January 22, 2024

People Are My Favorite Places

Written and illustrated by Ani Castillo
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
40 pp.
Ages 4-9
January 2024 

While we are still living with a pandemic, we are no longer subjected to lockdowns and the isolation that came with them. For many, the inability to go places had more to do with not seeing people: family, friends, and newly-met acquaintances. As she did in her earlier picture books Ping and Spark, Ani Castillo shares an important message about appreciating those who are part of our lives, whether we know them or not. 

From People Are My Favorite Places, written and illustrated by Ani Castillo
Although a young girl recognizes all the things which she can no longer do or see when "I was stuck in my room, all alone, forever and ever," she realizes that it's the people involved in those activities that she really misses. Visiting places like her grandparents' house or the movie theatre or travelling is not about the place but the people with whom she spends time.
From People Are My Favorite Places, written and illustrated by Ani Castillo
She recognizes that there are a lot of people she knows and missed, from her piano teacher to her friends and the locals she meets when travelling. It's all the "sweet, lovely people who were once there with me" with whom she laughed, ate noodles, chatted, held hands, and more. And she recognizes the people she missed came in all shapes, colours, ages, and textures, but she missed them all for their touch, their smell, their warmth and so much more.
From People Are My Favorite Places, written and illustrated by Ani Castillo
But most of all, she realizes that she had learned an important lesson during that time:
Because now
I see clearly
that the landscape, the place
most precious to me
is the world inside someone
I love
very dearly.
From People Are My Favorite Places, written and illustrated by Ani Castillo
The innocence of the child in expressing how she feels will be very familiar to children who missed out on a lot of things during lockdowns, from schooling, and family visits, to travel and socializing. They will all remember how isolated they felt and how much they craved being somewhere other than their rooms or their homes. But this child has the insight to realize it wasn't just being someplace, it was being with someone that made it all that it was: rich in experience, embracing in affection, uniting in companionship. That insightful innocence comes through in Ani Castillo's artwork. Using black coloured pencil, watercolour, and gouache, Ani Castillo makes us see every one of those people who are the landscape of this child's life.  There are her peers, her teachers, her family, and those people that she might meet when travelling. Known or unknown, these people are what make those places vibrant and significant.

Though I worry that too many people have forgotten what it was like to be without the people in their lives, I hope that People Are My Favorite Places will remind them so that we don't have to go through further isolation such as lockdowns to appreciate the magnitude of their contributions to the fabric of our lives. They take our landscapes from barren to lush and vibrant, and even if we don't want to partake in that vibrancy every moment, knowing that we can reach out to it any time is important.

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