What Could Be That Loud?

Aaahhh! – written and illustrated by Guilherme Karsten, translated from the Portuguese by Eric M. B. Becker
Tapioca Stories, 2022

There could be plenty of different sources of an incredibly loud noise; children might be one of them. Guilherme Karsten’s new picture book, Aaahhh! Imagines the repercussions of one such scenario, with dazzling images that draw from contrasting influences and  techniques.  There is a method to the madness, as readers ultimately trace the chaos back to the beginning of a chain.  Each minute that elapses brings the unfolding disruption to a seemingly insignificant point. As any parent knows, children, not apparently rational adults, determine what is significant to them.

When I first opened the book, I immediately saw an homage to classic children’s book illustration, even if that homage was accidental.  Roger Duvoisin’s colorful midcentury buildings, as in The House of Four Seasons, or The Happy Lion, invite a view into the past. Yet the book is far from imitative, with digital collage combining with drawings to reflect the book’s theme of simultaneous events.  The text also mirrors that idea, as a group of people in front of a supercomputer pay careful attention as “…the piercing sound launches fierce tidal waves and rouses sleeping volcanoes.” Another scene invites participants from a nostalgic past childhood, including covered wagons and knights enroute to a joust, to join with rockets and jet planes to uncover the noisy mystery.

Other collages push the limits further, as an electric blender mixing letters of the alphabet feeds data into a printer.  There’s even a touch of steam punk, as a woman focuses an old-fashioned telescope with a disembodied eye at the opposite lens. When the disgruntled public finally learns the reason for their frustration, the young offender is calm.  On the one hand, the noise pollution has encouraged a social movement, with banners and a drum proclaiming “QUIET, PLEASE!” and “SAVE OUR EARS.” But suddenly, all the pent-up anger seems to dissolve, from the perspective of a boy whose minor trauma has come to its inevitable end.  What is wrong with everyone, he must be asking himself.  Perhaps his reaction wasn’t exaggerated at all; it’s adults who have transformed a mole hill into a massive mountain. 

Sometimes it seems as if adults and children operate in conflicting realms.  When scientists feel the need to rule out an invasion of aliens, or factories and schools close down, kids may simply be realizing their own quiet power to introduce change.  Karsten’s graphic arrangement of seemingly disparate images is a loud and colorful symphony, finally ending in a reassuring return to normal life.  This book will reward multiple readings.

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