Seeing Past Z: Nurturing the Imagination in a Fast-Forward World
Given the title of Beth Kephart's new book, SEEING PAST Z: Nurturing the Imagination in a Fast-Forward World, I was prepared for a straightforward analysis of the very real challenges facing parents trying to raise imaginative, creative children in a culture that seems to eschew imagination and creativity. I expected a well-reasoned and well-researched argument, perhaps with specific suggestions for fostering young people's creative processes.
Instead, much to my surprise (and eventual delight), what I found in SEEING PAST Z was something quite different, and no less valuable. In this slender volume, Kephart strings together a series of personal essays and anecdotes, some of which focus on her own childhood, but most of which center on her fourteen-year-old son, Jeremy, and his development from a reluctant reader into a passionate storyteller, comic strip artist, and aspiring filmmaker.
Kephart primarily lets her stories speak for themselves, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions about her parenting approach --- discouraging competition and adult-oriented achievements in favor of pursuits whose rewards are not so easily quantified. Her stories are told with a quiet, lyrical grace rarely found in nonfiction.
Kephart makes the argument that kids' imaginations are vital, not only during childhood but for their whole adult lives: "I am hoping that the time we've spent on the imagination will enable him to foresee the consequences of actions not yet taken. I am hoping that it will reinforce a compassionate heart. I am hoping that it will steel him for the hardest times, by giving him faith in another, better day …. I am hoping, a mother's simple dream, that it deepens his happiness."
The author's success with her approach, not only with her own son but with the reading and writing workshops she conducts for other children, will certainly be an inspiration for other parents and professionals who work with children. She provides some practical suggestions for implementation in the several appendices at the end of the book, and includes many of the workshop exercises she used with her own son and other children. Parents and teachers will find many worthwhile writing prompts and reading suggestions here. More important than these practical guides, though, is what Kephart quietly suggests throughout her thought-provoking essays: a profound philosophical shift in how we think about children, imagination, and the definition of success.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 23, 2011