The suspension of disbelief

The suspension of disbelief banner
July 10th, 2017

Nicola Dengate, Librarian, Seamer and Irton Community Primary School

I am lucky enough to work in a thriving library at a larger than average primary school not far from the coast in North Yorkshire and, whilst it is true to say that the library is ever more popular in the biting winter months, it is generally extremely well used. We like to run interesting and exciting events to try to stimulate and develop a true love of reading in all our children; one such event called for me to dress up (I generally need very little encouragement to raid the fancy dress box). However, my costume on this occasion required barely any effort to transform myself into the conductor from the Polar Express. In fact, all I needed was a black suit and my somewhat squashed RAF hat (an accoutrement from another lifetime) which had been rescued from a dusty suitcase in my loft.


Armed with my high-tech equipment, a single-hole punch that I had found lurking in the stationery cupboard, I approached our Year 1 classroom with a level of trepidation – as any parent knows, similar to dogs, children can sniff out fear at 20 paces. I was genuinely concerned that the transformation of the library – the cardboard hand built train looming in 3D from the wall, the tracks descending from the ceiling and the fantastic artwork created by an amazingly talented lady from our school office – would not transport our children into the magic of the story. I need not have worried.




As soon as I entered the classroom announcing loudly who I was, there were audible gasps and ripples of excitement. Suddenly, along with the children, I was carried to a magical world, a world where anything could happen. As we arrived in the library rather than squeals of excitement there were looks of wide-eyed wonder. As I clipped the tickets we had given to each child I noticed some were held with trembling hands; the quiet anticipation was positively contagious. As I settled down to start the story, explaining carefully that the book itself, as so many are, was written many years before release of the film I removed my tatty old hat and was suddenly taken completely unawares. One of the children nudged their neighbour and whispered ‘I told you it was Miss, I said it was her’ for, despite simply wearing a hat and donning an old suit, the engrossed audience before me believed that for a magical 10 minutes I really was the conductor taking them aboard the Polar Express. They listened intently to a story that many knew so well from their televisions, but had never before had it brought to life from a book – it was a truly humbling experience.




It made me think, at what age do we stop being able to willingly suspend disbelief? Perhaps it was simply the younger age group and the older children would not allow their imaginations to overrun reality? Over the course of the next month I ran the same event for all 14 classes in school and each and every child appeared able to suspend their disbelief within moments of me starting to read the book. Of course the truth is that we never lose the ability to do so. It could be argued that it is the role of the reader to suspend disbelief rather than the role of the author to create the environment in which to do so. Perhaps the onus is actually on both and we, as readers, must play our part, extracting ourselves from the busy worlds around us and allow ourselves the opportunity to get ‘lost in a book’ by indulging ourselves and, most importantly, accepting that is ok to do so. Every day we ask that our children read and much is placed on developing an ethos of reading for pleasure, but maybe we as adults have something to learn from our younger, more imaginative teachers and rather than over analyse the whys and wherefores, simply allow ourselves to believe in the magic, the magic of a book.

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