KIDS’ STORYWORLD

Imagination and a book review

In this crazy world of lockdown, one thing that has blown and impressed my mind, is the children’s imagination. Pre-lockdown, I knew of course they had one. The time my now 3yo used a red wooden toy to draw some unapproved and uncommissioned artwork on the wall. When asked whodunnit “The gorilla mummy!” . Or the other day when my 5yo drew a picture of sun, sand and sea. It was a holiday we’d been on with grandparents. “Are you going to draw all of us and the buckets we used?” I asked. “No, we’ve all gone for a walk!”

Imagination helps eliviate the boredom, takes us to new places and helps us think beyond our four walls.

One thing I’m learning to do during lockdown is to relax a bit when it comes to play. As long as it’s not dangerous or harmful it’s fine. My “don’t touch this” or “don’t do that” or “get down from there” are starting to turn into “show me” , “don’t worry that’s what baths and washing machines are for!” and “that’s a great slide you’ve made out of the sofa cushions!” It’s by no means perfect. There are fab days with sunshine, books, successful home learning and skipping around feeling like Mary Poppins. Then there are the days of potty training toddlers leaving “deposits” in the kitchen, tantrums (I’d say split pretty evenly between them and me! 🙈) and dinners of fish fingers with a side serving of haribo and 10 billion hours of tv.

But whatever the day, there’s not one that goes by where I’m not impressed by the kids’ imagination! Even it’s the choice of insults when my eldest is shouting “YOU YOU YOU STINKY OLD RHODODENDRON!” in a fit of rage at his younger brother. Or when they make up their own games like “What time is it Mr Gopher? NIBBLE TIME!” or when my 3 year old tells people he had a lovely day and played cricket for most of it with his best friend from nursery….we hadn’t played with the forgotten cricket set in over a year and with social distancing certainly hadn’t been anywhere near his best friend. But imagination is a coping mechanism and gives us hope and alternatives.

Imagination comes in many forms and I’ll be writing a couple of blogs to explore this. As this article describes activities such as arts, crafts, science and messy play are important part of their creativity How To Nurture Your Child’s Imagination – Parents Magazine and I’m trying my best in lockdown to stick to 2 rules.

1. Mud and paint will come out in the wash

2. If it doesn’t, make sure you had lots of fun doing it!

Generally I’m relaxed when it comes to messy play, but even I struggle when at 8am one morning my 3yo son ran out sporting nothing but pants and wellies, got a watering can and started pouring water all over the lawn. To create muddy puddles. Cheers for that Peppa Pig. That said 3yo had a whale of a time. And it did in fact come out in the wash.

Another (not so messy!) way to develop young imaginations is guessing games.

Here are a few suggestions:

– Put things in a box, cover the box and the child can guess by touch or description what’s in there.

– gather some “noisy” objects eg. Pan and spoon, rice in a jar, and a half filled bottled of water. Get the child to guess what noise they’ll make.

– Put objects with different textures on a tray. Before touching them, ask the child to tell you what they think it will feel like.

– my love of books is no secret but read and read lots with them. Little Gym Chiswick suggested swapping the book character’s name with the child’s name. Eg instead of “Goldilocks sat on the chair” it could be “Megan sat on the chair”. This helps develop imagination and empathy.

– Play the “what happens next?” with stories so the child guesses before you turn the page.

– Ask questions about the book characters that might not be in the book. “What kind of a house do they live him?” Or “What’s their favourite colour?”

– Find a few objects in the house and ask children to create stories about them. If you like, write the stories down for them so they can just focus on the telling part. I tried something similar with my 5yo son and wrote it down for him and this was the result (though TBF his handwriting would probably have been better than mine 😆):

Would love to hear how you get on!

As mentioned earlier, imagination is such a huge topic it’s impossible to include everything in one blog (though looking at the length of this one, it would seem that I’ve tried 😆) so I’ll add a few more in the coming days.

In the meantime thank you so much for reading and please check out below for two completely different and highly imaginative books by the very talented Susannah Lloyd

Book Review

This Book Can Read Your Mind – by Susannah Lloyd and illustrated by Jacob Grant

Published by:  Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Said it before and said it again. This book should come with an actual health warning. My 3yo laughed so hard he choked up a green bean. This was on the fourth time of reading it. On the day we got it. The first time we read it we were all snorting with laughter – I think the most we have laughed since lockdown. It’s a very sensible and well researched scientific experiment to see if the book can read your mind. Just don’t think of elephants. Or elephants in pants. And you’ll be fine. My 5yo tried to think of pink gophers and cottoned on quite quickly but has still requested me to read it over and over! 3yo even tried to “read” it himself and shouts of “PANTS” followed by lots of giggles could be heard from his room. Just brilliant. It’s a book that very much makes the children feel a part of the story and that they are the cause of the main character’s (a very sensible scientist’s) reactions.

But as Susannah herself said be sure to have only strictly sensible thoughts. It’s a VERY delicate book!

The Terribly Friendly Fox by Susannah Lloyd, illustrated by Ellie Snowdon

Published by: Simon & Schuster Children’s UK

The Terribly Friendly Fox is about a fox. Who is invited to the Annual Woodland Creatures Ball…oh please don’t worry! It’s fine! He’s turned vegetarian so no need to panic. The guests are having a fine time with all the party games and a magic performance. There don’t seem to be as many guests at the end of the book as there are the begin though. Perhaps they were just worn out by all the fun and went home…

This is one of my favourite picture books. The children love it too. It’s darkly humorous and interesting to see the children work out where the guests disappeared to. Cleverly written by Susannah Lloyd and ingeniously illustrated by Ellie Snowdon it’s definitely one for the bookshelves!

And now for a real treat – a Q&A with the very lovely Ellie and Susannah – the imaginative duo that created this foxy book !

Q1: If Gerald were to give his own dinner party which creature would be at the top of his menu…oops…sorry I meant guest list of course?

Ellie: That’s a good question! I think even though Gerald loves ALL animals equally, there’s no denying he has a fondness for rabbits…mostly because he loves nothing more than a lovely leftover rabbit stew on a Sunday!

Susannah: There is such a fine range of tasty treats on offer at this party, so it would be very hard for him to choose. But I think, if Gerald is anything like me, he would save the best for last, so I fear it would be the mouse, if he could only get his paws on him…

Q2: What is Gerald’s favourite go to party game to distract his guests?

Ellie: He has so many but I think musical chairs is Gerald’s cleverest distraction as things (*ahem* guests) can get lost so easily amongst the fun.

Susannah: I think it would have to be his dazzling display of conjuring tricks. Gerald is very talented at sleight of hand, and disappearing tricks are his particular speciality.

Q3: If you were able to understand each other, and you could invite any animal to a dinner party who would you invite and why?

Ellie: Mine would be a hare…mostly because the Mad March Hare in Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland is one of my all time fictional characters. I think he would be a very bonkers and entertaining party guest! (plus he could run out of there very fast should a certain fox show up..!)

Susannah: My dream party guest would be a badger. I just love them so much. I am currently working on a new idea that features as many badgers as can possibly fit the pages. They are practically spilling out of it. I would love nothing more than to snuffle my way through a selection of cakes and pies with a very jolly badger for company.

Q4: What were your favourite books as a child?

Ellie: There are so many! I loved anything by Janet & Allan Ahlberg… ‘The Jolly Postman’ was a particular favourite. I’ve still got my original copy with all the postcards still intact and miraculously unharmed! Also ‘The true story of the 3 Little Pigs’ by Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith was another favourite – a right old giggle!

Susannah: Oh yes! I loved the Albergs too, but my favourite was Burgler Bill. The best part was when he returned everything, including the policeman’s helmet and the stolen toothbrush.

The children’s books I loved the best were the ones where you got the feeling that the writer or illustrator was thoroughly enjoying themselves, being playful and having a marvellous time creating it. Picture books by William Steig, Russell Hoban, John Yeoman and Quentin Blake gave me that feeling. My favourites were The Wild Washerwomen and the How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen, which cracked me up as a child and still do.

Growing up I really loved all the Beatrix Potter stories too, which I think has very much influenced my own writing. People often mistakenly think of her stories as being sweet, but she had a brilliant talent for thinly veiling nature tooth and claw in sentences cloaked in civility. Her beautifully dressed animals, sipping tea in patterned floral cups often had very sharp teeth! I especially like this understated line from Benjamin Bunny when his father discovers a cat is holding his son hostage under a basket: ‘Old Mr. Bunny had no opinion whatever of cats’, meaning the cat was in VERY imminent danger indeed. or this one, from The Tale of Ginger And Pickles, where Ginger the cat has trouble serving the mice customers of their shop because it makes his mouth water so much: ’It would never do to eat our customers, they would leave and go to Tabatha Twitchet’s,’ Pickles tells him.

Q5: Susannah, do you have more fabulous book writing plans?

Susannah: I have another picture book out now, called This Book Can Read Your Mind, with Jacob Grant. It is a book that can actually read your mind! One word of warning however…it is extremely delicate, so whatever you do, just please make sure you don’t think of anything silly. I’m sure I can trust you with that!

My third book is on its way next year, this time with illustrator Paddy Donnelly. I am very excited indeed about it. It features my second favourite sort of beast (after badgers) but I think it is still under wraps so I will have to keep you in suspense as to what that is for now!