WOW Review: Volume XI, Issue 4

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales, cover art Dreamers
Written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Neal Porter Books and Holiday House, 2018, 40pp
ISBN: 9780823440559

In Dreamers, author Yuyi Morales tells her life story through a blending of English, Spanish, and brilliant illustrations. In 1994, Yuyi Morales left her home in Xalapa, Mexico, and came to the United States with her infant son. She left behind nearly everything she owned and all she had ever known. She spoke little English and struggled to find work. Although life was difficult, she used her strength and passion to build a life for herself and her young son. Yuyi created a home by taking her son to the library. Through the power of stories and her acquisition of English, she began to feel more at home in the U.S. Morales offers readers a unique immigrant’s tale that is ripe with themes of hope, dreams, and love. Dreamers demonstrates the power of one’s dreams and the importance of stories in building those dreams.

For this work, Yuyi Morales was awarded the 2019 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award. Dreamers was also named a New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Book of 2018. Although the words in the story are simple, readers get deeper insights into the story through the illustrations. Dreamers is an important literary work that proves picturebooks can be a medium for valuable messages and life lessons. Dreamers begins with images of Morales and her son, arms outstretched, heading towards their new beginning. After coming to America, Morales and her son add the label of “immigrante” to their identities. This is symbolized in the artwork by the crossing of a bridge. As they come to a city, Morales does not speak, disrupted by the “words unlike those of our ancestors.” Despite feelings of anxiety and homesickness, Morales discovers the magic of the public library. Using double-page spreads, Morales captures the exuberance of this discovery as she and her son experience the delight of a good story. Through literature, Morales builds a connection to her new home and realizes the power of dreams. The story shows readers that no matter where they live, they can always make themselves a new home. Another important aspect of Dreamers is the emphasis on the transformative power of literature. Through the library, Morales finds her place and builds connections with her new homeland.

One of the most engaging elements of Dreamers is the artwork created by Morales. Using Mexican fabric, metal sheets, childhood drawings, as well as leaves and plants, Morales creates multi-media artwork that blends her Mexican and American lives together. Equally vibrant and surreal, the details in the art provide readers with links between the U.S. and Mexico. Additional images pasted in by Morales provide deeper symbolism to the book. After the story concludes, Morales includes a list of books that inspired her – an addition that helps readers to continue their journey into literacy.

Dreamers would pair well with texts that similarly focus on the power of literature and discovery. Educators could incorporate Tomás and the Library Lady by Pat Mora and Raul Colón (2000), Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami and Julianna Swaney (2016), or I Am a Story by Dan Yaccarino (2016) into a unit emphasizing this theme. These books would partner well with Dreamers, not only due to their shared motif, but also because these stories emphasize diversity and multiculturalism. By sharing books that emphasize unique cultures, teachers can help students understand the universal importance of storytelling and literacy.

Yuyi Morales was born in Mexico and moved to the United States in 1994 with her husband and infant son. In the early 2000’s, Morales enrolled in a class at the University of California Berkeley that focused on writing for children. After working as an illustrator on literary projects with various authors, Morales wrote and illustrated her first book Just a Minute, which was published in 2003. She has since worked on over a dozen children’s books, as both an author and illustrator. Morales has received over 30 awards and honors for her work, including six Pura Belpré honor awards for illustration. Her books have also received the Américas Award, the California Book Award, and the Tomás Rivera Award. Morales now splits her time between the U.S. and Mexico while continuing to work on new projects.

Dreamers is available in dual language editions of Spanish and English.

Victoria Blandino, University of Texas at Arlington