*Salamander Dream — Recommended

Hope Larson’s Salamander Dream is a dream of childhood told in lime green and black ink on cream-colored paper. The book begins with a map of woods and creek that looks like a crayon drawing, reminiscent of the sketch of the 100-Acre Wood that opened the Winnie the Pooh stories.

Hailey lives at the edge of the woods, and that’s where she spends her summer, amongst the trees and the birds. She’s exploring the wonders of the world and her imagination, running down hills, walking barefoot in the grass, singing to herself, and laying on her stomach watching the creek water go by. Realistic greenery gives way to fanciful iconic creatures, transitioning the reader into Hailey’s daydreams, punctuated by labeled pictures of creatures that resemble the careful drawings of a science report.

Salamander Dream cover
Salamander Dream
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Salamander, who resembles an acrobat with a face mask and a tail, tells her stories of his adventures swimming with fish and flying with birds. As she ages, he disappears for a while, reappearing to her once before she realizes she’s developing other games, her friends taking her away from the woods. In the final chapter, she’s gone from child to woman, with her knowledge leading to a different kind of appreciation of nature. Although more scientific, involving blood cells and DNA, her experiences can still be imaginative, even magical.

The self-bordered panels have rounded corners, and the lines contained within are often sinuous, like a river. The panels resemble old-fashioned snapshots, and without strong borders, they’re uncontained, implying a much wider existence beyond the window the reader’s looking through. Perspective shifts, flying in and through natural growth. Interspersed throughout the book are more crayon sketches, occurring at Hailey’s most imaginative moments. The surreal, non-verbal imagery incorporates the reader, as they bring themselves to the work. They’ll find something new every re-read.

On the literal level, this is the kind of childhood many wish they had and too few these days know, set in a timeless period where a kid could wander and explore without observation or schedule. The book is also about the different kinds of creativity life brings at different stages. It’s not a choice between knowledge and magic, since one can become the other. Hailey moves beyond her woods without letting go of them; she continues to dream in different ways as she ages.

Hope Larson has a website, and since the book is now out of print, you can read Salamander Dream online.

6 Responses to “*Salamander Dream — Recommended”

  1. Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] David Welsh, Mark Fossen, and Chris Tamarri have also reviewed Gray Horses. David concentrates on the necessity of the reader to engage with the text, bringing themselves to the meaning, while Mark finds parallels between his journey as a reader and Noémie’s as a character. Chris, among many other points, highlights the significance of photography and compares this book to Larson’s previous, Salamander Dream. […]

  2. Hope Larson Goes to Simon & Schuster » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] Larson (Gray Horses, Salamander Dream) was mentioned at Publishers Weekly (link no longer available) for signing a two-book deal with […]

  3. O’Malley / Larson Signing in Chapel Hill » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] to make for a long day trip. Bryan Lee O’Malley (Scott Pilgrim) and Hope Larson (Gray Horses, Salamander Dream) will be signing at Chapel Hill Comics on Saturday, December 1, from 2-4 PM. Anyone […]

  4. Chiggers » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] Chiggers combines the best of Larson’s previous books — from Gray Horses, discovering friendship in a new place, and from Salamander Dream, growing up in a natural […]

  5. *Mercury — Recommended » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] of Hope Larson’s books is more accomplished than the one before, from Salamander Dream (2005) to Gray Horses (2006) to 2008’s Chiggers and now Mercury. […]

  6. Who Is AC? » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] from last year’s A Wrinkle in Time through Mercury and Chiggers to her early Gray Horses and Salamander Dream. Here, she’s writing a magical girl story for artist Tintin Pantoja to […]




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