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2 cousins celebrate their childhood neighborhood in 'Dream Street'

Anne Schwartz Books

On Dream Street, anything is possible.

Belle catches butterflies and dreams of growing up to be a lepidopterist.

Little Benjamin lies in bed, counting the stars that sparkle through his bedroom window.

Mr. Phillips has five sons and dreams of starting his very own jazz band.

"We really wanted to write a book where children could see themselves in it, as well as know that their dreams are important," says author Tricia Elam Walker. "So this is a place where creativity abounds, and imagination and dreams are celebrated."

Dream Street
/ Anne Schwartz Books
Anne Schwartz Books
Dream Street

Dream Street was illustrated by Ekua Holmes. She and Elam Walker are cousins who grew up together in Roxbury, Mass. They based their first book together on their childhood neighborhood — a beautiful place full of parks, trees and gardens, full of all different kinds of houses, old and new.

"We kind of grew up together, played a lot together, and created a lot together," says Elam Walker.

Elam Walker was a lawyer but quit her job to write. She and Holmes knew they wanted to work on a book together, but they didn't quite know where to begin. So Holmes began sending her cousin images of collages that she had made.

"It might be a piece of poetry that I found in an old discarded book," says Holmes. "It might be a piece of wallpaper from the 1950s. ... I use lace and fabric and things like that. I love things that have been used before because they already have a life, they already have a story."

Elam Walker pieced together the story, filling Dream Street with characters from their childhood.

They named the librarian after Elam Walker's mother, Ms. Barbara.

"She loved books, especially children's books," says Elam Walker. "She would have stacks of them that she read voraciously. She also said that children's books could solve the problems of the world."

/ Anne Schwartz Books
Anne Schwartz Books

In Dream Street, Zion reads a pile of books and asks Ms. Barbara if boys can be librarians. "Of course they can," she says.

Elam Walker and Holmes say they were also inspired by everyone in the neighborhood: from their teachers, to their cousins, to church ladies.

"I was always fascinated with them, in their beautiful hats and flowers, and how regal they were and their gray hair. Or just people at the bus stop," says Holmes. "Those are the moments that we may walk by every day and not realize how precious they are."

One character in the book, Mr. Sidney, reads the newspaper each morning on his stoop, "dressed to the nines." He reminds Elam Walker of her grandfather, who, she says, used to clean white people's houses.

"And he would pack his cleaning clothes in like a briefcase and wear a suit to take the train out to where he had to work," she says. "And then at the end of the day, change his clothes back."

/ Anne Schwartz Books
Anne Schwartz Books

Elam Walker and Holmes don't live in the same neighborhood anymore. But they say no matter where they've lived over the years, they've always been connected.

"We have the bond of family, the bond of friendship, but we've also always had the bond of art," says Holmes. "I can't say that's true of all of my friends and family members, who might be willing to spend maybe 20 minutes in a museum but not two hours."

They're also now bound together in the pages of Dream Street -- the cousins wrote themselves in as two young girls named Ede and Tari.

"Ede lives at the top of the hill and searches for treasures that others throw away," Elam Walker writes. "Meanwhile, her cousin, Tari, pays attention when new folks come around so she can make up stories about them."

Together, they write and draw on the floor, and dream that someday they'll create a picture book about everyone on Dream Street.

"I just love," says Elam Walker, "that our story is embedded in the story and it's the story of our dream."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

/ Anne Schwartz Books
Anne Schwartz Books

Samantha Balaban is producer at Weekend Edition.