I believe any book can fuel the imagination when it arrives in the right hands at the right time, but there are also some which explicitly explore how we nurture creativity and create space for inspiration and following our dreams. The Wonder by Faye Hanson and The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold and Emily Gravett are two such books which I’ve read recently and which have left me brimming with delight, hope and happiness and which have sparked hours of inspired play in my children.
The Wonder by Faye Hanson is a sumptuous début picture book about a young boy whose head if full of daydreams which transform the humdrum world around him. Time and again adults tell him to get his head out of the clouds and come back to reality, but this is barely possible for a child who finds wonder, curiosity and delight wherever he looks. Finally in art class he’s able to let loose his imagination onto a blank sheet of paper delighting his teacher and filling his parents with pride.
The child in this story sees ordinary objects but has the imagination to turn them into astonishing stories, breathtaking ideas, and worlds full of adventures waiting to happen. I know I want to foster this ability in my own children (and in myself!); the world becomes more beautiful, richer, and simply more enjoyable when we are able to imagine more than the grey, wet and humdrum daily life that all too often catches us up. This utterly delightful book is an enthusiastic encouragement to let more imagination in to our lives.
Hanson’s illustrations are dense, saturated, and rich. Careful use of colour lights up the boy’s dreams in his otherwise sepia coloured life. Limited palettes add to the intensity of these pictures; it’s interesting that their vitality doesn’t come from a rainbow range of paints, but rather from focussing on layer of layer of just a few colours, packed with exquisite detail. There’s a luminosity about the illustrations; some look like they’ve got gold foil or a built-in glow and yet there are no novelty printing techniques here.
All in all, an exquisite book that will tell anyone you share it with that you value their dreams and want to nurture their ingenuity, inventiveness and individuality.
Now let me play devil’s advocate: Is there sometimes a line to be walked between feeding a child’s imagination and yet enabling them to recognise the difference between real life and day dreams? In The Wonder, there are plenty of adults pointing out the apparent problems/risks of day dreaming a great deal. On the other hand, in The Imaginary, a mother fully enters into her daughter’s imaginary world, not only acknowledging an imaginary best friend, but actively supporting this belief by setting places at meal times, packing extra bags, even accepting accidents must be the result of this friend and not the child herself.
Amanda believes that only she can see her imaginary friend Rudger. But all this changes one day when a mysterious Mr Bunting appears on the doorstep, apparently doing innocent door-to-door market research. But all is not as it seems for it turns out that Mr Bunting has no imagination of his own and can only survive by eating other people’s imaginary friends. He’s sniffed Rudger out and now he’s going to get him, whatever it takes.
If you’ve ever wondered where imaginary friends come from, and what happens to them when their children grow up and stop day-dreaming this is a book for you. If you love a good villain, adventures which include libraries and narrow escapes you’ll enjoy this too. If you’re a fan of elegant and attractive books you’ll want to feel this between your hands. The illustrations by Emily Gravett are terrific (in every sense) and incredibly atmospheric, magically adding beauty and tension to a story which I thought couldn’t be bettered.
Intelligent, clever, thoughtful, and packed with seeds of love and inspiration The Imaginary is perhaps my favourite middle grade/young fiction book of the year. If you want a fuller flavour of this gem before hurrying to get it into your hands, head and heart, there’s a full teacher’s guide to The Imaginary available on the Bloomsbury website and you can watch a video of Emily Gravett working on her illustrations here.
One of the ways my girls have been inspired in their playing since sharing these books became clear when they told me they wanted to make a star-making machine to go with the one features in The Wonder (see the illustration above).
M first wrote out some recipes for stars:
I provided a little food for thought…
…and a selection of machine parts.
Several hours later the star machine was coming together
Next up a selection of star ingredients were sourced:
The machine was fed…
Can you see the pulses of one star in the making?!
And out popped these stars (here’s a tutorial) at the end of the star making process:
Here’s one just for you:
Whilst making our machine we listened to:
How do you foster your kids’ imagination? And your own?
Disclosure: I was sent free review copies of both books in today’s post.