Written and Illustrated by Raúl Colón
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2014
The plot in a nutshell: A boy draws animals and imagines himself on safari
After looking at a book about Africa, the boy draws a picture of himself walking into an African landscape. The picture gets bigger and we enter his imagination, where we see him standing at an easel and drawing an elephant who is posing for him. The elephant likes the picture and gives the boy a ride on his back over to the zebras, who also pose for him. He draws giraffes, lions, gorillas, water buffalo and hippos. He starts drawing a rhino, but then realizes the rhino is charging him, so he runs away. The boy poses for the baboons, who draw a picture of him. He says goodbye to the elephant and the drawings of him leaving get smaller until we see him back on his bed, surrounded by drawings. In the final picture, he is presenting his drawings to a class at school.
Author/illustrator Raúl Colón is telling something of an autobiographical story here, drawing on his childhood experiences with chronic asthma, in which he was often confined to bed for weeks at a time and he usually spent that time drawing. Astute observers will notice an inhaler and various medicines by the side of the boy’s bed, but it’s not a huge focus of the book, which is good, since you don’t need to have a reason to escape into your imagination. But knowing he isn’t well makes the ending, when you see him presenting his artwork to his class, even more positive.
The beautiful illustrations are done in pen and ink, watercolors, Prismacolor pencils and lithograph pencils on special grained paper and finished with an etching tool wherever he felt he needed more volume or movement. His use of color here is wonderful. The pictures of the boy in bed are done in muted colors that become more full and vibrant in the African drawings. Mr. Colón includes a note in the back of the book citing the artists who inspired him and encouraging readers to dream and draw as well.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that your imagination and talent can take you just about anywhere you want to go.