When I was a child still reading in my mother’s lap, the book I most often requested was Bread and Jam for Frances. I liked its cozy illustrations and Frances’ clever songs, but what I enjoyed most was the description of the contents of Frances’ lunchbox. I was not an adventurous eater—lobster salad would never have crossed my lips—but I was fascinated by the sprinkles on the custard, the little cardboard shakers of salt, and the doily and tiny vase of violets Frances places on her desk before settling down to eat. In these details, I understood that the meal was a celebration. Inspired, I’d ask for bread and jam, place it on a paper doily, and eat it slowly, savoring each bite.
The Snowy Day was another early favorite of mine. I liked the crunch, crunch, crunch of Peter’s feet as he made those crisp, Pez-shaped footprints. With each new snowfall I’d hurry outside to make my own tracks, listening with satisfaction as the snow crunched beneath my Moon Boots.
Eventually I learned to read on my own, and it became an intrinsic part of my days, what I did whenever I was at rest. I read in the car, in the bath, in bed. I especially liked books that offered windows into magical or hidden worlds: The Phantom Tollbooth, The Diamond in the Window, The Littles. What I remember most about these books, years later, is not the plot turns or even all the characters, but certain vivid images—the pink streaks of sunset Chroma the Great coaxes from the sky (which look, in my mind, exactly like the sunsets I saw from my childhood home) or absent-minded Uncle Freddy taking a great muddy bite from a fresh-picked carrot (something I tried, only once, in my own garden). I grew up in Idaho, where much of our family time was spent outdoors. On the forced marches my parents called “hikes,” I entertained myself by searching for signs of fairies and gnomes. Armed with what I’d learned from the great Gnomes book that lived on our coffee table, I sifted through nature, mentally repurposing what I’d found. A toadstool could be a fairy’s chair. An acorn cap made a nice little bowl. A scrap of birch bark was a page from a tiny book.
There’s no question that reading helps to spark imagination and inspires flights of fancy, but I think it’s also true that good books can deepen a reader’s engagement with reality. As a kid, I went around with my nose stuck in a book, but when I finally got around to lifting my head the world came into sharper focus. The details of the stories I loved compelled me to pay attention—to look closer, listen more carefully, to touch, sniff, and taste.
These qualities seem ever more valuable in this era of instant gratification, when we dart from one idea to the next. Kids now have such an array of entertainment at their fingertips—movies, videos, games, and apps. All offer complex and sometimes very compelling modes of storytelling. But reading is one of the few forms left that still strives to engage all the senses.
Of course, as a writer it helps to pay attention to details, and I’m grateful now for the many hours I spent daydreaming in the forest as a kid. One of the things I enjoy most is creating the details of the worlds I write about, in the hope that readers might find something of their own world in them . . . and that it might give them pause enough to lift their heads, to look, listen, and find that life is something to savor.
Kiki Thorpe is the author, most recently, of The Never Girls series. She lives inSan Francisco with her family.