Creating Worlds

One of the excellent things about having kids is that sometimes you'll come upon them in their rooms and find them decked out in crazy clothes, by themselves, having what is clearly a meaningful experience on another plane.

Such was the case last week. There was a whole get-up, and dramatically spoken words that I didn't quite make out from the hallway, and when I walked in, I saw a person in an action stance.

I tried to play it cool. "Hi. So…what's going on?"

"I'm playing Freedom Maze."

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Image Courtesy Small Beer Press.

Mmm hmm.

"And instead of one girl over there, I'm pretending it's three sisters, and they all have to go to different places, and…."

This is what I love about…well, about the world. The Freedom Maze is a Norton- and Prometheus-award-winning novel by Delia Sherman (and full disclosure: Dear FAA, I found out about it from her wife, Ellen Kushner, whom I met at a dinner party and who subsequently had the publisher send me the book FREE. Which was excellent). It's about a white girl in 1960s Louisiana who goes to stay with an aunt and through the workings of a mischievous imp/fairy/spirit type creature gets transported back to slavery times, where her dark tan and curly hair get her classified as a slave. Things ensue.

It was snatched from the coffee table by small hands, read, and liked. OK, I thought. She liked it.

And then I saw it being read again. And again. And then it appeared in the bathroom, which is HIGHEST praise.

Or what I thought was highest praise, until I found the child in question inside the book.

What is it about certain books that create a world that a child can then inhabit in their own version of the story? Is that not the coolest thing in the world? Why does everyone has to be a Spy like Harriet when they read that book? There were YEARS of kids playing Harry Potter on the playground because—well because it was fun. There was even a protracted period of Warriors playing, with warring factions of various cats.

I wonder what it is in a book that gives it that power, that makes it a place you can enter with your own crazy story? Do any of you have this happening in your houses?

11 thoughts on “Creating Worlds

  1. Hi Marcia!
    My daughter and her friends have been playing Hunger Games in the woods near our house. They throw pinecones at each other to “kill” and they have me pack up mystery backpacks for them to grab. They love to climb trees there too! I should mention these girls are in 7th grade!

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  2. That book sounds great to this 1960s Louisiana girl. Although at the moment, my millennial kid seems to want to read only action fantasy type things. Ah well…

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  3. I think the Warriors are especially good for imaginary play because there are So Many Cats and Kits and Paws that there is lots of room for more! Many is the Warriors game that takes place in our woods.
    It’s so gratifying, isn’t it, to overhear snippets of book games.

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  4. For group games, I think it’s a matter of shared rules. Playing a game based on a book gives kids a groundwork that is already laid out so that they can dive right in to playing. It also has to allow enough freedom so that everybody can be a character that they enjoy. Harry Potter is a perfect example. When a bunch of kids play Harry Potter, they get to choose their house and their year and their favourite spells, etc. but it’s a given that they will be a wizard, at Hogwarts, in one of the four houses. They can’t be a ninja, or a jedi, or an ent. So within seconds of somebody saying “Let’s play Harry Potter”, there is a shared agreement about how the structure of the game will go but there’s still also room for many side stories and individual creativity and expansion.

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  5. This IS so cool. My younger daughter has just discovered The Warriors, and I know she is reading these books because her friends recommended them to her…which is cool in itself. She is in third grade, so I suspect that I will be seeing some cat stuff during the next play-date.

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  6. About three years ago we listened to “The SpiderWick Chronicles” series on CD from the library. Soon after we got the gorgeous field guides by Tony DiTerlizzi and that set off a full year of magical creatures possibly inhabiting the house, drawing of magical creatures in official looking sketch books, and leaving food out in strange places (apparently to feed our own house Brownie.) It was all lead by them so I just went along… But let me tell you this: IT. WAS. FUN. *smiles*

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  7. A while back, there was the most complex Warriors game EVER. It involved at least 2 clans for each player, each had to keep track of her own with drawings, and time and space were just relative. There was a brown cat name Twoheart, and I think one named Timepond. Or was it Pondcrack?That last bit is true.

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  8. My daughter and friends are also playing Warriors games even though she hasn’t read the books (and doesn’t want to) and Phillipa Fisher and her Fairy Godsister–fairies are big around here right now. My favorite phase was the Eloise one. Every night Eloise would appear dressed up in a crazy get-up and sunglasses, a parasol and a toy telephone and order dinner–“one roast beef bone 2 raisins and 7 spoons and charge it please thank you very much.” Or Eloise would show up holding bottles to do her “champagne exercises.” That was my favorite.

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