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Physical manifestations of the imagination: the weight of children's lit & the power of imagination.

I have been thinking a lot about imagination lately.

Conversations about racism, demands not only reforming but abolishing current systems in place in our society, and my children's constant questions beginning with "why" have me thinking about imagination.

"Why do we have summer homework?"

"Because at one time, baby, someone imagined it. They shared what they imagined. Someone else agreed with the idea too. And the idea stuck and spread."

This morning I listened to a brilliant podcast (On Being with Krista Tippett) with Jason Reynolds, critically-acclaimed author of numerous novels for middle schoolers, called Fortifying Imagination. Reynolds shares, "You know, usually, people talk about, well, this is the history of a thing. And it is, but that history is birthed out of the imagination. It literally was conjured up. Imagination is so powerful that it could set forth 400, 500 years of something wrong, which means that it very well could set forth 400, 500 years of something right. That’s sort of the beauty of humanity."

Once we understand that every norm, policy, and construct in our world was born in the imagination as an idea, we can begin to understand the importance of imagination and can accept the idea that we can imagine and manifest a new way of being and doing. We can literally write (and read) our way into ways of being.

Children's literature is one of the places that we point to when we think about imagination. It is full of magical worlds, talking animals, and playful storylines, but "children's fiction has a long and noble history of being dismissed" (Rundell 2019). Reynolds also said, "I think sometimes we reduce children and young people to half-formed things. And so we write half-formed stories about them. And even that ties to the way people talk about children’s literature. People talk about children’s literature as if it is a category that is full of half-formed work, but that too is because they believe children are half-formed. And so I think those of us who acknowledge the humanity of young people, those of us who acknowledge the complexity and the beauty and the sophistication of childhood know that when you’re writing it, all of those elements have to be present."

Writing books for children and reading books to children are political acts. Stories and books have profound power for children. In his writing masterclass (a video compilation writing course on, writer Neil Gaiman shared, “I think authors you read when you are young affect you on a level that is very, very primal and very different. So the authors whose work I encountered as a child, who built worlds, really stayed with me."

Since troubling discourses of colonialism and supremacy are transmitted via childhood stories, it is absolutely critical that these functions of children's literature are revealed, historicized, and interrogated. In contrast, if today's children grow up with literature that is multicultural, diverse, and decolonized, we can begin the work of healing our nation and world through humanizing stories. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas

This is especially powerful to consider if we hold a wider understanding of literature as meaning "not only what is written but what is voiced, what is expressed, what is invented, in whatever form - in which case maps, sermons, comic strips, cartoons, speeches, photographs, movies, war memorials, and music all huddle beneath the literary umbrella" (Sollors & Marcus, as cited in Krystal, 2014).

The ideas that children are exposed to shape who they are. Who they are shapes what our future world will be. And it is in the writing down of the thing that it is crystallized and then proliferated around the world. "What knits together out of nothing, and yet is solid enough to declare that it is so, recommends itself to us... In this lies the power, and the danger, of stories (Rundell 2019).

Children's literature and children's imaginations play a huge role in shaping our world. It is imperative that we maintain the ability to be creative and imaginative. Change doesn't happen when things stay the same; the work of making new worlds always beings in the imagination (Thomas 2016). Reynolds said, "because, at the end of the day, ultimately, I need young people — we, the collective we, need young people to be able to activate their imaginations. If they cannot, if they don’t have — if, by the time you’re out of high school, your imagination is shot, we’re in trouble, bigtime. We’re in trouble."

We must mind, then, the imagination gap in children's literature and media. "This imagination gap is caused in part by the lack of diversity in childhood and teen life depicted in children's books and media. It limits them to single stories about the world around them and ultimately affects the development of their imaginations" (Thomas 2016).

But imagination is not and never has been optional: it is at the heart of everything, the thing that allows us to experience the world from the perspectives of others: the condition precedent of love itself. Katherine Rundell

And so, we consider the political acts of writing children's books, telling children stories, and reading books to children, understanding the weight that stories hold in our development and ways of thinking and being. Understanding that the imagination is the only thing that allows us to develop empathy through the ability to see ourselves in someone else's shoes. Understanding that the imagination is the only thing that will liberate us from old ways of being. During the podcast, Reynolds shares his favorite James Baldwin quote, which weaves together these ideas: 'The interior life is the real life. And the intangible dreams of a person may have a tangible effect on the world.' "It’s basically saying, what one can imagine, internally, what one can think about when nobody knows when nobody’s around, one’s secrets, could shift human life. What an amazing thing to think about."

Listen to the podcast here.


Continue the conversation...

Why Imagination is the Only Thing You Need to Change the World

The Power of Human Imagination to Change the World

Reflecting On Our Childhood Imagination And How to Reclaim It



Jason Reynolds - Fortifying Imagination

Arthur Krystal - What Is Literature?

Rundell, K. (2019). Why you should read childrens books, even though you are so old and wise. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Thomas, E. E. (2016). Stories Still Matter: Rethinking the Role of Diverse Children's Literature Today. Language Arts, 94(2), 112–119.


Today's Pairing: Pottery

Pottery is a physical manifestation of the imagination, transforming the earth, heat, glazes, energy, and time into a completely new creation. Hannah Palma Laky is a beautiful dear friend and ceramic artist in Grand Marais, Minnesota.

She writes, "I view ceramics as the repurposing of what is already here in front of us (Earth). So many civilizations have stories about their life because of the pottery and pottery shards uncovered. It tells us what was important to them then, how they lived life, their rituals, routines and the materials they utilized. I want to foster the infatuation of vessels created by hand, and I want to keep our civilization alive by telling a story through ceramics."

Check out the transformational offerings of her imagination here:


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