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A whimsical (and deliciously scary) adventure about the power of friendship and imagination

November 5, 2015

Imaginary cover imageWhat happens to childhood imaginary friends when their real-life children grow up and forget about them?

We adored The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold and Emily Gravett: a whimsical – and sometimes scary – adventure about the power of imagination and friendship! And we’re thrilled to be sharing some of the illustrations and quotes from the book with you.

‘A.F. Harrold writes with a very distinctive, unusual and utterly charming voice
in this warm and funny tale … Fabulous’ –  Jeremy Strong, The Guardian

The Imaginary is exactly the sort of book we love to read aloud with kids of around 8+.

Older kids who enjoy authors like Neil Gaiman could also read it by themselves, and spend time poring over the atmospheric illustrations. But there’s just something about the book’s  themes – and the deliciously sinister villain – which we think lend themselves to reading aloud!

Only Amanda can see her imaginary friend Rudger, at least until Mr Bunting turns up at the front door. Mr Bunting hunts imaginaries. Rumour says that he eats them. And he’s sniffed out Rudger. After a frightening accident, Rudger is left alone, running for his imaginary life. But can a boy who isn’t there survive without a friend to dream him up?

Imaginary internal pink dino for wordpressIn the course of his adventure, Rudger encounters a talking cat and finds temporary sanctuary in a Library full of forgotten ‘imaginaries’, whose children have grown up and left them behind. We learn that not all imaginary friends take human form. They might be gnomes, dogs, gramophones or pink dinosaurs! (And most of them like cake.)

Rudger manages to get himself re-assigned to one of Amanda’s friends (which leads to some humorous episodes, as he has to put up with being ‘imagined’ as a very prissy girl in a dress and curls) and through her, finally locates Amanda, in a hospital room.

The final encounter with the very, very creepy Mr Bunting is rather frightening, but friendship and imagination triumph in what is ultimately a heartwarming tale.

‘Imagination is slippery, Rudger knew that well enough.
Memory doesn’t hold it tight, it has trouble enough holding on to the real …’

Some adults might also read The Imaginary as a book about loss and the struggle to keep the people we love in our memories. But kids are likely to read it as simply a thrilling adventure and story about friendship.

We were touched by Rudger’s loyalty to Amanda. Truth be told, Amanda doesn’t always treat him well: he gets the blame for mishaps around the house and has to play her games by her rules. And she often eats the extra food her understanding mum provides for her invisible, imaginary friend herself! But she does redeem herself in the end, allowing Rudger to take charge of their imaginative play.

‘Now that he’d found Amanda, though, he had a feeling in the bottom of his stomach of rightness.
As if he’d been made for her. As far as he could tell she was his first friend.
She was also his only friend, and therefore his best friend.’

The beautiful black & white and colour illustrations for this book were created by Emily Gravett and are full of subtle details. As prominent book reviewer Julia Eccleshare says, ‘Emily Gravett’s illustrations capture the hazy world of the imaginaries brilliantly.’

Here’s a video of Gravett illustrating sinister Mr Bunting’s creepy ‘imaginary friend’:

In an interview with Graham Marks for Just Imagine Story Centre, A.F. Harrold explained how Gravett came to be involved in the project, and how her illustrations changed the book:

‘We were going to have one illustration  at the beginning of each chapter. Time went by and I e-mailed my editor and said, “Should we actually have a cover image  by now?” She e-mailed back and said, “I was having a secret meeting this afternoon, that I can’t tell you anything about. To do with illustrators.”

Imaginary internal Rudger disappearing for wordpress‘I figured that they don’t have secret meetings that they can’t tell you about in order to get a poor illustrator. I think Mervyn Peake would have been great, if you know his Treasure Island illustrations. He would have been perfect, if he wasn’t dead. Eventually, they came back and said that Emily Gravett was doing it. I’m not an expert on picture books, so I didn’t know a lot about Emily or her work. I looked her up and thought, “She’s pretty good.” A twice Greenaway Medal-winner, that can’t be a bad person to work with.

‘What happened was, Emily showed them some samples and they liked them so much that they said, “Let’s not waste her. Let’s get her to illustrate the book, instead of just chapter titles.” Emily coming on board made the book more noticeable, and it also made the book more of an event, and more of a beautiful object than it would have been, perhaps, otherwise.’

We agree – it’s a lovely object!

Imaginary internal Rudger pointing for wordpressBuy The Imaginary or find out more

Read our article on the benefits of reading scary books (for most children)

Educators might be interested in the teachers notes for The Imaginary, available to download from the publisher’s website. 

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