May 3, 2016

Imagining the Unimaginable

People find themselves with imaginary friends for all sorts of reasons: they can help people overcome fears, battle their inner demons, and cope with loneliness. Today we're talking about all three, not just from the perspective of the friend creators, but from the point of view of the imagined friends as well.

Let's start with Emma Yarlett's Orion and the Dark.

Orion is terrified of many, many things, but the thing he's most afraid of is the dark. So to cope he invents a friend who is the Dark!

The Dark is, of course, an intangible thing, but Orion places the Dark into a definable form, thus allowing him the opportunity to come to terms with his fears: he gets to talk to the Dark, come into physical contact with it, and go on adventures with it. The Dark is notably larger than Orion is, which speaks to the emphasis Orion places on this particular anxiety.

Putting the Dark into a form--rather than keeping it as an intangible, abstract concept--helps Orion overcome his fear and learn about the less scary, more adventurous side of the Dark, as well as the fun that comes with nighttime. Amelia does something similar in Zachariah OHora's No Fits, Nilson! when she invents an imaginary gorilla friend to personify her temper tantrums.

Amelia's friend actually starts as a doll, which we learn at the end of the book, and serves as a tool to help her maintain calm when she gets angry. Knowing that she is prone to temper tantrums, Amellia uses her self-awareness to her advantage by bringing her doll to life. Amelia learns patience and anger-management by super-imposing her anger issues onto an imaginary friend and helping him learn to behave.  

Like Orion, Amelia chooses to make her manifestation huge. Oftentimes Nilson doesn't even fit on the page! This huge design is a perfect metaphor for what Amelia is trying to move past. Her anger is large, so it manifests itself as a large character. Nilson literally towers over Amelia, and it's a beautiful representation of her anger, and what she is going to have to overcome.  

The last character we're going to talk about who has an imaginary friend is the titular character from Brigitta Sif's Oliver.

Unlike Orion and Amelia, Oliver creates an imaginary friend--one even readers can't see--out of loneliness. 

He has puppets to keep him company, and he never feels quite comfortable around other people. We constantly see Oliver surrounded by open space, heightening his sense of isolation. And even during the scenes where we do see him completely surrounded, he is still set apart from the other characters in some way.

We know that Oliver has found a friend in Olivia at the end when the sit next to each other, fingers touching. Nowhere else in the book does a character even come within arms-reach of Oliver, and there's definitely a sense of relief to see them holding hands and playing with his puppets. On the flip side of the coin are the characters who are the imaginary friends. And it turns out things are just as tough for them, too. 


Beekle from Dan Santat's The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend finds himself waiting so long that all his unimaginary friends have left and gone to the real world. When Beekle comes to the real world, we feel his sense of isolation right away: his colorful character stands out against the dull colors of the city, and his small stature is easily overwhelmed by the people around him.

So when Beekle finally does find his new friend, it makes total sense that they are the same size and that she's just as colorful as he is.

Fred from Eoin Colfer's and Oliver Jeffers' Imaginary Fred falls into a similar vein, as he is also an imaginary friend waiting for his real-life friend. Unlike Beekle, Fred has actually had a taste of friendship, as many kids have dreamt him up, but they've always moved on. And every time the kids forget about him, Fred begins to disappear bit by bit.

Jeffers does a fantastic job of illustrating Fred, pixelating and coloring him so that he's never really a part of the world around him. No matter what, he stands out, even when he is disappearing. This makes his meeting with Frieda that much more beautiful: we finally get to see another character just like Fred, pixelated and colorful. Seeing Frieda is comforting since they are of the same ilk, as though the two are destined to be friends.

Lastly we have Leo from Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett and Christian Robinson. Leo has been alone for a long time, so when he finds Jane, a girl who can actually see him, he thinks she has found a friend. But the girl mistakes him for an imaginary friend, rather than a ghost.

Leo is cleverly drawn with acrylic paint lines over whatever existing color or patterning lies on the page. We can literally see through him, like a real ghost! 

It makes us feel special, like we can see ghosts and others can't, and it's a fun way to bond with both Leo and Jane.   That's it for this week! There's only one day left to enter the ARE WE THERE YET? giveaway on Instagram, so be sure to stop by and throw your name into the ring!

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