Two Illustrated Books on Fantasy, Assumptions, and Imagination

I read two picture books a while ago: one about the imagination and another about a fantastic adventure. The first, Milo Imagines the World, is about a boy using his imagination to understand the world and how diverse and complicated it can be. It’s not easy, he realizes, to assume what a person’s life is like just by looking at them. The second book, Grand Isle, is about a pair of siblings who venture on a grand adventure at the beach. I enjoyed both.

Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Peña, illus. by Christian Robinson







From Goodreads

Milo is on a long subway ride with his older sister. To pass the time, he studies the faces around him and makes pictures of their lives. There’s the whiskered man with the crossword puzzle; Milo imagines him playing solitaire in a cluttered apartment full of pets. There’s the wedding-dressed woman with a little dog peeking out of her handbag; Milo imagines her in a grand cathedral ceremony. And then there’s the boy in the suit with the bright white sneakers; Milo imagines him arriving home to a castle with a drawbridge and a butler. But when the boy in the suit gets off on the same stop as Milo — walking the same path, going to the exact same place — Milo realizes that you can’t really know anyone just by looking at them. (Goodreads)

My thoughts

Milo Imagines the World was a quick favorite for me. I picked it up from a bookshop in Manhattan on one of my many trips this year to visit family in NYC (to make up for not seeing them in 2020) and began reading almost immediately.

It’s about a boy named Milo riding what looks like a New York City subway train with his sister to visit their mother. While on the train, Milo draws what he imagines the lives of the people he sees to be like. Later, when he and his sister get to their destination, Milo’s observation of a fellow passenger, another boy, makes him realize that it isn’t easy to assume what a person’s life is like based only on the person’s appearance.

I think it’s a sweet and subtle way to discuss the assumptions we make about people we see and how certain biases and stereotypes affect what we assume of people. I also like that in addition to discussing such an important topic, the story also focuses on art and imagination because Milo uses art — drawing people with crayons — and his imagination to understand the world. I think the story shows how important art and imagination are to people’s development, especially children.

I also like how descriptive de la Peña’s writing is. Certain descriptions stuck with me as I read, like the “tired train” clattering down the tracks that quiets into a “screech of steel.”


Another thing I like is that the story focuses on a family that has an incarcerated parent but doesn’t make that fact the center of the story or portrays it negatively. We do not learn of this until the very end. Milo and his sister make monthly visits to their mom, who is incarcerated. We do not know why his mom is incarcerated because the story is about the warmth and love Milo has for his mom and the anticipation and excitement he feels about seeing his mom and showing her a picture he drew of their family together. It’s all positive feelings here, and I loved the story for that.

Art style

Okay, so typically I wouldn’t like this art style, but it fits the story so well that I’m in love with it. The illustrations were created using acrylic paint, collage, and some digital manipulation. There is a simplicity to them that fits the story well because it emphasizes that the story is from Milo’s perspective. But there’s a lot of vibrancy and life to the illustrations as well. They captured well the areas they depict, like the 42nd Street stop with the street performers playing music, and when the girls started breakdancing on the train, or “walking up walls” as Milo describes them, which is one of my favorite scenes in the book.

I also like that we see some of the drawings in Milo’s sketchbook. I thought that was a nice touch. They are simple and childish but because of the overall style of the picture book, I think it flows smoothly from showing us what Milo is experiencing and what he’s drawing. I think Robinson did a great job with this. His artwork was perfect for bringing this story to life.

Overall: ★★★★★

This was such a great read for me that I gave it 5 stars and marked it a favorite. I think it’s a well-told story accompanied by illustrations that pair well with it, and I highly recommend it too.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

It’s worth having on your shelves.

If you like this, you might like…

The Way Home in the Night by Akiko Miyakoshi (illus.), transl. from the Japanese by Kids Can Press

It’s a children’s picture book about a sleepy little bunny heading home in its mom’s arms. The bunny imagines how the animals in the homes it passes are winding down for the night and preparing for bed.

Grand Isle by Kate Samworth (illus.)







From Goodreads

In this wordless story, an ordinary day at the beach transforms into an unforgettable adventure.

When two sisters wander the shore on their family beach outing in search of seashells, smooth pebbles, and other sandy treasures, they discover a gigantic seed pod large enough to hold them afloat. Unable to resist, they climb aboard, and before they know it are swept across the ocean to a mysterious island populated by marvelous vegetation and outsized insects. As they explore, their vessel is carried back out to sea, and they are stranded on the grand isle. Curiosity has led them far from home and only an act of daring and resourcefulness will bring them back.

This wordless adventure leads the audience through a richly imagined land packed with spectacular flowers and foliage well suited to Willy Wonka’s botanical garden. Samworth combines the natural with the surreal in harmonious colors to create a landscape that promises new discoveries on each visit. (Goodreads)

My thoughts

(I requested and received a copy of this picture book from the publisher, Black Sheep, which is an imprint of Akashic Books. But, of course, my thoughts on the book below are my honest opinions about it.)

Grand Isle is a wordless children’s picture book about two sisters spending the day at the beach with their parents. The girls spend some time building a sand castle before deciding to further explore the beach, where they find a gigantic seed pod that they use as a boat to sail away. The boat carries them to a fantastical island overflowing with gigantic vegetation and populated by enormous insects and animals.

While on the grand isle, the girls see huge butterflies and caterpillars, enormous Venus flytraps that could probably eat them, and plants growing fruits that resemble heads as well as very tall waving grass that look like hands. The grand isle is an amazing place but intimidating, so to get back to the beach, the innovative girls make a boat out of an egg shell to sail home.

Grand Isle was an exciting read. I like how the pace slowly picks up from the typical uneventful day at the beach to an amazing adventure on a strange island. My favorite part, though, was the end because the girls make it back to the beach and ran to their parents to animatedly tell them about the adventure they had. I completed the book wondering what their parents thought, if they were shocked or amused by the girls’ tale, or if they believed them. I think the parents most likely brushed it off as “kids and their imaginations.” Lol!

Art style

It’s good; I like it. The scenes I like the most are of the grand isle, which is vibrant and colorful because of the variety of large vegetation there. There are a lot of colors, but it’s not overpowering. However, the white feather the girls find, and the bird it goes with, stand out from everything else on the island.

I also like how everything is painted. I just wish I knew the medium used. I didn’t see it stated in the book. The end pages are lovely too with plants from the grand isle all over them.

Overall: ★★★☆☆

It was a fun read paired with colorful illustrations about a typical beach day that becomes extraordinary.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

If you like this, you might like…

Flotsam by David Wiesner (illus.)

This, too, is a wordless children’s picture book set at the beach. It’s about a boy who enjoys collecting flotsam. One day he finds a camera that shows him amazing things under the sea.

12 thoughts on “Two Illustrated Books on Fantasy, Assumptions, and Imagination

  1. I love the idea behind Milo Imagines the World. I mean, how many of us haven’t at some point made up stories about the strangers we’ve passed by?


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