There are times when I open a new book that my pulse quickens and times when I need to be convinced. Sometimes I can sense myself sliding comfortably into the surroundings of a picture book, feeling welcomed, understanding everything about the book because it is so well crafted. That’s this book.
First off, this is an autobiography … so as a mentor text it is ideal.
Bookology has been focusing on stories of immigrants and refugees this fall and this is an excellent story to share for engaging empathy.
Most of all, it is written so lyrically, so evocatively, that you and your students will be charmed by Mr. Herrera’s story. He paints word pictures so well—and captures emotions we all share in common—that we believe in this little boy. We can imagine ourselves taking a journey like his, attaining our dreams.
“If I helped Momma feed
the hopping chickens
and catch the crazy turkey
in the front yard
of our new village,
This little boy, Juan Felipe Herrera, grows up to become the United States Poet Laureate (2015−2017) and win recognition far and wide. This is the journey he takes from a small child playing among chamomile to standing on the steps of the Library of Congress, reading his poetry to the nation. (It’s also a good mentor text for telling a life story in an understated manner, without bragging.) It is an encouraging book, a fine example of what can come true if you imagine, if you work to make your dreams come to life.
Lauren Castillo’s illustrations are at once soft and strong, using a defining black line against a warm, textured background. I found myself reaching out to touch the pages to experience the settings as they changed throughout Mr. Herrera’s life. Each illustration invited me to linger, to look at the home the boy is leaving behind, the creekbed he explores, the frequent changes in his surroundings. These illustrations provide depth and wonder and detail in all the right places.
Highly recommended. This book belongs on tables in libraries, classrooms, and homes where it can be easily picked up and read again and again.
Juan Felipe Herrera
illustrated by Lauren Castillo
Candlewick Press, 2018