BLOG TOUR: Imagine! by Patricia Forde and Elīna Braslina
Irish author Patricia Forde discusses childhood fears and the inspiration behind her latest story with Little Island Books
Patricia Forde is a former primary school teacher who has also worked as artistic director of the Galway International Arts Festival. Patricia has written plays and television dramas as well as a variety of books for children of all ages. She has won two White Ravens and has been shortlisted for the Children's Book of the Year at the KPMG Children's Book Ireland awards.
Patricia's latest picture book, Imagine!, is an inventive and empowering story with gorgeous illustrations by Elīna Braslina. This is about a little girl who, thanks to her grandmother, learns how to transform the things that terrify her just by thinking about them differently. My family and I adore this book and I wish it had been around when I was a child. Just like the girl in this story, I was extremely close to my granny and spent many summers at her house. Back then, unfamiliar shapes and shadows would take on a spectral quality at night. But even worse was the emerging awareness that I would one day lose all the people I loved. Childhood anxieties are as overwhelming as they are universal. It’s fantastic to have a story like this one which teaches young people a coping mechanism and helps place them in control of their own thoughts. We are delighted to kick off the blog tour for Imagine! and discover Patricia's views on childhood fears and our most powerful resource, the imagination...
Early this year, my new picture book Imagine!, illustrated by Elīna Braslina, was published. It dropped right into a pandemic lockdown that would last for months. There was a palpable fear in the community, with people staying at home, hoping for the best, but imagining the worst.
Some of us wondered what children were making of this new landscape. What would happen to the babies that had only ever seen people in the outside world as masked people, and thought that singing the happy birthday song twice through as you wash your hands, was perfectly normal? What would become of them?
And what of the more experienced three to five-year-olds? Surely, they knew that something was amiss. We worried that they were afraid in this new set-up.
Being afraid is an inescapable part of being a child. How could it not be, when every experience is a new experience, and most analysis is left to our imaginations?
As a child, I remember the nightly argument with my sisters about who would jump out of a warm bed and walk across the floor to put out the light. It wasn’t just the cold that made us apprehensive, but that long journey back to bed, through the dark, waiting for the monster lurking under the furniture to reach out and grab your ankle.
Fear of the dark is common in adults and children. Our amazing imaginations can go from fantasising about what might be for dinner, to seeing scaly-headed monsters or slack-jawed slathering wolves, in the blink of a terrified eye.
What incredible technology is that? Our own instant horror films conceived, shot and delivered in the time it takes to say: 'He’s behind you!'
As adults, we are adept at reassuring ourselves. That gunshot is just a car backfiring. The monster in the cupboard is really the blue coat I thought I’d dropped to the charity shop. That scuttling sound isn’t a mouse. It couldn’t be. Could it?
Children aren’t born with that skill. They have to learn how to reassure themselves, and they are further hampered by a flamboyant imagination over which they have no control. Like a car with no brakes, it can go from nought to a hundred down a slippery slope, without as much as a hang-on-tight warning.
I wanted to write a picture book that would help children learn how to reassure themselves, and also to use their imaginations as a weapon in the fight against fear, rather than as a weapon against themselves.
I’ve heard it said - and Google confirms - that the greatest fears which plague adults are dying and making a speech at their brother’s wedding. Many, it seems, would choose the former to avoid the latter. To counteract this terror of public speaking, wise minds (Google again) advise people to imagine the audience naked when making a speech. I’m not quite sure how that works, but I am assured that it does. That gave me the notion that children could be encouraged to reimagine the thing that frightened them.
In Imagine!, the nameless child is afraid of vampires. Her grandmother advises her to:
‘Imagine that they’re big babies with bonnets on their heads and soothers in their mouths.’
The book finishes with the child confronting the biggest fear of them all. No! Not their brother’s wedding. The other one.
The child worries that Gran will leave her forever. Gran, in all fairness, is quick to reassure: ‘Leave you?’ said Grandma. ‘I’ll never leave you. Imagine me here, right in your heart. Because that’s where I’m always going to be. You can imagine me wearing a yellow polka-dot bikini if you like …’
I could have followed popular wisdom and had her say: ‘You can imagine me naked if you like!” But I was afraid that it would remind you of the public speaking thing and the fact that someday you will almost certainly have to make a speech at your brother’s wedding.
A huge thanks to Patricia Forde for speaking to us and to Little Island Books for inviting us on this exciting tour - don't forget to visit all the other fantastic and fascinating stops. If you'd like to learn more about why we love Imagine!, and take a closer look at this brilliant book, here's a review we shared earlier this year...
What's it about?
A little girl shares her fears with her grandmother and learns how to overcome them, thanks to a trick that Grandma teaches her. Grandma shows the girl how to use her imagination to rethink and transform whatever is frightening her.
What can we learn?
There are no limits to what we can imagine. Although the mind is capable of conjuring unpleasant things, it can also transform terrors so that they become nonthreatening and even comical.
What makes this stand out? Imagine! addresses a variety of fears to which all children can easily relate, and eliminates them with humour and affection. A very real concern, that one day Grandma will not be around, is handled wonderfully. I remember being kept awake myself when I was younger by the awareness that the people I loved would not always be there.
Grandma reassures the girl that she will never leave her because all the girl has to do is imagine Grandma "here, right in her heart." I found these lines quite moving and thoroughly enjoyed the amusing surprise on the next page. I won't spoil the ending, but it certainly makes this story even more unique and unforgettable!
The scenarios that Grandma suggests are hilarious. These include a roller-skating dog with a sponge cake on its head and bonnet-wearing vampires. The fabulous illustrations make the various fantasies even funnier.
About those illustrations...
Even when portraying nightmarish creatures, the images are extremely light-hearted and child friendly. They are incredibly vibrant and lively, with a striking palette and engaging patterns. Every page is so colourful and full of warmth, and celebrates the special bond shared by Grandma and her grandchild.
The images are packed with interesting and attractive details. I love how the girl and her grandmother become fully immersed in each make-believe moment. In one part, Grandma even cuddles a baby vampire while her granddaughter sprouts fangs. All the girl's former fears return at the end and are visibly emotional as Grandma and granddaughter share a tender moment. This helps to reinforce how harmless they really are. Grandma's garden is beautiful and I'm particularly fond of all the cats in her house - there are even framed phots of felines on the walls! Grandma drinks tea in many of the scenes, which reminds me of my own maternal grandmother, who always had a cup of tea in her hand.
Why we love it...
Imagine! empowers children by equipping them with tools they can use to conquer their
own fears. It's brilliant how the grandmother never dismisses any of her granddaughter's anxieties as absurd, but shows the girl how to make her monsters seem ridiculous herself. The phrase 'So I closed my eyes and imagined as hard as ever I could, I'm not afraid of ... now,' appears throughout the text. This is fantastic for little readers as they love repetition, and it helps their brains develop too.
My kids and I laugh all the way through Imagine! and I love how entertaining this story is, despite exploring a serious subject. It has received the "read-it-again" seal of approval, with my four-year-old always insisting on an encore as soon as we finish it. She also loves to read it to her own dolls and teddies!
Why you need it...
Imagine! is perfect for gently helping children to discuss and overcome what might be scaring them. It's a remarkably reassuring, comforting and uplifting read, as well as lots of fun, with gorgeous illustrations.
About the illustrator:
Elīna Braslina has illustrated over 20 children's books and was the production designer for the 2019 animated film, Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs. Elína has received the Zelta Ābele Award for Book Design four times and the Jānis Baltvilks Baltic Sea Region Award. Her work has been exhibited internationally as well as in her home country of Latvia.
I was delighted to receive a gift of this beautiful book from the lovely people in Little Island Books. All opinions expressed are my own.