A Window- Milo Imagines the World
Our eight-year-old son got his own library card yesterday and we celebrated it like a holiday. As he filled out the form, full of pride, he asked me what to do on the signature line. I explained it is a place to write your name in a fancy way. The bubble letters that ensued were puffy with enthusiasm. As my friend later told me- “regular letters could not contain him.”
We meandered around the library; happy to be back inside. He was giddy at the idea of taking out his own books and then told me, “pick out a book for yourself, mom. It’s my treat!” This kid knows the way to his mother’s heart. He took out three books for himself, and Milo Imagines the World for me.
This marvel is the newest picture book from the creators of Last Stop on Market Street. The story centers on Milo, a boy taking the subway to visit his mom, who is incarcerated. We see him as a small boy, with glasses and a lime green hat, sitting beside his sister, older, with a bright pink jacket. Milo sits with a notebook; his sister with her phone.
“Milo is a shook-up soda. Excitement stacked on top of worry
on top of confusion
on top of love.
To keep himself from bursting, he studies
the faces around him and makes pictures of their lives”
Milo draws pictures in his notebook of the fellow passengers he sees and the lives he imagines they live once they leave the train. He envisions the man beside him, intent on a crossword, lonely in his apartment. He draws a bride leaving the train to marry her prince. He imagines another boy on the train, in a suit and pristine Nike sneakers, living in a palace with a butler, maids, and a chef.
When he gets to the prison, he sees the boy from the train, the presumed palace dweller, is in line to see his mother, too. Suddenly Milo realizes that “maybe you can’t really know anyone just by looking at their face.” He wonders the judgements people make about him when they see his face. Perhaps the crossword puzzle man from the train has a loving family. Perhaps the bride was marrying another woman. Perhaps a white boy, in a suit with clean sneakers, has a mom that he can only see once a month as well.
Matt de la Peňa’s word choice is perfect- complex and illuminating. There is such richness to the text. While he never says outright where Milo is going, the world that Milo imagines around him aches with yearning for freedom. The heavy subject matter works as a picture book because of the masterful Christian Robinson. His collages are bright and Milo’s sketch book is whimsical. He makes the meeting room at the detention center feel light and full of love.
Back to my new card carrying member of the public library. We got into bed that night and shared our books. He could not figure out where Milo was going on the subway. He mused, “maybe he is going to see his mom. Maybe his parents are divorced, or his dad died and he lives with his grandparents.” As Milo went through the metal detectors, my son said, “maybe is he flying to see his mom?” When we see Milo’s mom, in her orange jumpsuit, in a crowded room of other women, also in orange, guards at the door, my son paused, “I don’t think I understand this. Where is he? Where is his mom? Is this a school?”
I explained that Milo’s mom is in prison, and that Milo gets to visit her once a month. My son asked why she was in jail- what did she do? I explained how we do not know, and that it does not matter, because the focus of this book is Milo and his mom. It is about realizing our first impressions of people, based on how they look or act, can be misleading.
Literacy experts stress the importance of mirrors and windows in the books we offer children. Mirrors reflect the child’s own experience; windows give the opportunity to see into someone else’s experience. Mirror books teach children to value themselves; window books teach children to value and respect everyone. My boys have read many mirrors and many windows, but I never saw a book hit my middle son like this one.
This is the power a book can have. This is the power of his new library card.
Thing Two stared at the page for a long time. He looked around his room, then back at Christian Robinson’s collage. He took in his bed, his space blanket, his mom right next to him, and he leaned in close to me. I took in my serious boy, my observer, my artist, my signer of bubble letters. “Let’s read this one more time,” he said, “I need to see some more things in it.”
- Written by Matt de la Peňa
- Illustrated by Christian Robinson
- Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Penguin Random House imprint, February 2021
- 40 pages, recommended age four and up
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