I went to an event this week that should have demonstrated the power of imagination. It failed rather sadly.
The event was the London Book Fair at Earl’s Court, a vast soulless warehouse of a place. I went because I have just begun working with a children’s book publisher, so I wanted to see what is happening in the world of books. After a couple of hours, trudging up and down aisles lined by identical stands, I had had enough. My client said: “it makes me sad that it’s more fun to go to the motor show than the book fair.” It all seemed to be summed up by the dreary and deserted stand called “Children’s Innovation Zone”.
The word’s significant, the choice of ‘innovation’ rather than ‘imagination’. The world of books is in turmoil, with ebooks and technology changing the nature of the business. I had a meeting with my publisher after the Book Fair, and his theme was that ebooks are not the future, they are dominant now. But there can be, will be, a complementary relationship between printed and electronic media. I have no problem with that. I’m happy for my books to be read in either form.
The problem is that all the focus and energy is going into the technological innovation. What still matters with a ‘book’ is its power to stimulate imagination. Publishers should not lose confidence in the continuing power of imagination. As Lane Smith’s lovely children’s story It’s a book shows, it’s the imaginative release of the story that is vital. We need to nurture the imaginations of children in particular, rather than imposing adult forms of imagination that are led by technology.
It’s the story that does that. It always has and always will. Children’s writers like Michael Rosen hold audiences of children enthralled by the power of storytelling and the exuberance of words. Michael’s part of the Other Worlds exhibition at Oxford’s Story Museum. I’ve written about my collaboration there with Anita Klein but here are the titles of some of the other collaborations. The National Audio Sneeze Laboratory. The room of white trees. The time-traveller’s bureau; Where do lost things go? Half heard, in the stillness. A crafty fag. Is my secret safe? The invisible woman. The day of the door. The word storm.http://www.storymuseum.org.uk/the-story-museum/otherworlds/the-rooms
It’s going to be funny and intriguing. Most of these installations use technology but they are all built around stories. All of them have been achieved with no funding, brought to life by the commitment of the writers and artists to stories. They’ve dug into their own pockets, begged sponsors, set up Just-Giving sites, all because they believe nothing matters more than exciting and nurturing the imaginations of young people – of every age.
Do come along to the exhibition in May. The Story Museum deserves your support. Think of it as the “Children’s Imagination Zone”.