Dream Boats

Where do children go when they close their eyes to sleep?

They step onto their dreamboats and sail toward adventure.

From Marco in the Andes floating through the constellations, to Kaia paddling along the shores of Haida Gwaii with Eagle, Orca and Grizzly Bear, to Ivan sailing into St. Petersburg, then sneaking between the bony legs of Baba Yaga, stories and memories lead them on.

Dream Boats takes readers into the dreams of children around the world, dreams that are filled with family and legends, culture and love. Written in lyrical prose by Dan Bar-el with gorgeous art by Kirsti Anne Wakelin, this is a book to be treasured by generations of dreamers. – [X]

I am going to be honest here and admit that if I had not already known how beautiful this picturebook is, I’m not sure I would have picked it up while only aware of the Goodreads summary- which, coincidentally, does not even begin to touch upon how lovely the words and the artwork are together. (The answer is perfectly. The words and the artwork are perfectly lovely together.)

Since it is the art and the design that first drew my eyes, I think I will start there for this review. The design for Dream Boats by Dan Bar-el (the writer) and Kristi Anne Wakelin (the illustrator) is one of my favourites for a picturebook. Why? Well, the answer is simple (I tell you, it does not take much to please me)- there is no dust jacket. The hardbound cover, filled in from corner to corner with a magical selection of bright and contrasting colours framing a simple, elegant title, is what we get.

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Is this the preference of a crazy person? I suppose if you are reading to a child (or children), this may not be ideal, but I think it’s quite perfect for someone older, someone who wishes to hold this piece of art in their own hands. I mean, dust jackets are always slipping off and making it harder to flip through the page. And then you’d have to take them off out of irritation and they proceed to flop, unseen, to that black hole in your room. You know, the one that serves as a portal to distant lands for unwanted dust jackets and lonely socks. Okay. Fine. Further to my seemingly random love for hardbound books without dust jackets, I also adore the end pages for this book . It is an illustration of how kids may make their own dream boats. The first half of the instructions are presented at the beginning of the book, and the rest comes once you’re finished reading and delighting in the words and pictures.

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And oh, yes, speaking of the pictures: They. Are. Incredible.

As the summary suggests, this is about what happens when children around the world go to sleep and enter their respective dream worlds. This demands that the illustration give us a certain sense of whimsy. (Check.)

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And since the words pay particular attention to cultural histories, it also requires a fair deal of research on clothing, popular/mythical figures, and the like. (Check.)

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Oh, and just to rub it in my non-arts-y face, the pictures ought to pick the perfect palette for every page. (Check.)

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If I didn’t love the art for this book in a near-reverential way, I would probably call it obnoxious. Obnoxiously good, that is.

The words, as I have mentioned above, match the illustrations in their gorgeousness. There are two narratives that occur within the story. The first, given to us in italics and interspersed within the second narrative, is a sort of free-verse poem about dream boats and the fantastical nature of dreams. These are the parts that have my favourite lines actually-

Dream Boats weave streams into oceans and stories into blankets.

Dream Boats braid magic with Mondays and wishes with tears.

Dream Boats carry the oldest maps.

Sigh. Braiding magic with Mondays. (No, but really, I literally stopped and sighed over that line when I was reading Dream Boats for the first time.) The second narrative is the main one, describing the adventures of all these kids in their dreams, but really it’s an interesting way to introduce cultural histories to all kinds of readers. For instance, we have, Maiqui’s dream that involves the “Mighty Viracocha”. The pictures and the words hint at who these figures are and what they do, and you can always keep going with the story-

Maiqui rows across cold waters. High in the Andes Mountains, it is night. But it is not dark. Mighty Viraccocha, maker of light, reaches into the shimmering lake. He tosses up stars that paint the sky with constellations.

However, should your curiosity get the better of you, you also have the option of flipping to the back and checking out that graciously provided glossary. That way, you know that Viracocha is “A powerful Inca god believed to have created the sun, moon and stars.” You may be taken out of the narrative for a brief moment, but on the plus-side, you have a starting point to research Viracocha if that’s the kind of thing you want to know more about.

Basically, it’s just a great picturebook experience. Unconventional, one might say, since it is not the usual plot-driven story with a funny twist at the end, but a positive kind of unconventional nonetheless. It’s protagonist is dream, and the dream boats serve as vehicles to interact with different kinds of peoples, their beliefs, and their journeys. That we receive this book (and books of great heart like this one) in our waking hours is, I think, significant- our stories can span worlds, and hopefully so can our friendships.