I love Book Week because it is a celebration of reading and reading is such an important skill, because imagining is such an important skill. It seems ironic that students are encouraged to do STEM at school but many don’t consider the Literary, Theatrical and Visual Arts as part of a holistic education. I know teachers aren’t generally suggesting this, but when a government cuts funds to the Arts, it says something about the social perception of imagining. Drawing, playing and reading are grassroots activities building the imagination and they must always be available. We must ensure children have buckets, spades, paper, pens, colours and books and all the other tools that help them imagine.
One ‘story’ that always delights me, comes from the conversation Neil Gaiman had with Kasuo Ishiguro in 2015. He talked about a trip to China in 2007 to a Party-sponsored Science-Fiction conference. The writers there said that till recently, science fiction was seen as ‘suspicious and counter-revolutionary’. Yet, while China entered the world market it realised it manufactured things easily, but its people weren’t inventing anything new. They needed to incorporate imaginative reading into their education because, as Gaiman said ‘ imagining is as important as the act of toiling. We have machines that can toil, but we don’t have machines that can imagine’.
It is not just the pragmatic use of imagining that builds a better world, it is the use of reading and imagining that builds an empathic and resilient human, which is necessary for a healthy society. Walking in another individual’s life builds empathy. I also believe one of the most helpful and healing aspects of reading is presenting the reader with a problem they may experience. What is great about this, is a reader will remember that most things are survivable, the character they cared about survived the problem they faced so the reader can too, or the reader can remember the way the character dealt with the problem and what happened afterwards, having practical methods for dealing with conflict. Very often, in children’s literature, we are covering those very real problems in a fairy-tale coat, but nonetheless, the true lesson is learned. For me, this is personally true. Books teach us how to treat others well, how to deal with our problems, and how to create a better world.
Imagining makes us whole people, and reading is a significant element of imagining. Bring on Book Week!
T.C. Shelley studied Creative Writing and Literature at university. She has been teaching English for over twenty years and her first school was classified as the most remote in Australia. She loves an audience and long before she took up teaching was writing and performing her poetry and short stories. She began writing novels to entertain her daughter, who wisely suggested that she try to get them published. Shelley lives with her husband, her daughter and two dogs in Perth, Western Australia. The Monster Who Wasn’t is her first novel.