This bright, uplifting book is full of things that really matter – stories to fire the heart, quiet moments of empathy and perception, the power of poetry to express our feelings and the joy of finding one’s own voice. ‘We all have songs to sing and we will sing them when we choose…’
When you’re small and anxious, like the narrator of this story, sometimes your voice completely disappears. The start of a new school year, for example, can be particularly daunting. How wonderful, then, to discover the excitement – and challenge – of a teacher like Miss Flotsam!
Exploding into the classroom in a ‘flutter of fabric filled / with the spice of colour’, Miss Flotsam commands every child’s attention. But it isn’t all larger-than-life performances and razzmatazz – there’s a reflective side to Miss Flotsam, who notices what individual children need and delivers it quietly and effectively. The magic she sets in motion doesn’t happen all at once – there are stories involved, and a poem that emerges, cautiously. But with time and bravery, the door unlocks.
‘The words of my poem / are streaming out of me, / riding my voice, / filling the classroom…’
Like other artforms, poetry has the power to reach children whose voices are rarely (or never) heard, and this book captures something of that excitement. The challenge of speaking out in public for the first time is given the space it needs – from an image of the child realising that her voice is getting ready to be heard, through spreads showing her battling against winds and up mountains until she’s standing on a cliff-edge, to the triumphant image where she finally speaks out.
Allison Colpoys’ expressive artwork flows across the pages, drawing us into Miss Flotsam’s warm-hearted (and wonderfully diverse) classroom, and helping us to feel at home. Her summery palette captures the vitality and allure of Miss Flotsam’s stories and works with the text to create a mounting sense of optimism – look for the peachy line and watch it become a pastel rainbow as our narrator finds her voice!
Joseph Coelho’s blank verse text has an appealing sense of immediacy and invites its own performance. In keeping with a book about the power of words (and a story told by a budding poet) events and feelings are described in ways that create pictures in our minds. When she’s angry, for example, Miss Flotsam’s eyes ‘turn thunder into summer rain’ and when invited to read her poem, our narrator’s awakening voice reminds her of ‘the first chirp of morning birdsong, like a key clicking in a lock…’
My Beautiful Voice is a nuanced, perceptive and a realistic story about feelings and experiences that children will recognize and to which they will relate, and reflects Coelho’s extensive experience of working as a poet in schools. It will strike a chord with those who struggle to speak out as well as prompting insight and empathy in those who don’t, and offers a rich source of inspiration for creative writing activities with a wide age-range.