3 of my fave picture books to inspire imaginative play, and how they do it

PBs ImaginaryPlay.jpg

Imaginative play is a vital learning tool for kids. One of the great ways to inspire and encourage imaginative play is to read books that incorporate it. As a mum of a voracious book-devouring 4-year-old, I’ve met quite a few picture books. And here are three of my favourites for inspiring the imagination. They each do it in unique ways, that align with how children are learning about play at different ages.

The first two came out in the 80’s, which just proves that great literature stands the test of time! So, what do these books do that I find so wonderful, and that keeps my daughter asking for them time and again?


Helping kids embrace the power of their imaginations -‘Imagine’

This much-loved Australian book is by one of my all-time-absolute-favourite author/illustrators Alison Lester. Trust me, if you don’t know what to buy a kid, buy them one of her books and rest easy. Everything she has done is awesome.

I love ‘Imagine’ because it makes the understanding of imaginative play easy for really young kids. You can start reading this to them at a very young age – babies will appreciate the illustrations, and the book grows with them. Pages are paired, with the first spread showing the kids actually playing, in self-made costumes with props and toys and, of course, the cat. The second full-page spread shows what they’re imagining as they play, in wonderful detail that can have my daughter spellbound for ages.

It uses fun rhyming, and shows many different topics of play. As kids grow older the book steps up a notch because you can use the imagination pages to learn the names of animals.


if we were

away on safari

where crocodiles lurk

and antelope feed

where leopards attack

and zebras stampede…”

Juxtaposing fantasy prose with reality illustrations – ‘Drac and the Gremlin’

This was Picture Book of the Year for the CBCA in 1989, and it’s still relevant now. The prose is entirely fantastical, telling the story of Warrior Queen Drac and the crafty Gremlin. The illustrations, however, show in beautiful detail that Drac and the Gremlin are actually brother and sister, playing in their garden with General Min (the cat), and the Terrible Tongued Dragon (the dog).

My daughter LOVES this book, and has since she was two. She can play Drac and the Gremlin for longer than I can manage to be chased without me collapsing, gasping, on the floor. If I get one word wrong reading this, she will tell me.

I love this book as well, because it combines a great story with the impetus to play and the licence to imagine. Although if you have a problem with cabbage-white butterfly in your vegie patch, this book might make your kids think the pests are actually White Wizards and in need of saving…

“Shhh! Quiet…

Drac, the Warrior Queen of Tirnol Two, is in terrible danger.

She is fearless, as fast as the whirlwind,

as wise as the White Wizard…”

Incorporating imagination as part of a larger story – engaging older PB readers in ‘The Last Viking’

This fabulous book I started reading with my daughter only recently. It’s more suited to older Picture Book readers because it talks about bullying and mentions a few scary things. (Like vampires. Each time she asks what one is, but I’m yet to properly tell her. She knows too…!)

We read about young Josh, or Knut, embracing the Norse legends and overcoming his fears, with his faithful dog Wolverine by his side. The section where he’s imagining being on a Viking raid is gold, coming to life with vivid illustrations, and my daughter laughs and laughs when reality returns. This book isn’t solely about imaginative play – reflecting that it is aimed at kids who already understand how to play, and are started to deal with other learning curves – like kindy and school. And it uses a truck-load more humour.

It can grow with the reader. I won’t tell you how long I spent translating the messages written in runes once my daughter had gone to bed. It also has multiple illustrations on each page, as such it’s like a graphic novel for littlies. And a crash course in Viking history. Read it before you read Magnus Chase

“‘Is he building his longship in the time-honoured way of his ancestors?’ asks Thor. ‘Good straight Norwegian fir? Beechwood? Spruce, perhaps?’

‘Not quite. He seems to be using a refrigerator box,’ replies Odin.

‘What’s a refrigerator?’ asks Thor.”


You may have noticed that all three of these books have an least one pet as a sidekick, actively involved in the play. So if you don’t have a pet, be ready with a good reason why for when your little one asks!

Imaginative play is an important way for our kids to comprehend and adapt to the world they’re living in. There are so many wonderful ways to encourage it in your children – books like these three are great tools. So, go forth and read!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s