Award-winning children’s author and illustrator Nick Butterworth on the power of IMAGINATION!

Award-winning children’s author and creator of hit CBeebies series Q Pootle 5, Nick Butterworth, will present two interactive storytelling sessions at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival Family Fun Day on Saturday 24 June.

Ahead of his special appearances, Nick blogs about the magic of imagination.


‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ It’s probably the question I get asked in schools more than any other.

I turn the question back on my young audience and ask for suggestions (quite literally!) from the floor. ‘Where do you think ideas come from?’

‘Your head!…Books!…TV!…Aliens!…Ask your mum!…Phone J K Rowling!’ All these ideas come from some very lively imaginations.

Unlike say, a cow, chewing the cud and contemplating only what is, we humans have the strange and wonderful ability to contemplate what isn’t!

On the floor in the living room, a child sits in what to us looks very much like a cardboard box. But it isn’t. Imagination has transformed it into a spaceship! Those burbling sounds are not coming from the child but from powerful rockets. Those crashing sounds are a storm of meteors smashing into the side of the box – sorry – spaceship!

gw4I love the free-ranging imagination that children have. It was this that inspired the combination of high-tech and (very!) low-tech in the world of my little alien Q Pootle 5. Tin cans do the job of rocket boosters; hair dryers work perfectly well as lateral stabilising jets. For young children, it all makes perfect sense.

gwsrImagination can be starved as well as stimulated. We’d do well to think twice before we tell a child to ‘stop dreaming’. ‘Concentrate on what you’re doing’, has its place, but let’s also encourage children to think imaginatively.

On a recent school visit, faced with 180 4-6 year olds, I pointed to a blank wall in the school hall. I stared at it, hardly believing my eyes as I described what I saw…

‘A huge circular window – and look! There’s the sea! It looks rough out there! Can you hear the waves crashing? And what’s that? There’s something out there! Can you see it?’

‘A ship!’ someone shouts. Aha! We’re off!

‘What kind of ship is it?’ I’m now in their hands…

‘A pirate ship!’

‘Could be. Is there a flag? My eyes aren’t as good as yours…’

‘The skull and cross bones!’ Of course.

‘But what’s on that cliff top? Is it a light? A fire? What’s going on?’ Everyone stares hard at the blank wall, not so much straining eyes as imaginations, trying to fathom what’s happening on that distant cliff top.

‘It is a fire!’

‘It’s a signal!’

And so it goes on, exploring this unfolding drama until I deliberately break the spell.

‘Just a minute’ I say.

‘Are we all nuts? We’re staring at a blank wall and talking about seeing all this stuff! There’s no window. No sea. No pirate ship or fire. Not there anyway. But there is somewhere else. Where?’

‘Our minds!’…‘Our imaginations!’ They’ve got it.

Imagination is the power to say, ‘What if…? Could it be? I wonder…’ To draw on what we know and have experienced and, by some strange alchemy, use those ingredients to create, not gold, but something much better…

Possibilities. Let’s make a birthday card rather than buy one! Let’s make up a song! Let’s build a tree house in the garden!

Possibilities for the future too…

‘What can you imagine being when you grow up?’

‘Someone who does maths. I’m good at maths.’

‘A dancer on Strictly.’

‘The man who puts the flag up on Buckingham Palace.’

‘A police dog handler.’

‘A teacher. Or maybe an explorer. Or both.’

‘A drummer.’

‘An astronaut. I’m definitely going to be one…’

Where do they get their ideas from?!

© 2017   Nick Butterworth


The Manchester Children’s Book Festival welcomes everyone to the 2017 Family Fun Day – a full Saturday of free activities at the Manchester Metropolitan University All Saints Campus. Come along and join the fun – there’ll be something for everyone, from pre-readers and nursery age-children to teens and families.


You can check out the full MCBF programme here and follow @MCBFestival on TwitterFacebook and Instagram using #MCBF2017 to keep up-to-date with all our events and news.

To book tickets for Nick Butterworth’s events visit:

Under 5s: www.mcbf.org.uk/whats-on/events/nick-butterworth-interactive-storytelling-for-under-5s

Over 5s: www.mcbf.org.uk/whats-on/events/nick-butterworth-on-the-magic-of-storytelling-and-imagination

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