Friday, July 17, 2020 |
Unless I type up a review within minutes of finishing a book (a vanishingly rare occurrence!), I organize my thoughts by writing them down long-hand. And then… given my current rate of production… it may take a year or two to actually convert a review to a digital version and post it on my blog. In the autumn of 2018 I had a hugely productive couple of months, reading- and review-wise, and I’m only just now starting to think about posting those reviews. Yuyi Morales’ beautiful and much-lauded picture book Dreamers was one of those titles, and today I’m finally getting around to reviewing it. While my thoughts may not be as fresh, I can say with conviction that the art has stayed with me – vivid in memory. Morales’ talent has definite staying power.

dreamers by yuyi morales cover
In 1994, Yuyi Morales left her home in Xalapa, Mexico and came to the US with her infant son. She left behind nearly everything she owned, but she didn’t come empty-handed.

She brought her strength, her work, her passion, her hopes and dreams…and her stories. Caldecott Honor artist and five-time Pura Belpré winner Yuyi Morales’s gorgeous new picture book Dreamers is about making a home in a new place. Yuyi and her son Kelly’s passage was not easy, and Yuyi spoke no English whatsoever at the time. But together, they found an unexpected, unbelievable place: the public library. There, book by book, they untangled the language of this strange new land, and learned to make their home within it.

Dreamers is a celebration of what immigrants bring with them when they leave their homes. It’s a story about family. And it’s a story to remind us that we are all dreamers, bringing our own gifts wherever we roam. Beautiful and powerful at any time but given particular urgency as the status of our own Dreamers becomes uncertain, this is a story that is both topical and timeless.

In Dreamers a mother (Morales) tells her son about her journey to the United States. She illustrates becoming an immigrant, navigating a new life and new customs, and reacting to the new, foreign world around her. While this memoir leaves out some more practical details, it’s an immigrant story made accessible for all ages. Morales trails more difficult, mature clues throughout the illustrations, and discusses what happened in some detail in the back matter in a section entitled “My Story.” But the undisputed center of the story is when mother and son encounter a library for the first time: an improbable, suspicious, and imagination-sparking place that makes all of the previous difficulties palatable and traversable.

Morales writes:
“Books became our language.
Books became our home.
Books became our lives.”

This love letter to books and libraries is accompanied by astonishingly beautiful art – the true star of the book. Morales’ mixed media art pops on each pate, and color is used as a metaphor for opening the mind (it grows as the author settles into a new life and makes discoveries). I loved the use of color, the embroidery art, and textures. Accompanying the art and exuberance over books is a back matter index of “Books that Inspired Me” if the reader wants to follow Morales’ path.

The book as a whole is very positive, and the focus is not on the hardships of the immigration journey (though they are hinted at, as I mentioned above), but the wonder of libraries and books as places and things that can act as a catalyst for creativity and take you as far as you can imagine (or farther!). Side note: this isn’t a book about DREAMers or DACA recipients. It’s an artfully told exploration of opening doors and flowering creativity after a rough transition. It would pair especially well with other books that touch on those themes such as Juana & Lucas and The Day You Begin.

In all, Dreamers is a beautiful book that will inspire fanciful art as well as deep questions and conversations. It’s more of a stare-at-the-pictures kind of book, but would also work well during storytime if combined with lots of context.

Recommended for: every picture book library, and especially for bibliophiles, no matter their age.

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