We never seem to tire of fairy tales, fantasy novels and science fiction. From early childhood, these stories enchant their readers and fire their imagination. The label 'fantasy' covers a broad spectrum of stories; from popular fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood, or stories of Greek, Norse or Native American mythology, to the tales of the Brothers Grimm, or the Disney adaptations of classic tales, and of course bestselling fiction such as The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Game of Thrones or the Harry Potter series. All these titles show how much human beings long for stories which engage their imagination and guarantee that nothing is impossible to the creative mind.
In recent years, there has been a growing demand for novels and films inspired by real-life events, often making it hard for students to understand that not everything they read or see is based on reality. Fantasy can work in simple ways in ordinary contexts, not only with mythological animals and superheroes saving the world. And this is what tales can do so well. They often show familiar characters, and with a sudden twist, we realize that we are in a fantastic world where impossible things can happen. These stories can often feel escapist, but at the same time they are the ones that stimulate children's cognitive skills to develop. As Bruno Bettelheim writes in his book The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, the power of imagination helps us as children when we face difficulties, as we need to be able to imagine fortunate solutions to our problems. It seems as if fairy tales let both children's and adults' imaginations go wild, and take a step back from the real world to find both excitement and relief in their own minds.
Reading stories with a touch of fantasy can activate young learners' imaginations, make them think, and simply engage them in reading and other language development tasks. Training our mind in a second language can also contribute to more confidence and better language skills.
We have chosen five titles from The Thinking Train series, our collection of picture books for young learners. These titles demonstrate the power of imagination in different contexts. Let's take a look.
Robots and imaginary pets
Goldy and Silvy are robots. On their birthday they get a very special present. They can invent their own pet robots. The children are very happy and they promise to look after their pets very carefully. But Silvy's toys start disappearing and they have to find a solution to the problem
Tip: Students can create a daily routine for the robots and also think about what they might eat or drink. Ask students to create their own animals - of course following the rules in the book!
The land of mythical animals
The story takes us to a faraway kingdom wehere four brave girls take part in a dangerous race across the desert to the Oasis of Hope. The girls also choose an animal for the race. Who will win? Irdina and her black horse, Alya and her beautiful hippogriff, Nour and her strong dire wolf or Mayar and her old camel?
Tip: Collect a list of mythical and extinct animals and talk about how and where they would be useful.
Solving problems in medieval times
Prince Percy is handsome and clever and kind, but he is also poor. One day he finds out about a very special contest. The winner can marry beautiful Princess Isabel. When Prince Percy wins, the king isn't very happy. What happens when the king sets Prince Percy another problem?
Tip: Ask your students to think up problems for each other to solve. You can also discuss other ways of solving Prince Percy's problem.
The land of dragons
Little Red is a dragon, who lives with her family deep inside the forest. When people arrive and start cutting down trees, the forest gets smaller and smaller. Soon the sky is full of smoke and the rivers are full of rubbish. When Little Blue disappears, Little Red flies to the land of people to save her and clean the river.
Tip: Collect creative ways of reducing rubbish and cutting down on waste in school.
The wonderful world of books
Deborah spends a lot of time alone in her castle, or in her hot-air balloon, or in her pirate ship. In other words, Deborah loves reading and dreaming about the adventures in her books. Her parents and teachers tell her to stop dreaming. When a new boy arrives in her school, she uses her imagination to help him find his place.
Tip: Ask your students to write a list of all the places they have visited through reading.
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