Imaginative Leaps

Early one morning, as my three-year-old nephew and I sat playing, each perched on a sheet of newspaper to keep the dusty floor at bay, he announced to his jet-lagged father wandering in, Look, Daddy, were sitting on paper chairs!

I hadnt realized I was working for a chair manufacturer, but the truth of Sams observation was at once perfectly logical and delightfully absurd.

Imagination is this enormous door that opens with the lightest touch. And the freshness of childrens unstructured, untrained thought often allows them to wander in realms that skepticism and rationality have closed to adults.

Pooh Bear and Christopher Robin, Alice, and Peter Rabbit, all live on the other side of that door. And as this weeks childrens book section discovers, the cast of characters continues to grow.

An interesting twist to this storymaking, however, is the penchant of publishers to churn out lushly illustrated books. Not bad in itself, but as Marjorie Coeymans story points out (Page B7), its a trend that tends to emasculate the imagination. Valuing painterly illustrations that appeal to adults over imaginative stories that appeal to children is how one book editor puts it. A book buyer adds, A lot of the older books allowed for more imagination on the childs part.

Perhaps television shoulders part of the blame for this spoon-feeding. Little is left to the imagination in films, the news media, even magazines. Everything is spelled out in graphic detail.

Yet this emphasis on literalism can be a type of barrier that hinders the imagination.

For it is those very leaps of imagination that often spur young thought to break through long-standing limitation and move beyond convention.

Einstein once said: Imagination is more important than knowledge. Certainly, Alice and Pooh would agree.

* Susan Llewelyn Leach is the assistant Ideas editor. Comments or questions? Write Ideas Editor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, or e-mail:

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