Tag Archives: imagination

Confessions of a Failed Geek: My Kids Don’t Like Fantasy

Imagining… but maybe not swords and dragons.

In the last few months, a horrible truth has come down in our home. While the kids enjoy a little Harry Potter, like playing Dungeons and Dragons, and looked forward to seeing the new Star Wars, they just don’t care for fantasy.

I have been trying to deny this for years. I’ve been pushing the Diana Wynne Jones, the Lloyd Alexander, the Gregor the Overlander books on them. They often tolerate it. Sometimes they find it enjoyable. But the truth has been written on the wall for a long time. The fantasy books get an, “okay,” but they would much rather hear The Saturdays, The Great Brain, a pile of historical fiction, a mystery novel.

I was a fantasy fanatic as a kid. I read nearly everything that was labeled fantasy on the children’s shelves – Narnia, Edward Eager, Robin McKinley, and so forth. Then I moved into the adult section and tried out books like the Dragonriders of Pern and The Belgariad.

The idea that fantasy is “just escapism” has been pretty well refuted in the last few decades as children’s and now young adult literature has become more saturated with it and even adult literature has leaned more and more speculative with writers like Neil Gaiman and George RR Martin as some of the most blockbuster bestsellers out there.

Fantasy was so influential in forming the way I looked at the world. Fantasy is big battles between good and evil. It’s big questions about right and wrong. It’s about power and responsibility. And it lays it all out in a way that’s more epic and more philosophically bare than most realistic fiction for kids. It’s not an escape from reality, it’s reality heightened for young readers, where you can really think about what you believe and challenge your imagination.

I can remember flying through and then rereading fantasy novels, especially in middle school. Obsessing over the details, copying the maps of imaginary places, and then dreaming up my own imaginary places. I can remember imagining, all Mary Sue style, what it would be like to be in these fantasy places, visiting Narnia, tempted by the Dark Side, tromping into Mordor, fighting the power of IT, training to battle dragons.

And now, I realized, my kids just won’t have those moments or anything like them. It made me want to cry.

But, gathering myself together. It’s okay. I would have groaned at some of the long classics and historical fiction that they actually adore. They adored The Secret Garden when they were little. They actually really enjoy classics that other kids often find sort of dull, like when we read Island of the Blue Dolphins. And far from shying away from tough topics, Mushroom’s favorite books are critically acclaimed books about tough topics like Mockingbird and Counting By 7’s. Those aren’t the sort of books I would have read at that age at all, but they’re undoubtedly giving him different perspectives on the world. They get excited about a new Penderwicks book and reveled having a new Calpurnia Tate book to listen to.

And while they may not be fantasy nuts, they don’t lack for imagination, playing out long soap operas of intrigue and love between their toys and coming up with elaborate spy, ninja, and mythology inspired games with their friends. For them, art, history, and politics can be just as much fodder for the imagination as Narnia or Middle Earth.

Paracosm, Inc.

Playing BFG in the basement (now dry!)

We happened to catch a little bit of Studio 360 a couple of weeks ago. (Finding the balance of when to turn on NPR in the car so we can hear and discuss unexpected things in a time where bombings and violence dominate the news is a whole other tangent.  Suffice it to say that I’ve been having trouble with it lately, but I hate missing moments like these.)  The kids perked up their ears for this story about imaginary friends.  When the introduced the idea of paracosms, both my boys especially lit up.  “We have a paracosm!”

In case you don’t know, a paracosm is an imaginary world.  As it explains in the story, we don’t know a lot about kids with imaginary friends and imaginary worlds.  Do they become more creative adults?  Do they become the innovators and artists of the future?  It would seem to make sense, but we don’t actually have the answers.  I love things like this, research being done in the moment.  What does make some kids have imaginary friends?  It wouldn’t be the same as the study in the radio story, but what if we asked successful inventors and artists and designers if they had imaginary friends and paracosms as children?  Would they be more likely than a random sample of adults to say yes?

Sometimes I feel like life at the rowhouse is ruled by paracosm.  I’ve posted here about the BFG (Big Friendly Good Company) and all its various exploits.  It’s the imaginary corporation that Mushroom and BalletBoy have been collectively inventing for years.  I’ve also posted about BalletBoy’s deep fears that growing up will mean leaving their paracosm behind.

One of the things I love about having twins is exact type of interplay.  They collectively create, imagine and negotiate with more ease than many other kids.  There is a sort of magic in seeing them work out this completely nonsensical world that is so insulated that they can’t even really explain it very well to outsiders.  It spawns signs, tickets, maps, and lots of fake credit cards.  There are heroes and villains and ongoing storylines so complex I never understand them very well.  They can play it together for hours upon hours.  Speaking of studies, someone should do a study of joint twin imaginary friends and paracosms.

I wish they would write it all down, but I think every time I ask them to try, it chafes their sense of ownership.

Newsbulletin: Mary and the Frog Show Canceled

This just in from Mushroom and BalletBoy, the CEO’s of the BFG (Big Friendly Good) Corporation:  The BF Network’s flagship show, Mary and the Frog has been canceled after several years on the air.  The show began when Mary, a stray from a Little People set that was otherwise lost, nearly drowned in a large bathtub and was rescued by the Frog, thus starting a lifelong friendship.  They are pictured below with the Duck, one of many ducks to try and interfere with their relationship over the years.  The ratings for the show had been down, however, so under pressure from their rival corporation, the BF BAD, the BF Network has canceled the show.  Mary and the Frog may continue to appear at the BF Festival.

Seriously, you guys, every time I despair that my kids are only doing okay with reading, writing and math and that all their friends have better handwriting and can add bigger numbers or express themselves better, I have to remind myself that it’s because they’re busy running a multinational corporation, making big decisions like this one.  Oh, and that their imaginations kick nearly everyone else’s rear end.

Imagination in Search of Knowledge

Sometimes, as we get focused on learning all the skills I’m trying to teach: sounding out new words, adding bigger numbers, telling time, and so forth, I forget that one of the best ways to learn at this age is through imagination.  Luckily I’ve got the kids to remind me.

One of the first times I taught one of our co-ops, the kids had chosen to study dinosaurs so I threw together a “time machine” in the basement and we went on an imaginary journey through time, exploring the dinosaurs and the history of life on earth, using a picture book as our guide.  The kids loved it so much, that I did it a second time, when we were studying jungles.  For that adventure, the time machine took us through an entire year in the desert with the excellent book Jungle Days, Jungle Nights by Martin Jordan.

Now, I’ve been typecast.  The kids insisted that I do another trip in the time machine.  Since we were studying space, I figured the topic had to be the Big Bang and the life and death of the earth.

This is our time machine. Please note that it's blue like the TARDIS. It usually has more pillows around it to cushion the blow when we land.

In practical terms, all we do is climb into the makeshift time machine, press the imaginary buttons, rattle it around and then tumble out.  Sometimes we put on special imaginary protective gear first.  Then we walk around pretending to see things.  Typically, certain kids like to get stuck – on the other side of a lava floe or a flood or trapped as a dinosaur hunts them.  Then the rest of us have to rescue them so we can get back in the time machine and on to the next stop.

This time, I added a twist.  I made each kid a “Universal Passport” where they had to apply for visas by answering questions about their destinations after I read them the “travel guide.”  Our Big Bang guide book was Big Bang! A Tongue Tickling Tale of a Speck that Became Spectacular by Carolyn Decristofano.  This was a strange book, with an alphabetic poem that told the story, but with cool images and some good analogies that helped the kids understand things.  As is often the case, I found just the right book after the fact, so if you want a simple picture book on the Big Bang, I think the book Older than the Stars by Karen Fox is a better option. Our second guide was the book The Beginning of the Earth by Franklyn Branley.  As the book is so old, I had to make some corrections (and have to admit I don’t know if I got them all).  I love that our library keeps their old books, but sometimes you want something slightly more up to date than 1972 for a topic that has changed a good bit since then.  Next, I got to pretend to be the “Passport Officer.”  I put on a special hat and sat behind the “Passport Control” desk.  Also, I did a silly voice.  You have to do a silly voice.

The travel visas, which you can see the picture above, are made from sticker paper and put along a little mini-timeline inside the passport which I drew ahead of time for the kids.  I have gotten so much out of using printable sticker paper, by the way.  I’ve used it to print timeline stickers, tiny monuments of the world for our map, and for many projects like this.  I highly recommend it.

Other than the moment when a couple of the kids nearly got stuck in a Black Hole near the end of the universe, it was a pretty good trip.

Brought to You by the Big Friendly Network

Last year, we read The BFG by Roald Dahl.  It’s such a great book.  If frobscottle doesn’t make your kids laugh, nothing will.  And if you read it aloud, you get to try to do the queen’s voice.  Hello!

Well, this great work of children’s literature had an unexpected impact on Mushroom and BalletBoy.  From the moment they heard it, everything in their imaginary universe began joining up with the BFG.  It began slowly, but at this point, the Big Friendly Network has taken over everything.  First, the BF Network began sponsoring bathtime, when Mushroom and BalletBoy play some sort of game involving the bath toys.  Next, the BF Network began designing websites.  Carnivals and festivals were started by the BF Company.  They opened a theme park.  The BF Company began selling things.  They opened restaurants, including a healthy fast food chain that is trying to challenge McDonald’s for market dominance.  They came up with the BF Pad, a gaming platform where you can download and play games with friends.  The BF Company started an airline and a bus company to take you wherever you want to go.  Whenever Mushroom and BalletBoy play any type of game, they inevitably tell me that it’s about to become a show on the BF Network, with an accompanying website designed by the BF Company, of course.  The BF Network just started BF Little Kids, a network just for younger viewers.  The Big Friendly Company makes Legos.  They control Star Wars.  They bring you Avatar: The Last Airbender and Phineas and Ferb.

I think they even brought you this blog post.  From what I can tell, the Big Friendly Company is the world’s biggest monopoly on children’s entertainment and products.  It’s like Disney, only maybe even BIGGER, not to mention more creepy sounding.  I mean, is there a more big brother sounding name than the Big Friendly Company?

Does this mean my kids will one day be brilliant businessmen?  Is this the result of my constant media literacy brainwashing that they imagine these massive corporations controlling everything?  Or do they just have some crazy awesome imaginations and do you just never know where they’re going to go?

I have no idea why they put all the early readers on the floor in the shape of a cross. Really, no clue. But I'll bet it had something to do with the Big Friendly Company.