One of my daughters has a propensity for wildly vivid dreams which she remembers long after waking and recounts for us in all their mind-bending glory. “You have got to start drawing your dreams,” I tell her, wanting to see the trippy images associated with them.
Luckily for us, Peter Sís has remembered a particular childhood happenstance, the painful and happy emotions accompanying it, and his vividly imagined dreams of Robinson Crusoe which redeem the whole episode.
He’s called upon these colorful memories to produce an unusual, fascinating book:
Robinson, written and illustrated by Peter Sís
published in 2017 by Scholastic Press
Sís portrays himself and his cohort of friends happily and constantly playing at pirates in the neighborhoods of their youth. When costume day at school arrives, the little gang assumes they will all keep to pirate protocol, but Peter’s mom has a different, brilliant idea for him: Since Robinson Crusoe is his favorite story, why not go as that savvy fellow?
Peter loves the swell costume his mom sews, and thus is stung by his friends’ ridiculing reaction. Back home, nursing his bruised heart, he dips again into his beloved book and is carried away in feverish dreams to that tropical island where he oh-so-capably thrives. His imagination, his taking on the role of Crusoe in his dreams, buoys his spirit, renews his confidence and sense of self. Mercifully, his friends also rally round in the end, ready to adopt new storylines in their playful adventuring together.
The book is brilliant on several levels, most obviously in Sís’s extraordinary illustration work. As always with Sís, we see unusual perspectives, quaint figures, and gobs of narrative in the art itself. There are so many details to take in. Sís wields color and form marvelously to convey sunny, playful friendships, the grey prison of loneliness, and the swirling, surreal, world he imagines as he floats away into Crusoe’s story. Stunning.
I admire the honesty of Sís’s recollections, here. The sudden jarring stab of rejection is an emotion that each of us knows, even as young children. It is the lynch pin of this whole account, yet it occupies a small space among the pages so that the story as a whole is mainly one of happiness and strength. Friendship and forgiveness also play a starring role.
Of course, I love that it is his imagination and the power of story to carry us out of our immediate circumstances, give us new perspectives and vicarious victories, challenge our self-imposed identities, that bring this little boy out of his funk. The image of him reading in bed, and of that bed turning into a boat with a book for a sail, which finally morphs into an actual ship setting a course for that famous isle — what a tremendous picture!
Enjoy this book with children ages 6 and up, but don’t overlook it if there are no children in your household. It’s a lovely piece for those of us all grown up as well. Be sure to read Sís’s Author’s Note and his small note About the Art on the end pages.