The Imaginary by A. F. Harrold and Emily Gravett

The Imaginary by A. F. Harrold and Emily Gravett

A nifty little book, The Imaginary follows the adventures of a young girl’s imaginary friend––and thrusts us into a world where “imaginaries” search for new children to believe in them, cats can have one blue eye and one red eye, and villains wear Hawaiian shirts. It’s quirky, dark, creative, and deep. Here’s what we can learn from author A. F. Harrold and illustrator Emily Gravett’s strange, magical novel.

1. Freaky = fun.

How many freaky things can you pack into one book? There’s a scary car accident. A mysterious trash-filled alley. A creepy little girl who just feels “off.” And a sly old man who feeds on imaginaries.

A book with a bit of a Tim Burton vibe, The Imaginary is scary and weird. It feels like a story you’d tell around the campfire, with a flashlight casting strange shadows on your face.

Harrold and Gravett do a great job evoking that creepy-crawly feeling of being a kid, when you’re just sure there’s something terrifying under your bed. There’s a thrill to getting a good scare, and that “something’s-about-to-go-bump-in-the-night” feeling keeps us turning pages.

2. Let the mystery unfold slowly.

Harrold’s an expert at giving readers just the information they need to keep the story interesting. He allows the mystery of how the real world and the imaginary world interact unfold slowly, and we’re never confused, just intrigued, as he roots us in this world with strong sensory details and just the right amount of wordbuilding.

By using a good balance of detail, explanation, and description, Harrold shows that he trusts his readers. We don’t need every little thing explained to us. We can fill in the gaps, and it’s fun to have curiosity spurring us forward. For a book about imagination, it’s a pretty good technique.

3. Parents can be cool, too.

At first, Amanda’s mom seems like she’s going to be another typical kidlit parent: the scolding, uncreative mom, who’s too involved in her work to see that there’s an imaginary boy right under her nose. But there’s much more to Mrs. Shuffleup’s character––and her own history with imaginary friends becomes an important part of the story.

It’s refreshing to see a parent who has her flaws and her workaholic side, but is still a good mom. She’s very willing to fight for her daughter, and her daughter’s imagination, when she’s pushed to do so. Amanda’s mom is a realistic, three-dimensional character. And she adds a poignancy to the story that a cookie-cutter kidlit parent just wouldn’t have.

Mrs. Shuffleup offers us a great reminder to flesh out adult characters, just like we flesh out our kid characters. They can play a real part in adding depth to our books, since, let’s face it––adults are a huge part of kids’ lives.

Want to chat more about The Imaginary? Find me on Twitter: @beckererine.

Published by Erin Becker

I'm a copywriter and editor by day and and a kidlit writer by night. In the time left over, I run, explore the mountains, and help other writers. Email me at

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