“What are you doing?” I ask her.
“I’m catching a cloud,” she replies.
“What are you going to do with the cloud?” I ask.
“I’m going to give one to you and one to Daddy.”
This is my Changeling. And I know she’s not alone.
How do I know that she’s not alone? Well, first of all, I’ve read excerpts from my own baby book, although I have to say that I wasn’t nearly as poetic as my daughter is. I’ve also met other children. But most of all I know she’s not alone because of a beautiful book which made its way into my heart almost as soon as I read it: This is Sadie, by Sara O’Leary and illustrated in gouache, watercolour, and pencil crayon by Julie Morstad. Like so many books I love, I found this one at The Children’s Book Shop in Brookline. I found this one, though, through my husband, who handed it to me with the words, “This is from Tundra Books and I think you’ll like it…” By that point I’d already seen the cover illustration and I liked it. You know that saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? I have found many lovely books by their covers alone, and this is one of them. Take a look.
To get back to our topic here, though, how do children develop the imaginations that surprise us so much? How do they catch clouds and walk with the moon to the yarn store? (If you know me, it’s about as surprising to you that the yarn store features in the Changeling’s imaginative play as that water is wet.) Frankly, I have no idea how imagination develops; that’s a huge area of research which is ongoing and which I find practically impenetrable. What’s more to the point here is that children are imaginative beings, and that it’s really worth it for us to treat that development with love and with respect. This is Sadie shows us accurately how a child’s imagination works, and shows it not with amusement or condescension, but with warmth, admiration, and respect. That’s why I love it so much, and that’s why I wholeheartedly recommend it here.
The story is of a girl named Sadie. Sadie starts out the book in a box, but it only looks like a box– it’s actually “an enormous boat, crossing a wide, wide sea.” Sailing in it, she’s “looking for land. Only she’s not looking too hard.” By the time she’s finished sailing all the way around her room, it’s still early in the day, not even time for breakfast. So she has plenty of time for all of her other adventures, spent both with the friends who live on her street and the friends who live in her books. What kinds of adventures does Sadie have? She goes under the sea as a mermaid, she’s a boy raised by wolves, she goes to Wonderland, she’s a hero in fairy tales, she’s a bird in a tree (of course she has wings, you know). Sadie’s imagination fills all her days to the bursting point, but although she loves her imaginative games, most of all she “likes stories, because you can make them from nothing at all.”
Do you remember when we talked about Leo: A Ghost Story? If you liked the sound of that book, you’ll love this one. You could see Leo as the specific story, and This is Sadie as the background. Jane from Leo and Sadie could have been best friends, is what I’m saying here. Whereas Leo tells the story of how an imaginative child looks from the outside, This is Sadie tells the story from her perspective. Jane in Leo lives in a world with a mother who doesn’t think imaginary friends are worthwhile; Sadie stands alone in her story and flings herself into her games wholeheartedly. Both books take imagination and imaginative play seriously, and both have great respect for children who blur the line between the real and the imaginary. I can’t even tell you how thrilled I am to find more and more picture books which draw out imaginative play without patronizing it.
But what really distinguishes Sadie, what makes me say that she shows me that the Changeling isn’t alone? I think it comes back to what I said about the story being told from Sadie’s perspective. In it, you see how very completely her imagination imbues her whole life. She gets up before breakfast and plays at sailing around her room in a ship, yes, but she also dives fully into the stories she reads: she’s a boy raised by wolves and she journeys into Wonderland. (I love those moments because they remind me of how deeply I dived into the books I read when I was growing up… and, yes, I still do.) Sadie grows wings to take her wherever she wants to go, but they always bring her home again. Sadie’s imagination is gloriously free, but we get to see the specific places it takes her, and where it takes her is almost anywhere. We go with Sadie, rather than expecting her to come to us.
One of the wonderful things about these imaginative journeys is that they cross age barriers: how old is Sadie? I’m not sure. She’s young, but she knows Alice in Wonderland, which suggests that she’s old enough to read chapter books. And yet playing at having wings is one of the earliest pieces of imaginative play I remember from my Changeling– that and rocking her plushies to sleep. The Changeling identifies with Sadie now, but I can imagine her continuing to identify with Sadie for years to come as she starts to read stories on her own. And I look forward to reading it and talking about it with the Changeling for many years to come.
Sadie, in other words, shows us just how far and how deep the imagination can run, and how much it can add to our everyday lives. She shows us that if you can imagine the little things– flying and boats and stories– that you can imagine the big things– mercy and compassion and what it’s like to be in another person’s shoes– and that’s how human beings make progress. That’s why I try to treat the Changeling’s imagination with respect, and that’s why I’m so thrilled to find books which back us up.
Now it’s time for us all to pause for a moment– pause and imagine a story. As Sadie tells us, you can make one from nothing at all.