Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

With The Eyes Of Your Mind

It is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality.

This gift given to each of us is heartily embraced by children every single day.  In their minds, there is much more than meets the eye.  They see beyond what is and wonder about what can be.

Time and time again, their astounding ability to think beyond borders compels adults around them to realign their own reflections and directions.  Milo Imagines the World (Putnam, G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, February 2, 2021) written by Matt de la Pena with pictures by Christian Robinson is greater than a ride on a subway.  It's an exploration of first impressions and a reexamination of those very perceptions.

What begins as a slow, distant glow
grows and grows.
into a tired train that clatters down the tracks.

Once the subway train comes to a halt, Milo and his older sister board and find seats.  He first notices a man with whiskers, a businessman, and a woman wearing a wedding dress with a small dog.  When he takes this monthly Sunday trip, Milo finds himself a bundle of mixed emotions.  To settle himself, Milo draws about the people he sees.

After the man with whiskers exits, Milo sketches his evening spent with cats, escaping parakeets, and a supper of soup.  His sister is not impressed with his pictorial musings.  At the next stop a suit-wearing boy steps through the doors with his father.  His shoes, looking like they were just taken out of a box, are noticed by Milo.

Milo presents on paper a life of royalty for the boy.  For the woman in the wedding dress with her small dog, he imagines a high-flying departure for the newly wedded husband and wife.  Again, his sister ignores his artwork preferring to focus on a game on her phone.  A troupe of break dancers briefly capture everyone's attention.  What are their lives really like?  What do other travelers on the train think about Milo?

At their stop Milo and his sister leave the platform, making their way to an imposing building.  The suit-wearing boy with his father is there, too.  Together they all wait in a long line.  It is during this waiting; Milo comes to a profound understanding.  In that moment, Milo mentally redraws all his pictures.  Milo's bundle of mixed emotions settles on one, happiness, as he shows the best drawing to the person he and his sister came to see, his mom.

Each description of Milo's observations and his imagined scenarios for the people on the subway train written by Matt de la Pena are beautifully lyrical.  His selection of words, adjectives and verbs, and use of figures of speech are adept and full of sensory awareness.  We have no idea of the destination for Milo and his sister until near the end of the narrative.  This makes the realization moving, as readers recognize the veracity of Milo's life.  His mother is incarcerated.  Here is a passage.

The wedding-dressed woman near the far door
has a face made out of light,
while the dog peeking out of her handbag has no face at all,
just a long, lolling tongue.

For the front and back of the dust jacket, artist Christian Robinson fashions very real portraits of Milo on the front and his older sister on the back.  Milo looks toward the right and his sister looks toward the left.  The inclusion of childlike drawings in crayon and colored pencil informs us of Milo's skill and his imagination.  There is a blend of realism and joyful fantasy.  There is something completely endearing about Milo's knitted hat with the hand-lettering of his name in the title.  The title text is varnished on matte-finished paper.  

On the book case is a depiction of the subway train, extending on either side of the spine which is one of the steel pillars in the station.  Among the authentic depictions of the passengers are inventive drawings made by Milo's mind.  A deep-sea diver is exiting the train as fish swim around them.  Like the dust jacket, the canvas is white.  The opening and closing endpapers mirror the design and color of Milo's hat.  For the two-page image for the title page, we see on the left drawings by Milo as he and his sister go down the stairs to the train on the right.  

These illustrations rendered

with acrylic paint, collage, and a bit of digital manipulation

all span two pages with the exception of six single-page pictures providing a pause in the pacing and highlight a shift in the narrative. They are a mix of reality and the spiral-bound notebook pages belonging to Milo.  Readers feel as though they are participants in this story through the alternating points of view.  At times we are seated in the subway train looking across the aisle at Milo and the others on his side.  Other times we move in closer to Milo's side.  And sometimes we are shown a larger view of the station.

We are distinctly aware of the facial expressions and body postures of the characters.  There are people of varying ages, walks of life, and ethnicity.  When we are viewing the pages of Milo's notebook, we sometimes see his hand steadying a page or holding a pencil as he draws.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a single-page image.  We are close to Milo, his sister, and a new passenger on the subway.  On the far left, seated, is an elderly, well-dressed gentleman carrying a cane for walking.  Between him and Milo is an empty seat with Milo's notebook and pencil placed there.  Milo has turned in his seat to look at his face in the window.  His expression is one of curiosity.  Turned away from him and studying her phone is his sister on the right.

We need this book, Milo Imagines the World words by Matt de la Pena and pictures by Christian Robinson, so readers can see their story here and other readers can comprehend their stories with compassion.  This collaboration between these two creators is exceptional.  You will want to have a copy (or more) of this title in both your personal and professional collections. 

To discover more about Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their respective websites.  Christian Robinson has interior images at this website.  Matt de la Pena has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Christian Robinson has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website is a teacher's guide and an audio sample.  You will enjoy interviews about this book at Publishers Weekly, AL DIA, and NPR Weekend Edition.

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