Two of this year’s most emotionally compelling picture books tell the story of immigrants.
Caldecott Honor-winning author and illustrator Yuyi Morales tells her own personal immigration story in Dreamers, a picture book that pays tribute to picture books themselves, as well as the libraries where they live. In Morales’ intimate, first-person narration—which unfolds from her perspective as a mother who is new to the U.S.—she addresses a baby and details in concise, eloquent language the confusion she felt in a new country and the ways in which the library opened her world. Her first library visit is described with wonder and incredulity: “Suspicious. Improbable. Unbelievable. Surprising.” She could retrieve books from a place where she didn’t need to speak—books (and here she illustrates the covers of many beloved picture books) from which she learned to read and speak English. The experience utterly changed her life forever. This place, previously “unimaginable” to her, helped her find nothing less than her own voice.
Illustrated in vivid colors, with dreamlike vistas and detailed compositions, Dreamers is a powerful, truly inspiring tale. Morales uses pen and ink, acrylics, photography from her personal collection, pages from her first handmade book and embroidery to illustrate her story, and the pictures are filled with objects in flight—bats, birds, butterflies, even a shooting star—that serve as symbols of her journey to the U.S. She paints herself wearing a backpack and in a dress of what could be flower petals or multi-colored flames with her young son in her arms or in his stroller; the two are an indelible image. A closing author’s note brings readers more details, and Morales further sings the praises of picture books and the librarians in California where she had, once upon a time, made her new home.
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera’s Imagine opens memorably: We see a boy picking chamomile flowers and whispering to “their fuzzy faces.” We watch him grow, and we discover that the boy is Herrera as a child as he recounts specific, detailed childhood memories of playing in nature, leaving his home and eventually moving to a country where his native language is not spoken. The entire text is a series of conditional sentences ending with “imagine,” the word in a larger, bolder font on each spread: “If I moved to the winding city of tall, bending buildings and skipped to a new concrete school I had never seen, imagine . . . ” A young Herrera learns English in his new school and falls in love with writing, collecting “gooey and sticky ink pens” because of the way the ink flows across the page. He writes his first poem and crafts his first song on the guitar. And then, we see Herrera as U.S. Poet Laureate, speaking at the Library of Congress in front of a large crowd. If he can start as a small, unassuming boy smelling flowers in his homeland and grow into a famous poet, he asks readers on the final spread to “imagine what you could do.”
Filled with vivid imagery (the “milky light” from the moon that shines on the boy’s blanket as he sleeps outside, the “silvery bucket” he carries for fetching water) and Lauren Castillo’s highly textured, earth-toned illustrations rendered via foam monoprint, Imagine is a tender story that is brimming with hope.