Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Peña & Christian Robinson

Published by Two Hoots, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, 2021.

Milo Imagines the World is an outstanding picture book, bursting with life and love. Milo is on a train journey through the city with his older sister, looking at the faces of the other passengers and drawing pictures of the lives he imagines they lead. The man next to him doing a crossword he imagines playing solitaire, alone in his flat and surrounded by his many pets.

When a little boy in bright white Nikes boards the train, Milo imagines him living in a castle and being waited on by a butler, two maids and a gourmet chef.

However, when they both get off the train at the same stop, it turns out that this little boy is visiting his mom in prison, just like Milo is, and Milo makes an important realisation:

Maybe you can’t really know anyone just by looking at their face.

He then tries to reimagine all the pictures he drew on the train, while now recognising that even these versions are still just possibilities.

I love Milo’s curiosity and imagination. He’s a thoughtful and astute little boy; I liked the scene when he looks at his own reflection in the train carriage window and wonders what other people might imagine about him.

The story is beautifully told with wonderfully evocative language. As the train pulls into the underground station, “a cool rush of wind quiets into a screech of steel”. The bride-to-be has “a face made out of light” and Milo, with his mix of emotions, is described as “a shook-up soda”. The collaged illustrations are incredible too. They capture the energy and vibrancy of a busy train ride and a bustling city. There’s so much to spot and enjoy in the pictures: the little dog peeking out of a handbag, musicians busking, the twist of limbs and colour as kids breakdance on the train…

I love how we get to see inside Milo’s sketchbook too – its spiral bound pages spread open across the double page of the book.

The book will really strike a chord with readers because making assumptions about the people we meet based purely on appearance is something we all do, whether consciously or subconsciously. The story opens up the possibility for discussions about prejudice and bias. Milo Imagines the World is also a wonderful book for developing empathy. It helps children broaden their understanding of families and family life. My son and I had a chat about how Milo’s life was different yet also similar to his own: both have bedtime stories with Mommy but Milo’s are over the phone. Milo’s mommy is in prison but still loves him just as much. The book is also crucially important because it recognises a family dynamic that is very rarely represented in children’s picture books and helps all children to see themselves in fiction. This is vital when we consider that an estimated 310,000 children every year have a parent in prison in England and Wales and 10,000 visits are made by children to our public prisons every week. *

Milo Imagines the World is a picture book that’s heartwarming and hopeful, and very moving – sentiments that are captured beautifully in the book’s final image: the picture in his sketchbook that Milo has drawn for his mom.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 4+

Thank you to Two Hoots for sending me this book to review.

*Source: NICCO (National Information Centre on Children of Offenders) website.

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