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Read, Wonder, Discover: Nurturing Imagination

By Lesley Colabucci and Mary Napoli
 | Jul 18, 2016

Literature can take readers on fantastic journeys of discovery, including these selections that explore new worlds, solve problems, invite creativity, and ignite the imagination.

Through creative images, characters, events, and settings, books foster inspiration and help readers shape new understandings of their world.

Ages 4–8

Are We There Yet? Dan Santat. 2016. Little, Brown.

are we there yetFrom the cloth cover that looks like a wrapped present with a bow, to the endpapers featuring progressive images of the sky as the car proceeds from early morning through to darkness, every element of this book is designed to create a visual experience for readers. The premise of the story is introduced on the copyright page showing an invitation to a birthday party, and then the full title page shows two already aggravated parents in the front seat while a child in back asks, “Are we there yet?” As the road trip begins, the page layouts feature both panel art and narrative text, and the story quickly leaps into fantasy. The next few pages of the book are positioned upside down and include a locomotive, pirates, knights, the pyramids, and a dinosaur. The brightly colored mixed-media illustrations create a larger-than-life feel as readers travel through the imagination of the kid in the backseat. This book will appeal to anyone who has endured a long road trip (as either a child or parent) because of the playful art, intriguing fantastic elements, and hilarious dialogue.  

Let Me Finish! Minh Lê. Ill. Isabel Roxas. 2016. Disney-Hyperion.

let me finishFinding a quiet place to read a good book should be an easy task, but not for the young boy in this humorous, metafictive picture book. In his search to find the perfect spot to read, a series of well-intentioned animals share spoilers even though he continues his plea, “Let me finish!” Just when he thinks that he has circumvented all the animals, a dinosaur greets him with, “Have you gotten to the dinosaur at the end of the book yet?” The young boy flees again but lands inside the pages of the physical book. With an intriguing end that will puzzle readers, Minh Lê’s debut picture book exudes creativity and cleverness. Accented by Isabel Roxas’s eye-catching and synergistic illustrations, this funny and imaginative story will surely delight young readers (as long as we let them finish).

The Night Gardener. Terry Fan & Eric Fan. 2016. Simon & Schuster.

the night gardenerVivid. Imaginative. Magical. These are just a few words to describe this collaborative debut picture book written and illustrated by the Fan brothers. When a mysterious stranger arrives at Grimloch Lane with an assortment of gardening tools, something enchanting happens. One morning, William, the young protagonist of the story, is amazed that the owl he had sketched in the dirt the previous day has appeared overnight, as if by magic, as a topiary. The gorgeous topiary owl delights William, but more important, it brings people together. As the story continues, so does its magic with the appearance of stunning topiaries of animals and a majestic Chinese dragon. Bright ink colors grace the pages as the community gazes in merriment and wonder at the transformation of Grimloch Park. Together, the Fan brothers have created an impactful story, told with spare text and gorgeous illustrations that celebrate art, community, and imagination.

Turn on the Night. Geraldo Valério. 2016. Groundwood/House of Anansi.

turn on the nightIn this wordless picture book, readers join a young girl on an imaginative journey. The first double-page spread shows an aerial view of an unlit majestic sky and a lush green landscape filled with houses, followed by a close-up of one house bearing a reindeer weather vane, a chicken coop, and a doghouse. Inside the house, a young girl is asleep in an unlit room with her stuffed chicken toy and a book. In the ensuing pages, the girl transforms into a wolf-like creature (like the one on the cover of her book) and soars out the window, beaming with happiness. In a dream-like sequence, the wolf, chicken, and reindeer fly through the night sky until they reach a bright star. The animals collect and transport the star back to the girl’s room, transforming it into a celestial wonder. Created with acrylic paint and colored pencil, Valério’s illustrations communicate emotion while celebrating the power of imagination and visual storytelling.

Ages 9–11

Withering-by-Sea. Judith Rossell. 2016. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.

withering by seaStella Montgomery lives with her three aunts in an old seaside hotel known for its magical water with healing powers. Stella’s aunts spend most of their time scolding her, teaching her French and deportment, and warning her against curiosity. When Stella sneaks out of her room one night to retrieve her beloved atlas, she encounters The Professor and thus begins her adventure. She witnesses a murder, a severed hand that keeps people asleep, and a boy being forced to read minds. Then she finds herself entrusted with a mysterious package. The package contains a small bottle and inside “a sinuous shape seemed to move.” Can Stella protect the bottle from the Professor? Is she really “fey” as the boy who reads minds says? Why do her aunts sometimes call her “a half”? With cliff-hanger chapter endings, intriguing blue-toned illustrations, magical elements, and a fantastical setting, this book begs for a sequel.

Ages 12–14

The Apple Tart of Hope. Sarah Moore Fitzgerald. 2016. Holiday House.

the apple tart of hopeSet in Ireland, this book opens with a “service” for Oscar Dunleavy, who has been missing and is now presumed dead. His brother, Stevie, holds out hope that Oscar is coming back. Meg, Oscar’s neighbor, best friend, and possible love interest has been away in New Zealand with her parents. She can’t imagine that Oscar would have killed himself, but she struggles to support Stevie in his belief that Oscar is still alive. The book offers a treatise on hope: “Hope is never destructive. Hope is the thing that keeps you going.” As the story unfolds, readers learn the history between Oscar and Meg, who spent hours talking at their windows and may have been falling in love. The chapters (numbered as slices of pie) shift between Meg’s and Oscar’s perspectives, telling the stories of the accident that left Oscar’s mother dead and his brother disabled, a twisted trick played by the girl living in Meg’s house, the man whose suicide Oscar may have prevented, and the magic of Oscar’s baking. The international setting and magical elements make this a unique read, but ultimately readers will remember this book as a love story.  

Ages 15+

Saving Montgomery Sole. Mariko Tamaki. 2016. Roaring Brook.

Saving Montgomery SoleMontgomery (Monty) lives with her two moms, Mama Kate and Momma Jo, and her little sister, Tesla, in Aunty, CA. She runs the Mystery Club at school with her two best friends, Thomas and Naoki. Author Mariko Tamaki has created a smart, sarcastic character in Monty, whose perspective on high school, food, family, and “unexplained phenomena” is both refreshing and convincing. Monty, Thomas, and Naoki are outsiders at their high school, and the usual suspects show up to bully and antagonize them. Thomas is gay but seems much less troubled by homophobic teasing and the anti-gay Reverend White, a newcomer to town, than Monty, who rails against both. Monty rips down crosses and posters put up by Reverend White and decides that his son, Kenneth, is as homophobic as his father. When Naoki befriends Kenneth, Monty’s assumptions are tested as she learns how to trust her friends and family and embrace “the big strange universe, and all the mysteries in it.”

Lesley Colabucci is an associate professor at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches courses in children’s/adolescent literature. Mary Napoli is an associate professor of reading at Penn State Harrisburg, where she teaches literacy courses.

These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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