Imaginary Places can be anywhere your imagination takes you—sometimes happy places, sometimes to the future or sometimes to worlds unknown. Children know about the Wizard and the Land of Oz, some of the unusual characters Alice met when she fell down the rabbit hole or what happened when Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter Pevensie venture through the wardrobe into the land of Narnia where it is always winter but never Christmas. But one of the most popular imaginary places for children is Peter Pan’s Neverland.
James Barrie first published Peter Pan in the early 20th century, and the book remains a classic over one hundred years later.
All children are probably familiar with Peter, Wendy, John, and Michael Darling and their dog Nana. Interestingly, all of these characters were based on real children and a real dog. Three of the boys were named after three of the sons of Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies—Peter, John and Michael. The name “Wendy” was first introduced in Peter Pan. A young girl named Margaret Henley called Barrie “Friendy,” but when she pronounced the name it came out “Fwendy”. And, Nana, the Newfoundland, was inspired by a St. Bernard puppy Barrie and his wife Mary bought on their honeymoon in Switzerland.
Peter Pan is often referred to as the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up. Is it possible the character was also based on Barrie’s brother Daniel, Barrie’s mother’s favorite, who died at age thirteen? Barrie’s mother is said to have found comfort in the fact that Daniel would never grow up and leave her. The first sentence of the book reads, “All children, except one, grow up.” Hmmmm.
Peter Pan features the adventures the Darling children share in Neverland with Peter, Tinker Bell, Captain Hook, the pirates, the mermaids and the lost boys (who desperately want a mother.)
One of Barrie’s last wishes was for future royalties from Peter Pan be awarded to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London. Seventy-two years after his death sick children in London continue to benefit from Barrie’s generosity, and children everywhere benefit from being exposed to this wonderful storyteller.
Children often fear being different, but reading The Araboolies of Liberty Street could help them understand that different often means unique, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Liberty Street is an imaginary street where all the houses look alike—all painted white. The children of Liberty Street would love to have fun, but when anything fun begins to happen General Pinch grabs his bullhorn and yells, “I’ll call in the army!” So, Joy cannot hang upside down from a maple tree, Katie cannot creep around like a tiger and Jack cannot spin around until he becomes dizzy. As you might imagine, Liberty Street is a very quiet street.
Then one day the Araboolies move next door to General Pinch. There are dozens and dozens of Araboolies. They have colorful skin that changes color each night and they glow in the dark! The Araboolies paint their house with red and white zigzags and hang colored lights and toys everywhere. They paint the sidewalk and pour sand on the grass. The Araboolies have lots of pets who live indoors while the Araboolies live and sleep outdoors—all in the same bed.
When General Pinch threatens to call in the army, the Araboolies pay no attention because they do not speak English, so they have no idea what the general is yelling.
When Joy kicks a boolanoola ball through the Pinch’s window and hits General Pinch’s stomach, the general tells the army to attack Liberty Street at dawn and get rid of the house that is different. That night Joy devises a plan, and all the children of Liberty Street spring into action. They spend the entire night decorating all the houses—except the Pinch’s house—to match the Araboolies’ house.
At dawn when the army comes to follow General Pinch’s orders, they waste little time in identifying the Pinches’ house as different. They yank the house off its foundation and drag it far away. The Pinches are never seen again, and you are left with the feeling that fun will now be allowed on Liberty Street.
On the adult level, this book is said to be a satire against a system which believes that the strong survive by bullying the weak. (General Pinch vs. the children.) But through the Araboolies children learn about tolerance, fair play and even poetic justice, and the Araboolies are just plain fun.
The future is another imaginary place, and few futuristic stories for young adults are more compelling than Among the Hidden, the first in a seven book series, by Margaret Haddix Peterson. In order to limit the growth of the population, the Population Police decree that families may only have two children. The problem is that twelve-year-old Luke is a third child. Luke’s family lives in a wooded area, and because of this Luke has been able to play outside. However, when the government begins to develop the land near his house, Luke is confined to the attic.
One day Luke is carefully looking outside when he sees a shadow of a child in a window of a house that already has two children. When he runs to the house he meets Jen, another third child. Jen plans a rally in support of third children, and it ends tragically when all the participants are killed. Luckily for Luke, he had not attended.
Luke becomes friends with Jen’s father, George Talbot, a Population Police official who opposes the population law. While they are talking the Population Police break into the house, and Luke is forced to hide in the closet.
When the police have gone, Luke wants to talk, but Mr. Talbot motions for him to remain silent. He writes a note saying that the Population Police have placed listening devices around the house and are listening for evidence.
Mr. Talbot is able to provide Luke with a fake I.D. to make it possible for him to live as a real person, but this identity comes at a huge cost for Luke and his family.
This is a great book to read and discuss such issues as population growth, the allocation of the world’s resources, the distribution of agricultural products, the right to privacy, censorship and the use of propaganda.
Among the Hidden is the first in the Shadow Children series. Other titles in the series are Among the Imposters, Among the Betrayed, Among the Barons, Among the Brave, Among the Enemy and Among the Free. On the journey from Among the Hidden to Among the Free, readers watch Luke adjust, change and grow. This is a trip worth taking.