ImagineThere 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
ISBN 978 – 0763690526

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5 years ago

My boys and I read this book this week. I agree that it’s one to read again and again.