Seen and Not Heard


  • Seen and Not Heard
  • written and illustrated by Katie May Green
  • published by Candlewick Press (2015)
  • Roar Score: 3/5

Here’s a book that’s perfect for Halloween without being too scary. It is a picture book, after all. But it’s a picture book that begins like this: “In a big old house, up creaky stairs, in a silent little nursery fulls of dolls and teddy bears, you’ll find the children of Shiverhawk Hall. They’re children in pictures on the wall – seen and not heard.”

What a fantastic setup for this slightly spooky story that got banned from my 4-year-old’s bedroom for being “too creepy.”

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In fact, Seen and Not Heard by Katie May Green isn’t really scary at all. It’s about a collection of children’s portraits on the wall, and the children in those paintings come alive at night and run riot around the house.

I will admit that the book ticks off all the right boxes to establish a totally creeptastic story. It’s got a big, spooky house. It has inanimate objects coming to life. It has creepy Victorian kids. But the story is essentially about a bunch of kids having fun and doing things they’re usually told not to do (e.g., jumping on beds and running in hallways).

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The art adds another perfect October ingredient since the colors are all muted, and the children – even though they’re mostly all smiles and giggles – are still a little “off.” Especially those DeVillechild twins (from the cover). They’re almost totally expressionless and straight out of a Japanese horror movie.

The book establishes an interesting “what if?” scenario that kids might find interesting. What were kids in old paintings really like? What if you were trapped inside a painting for hundreds of years; what would you do once you got out?

But the ultimate message of the book still seems to be that children should stay “still and sweet and good . . . seen and not heard.” It’s a bit of an odd message for 2015, to be sure, but there’s not much to lead kids to think the book or the narrator is actually suggesting otherwise.

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(Disclosure: Candlewick Press provided a review copy of this book. All opinions remain my own.)

Jamie is a publishing/book nerd who makes a living by wrangling words together into some sense of coherence. He's the founder and owner of The Roarbots and also a contributor to Syfy Wire,, and GeekDad. On top of that, he hosts The Great Big Beautiful Podcast, which celebrates creativity in popular culture, science, and technology by talking to a wide variety of people who contribute to it.

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