Happy MMGM, guys!
Today, I'm reviewing The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold. It came highly recommended to me by several librarian and publishing friends, so I couldn't wait to check it out!
MMGM is a feature hosted by the seriously fabulous Shannon Messenger on her blog every week!
Hardcover, 224 pages
Expected publication: March 3rd 2015 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens (first published October 23rd 2014)
Only Amanda can see her imaginary friend – until the sinister Mr Bunting arrives at Amanda's door. Mr Bunting hunts imaginaries. Rumour says that he eats them. And he's sniffed out Rudger. Soon Rudger is alone, and running for his imaginary life. But can a boy who isn’t there survive without a friend to dream him up?
A brilliantly funny, scary and moving read from the unique imagination of A.F. Harrold, this beautiful book is astoundingly illustrated with integrated art and colour spreads by the award-winning Emily Gravett.
Author A.F. Harrold introduces us to Amanda Shuffleup, a quirky young girl who lives in England with her mother. She imagines Rudger up one day, who then appears in her closet. The two of them quickly become inseparable friends, as they explore and cause a lot of spirited (but well-meaning!) mayhem together.
However, the sinister Mr. Bunting suddenly shows up at their door in search of imaginaries, and Amanda and Rudger's friendship is soon put to the test. When the two of them are separated by accident, it's up to Rudger to save the day and reunite the two of them...
Harrold's tale is absolutely magical and thought-provoking from the first page. He does a wonderful job of showing how there are inventive children like Amanda who can create imaginary friends like Rudger, just as there are some children who need a little help in working on their imagination. In each scenario, he explores just why imaginary friends are created to have the personalities that they have, and just how they help their "reals" grow and thrive in their day-to-day lives.
Even as Amanda and Rudger end up separated by Mr. Bunting's machinations, Harrold is careful to point out just how an imaginary friend like Rudger can take on his "real's" bravery and fearlessness, as he strives to find her. Readers will undoubtedly appreciate both his understanding that he has to work within a certain set of imginary friend rules, but also how he chooses to use those rules to his advantage - including befriending an unlikely ally.
Readers will also likely appreciate Rudger's side journey into the library as he works to reunite with Amanda, a place where imaginary friends can reside when their creators have outgrown them. There's a certain degree of comfort and joy in knowing that imagination can be joyously shared with others - very counter to Mr. Bunting's antics - something that young and older readers will likely both understand.
While there's definitely a feeling of irony in the fact that many of these imaginary friends often end up helping their reals grow up to the point where their friendship is no longer needed, Harrold is also quick to show that there will always be a spark of imagination in those who choose to believe. There's a reunion in the final pages of the book between an imaginary friend and its first creator, that reinforces that idea that imagination (and love!) will never leave you.
Harrold's beautiful messages and characterization throughout the book, are wonderfully supported by Emily Gravett's illustrations. She utilizes both black and white watercolors and sketches, with just a hint of color, to really emphasize just how expansive and wonderful an imagination can be.
Things to consider:
Amanda and Rudger have to face both real and imagined obstacles, ranging from car accidents to repeated lfacedowns with a creepy foe that is both menacing and creepily clever. Both Amanda and Rudger are also forced to realize that their friendship may not last forever, and that it's the lack of imagination - the very thing that created Rudger - which might eventually separate the two of them.
While these lessons do seem a bit heady considering the intended age group, both A.F. Harrold and Emily Gravett present those lessions in a way where all of the characters are able to face down their fears, and come out stronger on the other side. There's always an underlying emphasis that yes, the world can be a scary and dark place. But at the same time, there is nothing that can't be overcome with some gumption, bravery and the help of good friends.
These are some important lessons, especially for younger readers who are learning to face adversity for the first time. I think that by keep this in mind, educators and parents should feel comfortable giving this book to younger readers.
A.F. Harrold hits the perfect note of whimsy and adventure, while Emily Gravett's eerie and beautiful drawings help bring Rudger and Amanda's stories to life. While there are certainly elements of the book that fairly dark, I thought the lessons were wonderful and empowering for younger readers.
Highly recommend for all readers, but especially for readers who enjoy books like Coraline and film series like Totoro.
About the Author and the Illustrator:
A.F. HARROLD is an English author and poet who writes and performs for adults and children. He is the owner of many books, a handful of hats, a few good ideas, and one beard. He lives in Reading, England. Visit him online at www.afharrold.co.uk.
EMILY GRAVETT is the author and illustrator of numerous children’s books, including Wolves, winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal and the Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Award for Illustration; and Orange Pear Apple Bear, a Quills Award finalist and a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year and a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year. Emily lives in Brighton, England, with her partner, their daughter, and the family dog.