Do you have a really imaginative child who doesn’t sit still well, or maybe who has imaginary creatures in his or her closet or under the bed? I do. My daughter loves to play pretend, and she always has some sort of imaginary friend on her heels, whether it’s a Miyazaki movie straight from a children’s book or a little ghostling who lives in her cash register. Recently we found a book that reminds us of her quite a bit about a boy with a very active imagination.
In the adorable picture book The Field Beyond the Outfield by Mark Teague, a young boy encounters monsters wherever he goes—particularly in his closet at home, as many children do. The monsters aren’t your traditional ones, however; they are mostly animals, bugs, and other not-so-scary creatures. That was perhaps the most disappointing thing for me; yes, it’s friendly so it won’t scare kids, but we like the kinds of monsters you’ll find in a Neil Gaiman children’s book better in our house.
Even so, it’s a really cute story because the boy’s parents decide that his imagination is so overactive that he needs to have some kind of activity to do, so they sign him up to play sports. That seems to be the universal response from parents who want to “fix” their little boys, right? The only thing is, being on the team doesn’t help the boy a bit. In fact, it only enriches his imagination further!
He imagines himself being pulled back into an outfield behind his own outfield, one in which monsters, of course, are playing ball. He then gets to play with the monsters (who ask if he knows how to play), hitting a ball pitched to him straight out of the park for his first homerun. The monsters cheer for him wildly, and he’s never been happier.
His father tells him that he’s sorry he didn’t get to play today and that he hopefully will next time, telling us that the boy didn’t really play in the game that his parents insisted he play, but the one in his imagination instead. After that, when he sees his imaginary friends and monsters in his closet, he is no longer afraid of them—and they presumably remain in his life, which is wonderful. If only his parents could respect his imagination in the first place and foster that rather than his being like everyone else!