Dreamers: Yuyi Morales's 2019 BGHB Picture Book Honor Speech

Two years ago, I was in my studio and decided to write a picture book that I had been promising my editor and my agent — that I had promised myself — to write, but I was dubious. How to tell that story, from more than two decades ago, of how one day I brought my newborn baby to visit his family in the USA, and we ended up becoming immigrants? I make children’s books, and my immigrant story began when I became a mother. How could children relate to my experience as an adult? 

Charlotte, my agent, had been insisting this was the time; it is right now, she insisted, when anybody who is an immigrant should be telling their story. Elections had happened, and the USA had elected a man who ran his campaign over the backs of immigrants, calling them words meant to take away their humanity. Neal, my editor, said, “We need your story now, Yuyi.” But I was unsure that I could come up with the right words, in a story for children, to counteract the prejudice, discrimination, and hate exuding in the country. Who, me? The Mexican who still struggles to write one clear sentence in English in a whole manuscript? 

[Read Horn Book reviews of the 2019 BGHB Picture Book winners.]

That day, I went to my studio in my hometown of Xalapa, my dogs followed me down the little fog forest of my garden into my studio, my compañero Octavio sat across from me on the other end of my drawing table scribbling with old pastels on pieces of paper, and I did what I always do when I am going to work: I put on music. A song came on, and it sounded like this: 

Caminando, Caminando / Vamos caminando hacia el sol. / Caminando, Caminando / Vamos caminando hacia la libertad. Walking, walking, we walk toward the sun. Walking, walking, we walk toward freedom. 

And it was as if I had just remembered us again, my baby and me, on the journey that for many immigrants, like us, is one of walking. We walk for many reasons, like when we feel lost and we hope that if we take one more step and another, we can find our path. We also walk sometimes because we are marveling like I did on the streets of San Francisco, pushing the stroller with my son Kelly, discovering that behind some doors were: cats we could pet as they awaited adoption; artists painting everything from doors to furniture to canvases; studios where dancers practiced routines; museums where they exhibited the paintings of Frida Kahlo; and strange, suspicious, incredible, unbelievable, unimaginable public libraries. 

That afternoon in my studio, after months of doubt, I realized that my story wasn’t only my story but the story of many people, including little children like my son had been. Following the rhythm of the song, I reminisced about our steps, our struggles, the many mistakes I made — yes, I did go into a public fountain to bathe my baby — our discoveries, and our love. At the end of the day I had written the story of Dreamers, and although there was much more path to walk, I had found my first steps. 

I thank you, The Boston Globe and The Horn Book, for paying attention to the story of an immigrant. Migrant children are arriving every day with their steps, their words, their art, their voices, their dreams. May we be ready to receive these future makers of books and future Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winners, because they come telling us the stories of their beautiful humanity.

From the January/February 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. For more on the 2019 Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB19. See Yuyi Morales's May/June 2018 Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Making a Difference cover art and read Yuyi Morales Talks with Roger.

Yuyi Morales
Yuyi Morales

Yuyi Morales is the winner of a 2019 Boston Globe-Horn Book Picture Book Illustrator Honor Award for Dreamers (Holiday/Porter), for which she won the 2019 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award. She previously received a 2016 Boston Globe-Horn Book Picture Book Illustrator Honor Award for Thunder Boy Jr. (Little, Brown), and illustrated the cover of the May/June 2018 Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Making a Difference.

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Sita Davis

Oh Yuyi, I can’t ever read anything you’ve written or recorded without crying. Thank you for sharing your heart and your story with the world, and to the world for being ready to receive, honor and love it. May that love bless every step of the brave humans who make their way to a new home and life, and return the humanity to the people who have forgotten that we are all immigrants.

Posted : Jan 08, 2020 09:28


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