By Katherine Locke
Children often have active imaginations, as any parent will be quick to tell you. And in some cases, active imaginations, imaginary friends, or imaginary worlds can serve a purpose, such as helping a child learn to cope with real life trauma or events. Creating a sense of distance, or empowering themselves through imaginary places, can be one way that children try to make sense of a confusing or frightening world around them. We see this reflected often in literature. The children in The Chronicles of Narnia were displaced because of war, and went through a wardrobe into a fantasy world where there was another war—one that they themselves had the power to end.
Here are three books which may be of interest to pediatricians, medical students, or the families you treat in your practice. These books all involve children creating and/or discovering a magical world as a place to escape their real world, or a place where they can understand and find power in their real world situations.
In Corey Ann Haydu’s RULES FOR STEALING STARS, Silly and her sisters find magical closets where they can control and invent scenarios that are nothing like their real life, with their helpless father and alcoholic mother. The sisters learn to lean on each other not just inside the magical closets, but in their real life, as their relationships evolve and change. Written by the child of an alcoholic parent, RULES FOR STEALING STARS received a starred review from School Library Journal.
In SOME KIND OF HAPPINESS by Claire Legrand, Finley doesn’t have the words for her anxiety attacks and her panic attacks. But when she’s sent off to distant relatives so her parents can try and save their marriage, Finley spends an increasing amount of time in a fantasy world where she’s a princess who isn’t easily discarded, who isn’t forgotten and who isn’t the victim of her parents’ anger or her own anxiety. And through her fantasy world, Finley learns to live with and control her anxiety so she can confront family secrets and stand on her own two feet.
And in the well-reviewed THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF CHARLIE PRICE by Jennifer Maschari, Charlie Price and his sister fall into a parallel world where their mother isn’t dead, and where their grief doesn’t need to take over their lives. In this book, the parallel world isn’t a benign one and works against Charlie and his sister. But from a narrative perspective, the reader goes on the journey with Charlie as he realizes he must face his grief and live in the real world, as terrible as it feels without his mother. Charlie triumphs over the parallel world and comes unto his own in the real one.
Madeleine L’Engle, the late award-winning author of many children’s books including A WRINKLE IN TIME, said when accepting a lifetime achievement award, “Often the only way to look clearly at this extraordinary universe is through fantasy, fairy tale and myth.” And we see this clearly in how children use their imaginations, both in fiction and in real life. Engaging children to talk about their imaginary worlds and imaginary friends may lead to revelations about their real life, but it can also encourage them to find the tools for the real world through their own power.
September 16-19, 2016
Anaheim Convention Center