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A Perfect Season for Dreaming

San Antonio Express-News

El Paso writer enchanted with the magical power of dreams

Ask El Paso writer Benjamin Alire Sáenz about himself, and he’ll tell you he is a fronterizo, a person of the border. If you don’t quite get his meaning, read one of Sáenz’s books, marinated in border culture, perhaps his novel “Sonny & Juliana in Hollywood,” which was named one of the Ten Best Books for Young Adults in 2005, or one of his bilingual picture books for kids, such as his latest, “A Perfect Season for Dreaming.”

It’s the story of an old man, Octavio Rivera, who is lately being visited by some fairly surreal dreams. We’re talking coyotes-dressed-as-mariachis-falling-out-of-a-piñata weird. He wants to tell someone about them — “so bad that his heart hurts.” But who would understand?

“Should I tell my son? Should I tell my daughter-in-law? No, no, he said to himself, my son and my daughter-in-law would only think I’m finally going crazy, and they would shake their heads.”
An imaginative testament to the power of dreaming, “Perfect Season” is beautifully illustrated by Mexican-born artist Esau Andrade Valencia, who comes from a family of folk artists and counts Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo as his major influences.

Saenz recently answered a few questions from the Express-News.

Q. Where did this story come from? Did it come to you in a dream, I hope?
A. No, not from a dream exactly. But from a childhood daydream. I used to watch kids break piñatas at parties. I wasn’t very good at the sport of breaking piñatas — but I was always ready to dive for the candy. I used to think to myself. Wouldn’t it be great if something better than candy would fall out of the piñata? I did think about guitars because I thought guitars were beautiful. So years later, that little boy reappeared somewhere inside of me when I started to think of a new children’s book.

Q. Why is dreaming so important to kids?
A. Partially, I think because children understand that dreams are so miraculous and so mysterious and so incomprehensible. Dreams can be quite beautiful, but they can also be very scary. I think children are fascinated by them because they don’t really understand where they come from. As a child I was fascinated by dreams, and I was always trying to understand “the stories” in my dreams. I just had a dream last night that I’m still trying to understand.

Q. Why is it important to share your dreams with others?
A. Because our darkest secrets appear in our dreams, and if we don’t share them, then we remain forever alone. Who wants to be alone? We all want someone to know us — to really know us. One of the ways we can let people in is by sharing our dreams.

Q. The structure of the story also recalls the 12 days of Christmas, sort of. Why?
A. Well, counting is a way keeping track. It’s a way of remembering in a very organized way. We can’t get away from that. Twenty four hours in a day. Seven days in a week. Twelve months in a year. All of that. We count. We keep track. It helps us remember. It helps us to organize ourselves. Counting books are common in children’s literature. It must tap into a basic structure of learning.

Q. In the book, Octavio is an old man, but he has these crazy dreams, which he is hesitant to talk about with other adults because everyone he knows is sort of bogged down in their own lives and worries. Then he tells his young granddaughter. What message are you trying to communicate about dreams?
A. We don’t go around just telling anyone the contents of our dreams. Dreams are too personal. We feel vulnerable and naked. Dreams are very intimate. We are our dreams. When we hand that fragile gift to another, we are taking a risk. We are saying: Do you understand me? Do you see me? Do you really see me? Telling another person about your dreams is like handing them your heart.

Q. The artwork in the book, by Esau Andrade Valencia, is absolutely fabulous. Can you comment on that? Did it complement what you saw in your head as you were writing?
A. I love Easu’s artwork. He was absolutely the right artist for this book. I think his art is stunning and it really carries the story. It was as if he reached into my mind and handed what was in my imagination directly to the reader.

Q. The new book is just such a wonderful stretch of the imagination. What advice do you have for kids and teens who want to be writers?
A. Become a child. If you don’t know how to become a child and enjoy becoming a child again, then your work is doomed.
- November 16, 2008 

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