Someone Builds the Dream

I could tell from the dust jacket alone that Someone Builds the Dream, written by Lisa Wheeler, was something special. And after multiple readings, poring over Loren Long's illustrations and thinking about the text accompanying them, I still just plain love this book.


Long’s signature style, with its rich colors, careful details, and attention to diversity, is on full-hearted display here. When talking about this book with students, teachers, and friends, I have found myself describing Long’s style as fanciful realism. Given that this is not a formally recognized artistic style, here is what I mean by that: his style feels like a snapshot painted or colored in rich tones, with a hint of playfulness and magic, as if he's projecting his own special twist on reality. It is joyful and fun and filled with beauty. 


The author’s intended message in this book is that one person can dream of creating a park, a building, or a bridge — or can envision rebuilding a neglected area. They can create a design. But it takes a whole crew of skilled people, using some very impressive equipment and working very hard for a long time, to actually build that dream. In her biographical note, the author states that she grew up in a family of steel workers and welders and that she hopes we learn to admire and respect the builders and their work in this book. Thanks to Long’s superb illustrations, we do.


The "someone" who is building the dream on the book's cover is a strong-looking woman (yes!) in overalls. She is wearing a tool belt and holding a heavy wrench. She is gazing at a bridge that crosses a body of water from one forested hill to another. Likely, we assume, she was on the crew that built that bridge. Puffy clouds with a hint of pink contrast with a dreamy blue sky. The bridge crosses a body of water with green hills behind it. The stones in the pier (the columns holding up the bridge) are each drawn in delicate lines. 


The back of the dust jacket shows a cluster of construction vehicles and ant-sized people installing huge windmills next to a shimmering body of water that reflects a tangerine sunrise. If you remove the dust jacket, you see that the front and back covers show scenes of people building the bridge we just saw completed on the dust jacket. I love when the dust jacket and book cover differ: it's more art — and often more story — to enjoy. Men and women, with varying hair and skin tones, do all sorts of work to put the bridge together: welding, guiding the crane, and bringing in the next giant I-beam over to the bridge. 


The title page is an appealing array of dump trucks, earth movers, and diggers, guaranteed to make any young construction vehicle enthusiast’s heart beat faster.


The first double-page spread of the book shows a group of construction workers with a backhoe and bulldozer, looking down over a collapsing set of buildings by a river snaking through a large area of grass and trees. It is a beautiful image with a soft orange sky and some city buildings peeking over the long line of trees by the river. After this opening page, we settle into a rhythm both in text and illustration. The text is a simple rhyme to tell us the story of the designers and builders.


A page-turn gives the reader a bird's-eye view of an architect designing a building — perhaps a house. The opposite page is stark white, and the text describing what the creator is doing is centered in the middle of the page. It is an interesting choice, emphasizing the black text in such a white space. Next is a big "but…" that the author employs to lure us to the next page. This sets a pace that makes Long’s illustrations all the more brilliant.


What follows on the next page is builders getting down to the physical work of making the house. In a green field surrounded by woods, the house begins to take shape out of giant logs that are planed into boards on a large saw; a frame is built; and someone studies the plans. Equipment, tools, earth, trees, wood, metal, determined and sweaty faces, strong people: We get to see creators work, and what they are working on — what must be done to actually build the dream — comes to life in the deliciously detailed and lushly colored pages that follow. 


This pattern continues through the book — a one-page spread of a dreamer/creator and a double-page spread of the work that follows. I find this structure extremely effective. We see a bridge designed and built (the one from the dust jacket!), a stone garden walkway and fountain with stone lily pads and charming animals, the wind turbines from the book’s cover, and an amusement park roller coaster. 


In a delightful twist, the final project is an author and illustrator at work on this book. Turn the page, and we get to see the book production with all the people working behind the scenes to prepare a book for going to print. And what is being printed is our book, the one we hold in our hands. An observant reader will quickly recognize the dust jacket. Another page-turn reveals our book being read and shared with pets, at a library, at a bedtime reading with a father. This is really the final resting place of a book — in the hands of those who will read and love it.


The story comes full-circle to emphasize one last time how "a team builds a dream, a skilled, hard-working crew." The final illustration, again an expansive double-page spread, is back on the hillside looking down at the river snaking through the grassland on the edge of a city. Time has passed. Now it is autumn and many of the trees between the city and the grass and river are rust and gold. This formerly neglected place is now a beautiful park with walking paths, playgrounds, a soccer pitch, and a gondola. In the foreground a child on their bike is getting ready to zoom past us and down into this space, created with such hard work.


Someone Builds the Dream is peopled with such satisfying diversity on every page: the artists and creators; the people building the dreams; and the children who benefit from what is built or created or published. We have diversity in gender, skin color, ability, and religion — all included in the most seamless way. The way Long draws faces with such personality and uniqueness may be my favorite thing about his work, but then I start thinking about the depth and subtlety of his palette, his expansive panorama views, and all the engaging details he includes in his art — and it is too difficult to say for sure which rises to the top for me.


And I found that the children with whom I shared this book responded to all the details regarding what goes on in the construction process. They noticed things I didn't. They soaked up the information and talked about it long afterwards.  I will not look at a bridge or park or roller coaster or book the same way again. I think these children — and other readers — will feel the same. And that may be the best part.


No matter what happens this year with the Caldecott awards, we have this book, its message, and its art. It is a gift to us all.


[Read the Horn Book Magazine review of Someone Builds the Dream here.]

Allison Grover Khoury
Allison Grover Khoury

Allison Grover Khoury is a librarian at Wish Charter School in Los Angeles. 

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Martha Parravano

Thanks so much for this excellent post on a truly innovative book that is as carefully constructed as its topic. The way the layout uses white space on the pages where the individual dreamers (so to speak) are working in isolation versus the full-bleed, full-color spreads of the teams of dream builders -- it's so effective. And my goodness, the sheer vigor of Long's art. But as you say, it's hard to choose what I like best about it. 

Posted : Oct 07, 2021 12:24

Bruce Grover

Wow -- can't wait to get this book. What a wonderful, insightful review. I'm grateful to all involved in Calling Caldecott for helping us find great books for our little ones.

Posted : Oct 04, 2021 04:18

Kitty Daley

I love it when a review makes a book come alive! Especially picture books.

Posted : Oct 04, 2021 03:54



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