As a fan of Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman, I felt obligated to give this book a try. And I’m so glad I did! I can’t say enough good things about “The Imaginary”. Thanks again, NetGalley! I could see touches of Roald Dahl’s creativity and humor and a good deal of spooky spine tingles we love from Neil Gaiman. But A.F. Harrold definitely has his own voice and style and showcases it nicely in this fantastic children’s book.
I absolutely adored “The Imaginary”, and have already pre-ordered a copy for my classroom as well as for myself! When I book talked this with my students, they literally yelled at me to tell them more!
So, yes, the writing is fantastic. But how about those illustrations! They’re gorgeous! Emily Gravett has created beautiful, perfect images to complement the text. There are some great galleries to be found online, along with a short video of Emily herself creating one of the illustrations for “The Imaginary”. I’m going to share an example with you here, but I’m saving the best one for you to discover while you read. Let me just say that it would be a good addition to “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”.
Amanda Shuffleup has “imagination-tinted eyes”. She can take the most mundane situation, like getting a knot in her shoelaces, and turn it into something much more exciting. She’s also a genius. Well, self-proclaimed anyway. Her friend Rudger, is the best friend anyone could ask for. He indulges Amanda in her outlandish fantasies, and has accompanied her on many excursions from spelunking to deep sea diving. But what makes Rudger really special is that he’s not real. He’s Amanda’s imaginary friend.
Rudger popped into existence on the day of a wet coat and sneaker. As she went to hang her rain coat in the wardrobe, Amanda instead found a boy hiding inside. From that day on, she and Rudger were inseparable. Though it might seem lonely to be an imaginary friend, Rudger really enjoys being a friend only for Amanda.
While he can’t get hurt like Amanda can, there are dangers for Rudger. One such threat is a bushy mustached man named Mr. Bunting. Said to be centuries old, Mr. Bunting exists by consuming Imaginaries. Accompanied by his own imaginary friend, he hunts and devours them like a predator.
Rudger and Amanda encounter Mr. Bunting one afternoon while on a trip to the pool. Mr. Bunting’s cold and creepy imaginary friend grabs Rudger as Bunting prepares to attack. Rudger screams to Amanda and urges her to escape. As she flees through the parking lot, Rudger right behind her, a car comes out of nowhere, hitting the two friends. While Rudger is able to stand up and brush himself off, Amanda isn’t so lucky. Mr. Bunting and his friend are able to slip away undetected as a crowd gathers and the ambulance is called.
Rudger is distraught but not hopeless. His plan to find Amanda will require the help of other Imaginaries and a sickly cat named Zinzan. To be successful, he’ll also need to avoid the gluttonous Mr. Bunting and his cold friend. But Rudger is convinced that he can and will find Amanda before her imagination stops powering his existence. Fueled by determination and the love of his best friend, Rudger will stop at nothing to get to Amanda.
In the nail-biting climax of this story, Rudger must face the only thing that can hurt him: Mr. Bunting and the cold girl. He’s not only fighting for his own life, but Amanda’s as well. Your stomach will clench as the struggle between real and imaginary unfolds. Thankfully, Rudger finds help in some unexpected allies.
Readers of all ages will love the imaginative and creative writing style in “The Imaginary”. Dark moments are nicely balanced with humorous situations that young readers will love. Older readers will appreciate the detail that A.F. Harrold has included, and how he uses them to completely immerse you in his world of imaginary friends.
“The Imaginary” is a story about the purity of a childhood friendship and the lengths people will go to to preserve that treasured relationship. It’s also about love and loss, and the importance of channeling some of the imaginative powers from our younger selves.
Title: “The Imaginary”
Author: A.F. Harrold (Follow him on Twitter: @afharrold)
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children
Publish Date: March 3, 2015
You might also enjoy: “Doll Bones” by Holly Black
My recommended age range: 3rd grade – 6th grade