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[Monday Reading] Portrayal of Courage and Identity through Magical Realism and Powerful Art in 2017 Illustrated Stories for Young Readers

"Boat Of Dreams" by Rogério Coelho and "Louis Undercover" by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault.

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community. 

While these stories are not necessarily biographies, they fit into the make-believe memoir or self-constructed narrative aspect of our reading theme with stories told from a first-person perspective, with a dab of magical realism and powerful imagery.


Boat Of Dreams

Created by: Rogério Coelho
Published by: Tilbury House Publishers (2017)
ISBN: 0884485285 (ISBN13: 9780884485285)Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

So this book both awed and perplexed me. Told in wordless format, this 80-paged illustrated story shows the weaving of imagination and reality through this ‘boat of dreams.’

The first few pages reveal this old man with maps and writings that surround him. He seems to be waiting for something or wishes to send a missive to someone.

Clearly, it is a solitary existence wrapped up in waiting and the anticipation of something (or someone) that is about to come. As he sends an actual message in a bottle, the contents of which is not shown to the reader, the scene shifts to that of a young boy. Whether this is a memory or also in the present moment remains unclear:

In the image above, the young boy receives a letter which he opens in anticipation, and led him to making his own markings in the letter that he received.

Readers can then speculate whether the old man is the father and the young boy his son. However, it is also perfectly plausible that the two are one and the same, as the young boy inserts his image into this boat of dreams.

As the boy drifts off into sleep, it is shown that a ‘reunion’ of sorts happens between young boy and the old man:

In the blurb written about the book, the magical realism aspect of the narrative, commonly attributed to South American authors (Rogerio Coelho from Brazil, included), can be clearly discerned:

How does a boy come to live alone in an apparently deserted city? Are
they separated by distance or by time? Does the man dream the boy? Does
the boy dream the man? Is a blank paper in a floating bottle an
invitation to imagine our futures? Is the man’s flying boat an
encouragement to the boy to dream? Are the man and the boy the same
person—the boy dwelling in the man’s memory? Is a message in a bottle
the earthbound dreams of the elderly? Is a flying boat the unconstrained
dreams of the young? This wordless, many-layered 80-page picture book
invites all these interpretations and more. 

This is a gem of a book that does encourage multiple readings. I guarantee you’d find something new each time you open the book.


Louis Undercover

Written by: Fanny Britt Illustrated by: Isabelle Arsenault
Published by: Groundwood Books (2017, first published 2016)
ISBN: 1554988594 (ISBN13: 9781554988594)Book was borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

I originally wanted to pair this illustrated 160-paged story (kind of like an amalgam between a graphic novel and a sophisticated picturebook) with another story created by both Britt and Arsenault:

However, I can not find Jane, The Fox and Me any longer in our public libraries (sometimes that happens). Regardless, there are parallels to both stories, as they tackle heavy going themes. While Jane, The Fox and Me deals with body-image issues and bullying, Louis Undercover deals with two siblings who are coming to terms with their parents’ separation and their father’s alcoholism and depression.

The title is called Louis Undercover as the young boy, Louis, spies on his parents, his father mostly, as he carefully documents his father’s behavioural patterns, and when he is most likely going to fall deep into his cups and sob the cry of the heartbroken and the hopeless.

As Louis and his younger brother, Truffle, shuttles between their mom who lives in the city, and their father who is staying in a country house, it is evident how Louis tries to spare his brother from the harsher aspects of their reality, making things sound lighter than they are. Louis also struggles to be brave, as he is now the man of the house. While this last bit was never articulated, Louis feels an immense sense of responsibility towards his younger brother, in terms of making him feel safe and secure, and feeling immensely guilty if he thinks that is he failing miserably at it.

As a clinician, I also appreciate the authenticity of Louis’ voice, as children of parents suffering from substance abuse disorders often develop a measure of hypervigilance, as part of their survival within the family dynamics, allowing them to make the necessary adjustments to their parents’ unpredictable behaviours.

My heart broke for Louis several times during the narrative, as he attempts to protect the grown-ups around him, pretending to be going along with the official narrative that the parents feel they should disclose to their young children, as Louis remains fully aware of what is truly going on.

It isn’t always heavy-going in this story, as Louis also struggles to find the courage to say something, anything really, to the girl of his dreams, the tough Billie, the silent queen, who doesn’t seem to care about how other people around her think.

At a young age, Louis knows that love has the capacity to hurt people deeply, and has the potential to end very badly, his parents are a clear testament to this fact.

Whether or not Louis would find it in himself to be brave and own his attraction towards Billie, I shall leave for you to discover. This is a powerful story that deserves to be read more by young people as its truth would resonate not only with those who may be facing similar situations, but also paints a vivid portrayal to others, inviting compassion and empathy from young readers who would most likely emotionally engage with Louis’ fumbling attempts to find courage within himself.


#LitWorld2018GB Update: Rogerio Coelho is from Brazil, Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault are both from Canada.

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11 comments on “[Monday Reading] Portrayal of Courage and Identity through Magical Realism and Powerful Art in 2017 Illustrated Stories for Young Readers

  1. The illustrations in Boat of Dreams are so intricate. It does look like one to read over and over again.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Boat of Dreams really caught my attention with the detailed illustrations. Wordless books are so important — I’m hopeful a local library has this one! Have a wonderful reading week, Myra!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. lindabaie

    Wow, thanks for Boat of Dreams. I hope I can find it. As for Louis Undercover, a 60 minute segment last evening showed stories of children trying to survive with a parent abusing opiods and then the grandparents who are taking them to raise. It was heartbreaking to see and imagine just as you’ve described from this book. I will look for it, Myra. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Angelica Joy

    The illustrations in these books are just amazing. Enjoy!

    Angelica @ Paperback Princess

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I didn’t even finish reading the whole post before going ang putting a reserve on Boat of Dreams at my local library. Then I discovered that Louis Undercover and Jane, the Fox and Me available in the system! Hurrah!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jana Eschner

    Wordless books are wonderful, versatile teaching tools. I’m looking forward to checking these titles out. Have a terrific week!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Boat of Dreams was gorgeous. The art practically jumps off the page.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sarah Sammis

    My library doesn’t have any Fanny Britt books but the two you’ve shared look good enough to track down on my own. They do have Boat of Dreams, which I’ve requested. My weekly update

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Michele

    Boat of Dreams is just reminiscent of David Litchfield’s work – to me anyway!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Boat of Dreams looks very interesting. Not the kind of book that usually gets much reading at my elementary school. However, I did get a teacher into the Journey series by Aaron Becker. She used it as a creative writing assignment, and I could see that applying with Boat of Dreams as well. Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Boat of Dreams either, but it’s so gorgeous! I am eager to read Louis Undercover because I adored Jane, the Fox, and Me. My library is supposed to be getting Louis Undercover but I have been waiting forever, so who knows??

    Liked by 1 person

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