Just Imagine


About the Author

Aaron Becker grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, enthralled by the Apollo missions which had captured the attention of the world. Like many other children of his era, Becker set his sights on becoming an astronaut, spending many nights stargazing in a local observatory with his mother. Before long, however, the reality of rigorous military training dampened his aspiration so Becker – determined to explore outer space in one way or another – turned to drawing; creating before him the great constellations he admired. Graduating from Pomona College in 1996, he went on to illustrate many animated scenes from notable films such as The Polar Express, Cars and A Christmas Carol. It is, however, Becker’s trilogy Journey, Quest and The Return which has earned him widespread critical acclaim in addition to a Caldecott Honour.

About the Book

A little girl, bored of the monotonous and lonely routine of everyday life, seeks  refuge and excitement in a world created entirely by her imagination. By drawing a
magical door from her bedroom wall, she finds herself transported into enthralling new lands – vividly colourful and alive with adventure. Navigating her way through
glistening rivers, dramatic moats and dizzying waterfalls with a few artful strokes of her crayon, she is soon soaring above the clouds in a bright red hot-air balloon,
trying to save a vibrant lilac bird which has been imprisoned. Disaster strikes when, having freed the bird, she is caught by angry guards who throw away her
magical crayon. Hopeless and alone, the girl is left in a dark cage when suddenly through the sky returns the lilac bird, carrying in its beak her magical crayon.
Together the two of them embark on further adventures.

This wordless picture book is a tribute to the power and possibility of imagination. Readers of all ages may find within Becker’s pages an enchanting mixture of personal escapism, adventure and meaning.

Before Reading

Journeys and exploration


Research some famous journeys and explorers in history. Some examples:

  • Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing – the first expedition to the top of Mount Everest
  • Christopher Columbus – voyage to America
  • Neil Armstrong – the first landing on the moon
  • Shackleton – expedition to the South Pole
  • Nellie Bly – around the world
  • Valentina Tereshkova – first woman in space

Let’s talk about it

Share experiences of journeys.

  • What is the longest journey you’ve ever made?
  • What was the most exciting journey you’ve embarked upon?
  • If you could go on a journey anywhere, where would it be? Would it be to a real or
    fictional place?
  • What is your favourite mode of transport for a journey? Train, car, plane, boat, foot, bicycle?
  • If you could invent a way of travelling that isn’t already possible what
    would it be?
  •  Have you read any other books involving a journey?

Visual display board

Use Pinterest or a display board in your classroom to create a journeys picture display Include pictures of places such as deserts, arctic regions, mountains, oceans, underwater, space. Add modes of transport. For example, planes, boats, submarines, hot air balloons, camels, stage coach. Now add some tools that explorers might use such as telescopes, magnifying glasses, maps, GPS. If you have shelf space available, add some books such as Jules Verne Around the World in 80 days, Katherine Rundell The Explorer.

Use the display board to talk about exploration, create stories, stimulate art work.

Take one picture

This activity is best carried out before showing the children the book that they will be reading. Either copy or use a visualiser to project the sepia toned double spread (dedication) This image is mainly monochromatic. There’s an image of a girl looking bored with a red scooter. A boy holds a purple crayon. Traffic lights are set to red but the colour is not as saturated as the bright red of the girl’s scooter.

Ask an open question, ‘what’s happening in this picture?’ After the children have shared their responses, you may want to prompt them to think more deeply about the picture:

  • What emotions do you think the girl is thinking? How can we tell?
  • What can we tell about the other characters from their body language?
  • Why do you think Aaron Becker has chosen to show what is going on inside the house?
  • What do you imagine it might be like to live in this city?
  • Why d you think somethings have been drawn in colour?

Ask the children to suggest what might happen to these characters in a story?

Now show the front cover, Journey.

Ideally, if children have their own copies, allow them to read the book independently at their own pace. After reading ask them to jot down their initial responses: what did they like or dislike about the book? Did it remind them of any other books that they have read, or perhaps films that they have seen? Was there anything that they found puzzling, strange, confusing? Did they have any questions when they had finished the book?

During Reading

Avoid asking too many questions while reading. Allow the children to explore the book at their pace. Reading a picture book and especially a wordless picture book requires a different kind of reading. Unlike prose fiction which demands linear reading followed by the turn of the page, the picture book invites the reader to move around the page.

Keep initial questions open and allow children to tell you what is happening in the story. Good first questions are as simple as ‘what’s happening here?’ or ‘What do you see on this page?’ Responses will enable you to determine if they have understood what is happening at a literal level and the attention to details. Follow up questions can invite children to extend their thinking and then relate the text to the wider world.

First encounters

Discussion grid, ‘what do you think?’. Working in groups of 3 or 4 ask the children to share their initial ideas and to record their questions.

Revisiting the text

Revisit the text in small groups, if the children have their own copies, or with the class, if you are using a visualiser. Start at the beginning and work through the book sequentially from the beginning to the end, to allow understanding to build.

Some things to consider:

  • what do we learn about the girl from the things in her bedroom? (world map, balloon, open door, open window, poster with pyramids and camel, star sticker on the chest of drawers)
  • look closely at the pictures to see if you can spot the clues that show which part of the journey comes next (e.g. when the girl steps into the lantern lit forest, you can see the jetty in the distance)

Descriptive language

What words would you use to describe the bright and colourful world the girl opens her red door into?
Talk about the ways in which the world the girl enters is different to her home.

  • what colours does she see?
  • who does she meet?
  • describe the buildings that she sees. Make a collection of words that you can use to describe the buildings e.g. dome, turret, towers, minaret, aqueduct, canal, archway, crenellations, moat, keep, battlements, fortress, fortified etc.

The lilac bird

  • What could the lilac bird represent? How does the colour lilac make you feel? How would it be different if it was a gold bird or a black bird? Introduce the word ‘symbolic’, if appropriate.
  • Why do you think the girl wants to free the bird from its cage?
    Why do you think the captors wish to lock it up?
  • What arguments might each of the characters give for their actions?
  • Is it significant that the bird rescues the girl?


After Reading

Making connections

Aaron Becker grew up in many different parts of the world including Japan.

  • Can you find influences of Japan or other countries in the illustrations?
  • Build a collection of images showing some of the cultural references. Copy and laminate them.  Working in pairs, ask the children to find similar images in the book. Provide some text on laminated cards and ask the children to match the text to image. Make explicit the point that artists and writers often make references to other works of art and cultural influences in their work.
    • samurai armour
    • Japanese temple
    • Japanese lanterns
    • Venetian gondola’s
    • Arabian Nights (flying carpet)
    • Escher’s mathematically inspired artwork
    • Islamic architecture
    • medieval castle
    • Dutch windmill
    • medieval timber framed buildings

Comparing texts

The children may already be familiar with Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. Read the beginning of the story. After reading, ask them to compare the first few pages of each book (up to the point here the characters enter the imaginary world). You could use a Double Bubble Map (David Hyerle, 2008) to record the similarities and differences.

Imaginative drawing


You could start this activity with some guided visualisation. Give each child a coloured crayon or pencil. Use a variety of colours – one colour per child. Have them hold the coloured pencil and think about the things that colour reminds them of. Now invite them to imagine in their ‘mind’s-eye’ (or television pictures running in their head) that they are at home in their room. It’s a dull day. Everyone else is busy doing their own thing. Imagine that you look down at your crayon. You have an idea! You go over to the wall and draw a door with your crayon. You open the door and step through into another work. Ask them to imagine what they can see. You take a few steps into this new world. what do you notice about the ground that you are walking on? Are there any buildings, or are you in the middle of the country? Is it quiet or busy Imagine the sounds that you can hear, if you stop to listen carefully. Imagine that you can see an object in this new world. In your mind’s eye, pick it up, look at it and put it in your pocket. Now go exploring!

Distribute  large sheets of paper and some coloured pencils and ask the children to draw a scene from their world
Let your imagination lead the way and begin your journey. Think of names for the places and things you draw. Would there be rules and laws in this world? If so, what might they be? If not, why? Would there be someone in
charge? If so, who? If not, why?
• Share your picture with a partner – tell each other what you can see in their picture and discuss what kind of a world you think theirs is.

The Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines

Look closely at the images of the flying ship. How do you think it is powered?

Have a look at some of the inventions created by Heath Robinson. Choose one of the inventions and write a set of instructions to explain how it works.

Alternatively look at one of the books by Alan Snow: How Dinosaurs Really Work, How Pirates Really work, How Santa Really Works, or David Macauley’s How Things Work Now.

Create your own fantastic flying machine. It can be as crazy as you like. Use drawings, cutaways and captions to show how your machine would work.



Some people think boredom is a good thing because you makes you find creative solutions to stop yourself from feeling bored. Other people think boredom is a very bad thing. What do you think? Do you ever feel bored? What do you do when you feel like that?

Do you think imagination has the power to make us free? If you were imprisoned would you still be able to exercise your imagination freely?
In this book, the girl is freed from the boredom of everyday life when she imagines and invents a whole new world. With her red crayon she has the power to escape even the iron cage the guards locked her in

From text to performance

One of the  notable features of Becker’s picture book is that it is wordless, allowing for each reader to extract different meanings and ideas from the story. This activity
offers the readers a chance to lend a voice to the characters, whilst using their own imaginations to bring the journey to life.

Divide the book into sections and split the readers into as many groups. Example sections might be:

  • the girl’s boredom at home
  • her creation of the door and discovery of the new world
  • her arrival at the castle and encounter with the waterfall
  • her creation of the hot-air balloon and discovering the bird in trouble
  • her freeing the bird and being captured herself
  • the bird rescuing the girl and their adventure on the magic carpet
  • the bird’s lilac door leading to the boy who created him.

Ask each group to produce a short improvisation (2-3 minutes) of their section of the story.

  • They must not use any props, but instead use only themselves (eg – two people making an arch between them may be the cage which the girl is trapped in).
  • They should include dialogue which they will have to create themselves, based on what they feel the characters would say.
  • When all groups are prepared  perform the improvisations in order, one after another to create a performance of the entire book

If you liked this book, you might enjoy…

Aaron Becker Quest part 2 of the Journey trilogy

Aaron Becker Return part 3 of the Journey trilogy

Allan Ahlberg, Bruce Ingman The Pencil a sotry in which a pencil comes to life.

Anthony Browne Bear Hunt another picture book featuring a magic pencil

Anthony Browne, Willy’s Pictures a picture book with references to art

Crockett Johnson Harold and the Purple Crayon a US classic about a magic purple crayon

C S Lewis The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe a story about stepping through a portal to another world

Maurice Sendak Where the Wild Things Are a world conjured up through the power of the imagination…perhaps

Bill Thomson Chalk a wonderful wordless picture book

David Wiesner Mr Wuffles one of David Wiesner’s super imaginative picture books