Rappaport, Doreen. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. John’s Secret Dreams. Hyperion, 2004.
John Lennon forever changed the scope and impact of rock ‘n’ roll. He was a rebel from the wrong side of town who dreamed of hitting it big. Yet, as he reached the pinnacle of fame and fortune, he resented its warped confines. When he met Yoko, his life seemed to open up. He became politically engaged, and as the Vietnam War raged on, he spoke out for peace. This powerful picture-book biography by a masterful nonfiction writer and award-winning illustrator invites children to follow their own dreams. Rappaport’s spare, sometimes poetic text flows with Collier’s lively cut-paper collage and watercolor art, which, in turn, illuminates well-chosen excerpts from John’s lyrics. Eerily, the last illustration zooms in on a single lit candle, surrounded by others — so evocative of the peace tower Yoko has established in Iceland in honor of John. October 9th, John would have turned 70. Remember and imagine peace.
More Picture Books that Celebrate the Power of Imagination
Ahlberg, Allan. The Pencil. Illus. by Bruce Ingman. Candlewick, 2008. Ages 5-7. What can an energetic pencil and a perky paintbrush do? Create a fun picture book, for one. But watch out for the evil eraser!
Alarcon, Francisco X. Poems to Dream Together/Poemas Para Sonar Juntos. Lee & Low, 2005. Ages 8+. Alarcon expresses his dreams of peace, community, and hope for the future in this lively bilingual collection of poems. The rhythmic poems are fresh, simple, and original, and are enhanced with Barragan’s dreamy, bright illustrations.
Banks, Kate. Max’s Words. Farrar, 2006. Ages 6-9. Max’s brothers collect things like coins and stamps. Max decides he’ll collect words. Starting with short, ordinary words, he progresses to the more sophisticated ones he discovers in the dictionary. His brothers, intrigued by Max’s collection, move the words around to make a story, which is illustrated with Kulikov’s artwork featuring exaggerated facial expressions and odd perspectives.
Fleming, Candace. Clever Jack Takes the Cake. illus. by G. Brian Karas. Random/Schwartz & Wade Bks., 2010. Resourceful Jack bakes a beautiful cake for the princess’s 10th birthday party, but during his journey to the castle, he encounters a variety of sweet-toothed dangers. Fortunately, the princess is clever enough to appreciate his fine story. This is a delicious tale enhanced by Karas’ witty illustrations.
King, Stephen Michael. Milli, Jack, and the Dancing Cat. Penguin, 2004. Ages 5-8. Already out of print, this lively picture book is a charming celebration of creativity. Milli’s special gift is her ability to see the wild potential in ordinary objects. She can “take a straight piece of wire and give it a wiggle, or a simple square of cloth and set it dancing in the wind.” Yet, her own potential is untapped as she spends her days making the plain brown shoes the townspeople want. When Jack and the dancing cat stroll into town, they offer her dancing lessons in exchange for new boots. This initiates in Milli a newfound freedom and courage to use her creativity. Her delightfully quirky inventions, brought to life with King’s lively watercolor illustrations, will delight children.
Levine, Arthur A. The Boy Who Drew Cats: A Japanese Folktale. Illus. by Frederic Clement. Dial, 1994. Ages 8+. Strange and powerful retelling of a Japanese folktale featuring a young boy who does not seem to belong anywhere. After his mother takes him to a monastery, he angers a monk who thinks he wastes time with his drawing. The other monk, though, gives him a special farewell gift and a message that will help the boy survive a frightening night. Clement’s haunting illustrations include calligraphy that relates to the unfolding events. The folktale serves to remind us to value each person’s unique gifts.
Nesbit, E. Abridged and illus. by Inga Moore. The Book of Beasts. Candlewick, 2001. The enchantment of this 100-year-old fairy tale lives on in this gloriously playful edition. Lionel, age 6, suddenly becomes king and while in his new abode, discovers an old book in which the illustrations come alive, and wild adventures ensue. If you cannot locate this edition, the original version is in Nesbit’s Book of Dragons, a fine collection that lacks illustrations but contains much magic.
Schroeder, Alan. In Her Hands : The Story of Sculptor Augusta Savage. Lee & Low, 2009. Although the sculptor Augusta Savage figured prominently in the Harlem Renaissance, she is little known today. Schroeder’s fictional account of her childhood shows Savage playing in the red clay of her yard in Florida and later as her elders come to recognize her talent and encourage her to attend art school. An author’s note provides some interesting facts on this African American artist. Bereal’s realistic illustrations evoke the touching aspects of the story.
Shulevitz, Uri. How I Learned Geography. Farrar, 2008. Ages 8+ Has a picture book ever expressed more than this one? The Caldecott-winning illustrator mines his boyhood memories of fleeing Warsaw after the Germans invaded in 1939, The family reaches Kazakhstan, where they survive with strangers in cramped, bleak quarters. One day, Father returns from the bazaar with a huge map of the world instead of bread. The boy and his mother react with quiet rage, but soon afterwards, the boy becomes enthralled with the map, and begins to imagine life in faraway, exotic-sounding places. The illustrations burst with life and color as the boy feeds on his imagination. Use this picture book to entertain and to inspire, but also to enhance students’ interest in geography … their understanding of immigration and war … and, perhaps most of all, to illustrate the power of the imagination to sustain the soul.
Whitman, Walt. Illus. by Susan Roth. Nothing but Miracles: From Leaves of Grass. National Geographic, 2003. Whitman relishes the simple pleasures in nature, on city streets, and at home in his poem, enlivened for children by Roth’s bright, whimsical collages.
Wood, Douglas. Nothing to Do. Penguin, 2006. What to do when you have nothing on your calendar? “I have heard . . . wonderful stories about taking off your shoes and walking through green grass. . . . Or making toy ships . . . and sailing them across a puddle.” This unusual story celebrates the time and freedom to wonder, to create, to slow down enough to appreciate the world’s small beauties. Halperin’s mixed-media illustrations, featuring images of children hiking, sipping lemonade, and building a fort, evoke the story’s free-wheeling spirit.