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Fantasy and Imagination

By Lesley Colabucci and Mary Napoli
 | Jun 19, 2017

In this week’s column on the theme of fantasy and imagination, we review some creative and engaging books about mythical creatures, eccentric characters, and unusual friendships. Included are stories in which readers are introduced to characters who dwell in fantasy worlds and to others whose real-world lives include imaginative elements.

Ages 48

Everywhere, Wonder. Matthew Swanson. Ill. Robbi Behr. 2017. Imprint/Macmillan. 

Everywhere, WonderIn this creative picture book, a young boy takes a journey inspired by his imagination and the worlds he discovers in books. He invites readers to observe their surroundings, advising, "You never know what you might see or where your mind might take you. So keep your eyes wide open as you go.” As he soars across faraway lands, sails vast oceans, and climbs trees, he muses about the world while reminding readers that everyone has a story to tell. Descriptive language and vibrant digital collage on watercolor-washed paper will inspire readers to wonder, to dream and perhaps to write stories of their own.


Boat of Dreams. Rogério Coelho. 2017. Tilbury House.

Boat of DreamsOriginally published in Brazil, this book introduces U.S. readers to the magnificent artwork of Rogério Coelho. An old man who lives alone at the seaside wakes up one morning to find a bottle containing a blank piece of paper. His response is to draw a boat on the paper and set the bottle afloat again. This wordless book then shifts to a city scene where a young boy receives the picture of the boat in an envelope. How are these two connected? How did the drawing get from the bottle in the ocean to the boy’s door front? Using a limited palette of sepia tones and soft blues, and a mix of double-page spreads and panel art, Coelho gives the story a surreal feel and leaves readers wondering in the best way.


Pandora. Victoria Turnbull. 2017. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

PandoraPandora is a lonely fox who makes a home out of broken and forgotten things. It is clear that Pandora knows how to show love and care for things, but when she finds an injured bluebird, she is not as confident she will be able to save him. Pandora makes a beautiful nest for the bird in a cardboard box with feathers and flowers, but can something so fragile survive among her junkyard surroundings? With brief text and soft pencil and watercolor illustrations, Pandora tells a heartfelt story of friendship and renewal.


Ages 9–11

Coyote Tales. Thomas King. Ill. Byron Eggenschwiler. 2017. Groundwood/House of Anansi.

Coyote TalesMaster storyteller Thomas King shares two tales set in a time “when animals and human beings still talked to each other.” In Coyote Sings to the Moon, an old woman and a group of forest animals sing to the moon at night. When Coyotewhose singing voice is unbearablejoins the others in singing to the moon, everyone implores him to stop. In his disappointment, Coyote shouts, “Who needs the moon anyway?” Upon hearing Coyote’s declaration, the Moon disappears into the dark abyss of the pond. Will anyone find the Moon to light the night sky? In Coyote’s New Suit, a sly raven instigates a mischievous plan at Coyote’s expense. Coyote’s sudden insecurity about his appearance sends him on a path of admiring, and then stealing, the suits of other animals. The Raven causes further mischief by suggesting to the other animals that they steal clothing from the humans, and encourages Coyote to hold a yard sale. Poor Coyote is blamed for the mess. King’s witty and inventive story lines coupled with Eggenschwiler’s funny pen-and-ink illustrations will spark readers’ imaginations.


Yours Sincerely, Giraffe.  Megumi Iwasa. Trans. Cathy Hirano. Ill. Jun Takabatake. 2017. Gecko.

Yours Sincerely, GiraffeGiraffe is bored and wants someone to join him on adventures. Upon reading a flyer from an equally bored pelican promising to “deliver anything anywhere,” Giraffe writes him a letter, hoping to find a new friend. Pelican takes Giraffe’s letter on a long journey to Whale Sea where he finds Penguin, who agrees to correspond with Giraffe. As the two pen pals exchange pleasantries and pose questions, they provide clues and tidbits about what life is like for them on their side of the world while also trying to solve the mystery of the other animal’s appearance. Translated from Japanese, this playful and imaginative early chapter book will charm readers, and maybe even spark an interest in letter writing.


The Goat. Anne Fleming. 2017. Groundwood/House of Anansi.

The GoatWhen a very shy young girl named Kid discovers that there may be a goat living on the roof of her apartment building in New York City, she sets off with her friend Will to find out if the rumor is true. They decide to survey the residents of the apartment building to get to the bottom of the mystery. Along the way, they meet Joff, a blind skateboarder and a best-selling teen author; Jonathan, who is recovering from a stroke but won’t show his wife his progress; and Kenneth P. Gill, who seems confused about whether he has hamsters or guinea pigs as pets. Mysteries unfold as these unique characters discover how they are connected by their community.


Ages 12–14

The Matchstick Castle. Keir Graff. 2017. Putnam/Penguin.

Matchstick CastleBrian would rather spend his summer anywhere but in Boring, Illinois, with his Uncle Gary, Aunt Jenny, and his standoffish cousin Nora. When Brian takes Nora’s journal, her ensuing chase to recover it leads them into the forbidden woods where they discover the towering "Matchstick Castle" and meet Cosmo van Dash and his eccentric family. Together, the three new friends outwit giant wasps and wild boars, and navigate intricate passageways to find Cosmo’s missing uncle and defend the Matchstick Castle from demolition. With a quirky cast of characters, vivid descriptions, and an adventurous plot, this engrossing page-turner is anything but boring. 


In Darkling Wood. Emma Carroll. 2017. Delacorte/Random House.

In Darkling WoodAlice is staying at her grandmother’s home while her brother is in the hospital. When she arrives, she learns of her grandmother plans to cut down the beautiful Darkling Wood, despite the objections of the community. Alice finds comfort in the woods, where she meets a friend named Flo, whom no one else can see. Alice confronts questions like, Are fairies real? Could they work magic to save their forest home? Could she save their home just by believing in them?

Ages 15+

Strange the Dreamer. Laini Taylor. 2017. Little, Brown.

Strange the DreamerOrphaned as a baby and raised by monks, Lazlo Strange grows up to become a librarian devoted to stories and fascinated by the lost city of Weep. Sarai, the daughter of a human and a god, is either cursed or gifted with the ability to enter people’s dreams. She and Lazlo meet in his dreams while he is on a journey to reclaim Weep and she is preparing to defend the citadel that has kept her safe. Broken hearts, rivalries, and vengeance drive the plot as Lazlo and Sarai are caught in the middle of an epic battle. Readers will be sympathetic to these convincing characters, charmed by the mythical setting, and absorbed by the stunning poetic language of Taylor’s fantasy.


Lesley Colabucci is an associate professor of early, middle, and exceptional education at Millersville University. She teaches classes in children’s literature at the graduate and undergraduate level. Her research interests include multicultural children’s literature and response to literature. Mary Napoli is an associate professor of Reading and Children’s Literature at Penn State Harrisburg, where she teaches both undergraduate and graduate literacy courses. 

These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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