João by a Thread by Roger Mello


João by a Thread by Roger Mello, translated by Daniel Hahn. Elsewhere Editions, c2006, 2022. 9781953861344

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: ARC (publication date 10/25/22) picture book

What did you like about the book?  It’s time for João to go to sleep, but existential musings and fears interfere with his relaxation in the visually sophisticated story. Using only black, red, and white, Mello echoes the traditional weaving and fabric work found in the Uros Islands off the coast of Peru to chart the boy’s journey from wakefulness to dreams. As the book opens, objects and the character are real. “How big is the blanket that’s covering João? As big as the bed? Or as big as the nighttime?” queries the text, showing us a small stick figure boy under a massive lacy white coverlet, embroidered with sea creatures. Then the blanket starts to morph to reflect the wild flights of fancy that crowd the boy’s imagination as he drifts off, seeing flags, mountains, and his father fishing. Some of the dreams become frightening, even overwhelming, and João is startled out of his sleep to find his blanket unraveled. So he scoops up all the words from his imagination (“scattered across the floor”) and diligently sews them all together into a lullaby before finally falling asleep. Personal notes from the translator and author appear at the end of the book. This was a very trippy and imaginative bedtime story that would certainly prompt discussion and reward re-readings. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? The text was very small and reproduced in a spindly, all-caps font (possibly hand lettered) that I found difficult to read. Adding to the illegibility, the text often appears as white or black against a red or black background.  Not a negative, but its small size (5” x 7”) means this book is appropriate only for one-to-one (most likely bedtime) reading.

To whom would you recommend this book?  The beautiful drawings and the complexity of the text were intriguing and may appeal to children and families with a philosophical bent. I would recommend this to families who have enjoyed books by Peter Sís.

Who should buy this book? Public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: August 30, 2022

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