Imagination, a child's greatest tool in the battle against boredom, a magical mindset with the power to transform back yards into secret worlds with fantastic possibilities, is perhaps underappreciated by adults.
Secret Worlds of Summer  The Imagination

A Kid's Reality

By Darragh Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Summer. Such an uncomplicated season. Winter's menace and spring's frenzy are over.

With calmer spirits, we emerge into the sunlight, relaxed enough to ponder mysteries of the universe.

Metro's annual summer series continues.

Sometimes -- lots of times, even -- you can look at Claire Costello and think you're simply seeing a noodle-thin Alexandria girl whose hair is a thick trapezoid of strawberry blonde curls and whose tiny nose is decorated with freckles.

She looks not unlike any other 8-year-old girl who does softball and swim team and loves Hello Kitty and furry pink pencils and sleeps with a pack of stuffed animals and rides a pink Schwinn "pedal power" bike. Which she is.

She is also a wolf.

And a wolf princess. And a Stone Age huntress. And a Roman god who sees, in the decorative glass corkscrew hanging from the backyard gazebo, a jagged bolt of lightning. "We use it when we're mad," she says, hurling it into the ground. When playing Harry Potter, the bolt becomes a magic wand.

"If you have imagination," Claire says, hopping from tree root to tree root because the lawn is an ocean and the roots are the only dry land, "a box could be a racing car."

Imagination is the whirring engine of childhood, the gyre and spin of invention. It is taking what is -- a welcome mat, a cooking pot, a pinch of coriander from the kitchen spice rack -- and envisioning what isn't: a flying carpet, a thrumming drum, the makings of a secret potion.

It is secret worlds and fantastic possibilities. It is the upending of dining room chairs and stealing cushions from the sofa and erecting a fort whose back wall is a blanket and front door is a faded beach towel. No adults allowed, and the younger brother can play, too, only if he stays on hands and knees and barks like a guard dog.

"Playing pretend," says 8-year-old Billy Brophy, whose Hyattsville back yard is a long stretch of boyhood bliss, "is doing something that you're not really doing."

(Sounds like a definition that goes beyond childhood, like it could also describe, say, the way some workers do their jobs. But we digress. Rap of the ruler across the knuckles. Back to the subject at hand.)

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