Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Imagine A Book

Imagine a book that both parent and child thoroughly enjoy reading, provides a unique bonding activity, involves an active reading experience,  generates conversation, inspires the imagination, and can give you an insight into your child's psyche (at least as far as this amateur is concerned)This is the Imagine book and it is a game changer.

This blog was meant to happen in January. However certain events have delayed us. Firstly, the library campaign distracted us. We can now confirm that two of the six local libraries have been vouchsafed so far. Supermatt modestly takes the credit for this. Second, Matt has been unwell which has taken up a lot of time and energy. His brief spell in hospital further confirmed the importance of this book in our lives and reminded me of the need to share it with you. You may thank me later. In a chocolatey way.

Two years ago we were gifted with this very special book from the lovely Mrs Smith. I was excited straight away as she had mentioned how wonderful it was. It is also such an attractive book. Big, bright, and red with bold inviting illustrations. Matt felt the same way and it has been a firm favourite ever since.
The Imagine Book, as we call it in our house, is actually two books: You Choose and Just Imagine are written by Pippa Goodhart with amusing illustrations by Nick Sharratt. We have the If I Could Be edition which has both books in one binding. 

On opening the book, a whole new world of reading discourse begins. There is no once upon a time but there is the potential for infinite stories to develop. There is no happy ending because the possibilities are endless. It is less a story book and more a catalogue of imaginary situations.  The concept is simple- follow the prompts on the page and make your selections from the illustrations. Argh- it is actually proving much harder to describe reading this book than I had envisaged. How about we try an example?

The first page spread shows different landscapes and asks 'if you could go anywhere where would you go?'

You must ignore the plaster. The knock to the head was nothing but the plaster is EVERYTHING!

The photo shows Matt deciding where he would go. And also where I should go. He either banishes me to the volcano realm whilst he runs a farm or makes sure I am firmly kept alongside him. I must add that my freewill is sometimes limited when reading this book with the boy. Sometimes I challenge the bossiness, sometimes I yield. I do have to draw the line when he insists on making me his pig on the pets page. 

There is so much to look at on every page. We once read the book with our friend Elsie and she chose the space rocket on said landcapes page. Neither the boy or myself had even noticed it before. Such is the vastness of the choices, the difference between readers, and the fact that Matt and I are probably creatures of habit. Each reading can be different although sometimes we do fall into themes and patterns. Sometimes the reading is predictable and familiar (still fun) and sometimes Matt is full of surprises and I am able to choose my own home, hat, shoes, etc. Sometimes.

Conversations with others in the know have revealed that one spread which causes much amusement is that of choosing who you would like for friends and family. You get to choose from a whole picture gallery of different folk. Even the youngest tots can try to identify characters most like their parents.

He looks like Daddy. No one looks like Mummy as they don't have her actual glasses on. 

Mrs Smith had an embarrassing moment in a cafe when one of her daughters asked if a heavily tattooed and bearded man was a caveman purely based on her knowledge from this book. Mrs B told me that her son sees the hippy couple as his parents and sometimes Daddy is the cowboy. Now this gets a little awkward as Matt also identifies the cowboy as Daddy. One of us has a very busy husband who sure has some 'splaining to do!

The book provides the child with the opportunity to imagine themselves in different scenarios both as a child or further down the line. They can choose a home (always the farm house for Matt obvs), a job, a pet, etc. They can imagine being magical or in charge of manufacturing. Matt enjoys making banana sweets for me on the factory page. The book is a great way to get to know their likes, dislikes, and dreams. Matt used it to get to know a new friend when he read it with the
nursery bear. Brown Bear was allocated a job in a shop, he was invited to live in the farmhouse, and also instructed to make honey in the factory machine. Needless to say the poor bear would not have time to choose a hobby from the 'what would you do for fun' page as he would be too busy.
Brown Bear looking enthusiastic as ever

The where would you sleep pages amuse me because Matt struggles as the most exciting looking beds (sports shoe or cowboy bed) are not big enough for the two of us. Actually now I come to think of it it is not that funny that Matt is planning a future existence where he works, furnishes his own home, chooses a career, and has still factored in co-sleeping with Mama.

My favourite pages are the careers and what would you do for fun sections. Sometimes I take my choices quite seriously and dream about being a librarian who goes bird watching on her days off. I cannot believe I am sharing these wild fantasies with you.

I like these pages most of all because they provide so many ideas for the young reader. Being able to visualise what jobs look like, even at Matt's tender age, is an important exercise. The illustrations show what life looks like for other people and opens their eyes as to what they can go out there and grab for themselves: the world is your lobster. The illustrations challenge stereotypes and remove barriers. I love this book because it is aspirational We should have had this book in the Connexions office where I worked with teenagers.

The Imagine book gets children thinking. It really gets Matt's brain into gear. It challenges him to stretch his imagination and we enjoy a very active reading session. This means that it is not a bedtime book, people! It is best to be alert when reading it as there is much to gain from this activity. Children can acquire essential skills in terms of reading the simple vocabulary, visualising, prioritising, creativeness, considering consequences, and the responsibility of decision making. It expands their thinking and you never know where a reading may take you. The book also leads the conversation in various directions. Sometimes Matt's questions leave me dumbfounded. Looking at the swiss chalet I was unprepared for the question: how do people talk in Switzerland?

The Imagine book can provide a psychological insight into what is going on with your little one. It can give a glimpse (I am reluctant to claim any more than that) into the child's mind, dreams, and priorities. Frinstance sometimes Matt wants me with him in every imaginary situation. Sometimes he strikes for independence. The book can help to reveal his hopes and fears. He is particularly wary of the pages where he is asked to imagine being big or small and he really struggles with imagining being made of a different material. His mind makes the leap to consequences of being made of glass etc. There are few happy endings to be had with that trail of thought. He went through a stage of declaring he would stay as he is. Had life been moving pretty quickly for him at this point?

This book helped me to understand how Matt was feeling when, as I mentioned above, he was admitted to hospital and after he had spent about three days being poked, prodded, and plugged in he began to perk up. I popped home for essential supplies and on the top of my list was the Imagine Book. OK so it was actually calpol, pants, and then the Imagine book. I wasn't sure if he would be in the mood for reading especially given the active participation involved but I figured we needed a break from CBeebies on drip feed. 

Try to spot Mummy the pet pig

I was so happy to see his delight when I pulled his familiar friend out of the bag. We cuddled up in the hospital bed (putting the sides up is a huge bonus to bedsharing) and pored over the pages. Matt was really into it but it was a pretty insightful activity. He really tried to dictate the field of play and limit the range of what I could choose from. He wanted everything and completely took away my freedom. He really wanted the control- even more than usual. I guess after three days in hospital with no choice or autonomy Matt had had enough. He sought to regain control through the book. Fair enough I suppose. This once. Who am I kidding? Anyhoo, we gained much more than the balance of power too. The book gave us a moment to be close and to ignore the wires and alarms. It gave us a chance to escape to somewhere we know. It allowed us to reimagine normality after a few chaotic very not normal days. So whilst we usually read the book to make leaps with our imaginations this time the book allowed us to return to ourselves and reconnect with each other.

This book transforms the reading experience with your child. Be prepared for it to become a favourite in your house. I nearly cried when a page got torn and Mrs B needed to get a  second copy as her's (their's) was so well read. This book is different. This book is special. If you have it you will understand. If you don't have it you will need to get on it! You Choose- as the grown up it may be the last decision you get to make concerning the book.