From the moment you lay eyes on Imagine's cover picture of a barefoot boy in overalls gazing at a sparkling yellow moon, you know you have stumbled onto something extra special. In lines as poetic as narrative, Joan Felipe Herrera tells the story of his life from the time when he "picked chamomile flowers as a child in the windy fields and whispered to their fuzzy faces" to the day he became the 51st United States Poet Laureate. Each vignette from his life — letting tadpoles swim across his hands, helping Mamá feed the hopping chickens, opening a classroom's wooden door without knowing how to read or speak in English, writing a poem on a skinny paper pad as he walked home from school — is accompanied by an invitation: "imagine."
The effect is magical. Instead of viewing his life as an outsider, we imagine ourselves living this extraordinary life, following a dream which evolves by flowing past obstacles like a river around rocks. Immersed in Herrera's autobiographical account of being a son of migrant farm workers who becomes a world-renowned poet, we discover our own potential to pursue the calling of our heart. We can even imagine:
"... wearing a robe
in front of my familia and many more
on the high steps
of the LIbrary of Congress ... "
Lauren Castillo, author-illustrator of the Caldecott Honor book Nana in the City, seems to understand this story from the inside out. When she was young, the art in picture books inspired her to read and to create her own stories. She pays forward this favor by giving us vibrant, evocative illustrations that deepen Herrera's words. When he describes walking "through the evening forest at the top of a mountain with a silvery bucket to fetch water from the next town," we can see in Castillo's depiction both his fatigue and his determination, his hint of fear mingled with appreciation for the forest's elegant mystery.
The age range given for Imagine is five to nine years. But the only people to whom we would not give this book are toddlers inclined to nibble on the cover or tear the pages. Anyone old enough to respect books will find that Imagine helps restore their confidence to live their own story to the fullest.