Walter litters unthinkingly but learns his lesson after a nightmarish experience during which his bed travels into a frightening future of a polluted world. He awakens, orders a tree for his birthday, and is rewarded on a subsequent night with a vision of an alternative future. The book is visually fascinating; it is the heavy-handed didacticism of the narrative that is a disappointment.
Having littered, scoffed at a friend's newly planted tree, and failed to sort his trash, Walter dreams of a future buried in garbage, with even the Grand Canyon hidden by smog. No enigmatic subtext here, just the unabashed message--and Van Allsburg's lucid, powerfully composed art doing what it's supposed to: making graphic Pogo's plaint that "We have met the enemy and he is us."
Two-time Caldecott Medalist Van Allsburg reaches a new pinnacle of excellence in both illustration and storytelling in his latest work. Since his first book, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi , appeared just over a decade ago, he has spun many strange and fantastic modern fairy tales, all of which spill over the edge of reality into magnificent dreamscapes. Here Van Allsburg introduces Walter, a boy who imagines the future as a marvelous time, with tiny airplanes that can be parked on the roof of your house and robots that take care of all your work for you. In the present, however, Walter is a litterbug who can't be bothered to sort the trash for recycling and laughs at Rose, the girl next door, because she receives a sapling for her birthday. One night, when Walter goes to sleep, his bed travels to the future. But he finds neither tiny airplanes nor robots, only piles of trash covering the street where he used to live, acres and acres of stumps where forests used to stand, rows and rows of great smokestacks belching out acrid smoke, and many other environmental nightmares. Van Allsburg renders each of these chilling scenarios in elaborate, superbly executed two-page spreads that echo the best work of M. C. Escher and Winsor McKay (creator of the Little Nemo comic strips).pls call Gil Sprague at 201-653-4055 and make sure this addition is OK by him. also, are these the only artists whose styles come to mind when he looks at these pictures? Walter and his bed land right in the middle of the action in each of these hallucinatory paintings, heightening the visual impact and forcing a hard look at the devastation surrounding Van Allsburg's protagonist. An awakened Walter, jolted by his dream, changes his ways: he begins to sort the trash and, like Rose, plants a tree for his birthday. Then his bed takes him to a different future, one where people tend their lawns with powerless mowers and where the trees he and Rose have planted stand tall and strong beneath a blue sky. Not only are Just a Dream 's illustrations some of the most striking Van Allsburg has ever created, but the text is his best yet. Van Allsburg has sacrificed none of the powerful, otherworldly spirit that suffuses his earlier works, and he has taken a step forward by bringing this spirit to bear on a vitally important issue. His fable builds to an urgent plea for action as it sends a rousing message of hope. All ages. (Oct.)
Gr 2-5-- Walter, an environmental ignoramus of a 10 year old, is careless or scornful of such elementary actions as recycling or tree planting. One nightmarish evening, however, he visits a future where his daydreams of technological paradise are demolished. Instead, there is merely a horrifically exacerbated continuation of today's eco-problems: landfills, expressways, smog, lifeless oceans, and vanished wilderness. Walter awakens reformed, and is rewarded with another dream: the future redeemed. As the story exhibits Van Allsburg's ``signature'' character (a child free of adult supervision) and plot (the dream-vision), so the pictures display the hallmarks of the artist's style: bird's- and worm's-eye perspectives, dramatic lighting effects, some geometric simplification of forms. Wordless double-page spreads alternate with pages of text and small vignettes. The abstract beauty of the images produces a curious tension with the idea of a barren and ugly future; the stylized orderliness of the art is itself eerily disturbing. That this depicts the nightmare of a child may excuse some inconsistencies (in an utterly ruined environment would trees still be cut down for toothpicks?), but the real disappointment comes at the end. Walter's utopian vision is an unchildlike nostalgia trip: a suburban reprise of the '40s. Such a sentimental and parochially narrow vision of a future for a privileged few is the chief failure of this well-meaning effort. --Patricia Dooley, University of Washington, Seattle