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“A good plan always starts with an idea and a pencil.” So begins a story Jason H. wrote for his three children during a Connections book discussion series on the theme of imagination. Participants read a simple children’s picture book and then wrote a corresponding story. Jason continues, “You’re going to want to write it down if it’s a fantastic idea worth remembering. May has decided she wants to fly to the planet Saturn using her mom’s old airplane. Can you guess the name of the airplane? Its name is The Mighty Comet. May even has blueprints to the airplane.”
The story is based on the book "The Plan," by Alison Paul and illustrator Barbara Lehman. In the book, a girl and her father devise a plan to get their old biplane back in the air after the death of the girl’s mother. While the artwork is simple and each page displays a single word beginning with the letter P, this book delivers profound messages, not lost on the men in this Connections book discussion series: the importance of family connections, faith in the future and the will to overcome obstacles.
Jason was a participant in a New Hampshire Humanities Connections book series for parents who are serving sentences at New Hampshire state prisons. In partnership with the Department of Correction’s Family Connections Center, Connections provides a four-part facilitated book discussion series for incarcerated parents of children who range in age from one to eighteen. Connections selects picture books, chapter books, poetry, plays and novels that will appeal to a wide range of age, interest and reading ability. Parents in the program read and discuss the books in a group, often engaging in writing exercises like the one that inspired Jason’s story. In the series Jason attended, facilitated by author and UMass professor Sara Backer, participants also read Jon Stone’s "The Monster at the End of This Book" and "Bradbury Stories," a collection of 100 stories by the master of fantasy, Ray Bradbury. The men then discussed the ways in which imagination enhances a child’s cognitive and emotional development. But the importance of imagination does not end with childhood; one may suggest that the ability of the mind to form new ideas, images or concepts, to be creative and resourceful becomes even more vital later in life. While imagination may come easily to a child, we adults need to cultivate ours, and here is where books are infinitely helpful. Books can help us live inside the heart and mind of another person, a capacity essential for effective parenting.
Parents in Connections at the state prisons send the books they receive home to their children along with a CD recording of their own reading, and discuss the books with their children during video or face-to-face visits. Sometimes parent and child will read the books together during these visits, sharing an experience common to literate households everywhere that instills a life-long love of learning and literature. The books become a world the parent and child hold in common, a place where they can meet that transcends their separation. The book itself is a tangible physical link to the distant parent; many parents tell us that their children take the books to bed, tucking them in alongside a cherished stuffed toy or under their pillow. Here is the living success of the imagination: the plan of these parents to reconnect with their children coming to fruition through the enduring gift of words and books.
Jason wraps up the story for his children in this way:
“So you see, if you plan something and work real hard there is a good chance you will complete your goals. Make sure you always work hard in life. Anything of value is going to be hard work but the rewards are always worth it.”
To read Jason's complete story, click HERE.
Give the gift of literacy! Your $25.00 gift to New Hampshire Humanities will cover the cost of four books for one Connections participant. Go to www.nhhumanities.org/give or call 603-224-4071.
New Hampshire Humanities programs are made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this these programs do not necessarily represent those of the NEH or New Hampshire Humanities.