The unbreakable, lifelong bond between parent and child is at the heart of I’ll Meet You in Your Dreams, a new picture book written by Jessica Young and illustrated by Rafael López. Released today by Little, Brown, this lyrical story follows the parallel journeys of a boy and his mother and a girl and her father as each child grows from baby to adult. López’s vibrantly hued, luminous mixed-media art glides between actual and imagined happenings, visually reaffirming the narrative’s message that parental love transcends boundaries of space and time. This is the first collaboration between Young, author of My Blue Is Happy and A Wish Is a Seed; and López, whose recent picture books include Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor, and Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln by Margarita Engle. PW spoke with López about his latest picture book project.
What drew you into I’ll Meet You in Your Dreams and inspired you to illustrate it?
I really had a strong personal reaction to the manuscript. I have a wonderful, deep connection to my mother, who is my hero and role model. She was an architect in Mexico at a time when there were mostly just male architects in that country. When she told my grandfather that she wanted to become an architect, he said that the family couldn’t afford it, and she told him that she’d make it happen. And she did. She is now in her 80s and is still quite the party girl and refuses to slow down! I immediately saw the mother-child connection in Jessica’s story, but I didn’t want the illustrations to be confined to only that relationship.
Was it challenging to find a way to portray the characters in such a way that readers can personalize the relationships depicted?
Yes. The challenge was to create as many versions of relationships as possible—to encompass not only mother and child and father and child, but also caretaker and child, and maybe an uncle or a grandparent and child. I was confident that I could pull it off, by showing one relationship in the foreground and another in the background on the pages—without confusing readers.
What was it about Jessica Young’s text that offered you so much creative freedom as illustrator?
Jessica is a bright star, and what appealed to me about her text is that its poeticism leaves so much to be interpreted in so many ways. I wanted to give a sense of what the characters are thinking and feeling at the moment, yet leave readers with a lot of openings, so that they can use their imaginations to make the story their own, depending on their personal experiences. I love the idea of letting kids fill in the gaps themselves to close the loop of the story.
Your artwork–from USPS postage stamps to picture books to murals—consistently features bold images, rich cultural details, and vivid palettes. To what extent did your childhood in Mexico and the time you spend there as an adult inspire those elements?
Mexico is a big inspiration to me. I grew up in Mexico City, where I was always surrounded by the colors of the markets, flowers, and fruit. And my mother and father—who was also an architect—always used lots of bright color in their work, so color is very natural to me. And I am also inspired by all the textures of buildings in Mexico, where over the centuries buildings have accumulated layer after layer of paint—so there is incredible visual texture everywhere. I like bringing that element into my books, and I create the textures by hand before blending and scanning them.
You also bring graphic whimsy to I’ll Meet You in Your Dreams by alternating between realism and fantasy, as when parent and child morph into mole and mouse to scurry into a hole to take refuge from the rain. What inspired that conceit?
Andrea Spooner, our editor, art director Saho Fujii, Jessica, and I came up with the idea of flipping back and forth from reality to fantasy, and it was a bit of a challenge to maintain a consistency in the storyline. There is always an element, a visual clue, that carries over between the realistic and the fantastical scenes. For example, the father holds an umbrella as he walks with his daughter, and on the following page the two become animals and that same umbrella shields them as it rains. And a mother and son suddenly assume the identities of a knight and horse, flying through the air toward a castle. On the following page, the two are human again, and the top of the castle has become the peak of a mountain.
Pulling this together was very much a collaboration. I would throw out an idea to Andrea, who would then pass it along to Jessica, and together we figured out what worked and what was not necessary to include. Keeping the continuity was a real challenge. And there were also so many details to pay attention to in the timeline, to show the passage of time in a day and in the characters as they get older. At times I did not sleep much, but I love challenges, and I think we pulled it off. I always get pretty nervous when a book is about to be published, but so far so good!
I’ll Meet You in Your Dreams by Jessica Young, illus. by Rafael López. Little, Brown, $17.99 Mar. ISBN 978-0-316-45328-8