Since childhood, summer has always taken me to the lake. It’s my family’s happy place. So every year around this time, my heart yearns to be next to and on the water.
There’s something magical about a lazy summer boat ride, in particular. The hum of the motor silences chatter and invites the mind to wander. As eyes journey from cloud, to horizon, to crashing wave, life is held at bay… for a little while. I’ve written many poems and songs while sitting in the back of our family boat. It’s so freeing to speak and sing ideas into the loud, rushing wind.
Being surrounded by water in this way gives me a lost-yet-found feeling. A portal into uncharted places. An invitation to explore. The cover of IMAGINE THAT, a gorgeous new picture book by author and illustrator Jonathan D. Voss (Henry Holt and Co.), brilliantly captures this dreamy waterside wonder. Look deeply into that reflection...
IMAGINE THAT, which publishes July 16, is the second “Hoot & Olive Story.” I met Hoot and Olive last summer, when I read Voss’s first title in this series, BRAVE ENOUGH FOR TWO (2018).
I’m awfully glad that these two characters live inside of picture book adventures. Voss handles coming-of-age themes and formative childhood moments with beauty, patience and care. (It’s no wonder that Voss was chosen to illustrate WINNIE, the picture book about the bear that inspired Winnie-The-Pooh.)
BRAVE ENOUGH FOR TWO was a splendid introduction to the forever-friendship of Hoot and Olive, but it’s the follow up that stole my heart. Here are three reasons why IMAGINE THAT struck such a chord with me, and why I think you’ll love it, too.
IMAGINE THAT is about best friends: Olive, a wildly creative girl, who welcomes adventure with open arms. And Hoot, a timid yet big-hearted owl, who is contemplative and a bit nervous. Everything about their opposites-attract friendship feels comfortable and timeless, especially when set in such a pleasing palette of steely blues, velvety greens and rusty reds.
The story takes place on a rainy day. Olive views the weather as an opportunity to imagine. But Hoot doesn’t share her excitement. He’s just discovered that his imagination is broken. Through creative use of scale, Voss emphasizes the dilemma, giving toys in Hoot’s midst gargantuan proportion. Even sweet summer daisies can’t bear the weight of his worry.
Olive doesn’t know how to fix Hoot’s broken “imaginator.” But she knows that pretending means seeing things that aren’t really there. So she tries igniting creativity with fresh ideas: “What if… the water gets higher than just a little and the puddles grow really big?”
Turning the page, you enter Olive’s powerful imagination. “Do you feel that?” Olive asks. The question is posed to Hoot, but the reader will feel compelled to answer. (Yes!) Raindrops strike the page. Undulating waves disrupt your equilibrium. The powerful scene is shadowed yet, in pockets, filled with sun. It’s hazy in the distance, but crystal clear and crisp up close. The dualities of the storm seem to point back to Hoot and Olive and their differences throughout the text.
Sadly, Hoot doesn’t see what Olive sees. “It’s only a puddle,” he says, then retreats into white-wrapped conversational vignettes. The loss of color and grandeur on the page is palpable. You can feel the magic slip away. But the upswing is that when imagination disappears, something else gets the spotlight: The intimacy shared between Olive and Hoot.
Olive does everything she can to jumpstart Hoot’s imagination. And Hoot really tries to mend it. But nothing works. At last they give up. With honesty, they share their disappointments: “Maybe I can’t be fixed,” Hoot says. “Or maybe you’re not really trying,” Olive returns. The next three spreads just tore me up. Not only has Hoot let himself down, but he’s let his best friend down, too. Every reader, young and old, will be able to relate to the heartbreaking layers of friendship disappointment.
Hoot and Olive’s chat, though difficult, leads to an important discovery that allows Hoot to find his way back. IMAGINE THAT hit my heart like THE POLAR EXPRESS. (I don’t care how many times I experience the Christmastime classic, I always get emotional about the boy’s search for that sound - the ringing of the bell and all that it represents.) When magic is lost, you fear you’ll never find it again.
In IMAGINE THAT, Voss leads readers tenderly through Hoot’s fear and sadness, all the way through to something that’s nothing but magical. You’ll wonder at times if your heart can handle it. It can. And it will grow and glow a bit brighter, as a result.
IMAGINE THAT is by Jonathan D. Voss, the illustrator of WINNIE: THE TRUE STORY OF THE BEAR WHO INSPIRED WINNIE-THE-POOH by Sally Walker, and author-illustrator of BRAVE ENOUGH FOR TWO (both by Henry Holt and Co.).
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