Ok, let’s be honest, almost any book can (and should) inspire the imagination. But some are just better at it than others. In my opinion, there are three basic kinds of books that inspire imagination:
1) Books in which the main character(s) are playing imaginatively and spark imaginative play in your child.
2) Wordless books that inspire story-creation.
3) Tales of other worlds that provoke imaginative dreaming.
We normally think of the first two kinds of books for preschoolers, but if you look you can find them for kids of all ages. The following are some of my favorites.
1) Books that inspire imitative imagination:
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Helen Oxenbury (ages 3-6): Three children and their father are going on a bear hunt through various terrains and weather. Your preschooler will love acting this one out with you as you hunt for the bear.
Harold and the Purple Crayon
by Crockett Johnson (ages 3-7): The world that Harold draws with his purple crayon comes to life. Take it further by drawing new worlds with your child for him/her to explore!
Roxaboxen by Barbara Cooney (ages 4-8): Neighborhood kids create their own play town on a hill near their street with stones and found items. Don’t be surprised if a city pops up in your backyard after reading this book with your kids!
The Story of the Treasure Seekers
by Edith Nesbit (age 8-12): The Bastable children try to restore the fallen fortunes of their family in various ways, some of which are serious and much of which is play. This is a classic, and there is a wonderful free audio version from Librivox you can download here, beautifully narrated by Karen Savage.
2) Wordless books that inspire story-creation:
by Aaron Becker (ages 4-9): A beautiful book about a lonesome girl who finds adventure of her own making. Like Harold, drawing plays a key roll.
by David Wiesner (ages 5-9): This book is full of engaging surprises as a boy finds a camera on the beach, develops the film, and is amazed at the pictures he finds.
Tuesday by David Wiesner (ages 5-9): Your kids won’t believe the crazy things that happen on Tuesday as things begin to fly.
The Mysteries of Harris Burdick
by Chris Van Allsburg (ages 6-12): This is a fascinating book of story starters. Each picture is the beginning (or perhaps middle) of it’s own untold story. Your family might enjoy creating stories together with this book.
3) Tales of Other Worlds which Inspire Imaginative Dreaming
Imaginative dreaming is what makes the improbable seem possible. Your child can quest alongside Frodo Baggins or Lucy Pevensie and dream of being a hero (and hopefully someday become one). Offer your child the best books from this category that will help him/her yearn to be the right kind of hero. I’ll skip the books you all know like The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings to hopefully give you some fresh choices.
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (The Wingfeather Saga)
by Andrew Peterson (grades 4-8): The Wingfeather Saga has quickly become one of my favorite series (and my kids’ favorite too!). Adventure, family, self-sacrifice, servant leadership… so many beautiful themes in this one amazing story. You can download the first book free right now on NoiseTrade.
The Sword Bearer (Archives of Anthropos)
by John White (grades 4-8): I grew up on these books. They are similar to The Chronicles of Narnia in the way the kids are whisked from their own world into another where the lines between good and evil are very clear.
Auralia’s Colors by Jeffery Overstreet (grades 9-adult): Though not written for children, I believe this series would be enjoyable for high schoolers on up. I love the beautiful world that Overstreet brings to life full of mystery, unlikely heroes, and the quest for our eternal home.
Foundling by D.M. Cornish (grades 9-adult): As the series name implies, this book is about monsters and monster hunters. Cornish has created a world that feels real enough to step into. The reader is forced to consider what it means to be human and realize that good and evil have more to do with what is inside a person than appearance.
Now that you know my favorites, do you have a favorite book that inspires the imagination?