December 09, 2021


Dream Street. By Tricia Elam Walker. Collages by Ekua Holmes. Anne Schwartz Books. $17.99.

     A picture book so steeped in nostalgia that it is only the illustrative collages that connect with reality through some of their component parts, Tricia Elam Walker’s Dream Street is about a place where everyone is special, everything is delightful, possibilities are endless, and even the plants show themselves in ways seen nowhere else. Cousins Walker and Ekua Holmes grew up together in Roxbury, Massachusetts, and say they based the book on their own childhood experiences and memories – and they actually appear in the pages, their names unnecessarily altered to Tari and Ede. Walker and Holmes look backward not only through rose-colored glasses but also through an entire rose-colored atmospheric haze, so delightful do they imagine this street of dreams to have been and so completely wonderful do they recall its residents as being.

     “The houses and the dreams inside are different as thumbprints,” Walker writes, and while that is certainly true, what everything and everyone has in common is a kind of unaffected pleasantness that points children toward future lives that will be fine and unchallenged, and that shows adults who have lived well and are one and all in exactly the place where they want to be – such as Mr. Sidney, “a retired mail carrier living his dream of never having to wear a uniform again,” and Dessa Rae, who sleeps calmly outdoors with her grandbaby, who “makes sweet sounds and dreams little girl dreams.”

     Somehow, all the dreams on Dream Street are little girl dreams, in the sense that they are remembered or re-created by Walker and Holmes from the days when they themselves were little girls. Holmes’ collages burst with color used in some unexpected ways: of course butterflies will be multihued, but here they are shown against a silhouette of a girl named Belle (who catches and releases them) and behind a tic-tac-toe crisscross that is basically gray and that exists in the illustration just for design purposes. The collages have a pleasant sense of “found objects” about them: many contain snippets of newspapers, for example, with partial headlines that directly reflect the wonderfulness of the scenes: “thinking,” “invents,” “wide-eyed and dreamy.”

     There is no sense in Dream Street of time passing or being about to pass – everything is a stasis of wonder, and every single person is happy, upstanding and devoted to positive pursuits: one girl is a superb rope-jumper whose dream is of “winning a shiny trophy one day,” one boy sits in the library reading “skyscraper-tall piles of books that take him on adventures around the world,” and one woman dances with feet that “move lightning fast, slap, slap, slapping and tap, tap, tapping the floor.” As for the book-creating cousins themselves, Tricia (Tari) “scribbles down the things she hears when [people] don’t know she’s listening,” while Ekua (Ede) collects “treasures that others throw away…and adds them to her drawings.” Their dream is to “create a picture book together,” and lo and behold, it is this very book.

     Whether anyone else on Dream Street had a neatly fulfilled dream akin to book creation is unknown; whether the street, which in this book exists in a world apparently without time, certainly without trouble or turmoil, retained its character as the book’s creators grew to adulthood, is never discussed. Puncturing a perfect bubble of delight is simply not something that Walker and Holmes would consider where Dream Street is concerned: much better to give young readers a glimpse, however unrealistic it may be, of a time and place where everything was as good and positive and uplifting as it could possibly be, and where the only dreams that do not come true in the future for kids are ones that already came true in the past for grown-ups.

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