Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Book Nook: Nutshell Regatta

Nutshell Regatta is a colorful, whimsically illustrated picture book written by Jonna Laster, that paints an afternoon of imaginative play shared between a grandmother and her granddaughter - a sailing competition using nutshells for sailboats, mint leaves for sails and twigs for passengers.

Studies have shown play is crucial for many areas of children’s development—from physical strength to cognitive and linguistic growth. One 2008 study found that play contributes greatly to physical health—using more calories than comparable organized physical activities.
Laster wrote this book, in part, to honor her grandmother who taught her that imaginative play can happen anywhere: telling a story, acting out favorite scenes from movies or books, thinking up as many uses for a cup or a paperclip as you can, building a fort, sitting on a patch of grass or under a tree and looking as closely as you can.

You can learn more in this interview.

Why did you write this book?

Nutshell Regatta was written in part as an homage to my own grandmother. Whenever she came to stay with our family in Alaska, she and I shared a room. We read books together and told endless stories. But there were so many other experiences. One of my favorites: Grandmother turned on the TV, tuned into a soap opera and turned the volume to zero. I played a series of minor chords on my mother's electric organ and between the two of us we created all of the dialogue  – so much drama, so many subplots!

When my family moved into “town” my parents bought an old house on a large lot, with a small pond at the base of the hill. That gleaming small body of water proved to be the stage for many a grand adventure. It was home to a muskrat, minnows and frogs. When friends brought me three orphaned ducklings, it became their refuge. Rafts were built every summer. Once my brother and I even constructed a fort in the middle of the pond! It was a magical place.

It is the melding of those memories and a very real delight taken in them that inspired Nutshell Regatta.

Creating books and stories seems to be a well-loved activity - in fact, my teenage daughter and her friend were working on a story together just the other day! What makes that activity so appealing?

I love that your daughter and her friend are creating books!

There is a universal urge to create, to record stories and memories, to gift others with your experiences or to dream up some new version of reality. Book making is a way to leave a mark. Creating a book captures something fleeting and makes it last. 

From the earliest books of stapled newsprint written clumsily from high atop a fort swaying in a birch tree, I fell under the spell of writing. The whisper of a pencil tip across paper and later the patter of a keyboard are sounds that I love. 

How can parents and caregivers encourage imaginative play in their kids?

Play at its best is spontaneous and open-ended. Games with rules and specific scripts are useful and often enjoyable. However, those less-definable games of the imagination are dynamic. In such play, the child takes the lead. You may be invited to participate and then I think it's important to remember to not steer the imaginative play towards an adult goal, to be an active listener not a director. What a wonderful way to observe the creative and cognitive leaps your child makes on their own. And when we can enter into the spirit of such games: that is a wonderful experience, akin to a day at a Spa for the Imagination.

Why is imaginative play important for older kids and teens as well and how can adults continue to foster that activity?

We've all heard about the need for people who can think outside of the box. Imaginative play exists outside of the box.

The importance of play in early development is well documented and that need for self-expression and engagement with imagination has no expiration date. 

Imagination does not exclude expertise or knowledge but finds new and important ways to apply that knowledge to solve larger problems and to express important ideas.

Allowing time and space for play sets the stage. 

For individuals of all ages imaginative play develops cognitive problem-solving skills, language and communication capacity, empathy for others, confidence in one's own ability to think for oneself independently and allows us to engage physically and joyfully with the world around us.

Jonna Laster's earliest recollections take place in an old canvas tent on her parent's Alaskan homestead. The stories told around the wood-stove filled her with wonder, and to this day remind Jonna of why she's always been a writer. Jonna lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest with her family and their frisky Norwegian Elkhound, Thora.

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