SALT LAKE CITY — Imagination is one of the most powerful things you can ever find.
"What doesn't it make better?" asks author Obert Skye. "It makes school better; it makes problems better. Imagination makes life more textured; it's a vehicle that opens your mind to the impossible."
And how do you strengthen your imagination? Through books, he says. "I was a kid that largely survived on imagination. It was so cool when I put books and imagination together. Together, they are both so powerful."
Skye, who is the author of the popular "Leven Thumps" and "Pillage" series, was speaking at an assembly at Glendale Middle School in honor of National Children's Book Week, celebrated this week. The assembly was sponsored by Deseret Book, publisher of Skye's books, and the Deseret Media Cos., which have launched a literacy initiative for children called Read Today.
"Reading is one of the main things we emphasize at Glendale," librarian Jim Hill said. "It's always exciting to get an author like this. Our goal is to let kids know reading is cool; books are cool."
As part of his "Imagination Tour," Skye has visited more than 900 schools in 48 states. "The only ones I haven't visited are North Dakota and Hawaii," he said. "It's so fantastic to be able to mingle with my readership. Reading changed my life. I just hope that something I say may bring a change to someone else's life."
Skye did not start out as a reader. "I didn't always like it," he told the students. "But when I was about your age I had a pushy librarian, who would show up everywhere. 'Obert, read this book,' she would say, 'I know you will like it.' I said no. No. No. No. And then I finally said OK. It was a little book about Charlie and a chocolate factory. Ever since, I've liked to read."
Skye also talked about writing. Writing a book is a long process that starts with imagination — or brainstorming. "I thought about a place between the possible and the impossible for 15 years before I started writing about the Kingdom of Foo."
When you start writing, write a first draft, he advised. "That only took me three months." But then, you start revising. You find a publisher, and you do more revising and editing. "Do you ever get red marks on your papers?" he asked the students. "I do all the time. That's how you make it better."
The award-winning Leven Thumps series (the final Book Five: "Leven Thumps and the Ruins of Alder" came out last year) tells the story of a boy (Leven) who discovers he has magical powers that we will need, as he and his companions — Winter, who can freeze things; a furry, 12-inch, often invisible creature named Clover; and Geth, the powerful ruler of Foo who was cursed and put into a seed, grew into a tree, was chopped down and reduced to a toothpick — must journey to Foo to save the hopes and dreams of all mankind.
Through writing the series, Skye "learned three secrets from Foo that are important for anyone to have an amazing life."
The first secret is "have courage. Don't let fear stop you." Skye told the story of how when he was little he really wanted his own room. His parents finally cleaned out a little place behind the laundry room, but on his first night there, Skye discovered it was also inhabited by cockroaches. "My parents told me I had to have the courage to have my own room, or I could move back in with my brother. I stayed."
The second secret is "Think big. Dare to dream the impossible," he said. And to find the impossible, you have to read. "Reading will give you thoughts and emotions and feelings you would never have had without reading. Reading is a way to think big. And when you have those ideas, write them down. That is a powerful thing to do."
Skye keeps a "writer's notebook" where he writes down "words that I think are neat, sounds I hear, things I think are funny, ideas that come to me, things I imagine."
And what if you don't have an imagination? a student asked. "Then you'll have to write about the road, about bread, about paint drying." Write something; read something.
Foo's third secret is "Be great. Do not settle for being average," Skye told the students. "Whatever you do, you need to need to be great. Leven commits to being great so he can help lots of people. You can, too."
Leven Thumps is currently in pre-production for a movie; it will probably be a couple of years before it hits the screen. Skye is also releasing the second book in his "Pillage" series, which is about dragons. That book is called "Choke." He also has plans for a spin-off series called "Geth and the Return of the Lithens." It will not include Leven Thumps but will return to Foo.
Skye purposely keeps his background vague. He will tell you that he grew up in many different and varied temperatures — including the mystery section of the library — and that his favorite color is green. He was once allergic to cinnamon, is not an only child, had a dog named Fred and has never swum the English Channel.
For the rest, he says, use your imagination.