Henry with The Kingsley Kids and the Unreal Birthday Party

Taking stories beyond books

Reading a book is only half the fun for a child. The real magic comes when they use their imagination to put themselves in the story. Or when they think about what would have happened to the characters if one small element of the story changed.

The fourth book in the Kingsley Kids series, The Unreal Birthday Party, was a whole lot of fun to write. I’d had the idea of the children being turned into costume characters for a while, but needed a storyline to bring that to life. Leo’s birthday presented the perfect opportunity.

When I wrote it, The Unreal Birthday Party was my favourite story in the series. (Now it probably ties with The Wild Garden, which hasn’t been released yet.) 

One thing I keep in mind when writing for children is how I can stretch the imagination of the reader beyond the storyline. In a perfect world, parents, siblings, teachers or friends ask the reader about the story. These questions shouldn’t just be about the plot. Include things like what the reader would do if they were in that situation, what do they think would happen if one small part of the plot was changed or what they think will happen next. 

In the Unreal Birthday Party, children can imagine becoming anything they can dress up as. The book gives some examples of good and bad outcomes from the various costumes. Some children became monsters, others became police officers, Taylor became a tiger who couldn’t speak and the twins were vulnerable little bunnies. Luckily (and necessary for the safety of the children), Jaxon had dressed up as a superhero.

While the children in the book didn’t know they would become their costumes, the reader can imagine what they would be with that extra knowledge. They can come up with their own stories based on this idea. In a classroom setting, a few children can nominate their costumes. Then they can all come up with their own stories about what would happen if those characters found themselves together at a party. 

When I was a child, my mother used to play a storytelling game with my sister and me. I don’t fully remember all the rules, but it was something along the lines of one of us nominating three random items and another one having to tell a story that included all of those things. 

We had a similar project in a high school English class. Our teacher gave us the chapter titles and we had to fill in the details. I remember absolutely loving that project, as those small writing prompts were enough to unlock all sorts of creative ideas. 

Try it

Whether you’re an adult trying to break through your own creative block or someone with influence over a child’s learning, try some of these creative prompts. For a child who has read The Unreal Birthday Party, some of the below questions could help uncover great ideas.

  • What would you dress up as if you knew you’d become that costume character for the day?
  • And what about if you were stuck in that costume forever?
  • What fun things could Jaxon have done as a superhero if he had time? 
  • What do you think Leo could have done if Jaxon didn’t dress as a superhero that day?
  • What might have happened if Taylor dressed up as a mermaid for the party?

I believe creativity helps to keep the brain young and healthy. No matter how old you are, take a moment to imagine what could happen if…