It’s Children’s Book Week!
In honor of the annual national literacy initiative hosted by Every Child a Reader and sponsored by the Children’s Book Council, I will be sharing a series of the seven elements I love about children’s books. One element will be featured each day, today through Sunday, starting with …
Lloyd Alexander’s novel TIME CAT tells the story of Jason and Gareth, a boy and his time traveling black cat. The premise of the book is that each cat has nine lives, meaning a cat can visit nine places in history. Gareth takes Jason to Ancient Egypt, Ireland, and Peru, among others.
When my childhood hours weren’t spent with a book, they were spent in the backyard with a black cat named Panther. After reading TIME CAT, my imagination ran away with the idea of wandering history through Panther’s nine lives.
Countless afternoons were spent on a porch swing that my imagination transformed into a Viking vessel. We were captured in 1600s Massachusetts during the Salem witch trials and barely escaped with our lives (after all, my black cat made the locals think I was a witch). We visited Ancient Egypt, where Panther was treated like royalty and I was a welcome guest for escorting such a fine feline.
Alexander’s story was one of many that unlocked a door in my imagination. BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA inspired my imaginary kingdom of Cleovet among the pine tree cluster in the backyard. DEALING WITH DRAGONS made housework tolerable because I pretended I was a dragon’s resident princess, doing the cooking and cleaning and “cavework” (instead of housework).
Children’s books are more than stories; they’re keys. They unlock a child’s ability to explore the possible and impossible equally and simultaneously. Stories open worlds that only can be found and explored within the mind using imagination.
The world has many sources of imagination inspiration. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge many make-believe games were inspired by Disney films. (How many times did I pretend a plastic pink teapot was a magic lamp and creep down the stairs pretending I was entering the Cave of Wonders?)
But children’s literature was the strongest source and most constant feeder of my childhood imagination. I internalized the stories because they weren’t performed in front of me. I wasn’t a passive audience. Each book I read required me to be engaged, and the stories played out in my mind. Every character and scene was inside me.
The very act of reading requires use of imagination. We bring characters to life in our minds as we read. Then we bring them to life again and again as we project them into our childsplay.
That’s one of my favorite elements of children’s literature. It’s like a perpetual motion machine: We invest our imagination into the story to bring it to life in our mind, then it feeds us ideas to keep our imagination fresh and inspired.