Tag Archives: imagination

This is Sadie


Sadie is a paean to the life of the imagination. It reminds the reader of the importance of stories to enrich and inspire our children.

‘Sadie’s perfect day is spent with friends. Some of them live on her street, and some live in the pages of books.’ Her life is never mundane because she constantly has a parallel reality existing in her head – one full of stories and adventure. Littered throughout Sadie are allusions to heroines from throughout the ages: Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Goldilocks, Alice, The Little Mermaid, Maid Marian.

Sadie is the kind of child that I’m sure a lot of readers of this blog can identify with. I always loved reading as a kid and the characters were just as real to me as my surroundings. If not more real. Whereas ‘real life’ is always in flux (new schools, new friends, new teachers) the characters in a book remain constant, in exactly the same position as when you left them and always there for you at a turn of a page. I sometimes used to finish a book and immediately turn back to the beginning because I wanted to spend more time with the characters.

Everything Sadie encounters is brought to life  – including clothes. When she chooses a dress to wear she whispers to it ‘”Don’t tell the others… but you are my favourite.”‘ I think the other dresses might suspect that this one would be the favourite because it is the perfect outfit for make-believe. The dress is medieval in style with a full green skirt and a red lace-up bodice; just right for riding a horse, diving into a swimming pool, flying over houses. Sadie reminded me how magical clothes can be to children, how a certain outfit can be enchanted with power. (I had a panda sweatshirt which I was adamant brought me good luck because I had been wearing it on the day my parents took us on a surprise trip to the cinema.)

Sadie is an active and fun book to read aloud due to the narrator constantly interacting with the reader – asking us to check to see if we have wings, questioning if we can hear Sadie. It is noteworthy that in a book which celebrates the world of the imagination the author employs metafiction – addressing the audience directly – thereby repeatedly reminding us that this is a storybook. But that doesn’t make it any less real.

Heroine rating: 4/5

I’m guest-blogging this post over at the wonderful Clothes in Books today. It’s a fantastic blog especially if you’re a fan of both books and fashion. But I warn you, the posts are so addictive to read that it is a good way to lose several hours…



Come away from the water, Shirley


Shirley extols the value of imagination. A simple interpretation of the book is that it is a story about a little girl’s trip to the seaside and the imaginary games that she plays there. But scratch the surface and there is a lot more going on

As is often the case in John Burningham’s work there are two parallel narratives. On the left hand page we have the parents. They are drawn in washed-out pastel colours and sit on their deckchairs ignoring their child except to chastise her and relay commands. These are the kind of parents none of us want to become; those who jab and pester their children to become part of their own joyless world.

The other narrative, on the right hand page, is Shirley’s make-believe adventure. She is drawn in vivid colours rowing out to sea, fighting pirates, finding hidden treasure. She has escaped to a dream world. Although, who would want to insist that Shirley’s world is the make-believe and her parents’ is the ‘real’ one.

In a conventional picture-book Shirley’s adventure with the pirates would be at the forefront, with illustrations backing up the words of the narrative. Yet here Burningham places the adventure to one side and narrates it purely with his pictures. The only words we read are the tedious sentiments of Shirley’s parents. This is a book in which language, or certain forms of it, is subtly accused of disenchanting the world. It asks us, and particularly those of us with the responsibilities of parenthood, to think about what we do with words.

The most chilling line in the book is ‘Your father might have a game with you when he’s had a little rest’, as if play can only be at a prescribed time in a fashion that is recognisable to adults. Shirley reminds us to re-enchant the world.

Heroine rating: 5/5