Thursday, July 9, 2009

Imaginary friends, part 1

Somewhere in my cluttered (to be polite about it) office is a notebook with ideas for children's stories. On one page is a line that says, "Imaginary friend from sibling's point of view."

That idea came from living with the Healer, my daughter's new and invisible-to-us friend. She adopted him from a picture book she loved, The Twenty-Five Mixtec Cats by Matthew Gollub. (A wonderful folk tale-styled story set in Oaxaca, Mexico, that begins: “There once was a healer who lived alone in a village high in the mountains. You would never see any cats in his village.")

The Healer was absolutely real to Abbie, and her dad and I found ourselves playing along. I remember the day she asked me to comb the Healer's hair. When I started to, she said -- bewildered that I didn't know -- "He's wearing his hat."

We accepted the Healer into our lives because we love Abbie. At some point I realized that small act of love was a great theme for a kids' book and translated it into the story of Maggie and Jack. I tried to capture Abbie's absolute assurance about the Healer in Maggie's unquestioning confidence in her monkey friends. That made the story great fun to write, and led to such straightforward explanations for the seemingly impossible concept of monkeys in the refrigerator as "They're polar monkeys."

There's more to this story that I'll save for another day. But a tip of the (possibly invisible) hat to Matthew Gollub and illustrator Leovigildo Martínez for creating a character who spoke so strongly to at least one young reader.

That is the power of children's books -- and that's why I love them.

[To read Part II, go here.]