To celebrate the publication today of the next book in the very successful Isadora Moon series, Isadora Moon Makes Winter Magic,
I’m absolutely delighted to welcome Harriet Muncaster to The Reader Teacher today!
Without further ado, here’s Harriet’s guest post ‘Sparking Imagination: the Unpredictable Influence of Children’s Books’ where she talks about the benefits of reading for children; how even the smallest idea in a story can inspire a big one and her own mascot…
Sparking Imagination: the Unpredictable Influence of Children’s Books
We all know that reading has lots of benefits for children, not least improved language and literacy abilities. But reading a range of stories helps to expose children to different ideas that can spark their imagination in unpredictable ways. When a child reads a book, they’re stepping inside a whole new world, and coming across ideas they may never have been exposed to before. A tiny detail or action in any book could really resonate with a particular child, even if dozens of others would just skim over it. And there’s no knowing what that could be.
For me, The Suitcase Kid by Jacqueline Wilson contained just such a small idea that inspired me in a big way. In The Suitcase Kid, a little girl’s parents are getting divorced and she is finding this change hard to deal with. In truth I only vaguely remember the events of the main plot, perhaps because I’m fortunate enough not to have first-hand experience of this situation. I’m sure for many children who have been in a similar situation, reading the story would offer relatability and catharsis.
However, even though the story hasn’t stayed with me over the years since I read it, one of the ways the little girl tried to cope with the divorce has. You see, she got a little Sylvanian Families rabbit called Radish and decided it would become her ‘mascot’. This meant she treated it like a real, living friend who she took everywhere with her. She took Radish on adventures and made things for her, like a little boat she could go down the stream in. Here the girl is playing with Radish in the bathroom:
“She loves the bathroom. It’s her favourite best ever place. Don’t forget she’s only four centimetres tall. The basin and the bath are her very own Leisure Pool. I generally fix up a superslide by knotting Paula’s tights together and hanging them from the door hook to the bath tap. Radish hasn’t got a very slippery bottom so I soap her a lot to make her slide satisfactorily. This means Paul’s tights get a bit soapy too but that can’t be helped.”
Radish doesn’t even feature on every page, but I just found the idea of having a little character you can make things for and have adventures with so inspiring. As soon as I finished reading The Suitcase Kid I decided I had to have my own ‘mascot’. I got a Sylvanian Families ginger cat and called it Fleur. You can see her here:
From there, the game of mascots grew and developed and I got my friends involved. At the peak of the game there were five of us, each with our own mascots. We would make clothes and accessories for our mascots, take them with us wherever we went, and throw parties for them. The most important rule was that everything they had needed to be real and to work. So, for example, they couldn’t have dolls house food: it had to be actually edible. Every mascot had to have a place to live as well, so we all made special bedrooms for our mascots.
Taking the game further, I started creating mascot magazines for my friends and me to read. These included photographs and stories of the mascots’ adventures, quizzes, and instructions for making things like clothes, patchwork quilts and mascot toothbrushes. I spent ages on these things, and loved every second of it. Even as my friends moved on to new games, I kept on with my mascots, and even now I still have a mascot:
And you can still see my fascination with miniature people in the normal-sized world in some of my published books:
I have always loved anything miniature, especially miniature characters like Tinkerbell and the Borrowers, and I have always loved making things, so I probably would have found some similar creative outlet had I not read The Suitcase Kid. I would have made miniature clothes, or written stories about tiny people, and I certainly would have carried on playing with my Sylvanian Families.
But I might not have found something as big or as captivating as the mascots game. Not something that my friends would get involved in consistently over the course of a couple of years, or that inspired me to create my own magazines. In this, The Suitcase Kid was a catalyst, a springboard for my imagination. For someone who was (and still is!) more interested in stories of fairies and the fantastic, a book about a child dealing with parental divorce wouldn’t necessarily be an obvious choice, but I got something from it much more impactful than anyone might have predicted.
I suppose my message then to parents, teachers, and readers of all ages, is that you never know what new ideas and inspirations you could find between the covers of a given book. So take a gamble; try something new; give your child something they may or may not choose for themselves. I only read The Suitcase Kid because it was a gift, but for all the hours and hours of fun I had playing mascots afterwards, I’m so glad I did!
Harriet Muncaster is the author and illustrator of the international bestselling Isadora Moon young fiction series. Her latest book, Isadora Moon Makes Winter Magic, is available in the UK from September 6th.
You can follow her mascots’ latest adventures on Instagram, see what Harriet has been up to on Facebook and Twitter, and find a selection of Isadora Moon activities for home and school on her website.