This autobiography in free verse tells readers about a young boy – the author – who imagined all that he could do in life. Eventually his dreams came true, as he became the first Chicano Poet Laureate of the United States in 2015.
The format is somewhat unusual. Each stanza in the two-page spreads begins with “If I,” and ends with the prompt “imagine.” For example, he writes:
“If I moved to the winding city
Of tall, bending buildings
To a new concrete school
I had never seen,
“If I opened
My classroom’s wooden door
Not knowing how to read
Or speak in English,
“If I grabbed a handful
I had never heard and
Sprinkled them over a paragraph
So I could write
A magnificent story,
He ends his story, finally an older man:
“If I stood up
Wearing a robe
In front of my familia and many more
On the high steps
Of the Library of Congress
In Washington, D.C., and
Read out loud and signed
My poetry book
Like this –
Poet Laureate of the United States of America
Imagine what you could do.”
Juan Felipe Herrera never once mentions how hard his journey must have been, first as the young boy of migrant worker parents, then coming to a city where he didn’t speak the language, then learning how to use that new language so well that he was named Poet Laureate. For him, or for this story at any rate, it was all a matter of imagining what you could do.
The illustrator, Lauren Castillo, uses an interesting technique of ink and foam monoprint to render warm depictions of a boy who dreams and works hard to turn those dreams into reality.
Evaluation: Herrera not only tells a compelling story. His medium conveys a similar message: don’t be constrained by formula or circumstance; take risks; and be creative. Readers will also get another message: never stop working toward a better self – who knows how much you can achieve unless you try?
Published by Candlewick Press, 2018