trying to tell us?

14. Extension Activities:

  • Look at advertising material – magazines, catalogues, newspapers, online ads.
  • Discuss different aspects of them:
  • Can you find any, where the main product is in the centre to draw our eye to it. Why have they done this?
  • Look at the colours – are they used to highlight certain areas/have the reader focus on a particular area? Why have they been designed like this?
  • Look at facial expressions on advertisements of people or characters. What are they trying to tell us?
  • Which direction are the people or characters looking? Why?
  • Find an advertisement where one object is much bigger on the page. Why is this?



Content description ACAVAM107
Use and experiment with different materials, techniques, technologies and processes to make artworks


  • exploring a range of natural and man-made materials and technologies to visually express their experiences, for example, paint, pencils, ink, sand, photography and graphically
  • comparing the qualities and properties of materials such as paint, crayons, clay and found objects and select appropriate applications to represent something or someone they like
  • using techniques to demonstrate various compositional effects, for example, overlapping or crosshatching
  • following technical processes and safe practices to make artworks, for example, drawing onto Styrofoam to print on paper


Ronak Taher, the illustrator has used mixed mediums on textured backgrounds in her presentation of this book.

Explore and discuss the illustrations in the book. What materials has Taher used? Tissue paper, paint, stamping, real leaves, pencil, paint, watercolours etc.

  • Research crosshatching or have a look here:  Incorporate it into your artwork.
  • Research using tissue paper bleeding in artwork or have a look here  and here. Incorporate it into your artwork.
  • Research block printing on styrofoam or have a look here
  • Research linocut stamping or have a look here.(not recommended for younger children). Or use household items as stamps – wooden blocks, cars, vegetables etc.
  • Research any other mediums that are of interest
  • Using two or three different materials create an artwork of you surrounded by ‘love’ eg: oil pastels, tissue paper bleeding and pencil.
  • Create the same artwork again using two or three other different materials: leaves, block printing, watercolours.
  • Continue until you are satisfied with your artwork and the mediums you have used to create it.

Megan Daley Bio

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  1. […] A lyrical fable-like story about the irrepressible power of music and a young girl in Kabul during the occupation of the Taliban. Full review here. […]

  2. Isabella on Mar 27, 2020 at 1:24 pm

    A story of music at wartime, I would recommend this book to anyone over six years old. It is so heartwarming and lovely, I think everyone would enjoy it. The illustrations are breathtaking and the words are as smooth as a melody, I absolutely loved it.

  3. Pippa on Mar 30, 2020 at 12:21 pm

    I think this book is really calmful and beautiful and the illoustrations are reallt nice. I recomend this book to seven and above.

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