Map of Dreams is ostensibly, a children's book by a Caldecott medal winner and one of the most distinguished picturebook creators in the USA.  I have to admit I'd never heard of Shulevitz even though he's written nearly 40 children's books since 1963.  If Map of Dreams is any indication I've really missed out.

Map of dreams is an autobiographical tale of his childhood when he and his family fled Poland for Turkestan at the start of the Second World War.  As his name suggests Shulevitz is Jewish so this was a very wise move on the part of his parents.  The essence of the tale is how his father chose to by a map of the world over food for his family and sparked his son's imagination and a love of maps and geography.  It sounds dry and dusty and my summary does the book no justice at all.

The book is drawn in pen and ink and pencil with water colours and apparently some collage.  The use of colour is stunningly evocative from the empty white of the first page with just the words "When war devastated the land, buildings crumbled to dust."  No effort is made to draw an image to match these words, it is left to the imagination.  The second page illustrates the family running with a background of burnt, fiery red and the following pages take the earthy clay tones of the buildings as a base until the map arrives.  Shulevitz's art style is loose and evocative, bringing to mind , for me, Dave McKee on his Mr Benn books.  The characters are angular and slightly cartoony, catching their essence rather than providing a photographic redition of them.  The refugees stand out in drab grays and browns against the more colourful blues, reds and greens of the natives.  The backgrounds are middle eastern style adobe buildings, like a picturebook version of Bethlehem, rendered with scant regard for straight lines or perspective, yet somehow seeming believable and real.

When the giant map arrives the family are initially furious but then Uri finds himself drawn into the broad spalshes of colour that make up this rendering of the globe.  Uri begins to copy the map and his imagination puts him into the places he finds.  The pages suddenly fill with texture, colour and patterns.  It all ends with Uri flying over a childlike rendition of the world with monster fish, skyscrapers, deserts, jungles and ice fields with all their sundry denizens.  It ends with Uri forgiving his father, in a sense growing up by acknowledging that there is more to life then satiating physical hunger and that sometimes it's more important to have dreams and hope. 

The only image of the cover I could find not bearing the less evocative alternative title.

Map of dreams is a clever book in that it speaks to adults as well as kids.  My daughter picked up on the dream of escaping and flying straight away while I found the evocation of childhood transitions equally appealing and moving.  It is a book for older children who are wise enough not to outgrow the medium of the picture book.  One I will share with my son when he is old enough to understand the story.