Thursday, November 17, 2011


Illustrated by Rob Gonsalves

Written by Sarah L. Thomson

(Atheneum Books for Young Children, 2008)

This is a picture book in which the illustrator deservedly takes top billing. With captivating, transformative acrylic paintings, the words are completely overshadowed. In fact, I am sure that many an excited viewer will not have the patience for Sarah Thomson’s thoughtful poetry. The discoveries within the pictures are too exhilarating and, while the words complement the pictures, they will only get in the way as children want to talk about the movement within each work of art.

Indeed, the paintings require double takes—okay, triple and quadruple takes. An image of the starlit night sky peeking through snow-covered pines changes as you gaze longer. Those stars become lanterns, held by skaters who traverse across a sky which at some point becomes a frozen river. The picture will lead the viewer to exclaim, “Aha!” while the words, though beautiful, will make many scratch their heads and say, “Huh?”

Imagine a place...
...where water is solid,
light is liquid,
sky a frozen river
flowing under your feet.

It’s hard to top the simple, yet awe-inspiring imagery of the title page. On the right side, skyscrapers edge a river on a cloudy night, a few offices with lights left on in the otherwise darkened buildings. As the eye scans toward the left side of the page, the buildings become the night sky appearing through the grand archways of a palace. The office lights change to stars, clouds transform to stonework, the river mutates into a tiled floor. In a single painting, the viewer is taken from urban to rural, outside to inside. It’s enough to make one imagine a mind—how did Rob Gonsalves ever conceive this work?

Each reader will have a different painting that becomes a favorite. With sixteen images to marvel at, the effect may lose its impact during a single viewing. I suggest that encore viewings begin and end in different places. Start at the back of the book or randomly open somewhere in the middle. Leave out the words and study the image.

After viewing this book at the beginning of the day, my drive to work changed. I saw clouds as snow-covered mountains, water as sky. And that’s the ultimate beauty of Imagine a Place. Gonsalves inspires all of us to perceive things in a different light. What a gift!

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