I have a couple of school and library visits coming up, and I've been thinking a lot about the message I want to give kids. I don't mean what the talks will be about - that's perfectly straightforward. At the most basic level, I'll read a bit, show a bit of art, explain the process, and answer questions. But mixed in with all that, what messages will I be giving?
Actually, there are a lot of messages I'd like to give my audiences, including getting them excited about my books specifically, and simply having some fun with reading, writing, and making pictures. But I think the deeper message that I'm always hoping will come through is that art can - and should - leave our world a better place.
I don't mean to be pompous here, because just plain and simple fun does count as making the world a better place. In fact, I think that's really a big part of my message: that reading and writing and making and viewing art are fun, and that everyone can partake of this fun. But there's something else to this, too. Quaker sociologist Elise Boulding talked about imagination as a crucial tool for developing peace. People who envision what peaceful resolutions might look like are better able to work toward those visions. In a broader sense I believe in the power of art and fiction to envision potentially new ways of relating to the world.
So what does this mean for children? It doesn't mean a lecture on sociology and global politics! But it does mean an invitation to let loose the imagination. World peace is a great idea, and so is soccer on the moon, or a flying zebra-turtle, or solving a mysterious crime, or a school where everyone learns stilt-walking, or people who love each other coming together after great difficulties, or a plant that grows miniature volcanoes, or inventing a way to adjust the speed of time according to your activities, or…
Now, I'm not a Pollyanna, and it's undoubtedly true that humans can also use their imaginations to hurt each other and destroy the world. Nevertheless, I do believe in the power of creativity to solve problems, large and small. I do believe that children who are encouraged to use their imaginations are better able to weather setbacks, overcome barriers, and envision a better world. And every time I talk to children about books and art, I hope that my own joy and enthusiasm can help convey that message of hope.
[Picture: Holy Mountain, rubber block print by AEGN, 2007.]