Creating New Worlds of Magic

written by Deena Habib, Content Creator at GoRead.pk

GoRead.pk
8 min readMar 11, 2021

When I look back at the memories of my childhood, some of the most vivid moments took place within the illustrated worlds of children’s picture books: summer sunshine illuminating blades of grass with a translucent yellow-green; catching fireflies in jars with my family under a perfect midnight-blue sky, colorful family meals, smears of paint and building rocket ships with my dog. These were all completely constructed experiences lived through by characters in books, yet they felt so real that I kept them in my mind as my own. I often revisited these moments over the years, as each time I would do so I’d feel the sensations of ease, play, joy and celebration vibrate throughout my body.

Sixteen years later, I found myself in a library at the headquarters of Penguin Young Readers (Penguin Random House) on the West Side of New York City, where the first and last prints of every book they ever published were stored. It was a dull, windowless room with shelves up to the ceiling, and as a Production Intern one of my tasks was to take the newest reprints and put them on the shelf in place of the most recent one. Though a seemingly colorless task, within my first few moments in that room I realized I was surrounded by hundreds of books that I hadn’t seen since the early days of elementary school, including Corduroy, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Goodnight Gorilla, When Lightning Comes in a Jar, among others. A surge of color arrived in my world, bursting with light and filling me with a sweet joy and excitement. I spent hours in that room, sunken in awe, flipping through old books and discovering new ones between tasks, once again completely immersed in these colorful worlds of magic, hope and color where all kinds of creatures live and learn, where problems are solved and anything you can dream of is possible. I felt completely reactivated, inspired, reminded of something magical inside of me.

At Penguin I also often opened and delivered packages of color proofs, original artwork, and final prints around to the various departments in the office — sometimes I was the first person to touch the first ever print of a new book, including Oliver Jeffers’ Here We Are. I did these tasks with utmost glee and a sort of meditative wonder — the feeling of all that energy, entire universes, held in my hands, touching my fingertips with a sort of magnetism, humming with life, will never escape me.

The feeling of all that energy, an entire universe, held in my hands, touching my fingertips with a sort of magnetism, humming with life, will never escape me. From Oliver Jeffers’ “Here We Are”.

These books held not only worlds I wanted to live in and explore, but worlds I believed in and belonged to. It feels as if their energy has lodged itself into my being and bloomed into my life path and calibration, and in them I have a home, a mirror, an affirmation, and a guide. I began to wonder and theorize about this superpower-like magical presence that these books carry. If, as an adult I continue to be drawn to them, what is it that they are really offering children, humanity, and the world? Furthermore, what is not being offered to the children who do not have access to them?

The answer, I discovered, was quite simple.

Children’s picture books harness and exercise our creative capacities to imagine new, ideal, or alternative possibilities of living and being. Though limitless, they are grounded in human truths, immersive enough to be felt, and as a result foundational for inspiring hope, change, positivity and creativity towards new visions for life on Earth.

If you open any picture book that has successfully won children’s hearts, it will most likely have been constructed on the premise of beauty, love, freedom, celebration, inclusivity, creativity, play, growth, support, harmony and reconciliation among others. They often move through a journey with a subtle lesson, inspiring remembrance of children’s own power, uniqueness, kindness, and awe of life itself. The illustrated worlds are cheerful, colorful, bright, where nature is abundant and friendly, animals and are gentle and silly, parents show up with love and cuddles, children learn to solve problems, show up for others and find inspiration from within themselves and within their communities. The artwork creates a world of its own with so much depth, thoughtfully intricate detail, bursting with life, movement and expression. As a result, it is impossible to believe anything other than this world does indeed exist.

From “Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon” by Paty Lovell, illustrated by David Catrow.

When these books are read, it is often in cozy spaces of warmth, comfort and peace: story circles in classrooms, bedtime, cuddled up in blankets with parents and siblings. They are read aloud with expression, playfulness, in which the reader — often a loving caretaker — embodies the expressions and voices of the characters. I am often reminded of my childhood, cuddling up with my father on my lower bunk bed, reading books together in our PJs before drifting off to sleep beneath a ceiling of glow-in-the-dark stars. In spaces of safety and love children are able to usefully integrate the experience of the story, and most importantly, we allow for them to associate these worlds — and reading itself — with an experience of nurture and warmth. If you read to any child and observe their behavior, you will see them leaning forward, big-eyed, excited and moving through the same emotional journey as the character. As a result, these books leave a beautiful imprint on the reader, incorporating into their person, just as they had on me.

These are spaces and worlds that embody a sort of ideal way to be, and reflect the wisdom of children’s inner worlds, for it is in the nature of every child to be playful, imaginative and filled with wonder. When we allow our children to regularly submerge into worlds where things like reconciliation, acceptance and belonging are not only possible but also the norm, we enable them to practice the muscles of hope, optimism, playfulness, compassion, and magic that is already within them and in life itself. We encourage them to believe in the light, in kindness, in change, and seek color and play in their lives. On this basis, it is safe to assume that in doing so we foster states of being, problem-solving, connection and creativity from within this framework as they unfold into their lives — day by day creating world where these ideal ways of being are embodied.

In looking at the work of GoRead.pk, an NGO based in Pakistan, we can clearly — and with admiration — witness the powerful force these books may be in creating new realities for children, and changing the communities they are part of in the process. In Pakistan, most children do not have access to quality books, let alone at the standard of those of the likes of Penguin and the rest of the western world — most children have never held a beautiful book in their hands. In this, we observe a sort of vacuum: where there is not only an absence of books to read, but an absence of nurturing spaces to read and be read to. GoRead’s work is dedicated to giving children access to high quality picture books and spaces to be read to, with the intention to spread the joy of reading within all children. Their storytelling programs entail trained volunteers going to underprivileged schools to read one book a week, followed by a discussion about the book. They are also given the opportunity to borrow the books, take them home and share with their families.

A GoRead story read-aloud session at the Kiran School in Liyari

GoRead’s stories, published in-house in English and Urdu, are built on the foundations of compassion, character development, and love for literature. Each book is professionally illustrated and printed in high-quality, on the basis that every child deserves to read beautiful books. They are culturally relevant stories and cultivate elements that are often missing in Pakistani society, including self acceptance, empathy, celebration of diversity, supporting the elderly, and environmental responsibility. In being exposed to these books, children are able to experience a version of life where these values are fully embodied with integrity — and, as a result, experience a much-needed version of Pakistan with newer and brighter possibilities.

Each book by GoRead is professionally illustrated and printed in high-quality, on the basis that every child deserves to read beautiful books. From “Noori”, written by Nusser Sayeed and illustrated by Saleha Ghani.

In the storytelling sessions, children are given access to an encouraging environment to safely express themselves and share their own experiences. It is here that they not only integrate the lessons of each story, but also experience a warm, supportive and wholesome reality alternative to their oftentimes chaotic and traumatic daily lives. Even through the first few cycles of these programs the GoRead team has found an increase in vocabulary, as well as a strengthening of character traits such as empathy, compassion, responsibility among others. If we are able to see these shifts from just one program working in one vacuum, we can not help but feel excited about the future and the potential of this work as these children carry these experiences into the unfolding of their lives.

As creators of children’s stories, our work has immense power in creating and inspiring the future and fostering resilience within the generations who follow us. There are limitless possibilities to the multiverses we can create — in this we are called to consider, what are the spaces and worlds that we wish to inhabit? What are we not seeing that we desire to see? What do we desire for our young readers to feel and believe within themselves? What sort of change do we wish to inspire in the world as a result? In answering these we are able to create the world of beauty, magic, play we have always wanted and that is already rooted within us. It is the magic within us coming out to play, to step in to life. I deeply trust that the more we continue to create these spaces for those who do not have access to them, we will watch with immense joy as our world shifts and the magic of life reveals itself with much greater ease than we ever thought possible.

Explore GoRead’s work and learn how you can support at www.goread.pk.

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GoRead.pk

Building a Pakistan where all children love to read, one story at a time. www.goread.pk