Something that has been lost, I think, in this era of online dictionaries, is the browsing, glancing, serendipitous discovery of a word that takes a person off on a flight of imagination, that sends one into another world, a world of the imagination, of “what if,” of “suppose it was this way.” If an online dictionary had been available to the author of the book I’m highlighting today, she would likely have gone straight to the word she was actually looking for, and wouldn’t have stumbled upon the word that led to the writing of this book — and that would have been a loss to the world of the imagination and to the world of children’s books.
Envision yourself picking up your dictionary some evening to look up a word. You turn to the W section, and begin scanning the list of words. Your attention is caught by something quite unusual. You mull it over in your mind. You read the definition, which is more of a non-definition. If you have a vivid imagination, one that’s willing to see things in new and intriguing ways, perhaps you say to yourself, “I wonder…” and those simple words reveal to you an entrancing new land filled with unusual characters and strange beings. That is just what happened when author Julie Andrews Edwards stumbled upon the word whangdoodle.
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles is the book that grew out of that experience. On the surface, the story is of an eccentric professor and three children who visit the land of the Whangdoodle, seeking to help the creature who is the last of his kind. But one of the major points of the book is to encourage readers to look beyond the surface, to be dissatisfied with a mere superficial glance, to engage all facets of one’s intelligence — including the imagination — in all one’s encounters.
I have written before of my mother’s frequent refrain of looking beyond the surface. “Open your big blue eyes and look!” “Here where we live, the beauty doesn’t hit you in the face, you have to look for the beauty.” The first thing the children in this book have to do as they begin their quest for Whangdoodleland, is to learn to look. To look beyond the superficial and the obvious, to look at the familiar from a different perspective. In the words of the Professor:
“Ben, look closely here. See the earth between the blades [of grass]? See how rough and hard it is after the frost? Now think of being as small as an ant down there. Look at it as if you were indeed a beetle or a worm. Wouldn’t the earth be different to you then? Wouldn’t it be a whole new countryside? The lumps of clay would be mountains and the blades of grass would be a forest.”
For the children to accomplish their quest (and by extension, for us to reach any far-off, perhaps nearly unbelievable goal) they must first learn to be able — and willing — to see things differently. To look beyond what they expect to see, the outcome they expect to achieve, to suspend their disbelief and grasp the possibilities inherent in the impossibilities.
There is much more to this book — it is, itself, not to be taken at face value — but for today, I’ll content myself with this brief introduction and encourage you to read the book for yourself, be challenged to use your imagination to look beyond the surface and discover all that is within the book, and all that the book helps you find within yourself.
Indeed, like the author of the book, like the Professor on the way to Whangdoodleland, and like my mother, I’d like to encourage you today to look at things with new eyes, to use your imagination to see things in a different way, to consider the experiences of your day-to-day life from a fresh perspective. Perhaps you might reach your own Whangdoodleland.