Saturday, July 19, 2014

I Have Heard of a Land by Joyce Carol Thomas; illustrated by Floyd Cooper (1995)

Some of my favorite kinds of picture books have text that, to the ear and in the mind's ear, have the beauty and rhythm of poetry.  Unlike other picture books, careful thought goes into this text, what it sounds like both read aloud and in your head.  I Have Heard of a Land has that beautiful rhythm and cadence.  It's written in the voice of a pioneer woman to be, a woman who sounds both hopeful and doleful, clearly in another place of some sadness, dreaming of a place where she can be happy and free.  "I have a heard of a land," she writes:

Where the pioneer woman still lives
her possibilities reach as far
As her eyes can see
And as far as our imagination
Can carry us."

That's a good place to dream about.

Floyd Cooper's illustrations were winners of a Coretta Scott King in 1999.  The oil wash technique perfectly captures the color of hope for the future while mourning the present, and give the illustrations the dreamlike quality that matches the tone of the poem perfectly.

I Have Heard of a LandI Have Heard of a Land by Joyce Carol Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A picture book with poetic text, the words, rhythm and cadence expressing a woman's visions and dreams of a new world, with shadows of mourning for her present existence. Based on the author's family history of emigrating to Oklahoma during the land rush days.    Floyd Cooper's award winning illustrations in oil wash perfectly illustrate a dream of things to come, with a color palette that mixes the hope with a sense of mournfulness.  The pioneer woman's face and stance remain strong on every page though, underlying the last words:

I have heard of a land
Where the pioneer woman still lives
her possibilities reach as far
As her eyes can see
And as far as our imagination
Can carry us.

That exact pioneer world may not exist, but the ideas and ideals of building a new world, I hope that still stirs hearts and minds.  We need it now more than ever.


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