children • education • parents
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Stories Will Save Our Souls, Part 7: Fiction Enhances Imagination in Children

September 5, 2018 by

There are few things in this world more sacred and life-preserving than books. I believe that stories can indeed save our souls, and in this series I will explain why it is important to share them with others, especially children. Countless people have told me that being read to by a parent or friend was one of their happiest childhood memories. Every child deserves happiness, so what are the details of making this work in reality?

Stories open up an imaginative world unparalleled by any digital medium, and have the ability to teach moral values, ward off evil vices, and ultimately carry an element of humanity this real world cannot match.

This blog post is part 7 in a series. Kudos for those who, by the end of this post, can name our current family read.

There are twelve in the series, and now only one remains. Like literary rockhounds we collected them judiciously over six years, not because we were slow, but because we chose to space them out. We threaded them like diamonds on a necklace, interspersed with pearls. The series has a chronological order, but we read them in order of arrival from two great artisans – grandparents and Google. We are down to the final jewel. The book sparkles in my hand and voice as I thread it on with the others.

Sunday, this last gem is packed lovingly in a box along with eight apples, three fishing rods, a homemade kite, and a case of jumbled tackle. The box is stowed under the seat of the donkey cart. The donkey, Ollie, is initially grumpy and refuses to be caught, sensing some work will be demanded of him, but in the end he is coerced to come to the hitching rail with an oat incentive. He is slow, ornery, and delightful. He will take us and our book on a Sunday adventure.

We are off to show my sister, newly arrived from England, the Australian bush. Appropriately, the explorers are transformed from given names to exciting identities: Captain, Able Seaman, Ship’s Boy, Best of all Natives, and importantly, Certified First Class Aunt. The donkey is decorated with wattle, looking both noble and nonsensical, and lest we forget his nature, occasionally turns abruptly to the right; completing tight circles of rebellion along our forward journey.

kids in a donkey cart

The August wind that buffets our foray promises a successful debut for the kite. Arrival at the dam allows Ollie respite to turn circles as he wishes, and the crew members to cast lines over water. The fish do not bite, and the kite’s maiden voyage ends under water because the Ship’s Boy inexplicably releases the reel in his excitement at seeing the kite momentarily soar upwards. Quick fishing for the sinking string rescues the kite. It is a sodden mass of glue and paper that is patched up and laid in the sun to dry.

The explorers retreat under a sheltered bank to munch apples and watch their set fishing lines. Wishful talk of guddling trout is my cue, as the Best of all Natives, to pull out the family book. The wind is strong, but my voice is stronger, and we are no longer by a farm dam in the Australian bush, but in a sailing dinghy with a small keel and a brown sail. My voice carries over the wind, and we are reversely “transported for life” high on the wind, over oceans and continents to the Lake District. It’s not that distant, only so far as the time it takes from written to spoken word.

The wind, the rippling waves, the clean taste of new apples, and our sheltered nest in the winter grass are the backdrop for my words. We have taken the book on an adventure – a stowaway of sorts, but now the bargaining is over.

The book reclaims the upper hand. Soon we forget ourselves and enter the world of imagination.

There is something wonderful about reading in nature.

There is something wonderful about reading in nature. Joan Aiken remembers of her own childhood, “In summer, I read out of doors, lying on my stomach on the grass, or on an old steamer-rug, or up in the cherry tree, eating the cherries before the birds could get them all. Or, with my mother, out on the nearby hills, which were called the Sussex Downs; we would take our tea, and my younger brother David in his pram and she had her knitting; and she would read aloud The Swiss Family Robinson, or The Talisman by Walter Scott, or Oliver Twist by Dickens, while I drew pictures to illustrate what she was reading, or made little gardens from twigs and moss.”

Likewise, our family revels in a shared fictional world. The in-family lingo is usually borrowed from the current read. Adverse or challenging circumstances are sure to be approached with the warning, “Better drowned than duffers, if not duffers won’t drown,” while good deeds are rewarded by lofty comparisons to virtuous role models. Our youngest will reenact scenes, while the older ones, past such childish games, will recall and remember vignettes apropos to the present situation. Indeed, reality and fiction are an oft-entwined world!

donkey pulling a cart

The kite (no duffer), though wrinkled, miraculously flies again. Ollie overeagerly pursues the homeward journey, and our book, no longer a stowaway, rides above board. After all, crown jewels should not be hidden, but insured and booked first class.

Our family book is The Picts and The Martyrs by Arthur Ransome; number eleven in the Swallows and Amazons series.

Read other posts in this series here.


About the author

Dori Moody holding a cat

Dori Moody

Dori Moody lives at the Danthonia Bruderhof in Australia. She and her husband, Henry, nurture four children, one cat, and...

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  • Dori, I'm enjoying your series so much! Feel like we're together on this. Seems like we went with your family and the donkey.

    alice w
  • Awesome!!

    Joe Mack