Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Landscape of Imagination

I spent yesterday at Fillmore Elementary School as part of the Castle Arts program, which brings local artists of all kinds (writers, musicians, painters, dancers) into the public schools to enrich arts offerings in a time of slashed education budgets and increasing emphasis on preparing students for high-stakes testing.  I decided to try out a new writing exercise of getting each class to work together to create their own imaginary country.

I started out by telling the children how my sister and I had created four imaginary countries when we were little girls: Bladen (completely round), Socker (shaped like a sock), Malone (shaped like a star), and Moo (shaped like a cow).  Moo was the most interesting. Obviously influenced by the Cold War ideology which shaped so much of American life during our childhood in the 1960s, Moo was a Soviet-style totalitarian state, with the exception of one leg, "the Good Leg," which had broken off  during an earthquake; it remained under the domination of the central Moo government but was more like Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain.  I then told the children how the child characters in my recent novel One Square Inch create the tiny imaginary society of Inchland, only a few square inches in size, with its capital Inchopolis, ruled by King Inchard and Queen Incharina, and Princess Inchitella as their cherished only child.

Then the children in each class collectively created their own imaginary country and wrote and drew about it. 

We ended up with Equipeer, a tropical paradise shaped like a triangle, whose inhabitants try to keep themselves safe from walking sharks while feasting on exotic fruits like banana apples.   Fillmoretropica was an empire housed in an old mansion with individual countries named Closet and Dining Room; its capital city was Master Bedroom, of course.  When Closet and Dining Room were at war, one hurled balled socks as a weapon while the other hurled assorted cutlery.  Fillmornia was a tiny country under a dome, whose small chubby inhabitants drank all day long from a chocolate fountain. I was pleased that its queen was Claudonia Millsonis.

My favorite country, I think, was Flower Land, the creation of the second graders.  In Flower Land, situated on top of a large flower, the cars are bumblebees and the people eat pollen ice cream. Flower Land is ruled by King Bluebell and Queen Rosabelle.  The children attend Butterfly Elementary where they study such subjects as how to drive their bumblebees and how to stay safe from huge human people who might try to pluck their flower.

So that was my day at Fillmore Elementary, on a grand tour of countries bounded only by children's imagination.

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