In celebration of Martin Luther King Day, and in honor of the dreams he held for his own children and for all children in America, we have an exquisite picture book to recommend, one of our favorites this year. Dream Street is a collaboration between two cousins, artist Ekua Holmes and novelist Tricia Elam Walker, who first started making books together as first graders in their Roxbury neighborhood in Boston. Holmes went on to become a Caldecott-winning illustrator and Walker a professor of creative writing, and this book is the fulfillment of their childhood dream of working together. The illustrations—stunning collages by Holmes, layered with scraps of newsprint, lace and vintage wallpaper—came first, and then Walker pieced together the story, filling Dream Street with characters they both remembered from their childhood. Their portrait of a single street in a historic Black neighborhood was lauded by The New York Times as one of the best picture books of the year.
“Welcome to Dream Street—the best street in the world!” the book opens, starting off a tour of a community where “the houses and the dreams inside are different as thumbprints.” There’s Zion, a little boy who reads “skyscraper-tall piles of books that take him on adventures around the world” and who secretly dreams of being a librarian. “Can boys be librarians?” he asks Ms. Barbara, who puts aside new books for him that she thinks will be his cup of tea. There’s Mr. Sidney, the retired mail carrier who sits on his front stoop wearing “fancy, fancy” suits, “living his dream of never having to wear a uniform again.” Yusuf always has his mother’s voice in his head, reminding him, “Don’t leave the house without your crown.” And Mr. Phillips dreams proudly of his five sons, all named for jazz musicans, becoming their own jazz band.
The cousins even included themselves in the book as two young girls named Ede and Tari, intent on creating art and stories about the people they knew from their street. “I draw a lot of my inspiration from this neighborhood of mine,” Holmes explained in an interview. “Romare Bearden said that he didn’t have to go looking for beautiful, or strange, or unusual things; all he had to do was look out of his window. I feel the same way. The magic is right around you. There are gems in your own backyard. This neighborhood has given me everything that I’ve ever needed.”
“We really wanted to write a book where children could see themselves in it, as well as know that their dreams are important,” Walker added. “So this is a place where creativity abounds, and imagination and dreams are celebrated.”
For any child nourishing a dream for their future, Dream Street is a beautiful, affirming picture book to share with them.
Here’s to Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream for our nation, “to make real the promises of democracy,” and to all the quiet, tender dreams of our children …