Today I’m sharing a truly beautiful book based on the true story of dancer, Lihua Tai, who has to learn to ‘hear’ music in different ways. It’s highly topical at the moment due links with the appearance of Strictly Come Dancing’s first ever hearing impaired contestant, Rose Ayling-Ellis. I’ve enjoyed sharing the stories of both dancers with children and drawing parallels.
The illustrations are gorgeous and create such a distinctive tone. I’m very lucky to be able to share a special piece by the book’s illustrations, Yu Rong, exploring her artistic process and choices for this book.
‘Based on the true story of Chinese dancer Lihua Tai, The Visible Sounds tells the uplifting tale of a young child dealing with the frustration and solitude of hearing loss. Alone in silence, the child’s life is changed forever when a chance touch unlocks a vibrant new world, now blazing with rainbows of visible sounds. It brings a message of hope and joy to children living with a disability and is an inspirational reminder that dreams can become reality.’
Colourful Sounds by Yu Rong
I received the story about MiLi last year and read it immediately. Yin Jianling’s beautiful, spare writing immediately captured my heart.
Like so many children’s, MiLi’s early childhood was happy, however, an illness took the sound away from her world when she was two-year-old. After being pronounced deaf, MiLi’s world underwent huge changes. The story reflects the kind of journey she and her parents took, and the efforts she made to regain herself and and find her own voice. I hope that this picture book will enable people who are not hearing impaired to better understand the world of millions of children like MiLi. Everybody faces life changes and challenge at some point. I hope MiLi’s story will inspire them to actively face their problems like MiLi, improving themselves, developing their own happiness and confidence so as to find ways to fly higher and further!
The way of creating this picture book has been very different from my past experiences. I read the story over and over again, trying to be at one with the character of MiLi. I would walk along the misty banks of the CamRiver in winter. I found it easier to experience some of the feeling of silence better than sound by the quiet of the river. In the studio during the day, I would use ear plugs to capture the surrounding movement without physically hearing sounds. I said to MiLi, ‘please take me into your world and share your inspiring story with me’. After a period of trying different sensory experiences, I created the first image of MiLi, a little girl dancing in a red skirt. When I saw her on the green paper, I instantly knew, this is MiLi, our MiLi! It is time!
The overall design of this book is like a stage play, deliberately dividing the protagonist’s growth experiences into three different stages through colour – falling into despair, detecting the sound, and becoming a butterfly. The three stages are not only independent of each other, but are simultaneously closely related through colour.
The pictures laid out one by one not only test everyone’s understanding and comprehension of colour, but also release my personal artistic expression, and let me re-experience life – cherishing it, respecting it! Although the world of hearing impairment is full of challenges, so many people face and explore the world again. This courage and perseverance can be difficult for people without hearing impairment to fully understand.
In the front endpaper, you can see everything from the birth of MiLi, to her first walk, her first meal, and her very first artistic endeavours. These experiences are wrapped in hopeful green and unrestrained red. With the appearance of the title page hospital scene, this happy color was instantly swallowed by darkness. Through the narrow gap in the door, readers can feel the despair of MiLi and her family. In this picture, the green that herparents represents shows they are always full of hope and caress, but the surrounding environment has completely turned into black and dark tones, until the colour orange appears. The orange colour represents the way MiLi detects sounds – the little tiger in the engine, the little monkey in the popcorn machine, and the little rabbit in the smoke of the truck. In the process of creation, I had been struggling with how to show MiLi’s perception of sound. MiLi has had the experience of hearing sound, so she has the ability to imagine it. By capturing the little tiger’s intention in Yin Jianling’s text, the inspiration for using small animals and colors to present sounds came into my mind. Engines, popcorn machines, and trucks are all objects that MiLi is familiar with, she remembers how hey sound. They are black, and the orange burst that comes from them is a special way to help MiLi detect sound.
This visual processing of sound runs through the creation of the whole book. In addition to exploring the sound of MiLi’s growth, the independent development of personality also has been traced from the details, such as the panda doll in MiLi’s hands. That doll was a comfort to MiLi when she was young, she always hugged the doll tightly in her own arms from the beginning. Slowly, she became strong and began to face the silent world around her more confidently. And then starting from when she encountered the popcorn machine, the panda doll was placed far away in the hands of her parents. In later spreads, the panda doll has disappeared. MiLi regains her voice, she looks forward to life and is delighted. At this moment, her outline looks like a beating heart, and the orange ripples around her are the flowing blood and sound waves. MiLi begins to explore her silent world wholeheartedly and proactively.
After experiencing spring, summer, autumn and winter, MiLi uses other senses to detect the sound of swallows flying, the sound of butterflies playing, the sound of little fish kissing, the sound of a fox jumping… Her world gradually changes as she learns and grows. More colours are added to the picture one by one.
The main message of the story comes to a climax. MiLi’s love and dedication to life, as well as her talents and determination, allow her to find herself through music and dance. In the final stage, she further channels the interaction between herself and the voice. The vibration of lips, sign language, and the floor allows MiLi to enter a new chapter of her life, allowing her to truly find her own stage. If you connect these three large spreads up and down, you will discover a complete MiLi at home in her own world. The colours in the picture become more and more abundant, only the letters and notes remain unchanged in orange.
The final ending is warm and passionate, a new hymn belonging to MiLi! MiLi expresses her life through dance and interprets the sounds that she feels in her‘silent world.’
When choosing a dance to show, I also considered the Tea Picking dance and Dunhuang dance… The reason for choosing the Peacock dance in the end was the colorful feathers of a peacock, perfect for reflecting MiLi’s brilliant and vibrant new world.
In the spread full of flying birds, did you notice MiLi started wearing green pants? The green of hope originally represented by MiLi’s parents, but now MiLi has gained spiritual independence. She has broken through the cocoon and turned into a butterfly, found her own stage, and shines on this stage.
This is a picture book that can bring a new colour experience to children, the limits of everyone’s artistic imagination. This is a re-examination of the limits of life. As long as we work hard and have the courage to overcome difficulties, we can overcome anything and liberate ourselves!
What a perfect message to end on – work hard and have courage! I urge you all to purchase yourselves a copy of this beautiful book.
*Many thanks to Uclan Publishing for sending me this title to review*