Author and illustrator Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson, who received both Newbery and Caldecott recognition for their 2015 collaboration, Last Stop on Market Street, team up for a third time on Milo Imagines the World, a nuanced tale about the fallacies of first impressions.
Milo and his older sister take long monthly subway rides together, though their destination isn’t revealed until the end of the book. With notebook and pencil in hand, Milo draws the lives he imagines for the people he sees on the train. These include a “whiskered man” whom Milo sketches returning home alone to a messy apartment, a primly dressed boy and his father depicted as living in a castle and a woman in a wedding dress who celebrates a festive wedding to a man.
When he arrives at the detention facility to visit his mother, Milo sees the boy he drew on the train and realizes that “maybe you can’t really know anyone just by looking at their face.” He begins to envision different lives for the strangers than those he drew on the subway. Perhaps the woman in the wedding dress married another woman or that whiskered man went home to his loving family.
De la Peña’s prose is precise and evocative (Milo is “a shook-up soda” of nerves), full of pleasant verbs (the train “bucks back into motion”). His story respects young readers by incorporating their complex interior worlds and the observant ways they attend to issues of class. When "a crew of breakers" exits the train, for example, and "faces still follow their every move," Milo imagines that the breakers will be subjected to racist micoaggressions when they step outside the subway.
Robinson’s signature collage illustrations bring Milo and his sister’s distinct personalities to life. Milo is bespectacled and wears an eye-catching lime-colored knit hat, and his sister is deeply distracted by her phone. Milo’s own simple drawings capture his childlike sense of wonder without ever patronizing.
A thoughtfully crafted addition to the small canon of books about children with an incarcerated parent, this sweet but never saccharine story is a classic in the making.