THE BIRTH OF LITERARY IMAGINATION
INFANTS playing with the sound of language, toddlers grasping a stick and hopping about the room as if astride the speediest steed, youngsters building castles with moats in the sand, preschoolers launching missiles to Mars, school children garbing themselves as scary monsters or beguiling princesses--these are the stuff of childhood imagination, the worlds invented by young children. No one who has been around children would question these phenomena (and many could add to this list), but these play activities prove no easier to explain than to explain away. Perhaps for this reason such childhood pretense and imaginative activities have intrigued clinicians, artists, psychologists, teachers, and, not least, parents and peers. Still we have very little understanding of the nature of these early imaginative activities--the reasons for their existence and, equally mysterious, the reason they blossom in some children while they wither away in so many others.
One can discern two contrasting views on the child's imagination. One group of commentators rejoices, enthuses, and is even overwhelmed. For instance, the Russian writer of children's books, Kornei Chukovsky, speaks of a period of childhood "genius" in language, when every young child is a gifted poet. The New York educator Richard Lewis collects the poems children recite or write down and presents them to the world as youthful examples of art. And many scholars