I'm going to be reviewing several picture books over the next few days. A few months back, Patricia Wilson sent me a copy of her book I Can't See, But...I Can Imagine (illustrated by Sharon Bean). It took me a while to get to it, in large part because the book comes accompanied by a CD, and I would always think to read it at a time when my computer was turned off. I finally sat down with book and CD today.
I Can't See, But...I Can Imagine is a picture book aimed at children age five and up. The story is written around five songs for children that the author's grandmother wrote and recorded, one for each of her grandchildren, back in the 1940s. The audio text of the full book, including the songs, is captured on the accompanying CD. This self-published production is a labor of love, reflecting Pat Wilson's efforts to resurrect the songs that her grandmother had recorded and use them them to spread positive messages to kids today. The unifying theme of the book is the way that Pat's grandmother, who was completely blind, used her imagination to turn real-life incidents into stories and songs for the children.
The most catchy tune is the first one, called "The Frog Song", a tale of a big frog with a deep voice arguing with a much smaller frog with a high-pitched voice. You only get the full effect when listening to the song (as opposed to reading it on the page), because the alternating voices of the two add contrast. It reminded me of something that one might hear on a Disney ride (and from me, that's a compliment, because I love Disney rides). The other songs are a bit slower paced, including two that are more like lullabies.
Overall, the book has a very old-fashioned, nostalgic feel. The water-color illustrations, by Sharon Bean, contribute to this effect. I can see grandparents listening to this book with their young grandchildren. The author says that she has used the book to give classes for kids, using her time to "'back up' for the teachers with encouragement to write, illustrate and enjoy music." The CD also includes the five soundtracks without vocals. The author notes that "(c)hildren love Karaoke, and they can add their own voices to the soundtracks for talent shows, etc." Not having children to listen to this with, I can't vouch that, but I know that children's music production is a big industry.
There is a strong positive message in the book about using one's imagination and overcoming disabilities. The grandmother's lack of bitterness over losing her eyesight is notable. I can imagine kids, particularly those who like music, enjoying I Can't See, But...I Can Imagine. As a reader, I personally prefer books with stronger plots, and don't tend to get much out of vignettes. But I respect what Pat Wilson is trying to do with this book, and if the book / song CD format appeals to your kids, you should definitely check it out. You can order an autographed copy from the author's website, or order from Amazon. You can also listen to samples of the songs, and view the illustrations, at the I Can't See, But...I Can Imagine website.
Book: I Can't See, But...I Can Imagine
Author: Patricia Bennett Wilson, illustrated by Sharon Bean
Publisher: Global Publishing Services
Original Publication Date: 2003
Pages: 61, plus enclosed audio CD
Age Range: 4-8
Source of Book: Review copy from the author