The Whisper


  • The Whisper
  • written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
  • published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2015)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

The Whisper is an absolutely beautiful ode to creativity, discovery, and wonder. The story begins with a little girl borrowing a “magical book of stories” from her teacher. On the way home, all of the words spill out of the book, leaving her with a book full of gorgeous illustrations…but no text.

After an initial bout of disappointment, she’s prompted to let her imagination free and create her own stories, for “there are never any rules, rights, or wrongs in imagining – imagining just is.”

Indeed, any fan of David Wiesner, Aaron Becker, or Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion and the Mouse knows just how powerful wordless picture books can be.

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The bulk of The Whisper includes double-page spreads from the girl’s magical book, along with the seeds of the story she imagines for each. We don’t get complete stories – just the first few lines. And sometimes the story trails off mid-sentence. With these lines as inspiration, kids can either finish the stories the girl began, or they can follow her example and imagine their own stories.

The art is phenomenal and certainly lends itself to imaginative storytelling. Each illustration is layered with various colors and images and establishes a fantastic scenario that practically begs to be put into words.

The author’s bio on the dust jacket is inspiring in itself, and I feel the need to include her quote here:

I paint as a kind of quest, to better see and understand hidden and closed parts of myself, the mysteries of life, our loves and fears. I could go on and on about my specific reasons for why I paint people the way I do . . . But what I honestly wish for the children and adults looking at my paintings is the chance to imagine the stories and reasons for themselves.

Ultimately, the book ends by revealing a clever twist on a classic Aesop fable. Art and story aside, though, the book’s true strength is in its power to inspire creative thinking and emphasize the unlimited freedom of your imagination.

In short, it’s a delightful celebration of reading and storytelling. And it certainly belongs on every kid’s bookshelf.

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(Disclosure: HMH provided me with a review copy of this book. All opinions remain y 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.