Transforming a well-known poem into a picture book is precarious work—even more so when you’re dealing with the words of an American icon. It seems an all but impossible task to ensure such a book would appeal to readers of all ages, but Miyares does just this with his reworking of Langston Hughes’ classic poem “Dream Variations,” first published in 1926.
With its eye-catching watercolors and picture book format, That Is My Dream! offers a new generation easy entrée to one of America’s seminal poets. But, as a work of recontextualization, That Is My Dream! speaks in a voice not wholly Hughes’ own. The words have not changed; the telltale rhythms and rhymes remain. But the tenor has shifted, if only subtly.
Though visually intriguing, Miyares’ deft brushwork presents a fairly conservative take on Hughes’ original. Rather than emphasizing resonances between Hughes’ dream of racial equality and acceptance and the dreams of modern-day minorities, Miyares draws the reader’s gaze backward toward historical oppressions—African-Americans forced to the back of a bus, relegated to “Colored Only” water fountains. Further, its presentation of a stereotypical family, headed by a man and woman, all but erases the original poem’s subtle nod toward living in the closet, a particularly interesting decision given the long-running debate around Hughes’ sexuality.
For all its political trepidation, That Is My Dream! is an engaging work, both verbally and visually. And, like Hughes’ best poems, it offers readers a glimpse into the heart of one whose dreams of equality and acceptance were deferred, time and time again.