Thematic Journeys: Leaping with My Imagination

With my imagination, I can travel anywhere, and it doesn’t weigh me down or take up any space. It’s as important as a road map or compass, because it can help me survive and transcend difficult times.

But to use it in the best way, I must relax, concentrate, and tune other things out. Then, with the special power it gives me, I am ready to dream and pretend, peek into the future, or bring back comforting images that I can relish once again.

Eight Days: A Story of Haiti by Edwidge Danticant

After a monstrous earthquake hits, what happens when Junior, a seven-year-old Haitian boy, finds himself trapped in the rubble under his home? Besides the constant rumbling, what other sounds does he hear? And how much sunlight comes sneaking through?

Without food and water, how does Junior endure the eight days that it takes before he gets rescued? What emotions does he experience—fear, grief, anger, abandonment? When, if ever, does he begin to lose hope?

The thing that sustains Junior is his active imagination. It enables him to play and move, and keep his family close by. He can recreate in his mind special outings or ordinary events, or imagine new scenarios in which he is the achiever, making his family proud. Despite being confined, each day he can fantasize and wander anywhere he wants.

He visualizes being with his best pal Oscar, flying kites and then playing hide-and-go-seek, activities that engage them fully and offer a touch of suspense. And he imagines starting a fantastic marble game—”the biggest game ever played in the neighborhood, in the entire country, in the entire world.”

Many of his imaginings have to do with Papa, Manman, his sister Justine, and their various family rituals. He thinks of Manman polishing her toenails while he and Justine use the same polish to create bright red pictures. And he thinks of Papa taking him to his barber shop, telling him stories about his own childhood, and having Junior help sweep up the hair, then burn it outside.

These rituals not only provide him with a sense of security, but also reflect the warm, easygoing style in which Junior and his family interact. It is a style that allows for spontaneity and humor.

In one of his daydreams, Junior is racing his sister around the statue of the conch-blower, across from the Presidential Palace. Feeling generous, he deliberately slows down, for he realizes that sometimes younger sisters really need to win.

Another time, he recalls a tragic soccer game in which, afterwards, his friend Oscar collapses and never again opens his eyes. This shattering, overwhelming event teaches him about loss. It is the most pain he has ever experienced, and he still carries that sadness with him, understanding that even a child could die.

One special daydream is about being victorious and impressing his family. He is singing in the church choir, overpowering the other voices, because he is determined to get the solo part.

And when he gets it, it is “the best solo ever sung in the church, in the entire country, in the entire world.” Maybe this dream has to do with wanting to be remembered and leaving his mark or legacy.

On the eighth day, with his spirit intact, Junior emerges from the ruins of his house. He is ready to rejoice, to finally embrace and touch his family, and not just imagine them.

This story, beautifully illustrated, shows how certain images can illuminate the darkest situations—simple things like sharing mangos, jumping into puddles, or doing school lessons by candlelight. It not only honors the people of Haiti, but also celebrates the power of the imagination.

My imagination is a muscle I need to exercise, a resource I can always draw from, a gift I must nourish and cultivate. It allows me to express my playful and sensitive sides, and tap into my uniqueness.

It frees me to dance and leap and soar, to become both hero and scoundrel or any character I choose. And, sometimes, through my excursions, I just feel exhilarated.

With my imagination, scenarios abound and stories emerge. I can compose a song, choreograph a dance, or develop a mystery. I can experiment and build, integrating different elements and art forms. And, most importantly, I can create something new, perhaps even new and extraordinary. That would be my way of transforming the world.

Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix by Gary Golio

“Could a person use music like chalk and colored pencils?” “Could someone paint pictures with sound?

Young Jimi Hendrix is always asking these same questions. And, perhaps without knowing it, he is defining who he is and deepening his vision.

Impoverished, he is raised only by his dad, who is often unemployed. Jimi may get someone’s attention because of his wild look and raggedy jeans, but what makes him stand out is the way he impro-vises—making up stories and inventing new moves on his pretend, broom-handle guitar.

Forever in motion, Jimi is someone with a heightened sensitivity to sound. And there isn’t a “ping” or a “plunk” or a “squeal” that he doesn’t take in. His instrument is a one-string ukulele, and he dreams of one day playing with others and being part of a band.

A day by the lake with his best friends, Terry and Potato Chip, provides him with a symphony of sounds, and he wants to capture each of them—from the buzz of the insect to the “whistling breeze. With every sound, a color glowed in Jimi’s mind.” Since music is his frame of reference, he loves nothing better than visiting the record shop with Terry and Potato Chip. Here they can check out the weekly Top The n list and hold their own little seminars on the subject of rock and roll.

Naturally, his heroes are those groundbreaking singer-musicians—Muddy Waters, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and B.B. King. And whenever he hears “Hound Dog,” he goes into a frenzy, imitating Elvis by singing from his soul and gyrating his hips as he plays for “an imaginary audience of screaming fans.”

“Jimi’s imagination was on fire, and a tune was always playing in his head.”

With such a strong need to express himself and interpret the world, Jimi also invests hours drawing and painting, experimenting with color, and letting his imagination fly. He is so at home in the realms of art and music that he can channel all his energy and escape from any pain.

The real turning point comes for Jimi when he gets his dad to buy him a “worn wooden” guitar for only five bucks. And the way Jimi sees it, he now has a sublime sound-maker, a companion he can count on.

Oh, such pleasure it gives him— listening to his dad’s transistor radio and learning the notes of those great bluesy songs. And now he can jam with Terry who plays the piano and Potato Chip who knows how to sing. Best of all, he can use his guitar “as an artist uses paint, creating new worlds with the colors of sound.”

This is truly his launching period, where he begins to take off, traveling to new orbits. Intense, driven, and committed to his vision, he is the kinetic kid who brings his love of the blues with him. And rock and roll, once Jimi arrives, is certainly about to change.

“Every note and every chord was like a new color for Jimi. He had a rainbow of sounds at his fingertips, and he wanted to paint the world with them.”

Resources:

Danticat, Edwidge. Eight Days: A Story of Haiti. Illus. by Alix Delinoix. Orchard, 2010.

Golio, Gary. Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix. Illus. by Javaka Steptoe. Clarion, 2010.

 

A Creative Activities Sampler

My Daydreamer

Younger students can each develop their own picture book, their daydreamer, illustrating eight daydreams they always want to keep with them. These may be about things that have already happened like building an ice castle, devouring a three-dip butterscotch sundae, or visiting a spirited, rock-climbing grandparent. Or they may be about things that they yearn for or want to achieve such as camping out for the first time, owning a guinea pig, or winning the second grade talent show.

The Amazing Broomstick

Just as Jimi Hendrix used his broomstick as if it were his guitar, “strumming on the bristles,” middle grade students could use a broomstick to create dramatic improvisations. Working individually or in pairs, they can transform the broomstick into a fishing pole, Maypole, javelin, telescope, backscratcher, or fifty-pound barbell. They can present their vignettes in pantomime, or decide to use words.

The Art and Music Project

Middle grade students can create large drawings and paintings of neighborhood imag-es—the orange and red flowers in the community garden, the broken windows above the deli, little children in the playground trying out the new sliding board, the grumpy pizza man pounding his dough. They can then compose or find a short piece of music to enhance and bring another dimension to their artwork, fusing art and music together. These can then be presented in the school library.

Gary Zingher

MLA Citation Zingher, Gary. "Thematic Journeys: Leaping with My Imagination." School Library Monthly, 27, no. 7, April 2011. School Library Connection, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2250330.

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Entry ID: 2010119

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