In Defense of Daydreaming, Wasting Time, and Libraries

“Doesn’t pay attention in class.”

That was a common remark on my school report cards, along with “tends to daydream,” and “head in the clouds.” I know because my mom was a saver, and I still have a box of those early evaluations. To her credit, I don’t remember a single time she berated me for not coming home with all A’s.

Those long-ago days seem idyllic to me now. Play dates were unheard of. We just went outside and found some neighborhood kids to hang out with. Without mobile phones or computers to entertain us, we made up our own fun—Cops and Robbers, Sardines, Red Rover. We did a lot of pretending. We were superheroes, ballet dancers, cowgirls, private investigators, princesses, doctors, astronauts, geologists. Apart from family vacations and possibly a week at camp, summers were mostly unscheduled and unregulated.

Before you chalk me off as hopelessly and pointlessly nostalgic (“I walked five miles to school in rain, sleet, and snow—uphill both ways,”), I’d like to say a few words about the benefits of daydreaming. By that, I mean the practice of allowing one’s mind to wander down intriguing but unknown paths—a little like those research rabbit holes that entrap well-meaning authors. Most people call it wasting time. I call it nurturing your creativity.

That’s where libraries come in.

Albert Einstein said, “The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.” That’s quite a statement, isn’t it? I don’t think it’s because libraries are repositories of culture and information. Today we can gather information (true and false) from loads of sources. Libraries, to me, aren’t about information but inspiration.

I like what writer and producer Sidney Sheldon said: “Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve…”

His words remind me of Matilda from the children’s book by Roald Dahl:

          “She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway, to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.”

I was that little girl.

Reading and the daydreams those books inspired opened up worlds to me, worlds populated by kings and queens and people shaped like eggs. I read about folk who lived long ago in far-away places. Good people and evil people. People a little like me and people I could hardly imagine. I read about (and daydreamed about) worlds where animals talked—and made sense—and tiny people lived in the walls of houses. I wondered about those worlds and the creatures who inhabited them. Why, for example, could Jack Spratt’s wife eat no lean? What would it feel like if a blackbird snipped off your nose? Why was Mr. Toad so impossibly irresponsible? And why could a king have such a hard time getting a little bit of butter for his bread?

If you’ve never heard of these things, you might take time to swot up on some of the old nursery rhymes. Read or re-read A.A. Milne and Kenneth Grahame. They’re not just for children. The human gift of imagination is a precious thing and can be so easily extinguished. Creativity must be nourished and encouraged.

What does all this have to do with writing? As one book reviewer said tartly, “It’s like she’s just making the whole thing up.” Yup. That’s what writers do. We reach down into the well of our imaginations and pull out people and places that entertain us and (we hope) will entertain others.

Is your head in the clouds? You might just be a writer.

What were your favorite childhood books? Do you ever reread them?

I hope this summer affords you time to daydream, to read, to imagine worlds that never were.

Happy Fourth!


  1. I used to take so many books out with my son at my local library when he was little, the librarians all thought I was a teacher. They were very surprised to find out I only had one kid and was maxing out the allowable children’s book limit (14) every two weeks. Libraries are my happy places and have been ever since I was 7 years old. I probably spend waaaay more time day dreaming than I do anything else, including eating or sleeping. Or writing :-).

    In retrospect, I don’t think I liked children’s books when I was a child. I was a very late reader, and picture books often scared me. By the time I began reading fluently, in first grade, I tolerated chapter books and then very quickly graduated to adult fiction. By third grade I was reading the classics and once I learned English in fourth grade, I switched almost completely to science fiction, where I stayed until college. I discovered children’s books with my son, but I always had the feeling he was scared by them too, and he also quickly graduated to more adult type books.

  2. I loved reading about ancient mythology. I was entranced by Persephone. My mind was always somewhere else. Recently, I was reading a biography of Agatha Christie and it said that as she aged, she began reading the books of her youth again and it brought her comfort. Happy 4th to you, Connie!

  3. I was that same child, Connie— living in my imagination or the worlds I read about.

    Am I am reading your new book now. A Collection of Lies proves you still have that vivid imagination that now lends itself to a complicated and twisting plot – congratulations for putting it all to good use!

  4. I was a voracious reader as a kid. I remember at something like a parent teacher meet&greet, my second grade teacher telling my Mom I was at about a 4th grade reading level. I devoured the classics and was fortunate enough to have middle school English teachers that encouraged it. One of my favorite? Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. The one that haunts me to this day (I’m 72) ? The Bridge of San Luis Rey. Books have alway been, and shall be, my beloved escape route ; )

    1. Oh, I remember The Bridge of San Luis Rey. That haunts me to this day, too. Wish I’d never read it.

  5. How wonderful! I love the Sidney Sheldon quote! I traveled into other worlds in books as a child all the time! My early memories are of Dorrie the Good Witch, Pippi Longstocking, and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. Eventually I moved on to worlds like Middle Earth.

    As a writer I think it’s essential to remember the travels the reader will take with you. Thank you for the reminder!

    1. Lynda, those books and others are gems. And Middle Earth–what an imagination Tolkien had. I wish I’d been a fly on the wall for those conversations with C. S. Lewis at The Eagle and Child. I just read that in 1926, after meeting Tolkien, Lewis wrote in his journal (humorously), “[Tolkien] has no harm in him. He only needs a smack or so.”

  6. I was a very early reader and read everything I could get my hands on. Shel Silverstein’s silly and funny poems, the Baby-Sitters Club books, Encyclopedia Brown, Wayside School, Goosebumps, Archie comics…all the typical 90s kid stuff. Graduated to Agatha Christie and classics in my teens, but I also enjoyed a good YA horror/thriller/mystery too. I teach first grade now and LOVE reading goofy, silly, fun books with my class and my own children.
    What I DIDN’T have a lot of were books featuring kids who looked like me…unless they were about the American Civil Rights Movement or slavery. Both, of course, are extremely important historical subjects that should be taught and read about. However, I rarely saw books that featured Black joy. “The Stories Julian Tells” was one of my favorites, because it did. Julian was just a creative boy with a loving family who played and imagined and felt, and I loved that. I love that my classroom and home library is a lot more diverse now and that there are opportunities for so many kids to see themselves in the pages of a book. Of course, I also love sharing my “classics” with kids…biggest joy this year was reading some of “Sideways Stories from Wayside School”, my fave as a kid, with my class this year and seeing them fall in love with it too!

    1. Ashley-Ruth, I used to read a lot of comic books as a child, and my mom (the ex-teacher) decided that it didn’t matter as long as I was reading.
      I’m sorry you had to experience the lack of diversity in books as a child. The children didn’t look like you, and yet, from your words, I see that your imagination was not daunted. Isn’t it a wonderful thing that now we do have this cultural diversity portrayed in excellent books, and you are encouraging your students. I love that “Sideways Stories” title. Heading over to look it up!

      1. Those Wayside School books were some of Louis Sachar’s first books before his blockbuster hits like “Holes” and “Fuzzy Mud”. He’s a fabulous writer who does humor AND deep topics really well. I wrote to him once when I was ten and he wrote back…I had the letter posted on the wall of my room until my house got totaled in a hurricane when I was 13. All of his books are a ton of fun for the MG age group.

  7. Connie, as a child, I was off in the woods, climbing trees and crossing streams. My little sister was always the reader.  I discovered the magic of it, though… in my own time. This was a fun and thought-provoking post. Thanks, Connie. I, for one, am glad so many authors let their heads be in those clouds (  ;

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