It’s the time of the year when children’s book writers crisscross the country, talking to teachers, librarians, and school children.
I do some crisscrossing, too. And before I do, I tell myself, I’d better know what I’m talking about; I’d better prepare.
Spread around me, this morning, are boxes of essays I’ve cut out of newspapers, letters I’ve loved from the kids, quotations, ideas scribbled on the backs of envelopes, and old speeches. It’s daunting to go through all of it searching for nuggets to talk about. I get caught up reading Andy Rooney’s talks, I pull out the books that go with my scribbles, Celtic Fairy Tales, Harriet Arnow’s THE DOLLMAKER, for example, and I’m lost, caught up in other worlds and forget about speech writing.
One of these days, I’m going to swoop up all my notes, throw them away, and start over.
Can I really imagine doing that?
But here’s something from A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN. (I must have read it a dozen times; I imagined myself as Francey Nolen as a young girl. I would have loved knowing Betty Smith.) Francey’s mother tells her mother:”…I do not want this child to grow up just to work hard. …What must I do to make a different world for her?”
And the answer speaks to me: “You must tell the fairfy tales of the old country. You must tell of those not of the earth who live forever in the hearts of people—fairies, elves, dwarfs and such…. Because the child must have a valuable thing which is called imagination. The child must have a secret world in which live things that never were. She must start out by believing in things not of this world. Then when the world becomes too ugly for living in, the child can reach back and live in her imagination.”
More, I think of all the books, all the stories…my family stories, for example, stories that have been added to and changed a little as the years go on, stories that connect me to the past and help me write.
I think of all the new things that have been added to the world since I was a child—huge breakthroughs in the medical field, in space exploration, in the comfort of our everyday living. And all of it began with someone’s imagining those possibilities.
So there’s the beginning of my talk next week. How valuable that thing called imagination is. It’s something to be encouraged, fostered. But how lovely it is that somehow children find the time to imagine, no matter where they are, no matter how they’re scheduled.