I’m reading a book for children at the moment, Impossible Creatures by Katherine Rundell. Such a fabulous read.
I am always in awe of writers for younger readers. Their imaginations seem to endlessly expand, finding new ways to engage with us and suck us right into the world that they build within their pages. How do they manage to keep that wild imagination sustained from childhood? It made me wonder about my own imagination as a child.
I once wrote a short story in primary school about children who entered an underworld via the spaces in-between the huge roots of a gigantic tree. I was so immersed in that story as I wrote it, I can remember desperately wanting to return to it, to relive it again and again. I wanted to re-enter that world and expand on it in my imagination. I was given 10 out of 10 for my story from my teacher, which made me so proud. I sit here now and wonder about that. When did I start to lose that sense of unbridled invention that I could make up as a child? Why and when did that unknowingly disappear as I matured?
I wonder if, as you grow up and are faced with the realities and confines of life, you are no longer free to have the time to simply dream, to make up stories. When did I stop playing with my toys, spreading out my blanket off my bed which I imagined was my spaceship? I would line up Teddy, Panda, Clown, China and Noddy and off we’d go. (You can see I was not very inventive with names.)
Although I wasn’t a huge reader in primary school I do remember reading books and being lost in those stories. I still have my favourite book of fairy tales tucked away on my bookshelf. When I was very young, I loved the ‘Amelia Bedelia’ books. Amelia was a maid who never quite understood the instructions she was given. When asked to draw the curtains when the sun came through the windows, she’d pull out her drawing paper and pencil. I always thought the things she did were just hilarious.
These books had me imagining my being there with the characters and encouraged me to imagine what else we would or could do together. This is one of the reasons why I think books for children are so important. They help to keep us dreaming and imagining. The longer we keep our creative minds churning, I think the better people we become as adults.
Samuel Bernard argues in his opinion column this month about ways we can help parents buy more books. There are so many homes without books. We need to help fill them up.
Literacy is so important. I know I need not tell you that. But put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Imagine not being able to read. Imagine how that would affect your life. From reading medicine bottles to helping your children do their homework. To simply being informed about the world and what is happening in it. Imagine not being able to read all the wonderful children’s books in the world.
It starts with learning to read as a very young child. Before they go to school children should have had 1000 hours of being read to. This is where libraries are so important in conjunction with your local bookshop.
Bookshops are such wonderful places. You can go in and choose a book to take home. This will be your book to keep. It might stay with you for life, not only on your bookshelves but in your mind. You might spend your life looking at its spine and remembering the pleasure it gave you, the effect it had on you. You might even give it to your own children, or a niece or nephew or a friend.
Libraries are equally, if not more, important. You can go in and come out with a huge pile of books to read! You can discover authors freely without financial constraint on your parents. You can take them back and get another huge pile! You might discover authors that you love and you head off to your local bookshop where you might buy a copy to keep forever.
Why not start Spring by giving a child in your life a book? Read to a child, donate to a charity who helps with literacy for kids. Pop a child on your lap and tell them a story. Have fun, wave your arms and make wild noises. Let’s all find our inner child and crank up those imaginations that might have been lying dormant.
We’ll all be better for it.