Recently at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, a few australian authors were talking about being asked to change details in stories, before their books were published in the US. Some wouldn’t allow changes. We expect children to be able to cope with completely fictional places with made-up names and animals – why couldn’t they manage a real place with just a few differences?
As a child I read many books set in the USA and England. There were lots of details that probably went over my head, but the new words and descriptions let me build up an idea of these countries. I drew pictures of them in my head, of villages and greens, of prairies and buffalo, of different kinds of cars and forests and cities. These places were like a fairyland – a made up, magical place where people had wonderful adventures.
But then something funny happened. I travelled to some of the places I had read about. With their dream-land status, it felt so strange to be there, and see things I had only dreamed about. Sometimes the pictures in my head were fairly accurate, but sometimes I had built up a very different picture much to my amusement! But these visits were like a dream coming true. There really are village greens to walk across! If that was true, I’d probably meet Ford Prefect any day now.
I’ve seen movies set in other countries and watched many documentaries about different places and then travelled there. But I have not had the same feelings. It has only happened with book places, where I had had the opportunity to create the place in my head. I pity children who are only allowed to read about things they know. If you don’t have a dream, how can it come true?