It’s hard to create a bedtime picture book and have it stand out on bookshelves, but Nina Laden and Melissa Castrillon have done just that in If I Had a Little Dream, a soothing lullaby of a book.
A child with pony-tailed hair ponders the world and its wonders in rhyming verses. “If I had a little land,” she opens, “I would name it There. There would be my home, be it stormy be it fair.” She imagines a tiny house, which she would name Love. She’d name her garden Whole. She wonders about nature (ponds, dogs, cats), things (books, chairs, bicycles, boats) and family, including a brother and sister. All of her wishes involve camaraderie with others: If she had a table, she’d share her food. If she had a chair, she’d rest up for her next visit with friends. If she had a bicycle, she’d visit the forest and all its animals. Laden’s verses roll right off the tongue with their pleasing rhythms. The world the girl imagines is sweet and welcoming, but never cloying.
This is the picture book debut of British illustrator Castrillon. Her pencil illustrations are digitally colored in cool blues, reds and oranges. Some spreads include spot illustrations on one side, facing a larger illustration of the girl and her wish. Many round spot illustrations are surrounded by Castrillon’s elaborate borders, involving animals and leaves. Several full-bleed, double-page spreads wow with her spot-on composition and fluid lines. There’s a lot to pore over in the girl’s inviting, imaginative world.
Best of all is the final illustration, showing the girl on her bed being held by a woman—a mother, we can assume—in a loving embrace. “If I had a little dream,” Laden writes, “I would name it You. You would make life magical, where wishes do come true.” Is the girl without parents? Without a home? Maybe this is her real mother after all, and we’ve been privy to the girl’s dreams at night. Either way, it’s a beautiful moment of a parent-child bond.
This is a dreamy book, in more ways than one.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.