Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera; illustrated by Lauren Castillo; Candlewick Press ($16.99)
Who might you be when you grow up?
Even as former U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera traces the surprising trajectory of his own life, his breathtakingly beautiful poem invites us all to dream and to imagine that even the most unlikeliest of dreams might come true.
As the son of migrant farmworkers, he picked chamomile flowers and played with tadpoles in the countryside, helped his mother feed the chickens, helped "catch the crazy turkey in the front yard of our new village," "waved adios to my amiguitos," in the family's frequent moves. "If I let the stars at night paint my blanket with milky light with shapes of hungry birds while I slept outside, imagine what you could do...." "If I walked through the evening forest at the top of a mountain with a silvery bucket to fetch water from the next town, imagine." "If I opened my classroom's wooden door not knowing how to read or speak in English, imagine."
The gorgeous illustrations "in pen and foam monoprint" by Lauren Castillo, winner of Caldecott Honors for "Nana in the City," beautifully capture the emotion and the dreamy quality of the story.
Sweep, the Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier; Amulet Books, 368 pages ($18.99) Ages 8 to 12.
This enthralling, enchanting story, set in Victorian London, combines the gritty backdrop of a Dickens tale with the strange mystery of the golem of Jewish folklore. It's a story of family, lost and found, and of the connections that can save us.
Eleven-year-old Nan Sparrow is the best climber of all the orphans, or "climbing boys," owned by the chimney sweeps of London. Taught the skill by a sweep who cared for her like a father until the day he disappeared, Nan now belongs to a nasty sweep with the evocative name of Wilkie Crudd. She's always been careful not to get stuck in a chimney, until the day she gets distracted and a rival "chimney boy" gives her the "nudge," igniting a fire that would have killed her were it not for a most surprising intervention: The lump of char given her by her sweep has come to life. She names it Charlie, and the two escape from Crudd and take up residence in the House of One Hundred Chimneys, the abandoned mansion of a sea captain. Auxier, author of "The Night Gardener," paints a vivid backdrop of Victorian London, its noisy, smelly streets, the grinding poverty, its celebrations of Guy Fawkes Day, May Day, Nan's first taste of ice cream. He uses evocative names: Toby Squall for Nan's Jewish friend, Miss Bloom for the teacher who befriends her. Most of all he endows Charlie, the creature formed of soot and ash, with a benign presence, a guardian angel who will save Nan in the end.
At one point, Nan is explaining the Nativity story and Father Christmas to Charlie: "How the baby Jesus was born in a basket and how a wicked king tried to kidnap him but then a big bearded angel named Father Christmas fought the king. And then he tossed the baby Jesus down the chimney of a girl named Mary, and that was the first Christmas present," she said. Nan had never set foot in a church, so you can forgive her for not knowing better. "Now every year in winter, Father Christmas spends one night dropping presents down the chimney of all the good boys and girls in the whole world." "Is that true or a story?" "It's in the Bible," Nan said, wiping stew from her chin. Truthfully Nan had her doubts. If there were a fat giant hopping down chimneys once a year, she would probably have spotted him...or at least heard him stomping on the roof. Chimneys were her business, after all.