imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera and
illustrated by Lauren Castillo
Review Copy from Candlewick Press
Juan Felipe Herrera, the 51st United States Poet Laureate from 2015 - 2017, takes readers on a lyrical, inspirational journey through his life, ending each stanza/page with the word, "imagine." imagine begins, "If I picked chamomile flowers / as a child / in the windy fields and whispered / to their fuzzy faces, imagine" and continues with the pattern of, "If I," starting the page and, "imagine," ending it. Castillo's sublime illustrations are poetic in their own way, sometimes dominating the page, sometimes flowing across it.
The son of migrant farm workers in California, Herrera's sparse words powerfully, yet gently, bring his life to the page, moving from one wonder to the next. From letting tadpoles swim across his hands in a wavy creek, to walking to the next town to fetch water for his family to walking the  streets of a, "winding city / of tall, bending buildings," to a new concrete school he had never seen, to learning English, imagine carries readers through changes and challenges as Herrera discovers his love of words, writing, "If I grabbed a handful / of words / I had never heard and / sprinkled them over a paragraph / so I could write / a magnificent story, / imagine." Precise and evocative, Herrera's words will make you fall in love with words the way he did. As his journey through childhood reaches into adulthood, Herrera ends his story on the "high steps of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.," where he reads his poetry and signs his book, now the Poet Laureate of the United States of America. The gorgeous final two-page spread of a full moon illuminating a desert scape reads, "imagine what you could do."

Herrera's book is both a story of a child of immigrants facing the challenges of economics and language, but it is also a story of the birth of a creative passion, one that carries him through life just as much as his childhood experiences did. By the end of the book, readers learn that they are being told this boy's life story a catalyst to create  their own amazing story.

imagine is so special, so unique, so many things, I am at a loss for words. As Paul O. Zelinsky writes in his review
of imagine for The New York Times, Its precisely chosen words create a world you have to listen to, to think about." 

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