“How Reading Fantasy to Children develops their Imaginations, and why this is Important,” by Suzy Davies.
Sometimes, people overlook the value of reading fantasy to children because of our obsession with a hierarchy of knowledge that places “realism” above “fantasy” and “science” above “art.”
We want to cram our children’s heads full of facts, such is our banking system of education. But this is not what education is about.
Although my brain is more artistic than scientific, I value science and hope that my books will help to develop the imaginations of scientists in the making as well as budding artists. And I think they will! For nothing that has ever been invented by a scientist has been invented without an imaginative brain. And nothing created by an artist is created without the capacity to envision something out of the ordinary.
Although both my children’s books are based in reality, they are full of modern parables, tales within tales. This kind of fantasy is created at metaphorical level in the text and allows for a multiplicity of meanings and scope for children’s imaginations. It is through exploring the many threads that combining of metaphors can create, that children learn to innovate for themselves.
Learning to put unusual things together at metaphorical level helps “out of the box” thinking.
Older children will also learn to reason. Not all possible meanings in a text are equally valid. They will use logic and reason to uncover what is the most likely interpretation of the book or what the author intended the meaning to be. And they will have opinions of their own.
Some time ago a reviewer of “Snugs The Snow Bear” seemed to misunderstand why I had mentioned The Northern Lights in my snow bear tale, and gone into some detail describing them. They, of course, were a metaphor for the supernatural magic of the snow bear, and were meant to indicate that he should be free to show up like them, as part of nature, part of the environment and natural beauty of the world.
At another level, an older child might interpret these lights as triggers to fantastic memories of home, a kind of analogy to the way in which memory operates like cinema – a series of flashing images before one’s eyes, that can be fleeting and transitory. Of course, at a more literal level, The Northern Lights immediately conjure up the snow bear in his natural environment.
A quirky metaphor in Snugs The Snow Bear is an egg-timer. I will not reveal the literal meaning in the text here. But at metaphorical level, it may be interpreted to represent the “sands of time” running out on climate change.
Children’s books that are written clearly and simply mean very young kids can read them and enjoy them. Those that also have rich layers of meaning allow older children and adults to enjoy them, too.
It is my belief that imagination is like a muscle. Use it often enough, and you will develop it.
If we are to see future generations of artists, scientists, great thought leaders and innovative business people in the making, they will need imagination in bucketloads.
Children’s books are a rehearsal for life. Through fantasy, children can learn to problem solve, put themselves in the position of the characters and develop an imaginative empathy for others, including animals.
Rather than dumbing down and short-changing our kids, we should be posing questions about the world around them for which they can seek answers and solutions.
This does not mean our books have to be dry and boring. On the contrary, through being entertained, children will surprise us with the discoveries their imaginative minds make.