Bored = Imagination

In a recent Time Magazine interview the creator of the wildly popular online game Minecraft, Markus Persson, talked about how “his lack of artistic ability turned into one of the game’s defining traits, ‘A tree doesn’t look like a tree, but you know it’s a tree. It makes it feel more real, because a larger part of it takes place in your imagination.’ ” I can’t tell you how many times I heard that word ‘imagination’ or how many times I was told to “use your imagination” when I was growing up; and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told my own daughters to “use your imagination.”

Eric books blog

I was just one of those kids who loved to complain about there being nothing to do – and I grew up on 400 acres of farm and wheat land, which included two old creepy houses (with cellars!) that had been abandoned decades before I came along; there was a creek that wound its way through the farm and a couple of old, rusty windmills and big, red wooden barns near my grandparent’s farmhouse. There was not one thing about this place that could really be described as ‘boring.’ Not one thing but me…

Yet my grandmother, who lived not far from us on the other side of the farm, loved to here me say that I was ‘bored.’ No sooner had I proclaimed that magic word than she would spring into action and send me off on outdoor adventures to gather this or that somewhere among those 400 acres and then return to her home later that day with what I had found; and then to have her ask me to help her make these amazing mini cherry cheesecakes, play games like Payday or Concentration, or rearrange her bookshelves and the long row of cabinets beneath them.

Ah, those cabinets beneath the bookshelves. I loved them, these little hidden spaces behind closed doors, stacked completely to the brim with books of all kinds and shapes and sizes. It was a space so full of books that you had to shut the door quickly to keep them from spilling out onto the living room floor. Honestly, it was amazing and it was a treasure to me. There were all kinds of books in there, but the ones that stand out in my mind today are mostly children’s books from my dad’s childhood and comic books and baseball cards used as bookmarks and handwritten notes scrawled inside the book covers from people I had never heard of or only heard about. I would lose myself in these cabinets and the boredom would lose itself there, too.

I’m grateful for my grandmother and that old farm and the books that she drew me into and taught me to cherish simply because she cherished them and had no intentions of ever having too many or relegating even one to be put away in a box or attic somewhere. Though she now lives in a house in the city, she still has most of those books in nearly every room of it…and I still get lost in the shelves and their cabinets when I visit her, some 30 years later.

My 80-year old grandmother and the 20 or 30-year old creator of Minecraft have something in common – they understand the value of imagination. And imagination often comes because of good old-fashioned boredom. Both are valuable for us all. So next time your kids tell you they’re bored, applaud them and tell them what my grandma told me – “use your imagination” – then smile and walk away. 30 years later, they will be glad you did.

Land of Make Believe

Books and Movies

A few posts back I wrote about our love for good movies and their relationship, for better and for worse, to good books. On the one hand, imagination can be kickstarted by a great book, while on the other, imagination can be diminished by a great movie. I’m not a book snob about this relationship – remember we love movies and good books turned into good movies. Still, the whole idea of a movie version of a book can too easily take away some of the imaginative qualities that books possess simply by what they are – words on pages that sometimes include just enough illustrations to get the reader thinking about those words and dreaming of a world all their own.

But there is an element to turning the written word into a movie that I had not considered until now. I recently listened to an interview with the incredibly versatile actor and musician Jeff Bridges. He spoke about his decades-long history of working in the movie business and was asked how the industry had changed over the years. I was really surprised by his excited answer. He said that movie-making is far more (that’s right, he said “more”) primitive for an actor today because there is so much technology, green and blue screens, and computer animation that require a great deal of imagining on the part of the actor.

And from where does this award-winning actor trace the strong roots of his imagination? When Jeff was around eleven years old, his father, Lloyd Bridges (1913-1998), often asked him to join him on the television series “Sea Hunt” (1958-1961). Jeff loved it because it allowed him to use his imagination WITH his dad as he played his part in the show!

Today, in movies like “Tron” or the upcoming “Seventh Son”, Bridges uses that vast imagination to tell us such interesting stories.

We can offer the same to our kids – to join us somewhere in our imaginations and theirs. Sure there is a place for imaginative movies and video games, but there is at first an unequaled place for imaginative kids and dads.

Let’s find ways to give them their place.

Look at this book! The Library

* Every Tuesday we introduce you to a favorite book from our secret book room, and give you a unique recipe over on our Book Cook page…

The Library book review

Today’s great book: The Library by Sarah Stewart (1995, Farrar Straus Giroux) and illustrated by David Small.
Time to Read: short and sweet, just right after a long day at work; this book has a great rhythm to it.
Summary: From the back cover…Elizabeth Brown doesn’t like to play with dolls, and she doesn’t like to skate. What she does like to do is read books. Lots of them, all the time. Over the years her book collection grows to such enormous proportions that Elizabeth Brown cannot fit one more volume into her house. But this dilemma is nothing our heroine can’t overcome, and a splendid solution is promised.
Best Quote: “Books were piled on top of chairs and spread across the floor. Her shelves began to fall apart, as she read more and more. Big books made very solid stacks on which teacups could rest. Small books became the building blocks for busy little guests.”

Our View: This book has become a bit of a trademark at our house, a slogan if you will. We love books and we own many. You can find a single book, a shelf of books, a stack of books, a box of books, a row of books, a river of books, an ocean of books, a hallway of books in this house. The same can be said of Elizabeth Brown, the heroine of today’s book. It is a book like The Library that gives us permission to love every one of our books, a goodwill grant to own as many as possible and a double dare to read every single one of them before we die. Simply put – we need more shelves because of the inspiration that shines through this wonderful book!

Remember to visit our Book Cook page for an “Eat this Book” library recipe created by the kids to accompany this particular book.

Imagination 101

 Sunglasses and Books

“Imagine with me if you will…”  Where is that from?  It sounds a little like the opening to ‘The Twilight Zone’ or something along those lines.  I can’t place it, but maybe you can. Either way, it is a phrase that has me thinking…there is just nothing quite like a good imagination.  If you read Monday’s blog post you’ll see there our list of some recent books that we call “page turners,” those books that you just can’t seem to put down and would risk choking on a small, green, sour fruit to read.

In that blog, I made a passing reference to the book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (first published in 1900 – that means this classic is 113 years old…that is cool).  Our children were especially enamored with anything remotely related to Oz when they were young and so I decided to read the original book to them before bedtime – our youngest was maybe four and so the older sisters were eight and twelve.  I have always had the original book on my shelf and can even remember that we were living on the farm and went to a nearby auction when I was in the 6th grade, where my parents bought it for me (I have no idea why that is such a clear memory to me).  However, I had never taken the time to read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, mostly because the movie was an annual television event when we were growing up in the 1970′s and 80′s – so I guess I thought I knew the story…so why read it?

Now as a father and a professor in the field of early childhood education, I have worried that movies would be the ultimate demise of great imagination in our kids.  Don’t get me wrong, I love movies and the girls and I have seen more old classic films than we can count, as well as the good new movies today.  We do love movies.  However, I realized that when our kids wanted to start seeing movies that were being made from good books, and more than likely books that they should read anyway, we needed to make a plan.  We agreed that if there was an appropriate book available that would also be coming out as a movie that they might want to see, we would read it before we saw it.  It wasn’t a hard and fast rule by any means, but we – both the girls and me – kept it pretty well and it worked its magic in the most unusual way.  And it was a century-old book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, that cinched the deal for us!

Our older daughters had seen the original classic film about Oz and starring Judy Garland and Toto and a tornado and black and white to color and on and on.  It is a great movie and the music, come on, who does not love to hear the Cowardly Lion sing his song of fear and courage in one of the best baritone voices of the period!  A great movie to be sure.

But the book – I can’t tell you how good this book is, how much better it is than this great classic film of it.  There is backstory and danger and fear and humor and a world so detailed and interesting that it is like every page was written in some alternate HD programming for books.

Oz

Our youngest had not seen the movie yet when we began reading the book, so we were all mesmerized by it as we read and talked about it and told others what we had found in its pages.  It is something to learn why the Tin Man is tin and why he needs that heart.  That piece of the story alone, it will choke you up.  And – there really are lions and tigers and bears in that forest and it is more than a little scary to read about them.

My daughter’s imagination grew by leaps and bounds while we traversed through the land of Oz.  Her dad’s imagination did, too!  When we saw the old movie again as a family, it was different because we knew “the rest of the story.”

Even better, the lesson was learned for us all – a great book that was great enough to be turned into a movie, is still a great book.  Next time you pick up a book, before you even open it to read it to your kids, point to the cover and say in your coolest Rod Serling or John Wayne or James Earl Jones voice, “Imagine with me if you will…” and then open up that book and watch what happens.

Books and Candy

We were talking with a friend last week when the subject turned to, of all things, Turkish Delight. Have you heard of it? My introduction to the candy came when I read C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (first published in 1950) as a boy – but it gained wider popularity when the sugary confection was used so well in the movie of that book that debuted in 2005. Our friend insisted that we try some, so we ordered the variety box – rose, mint, hazelnut, pistachio, lime, and lemon – and it’s really pretty good.

Turkish Delight and a great book!

I remember when our daughter was in elementary school and one of her outstanding teachers read the book to the class and then masterminded the coolest Narnia party I had ever seen. Turkish Delight was THE dessert at that party and my daughter and her friends were so intrigued by it, especially because of the way Lewis used it in his book as the sweet element that would lure the boy Edmund into the White Witch’s sour world.

During that time, our daughter would come home from school and relate nearly every detail of the book to us – her teacher was reading it to them every day, a few pages at a time. The only way I know to describe what I saw in her eyes and heard in her voice then was just how it struck her young imagination with such force. The book represented to her mind such a different kind of adventure, a literary work of importance in which the characters were so well-developed and thoroughly interesting that, to her, it didn’t feel like the “normal” children’s book. It was as though the author thought she was smart enough to get it..a chapter book with many unusual and descriptive words, just a few well-placed illustrations, intriguing locations such as Cair Paravel and the Castle of the Four Thrones, and…Turkish Delight.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest,” and, “No book is really worth reading at age ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty – except, of course, books of information. The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all.”

I couldn’t agree more, especially after reading so many children’s stories (picture books, novels, and series) with my daughters over the past 18 years. Choosing a book to read with your kids is a special undertaking, so as another great adventure movie character once taught us, “Choose, but choose wisely.” A variety box of Turkish Delight (choose wisely here too) doesn’t hurt either.

Look for the recipe for Turkish Delight on our Book Cook page!