In the Meadow of Fantasies
Translated from its original Iranian/Persian publication by Sara Khalili, In the Meadow of Fantasies holds a tender yet powerful allure. This stand-out picture book has a richness and depth so sophisticated even grown-up readers will have something to chew on while the youngsters’ imaginations are fed, fed, fed. It is a stunning example of how story and illustration complement each other.
Opening to a “young girl” hanging out in her bedroom, the focus is guided toward her reclining position by a subtle color palette. Black line drawings are used throughout the book and color builds gradually, with intension, toward dramatic conclusion. Young Girl, in her line-drawn room, is gazing up at a mobile of seven dangling white horses stretched out and galloping freely.
Incidentally, the promo material for In the Meadow of Fantasies indicates that this book is about a disabled girl who spends her day in a wheelchair. However, one would never recognize that distinction in the reading and the book is far more than this association indicates. The singular reference to any sort of disability in the book itself is on this first page where a wheelchair is only partially visible on the lower right corner of the page. It is as inconspicuous as the houseplants and the bedroom curtains. Young Girl’s location could just as easily be interpreted as enjoying some alone time in a cozy spot instead of committed to it by virtue of physical restrictions.
Back to Young Girl, gazing up at the horse mobile. She launches her imagination and with the turn of a page, she is riding bareback with the pack and off she goes on an adventure. What is unique about this adventure is that it is touching and personal. This is not a quest to save a damsel in distress. This is not a journey for a holy grail, or a magic ring, or a rite of passage. This is a dive inside the soul, to the core of inner belonging, to hopes and dreams, to the far edges of personal potential, to the heart of wisdom and knowing. Young Girl goes to a very cool internal place—via the horse mobile above her bed.
Going through a progression of four observations (experiences/awareness), a pattern arises like so: six horses have things figured out, the seventh does not and the six fill in the gaps. Starting with the color of the horses, “The seven horses were and were not of seven colors.” There is one white horse, one black horse, one red, one yellow, one gray, and one brown. The seventh horse is blank, “no color at all.” This lack of a color seems to be distressing to the seventh horse as it lays on the ground looking ashamed, helpless, and somehow incomplete. It is a blank canvas.
Young Girl stops the galloping herd for a moment. There appears a giant above-ground pool where the six horses are swimming resulting in their colors coming off into the water. Blank Canvas horse is being pushed into the pool by Young Girl. Poof! Blank Canvas horse has absorbed all six of the colors from the others and is now a colorful Pinto of sorts.
The story pattern continues from colors to homes. “The seven horses had and did not have seven homes of their own.” One horse lives in a valley, one in a forest, a meadow, a desert, a seashore, and on a hill. Our Blank-Canvas-Turned-Pinto horse has no home to speak of. Each horse once again joins together to give Blank-Canvas-Turned-Pinto horse a piece of their home so that Blank-Canvas-Turned-Pinto horse will have a home everywhere.
With the pattern firmly established, now things get really interesting. “Seven horses had and did not have seven dreams and fantasies.” All but our Blank-Canvas-Turned-Pinto horse have dreams. In a most interesting illustration, Safakhoo shows her ingenuity with each horse having their dream emerging from the crown of their head. The horses are able to transfer parts of their imaginations into Blank-Canvas-Turned-Pinto’s head in a wonderful scene of intellectual osmosis.
Colors. Homes. Dreams. The symbolism in these three is sure to spark conversations in and of themselves. But along comes the fourth concept in the pattern series, which will really make the reader ponder. The horses, which up until this point had been gender neutral, are mares and they start having foals. The first horse has a one-week-old foal. The second a two-week-old foal, etc.
The seventh horse, our Blank-Canvas-Turned-Pinto horse, has a foal. All on its own. The other six horses need not contribute this time. The pattern has been broken. The Blank-Canvas-Turned-Pinto horse’s foal is born with colors, is born with many homes, and carries many dreams. The foal brings all of this back to the Young Girl’s bedroom and fills her world to overflowing with joy and fantasy. Her bedroom is transformed, the wheelchair nowhere to be seen. The black and white line drawings are bathed in colors, heightening the satisfaction of the ending.
In the Meadow of Fantasies is bursting with warmhearted inspiration. Most likely this book will comfort in many ways. As a bedtime story, as a tale for horse lovers everywhere, as a companion in the question-laden wonder years of childhood, as a stunning example of where imaginations lead, and as an inspiration for anyone who is Young Girl at heart—disabled or not.