Jessica Young’s latest picture book, I’ll Meet You in Your Dreams, celebrates the parent-child bond, while simultaneously honoring children’s need to spread their wings. “Each evening when the sun has set,” Young writes, “as nighttime casts a starry net, I’ll hitch a ride on moonbeams and meet you in your dreams.”
With vivid examples from nature (“you’ll be an eagle and I’ll be a hawk”), Young imaginatively explores the profound connections between parents and their children — ones that last well beyond childhood. In striking jewel tones, illustrator Rafael López captures these affectionate moments, visually weaving together themes of home and family.
Chapter 16 talked to Young via email about the new book and how she stays inspired during these socially distanced times.
Chapter 16: What was the genesis of this story? Did the title come to you first?
Jessica Young: One night at bedtime, my daughter was telling me what she wanted to be in her dreams. I started thinking about how a parent and child could plan to meet in their dreams and go on fantastic adventures together. That sparked the initial idea and the title.
Chapter 16: What are some of the joys and challenges of writing in rhyme?
Young: Rhyme and meter let me play with the sounds and rhythm of words and the temporal aspect of a text in a different way. For me, the main challenge is to weave rhyme into the text so that it supports the story, rather than getting in the way of it. While writing a picture book, I’m usually thinking about the flow of potential images and how the images and text might work together. Adding rhyme creates another layer. I keep shifting words around until the pieces fall into place. When they do, it’s a great feeling.
Chapter 16: Your text is from the point of view of a caretaker who strikes a lovely balance between expressing devotion and knowing to let go, saying: I’m here for you but also know you’ll grow up and head off on your own one day. (“ … you’ll be you and I’ll be me. You’ll travel places I can’t see ….”) Was it important for you to convey that sense of independence on the part of the child?
Young: Yes! I wanted to explore the relationship between parent and child as a dance or song, with the parent (or other loved one) responding to the child’s changing needs and growth through the dream characters they take on. When a child takes an imaginative form, the parent takes a form that complements it. The dream images start with intimate examples, like a bumblebee and flower, and progress to more expansive ones, like stars in the night sky. I wanted the text to offer assurance of continued love, even as independence develops. It’s also a reminder to myself as a parent to let go — something that can be difficult to remember.
Chapter 16: What was it like for you to see Rafael López’s illustrations and the ways in which he extends your text?
Young: It’s hard to describe what it feels like to have someone thoughtfully consider an expression you’ve made with words, then respond to it and augment it with images in such a beautiful and transformative way. It feels like he completed a puzzle I only had a limited number of pieces for. The way he used the visual language of art to bring it to life is stunning.
Young: It’s so hard to pick one! I love them all for different reasons. I especially love the knight and horse spread for its movement and light; the “you’ll be you, and I’ll be me” spread for its brilliant depiction of a young adult heading out to explore the world; and the final spread, which ties all of the others up so beautifully. The “till you blow home to me” spread always makes me emotional. I know it won’t be long until my kids are at that stage of leaving home.
Chapter 16: What is, for you, the most rewarding aspect of writing picture books?
Young: Picture books are a combination of so many things I love. I get to play with ideas and words, arranging them to try to create something beautiful, thought-provoking, or funny. I love working with my critique partners, agent, and editors during the revision process. Having the story transformed through illustrations is so exciting. I love the idea that, even though we’re not in the same room, there’s a team working on each book, bringing it to life and bringing it to readers. And seeing the book in the hands of children and families is surreal. I think a long time ago I told you that I feel as if picture books are like portable art galleries for children. The opportunity to be a part of a child’s early experience with art, language, and story is amazing.
Chapter 16: You do a lot of school visits. How has it been to do them virtually this past year?
Young: It’s great to be able to spend time with students, even though it’s online. In some ways, presenting virtually enables me to get closer to students, as opposed to having a bigger, in-person presentation in a huge space. I like tailoring presentations to what students are learning and making them interactive so that students can share their ideas and experiment with the concepts we talk about — and their questions are the best! I’m excited to be able to do virtual school visits through a Tennessee Arts Commission grant, which enables public schools in Tennessee to have me visit at no cost to the schools.
Chapter 16: How do you stay inspired during this time of social isolation?
Young: I’ve had several books at different stages of publication, and that’s helped. Some days are better for generating new material, and some are better for revising. I’ve been able to stay in touch with critique partners, friends, and family online. I’m buoyed and inspired, knowing others are out there relentlessly continuing to create and do their best work — other children’s book creators, but also healthcare professionals, teachers, parents — everyone. I have a new appreciation for how interconnected we all are. Despite the tugging of the world on my thoughts, that’s motivated me to contribute in whatever ways I can.
There’s also been a lot of cooking (we look forward to our CSA veggies every week), throwing a Frisbee or lacrosse ball in the yard with my kids, catching up on reading, making online activities and videos for families and teachers, and trying to remember how to play piano. And the virtual school visits have been wonderful. They remind me why I write.
Julie Danielson, co-author of Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, writes about picture books for Kirkus Reviews, BookPage, and The Horn Book. She lives in Murfreesboro and blogs at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.