Sonderbooks Stand-out

Sonderbooks Book Review of


by Juan Felipe Herrera

illustrated by Lauren Castillo

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by Juan Felipe Herrera
illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Review posted August 3, 2020.
Candlewick Press, 2018. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 2, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 Children's Nonfiction Picture Books

I confess – when I first read this book at the library, I looked through it hastily and wasn’t impressed. But when the publisher sent it to my house, I gave it another look, knowing what it was, took my time, and this time was touched by its beauty.

This picture book is an illustrated poem – an autobiographical poem addressed to the reader and intended to inspire.

It’s short – I admit that it’s easy to dismiss if you don’t take your time with it and stop to look at each picture.

Juan Felipe Herrera was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2015 to 2017. This poem shows us his humble beginnings, and his journey to become a poet.

Each stanza ends with the word “imagine” and covers a double-page spread. Here are the first few stanzas:

If I picked chamomile flowers
as a child
in the windy fields and whispered
to their fuzzy faces,


If I let tadpoles
swim across my hands
in the wavy creek,


If I jumped up high
into my papi’s army truck
and left our village of farmworkers
and waved adios
to my amiguitos,


You see the boy gradually getting bigger in the pictures. The poetry also talks about his experiences:

If I moved
to the winding city
of tall, bending buildings
and skipped
to a new concrete school
I had never seen,


If I opened
my classroom’s wooden door
not knowing how to read
speak in English,


It takes him through writing stories and poetry, singing in front of people, and finally reading out of his own poetry book in front of the Library of Congress as the Poet Laureate of the United States of America.

And then, finally, the book finishes all the sentences:

imagine what you could do.

Inspiring and beautiful – and there’s also a treat under the paper cover! (The stars of the cover are embossed in gold foil on the book with the title.)