When we are creating our Visual Philosophy for Children titles we always take great care in making sure the scenes for wonderpondering work for as broad an age range as possible, and in as many different contexts as possible. But there are always surprises, contexts we hadn't thought of, at least not specifically when developing the books.
Right in the middle of the creative process of our latest title Whatever You Want, Irene Amador told us about a fantastic project of hers (together with three other women) at the Women's Unit at the Soto del Real prison in Madrid. Every other Saturday, from 10 am to 12:30 pm, Irene, Laura, Belén and Eider visit the prison and carry out a literature workshop. They read a variety of texts written by women (ranging from brief fiction to thought-provoking non-fiction), they do literary creativity activities and spend a pleasant time together.
One Saturday, we were told, they had taken our Cruelty Bites to the workshop and looked at it and read it with the female prisoners, who apparently loved it.
At Wonder Ponder, we are constantly surprised by people writing to us and telling us about new, sometimes unexpected, contexts where our books are read and discussed, and one of the most fascinating things about getting a book out there is how it grows and goes in directions you had not for a moment considered.
From that moment onwards, every single scene in Whatever You Want, which is after all, an invitation to think about the nature and the experience of freedom, took on a lens of reality, through which we looked at the hypothetical scenarios and fictional scenes included in the book from the point of view of our usual suspects -a four-year old child, an eight-year old child, a teenager, a university student, a parent, a grandparent- but also through the hypothetical eyes of a prisoner, considering the differences in reaction and engagement with the scenes a long-term prisoner might have compared to a short-term prisoner.
At the launch of Whatever You Want, we were glad and excited to see the women in charge of the project at this Women's prison unit had been able to make it. When they went away, they took with them a copy specially dedicated to the prisoners and a plan for the Wonder Ponder team to join them one Saturday on a prison visit this coming autumn.
To be honest, we were a bit nervous about the reception the book might have among the women in prison. The line between being creative and thinking of engaging scenarios and being flippant with people's realities is sometimes fine and though we had given it a lot of thought, we were still nervous.
Shortly after the book launch, Eider wrote to us and this is what she said:
On Saturday we went to Soto [the prison] and took your latest book with us. We had already played with Cruelty Bites months ago and they had really liked it.
This time there were few of us because there was a concert outside the unit and many of them went to see that instead (they take advantage of the very rare occasions they are allowed out of the unit, which is the only women's unit in the prison). Two of our workshop regulars came along and the truth is we had a lot of fun. We had a dialogue, we laughed, we defended opposing viewpoints and many thoughts arose that made us rethink some of our ideas and even in some cases, change our mind. We told them you had dedicated it to them and they were excited when they saw the prison scene. It was really good: listening to their points of view on freedom, in their state of confinement, ... one of them has been in different prisons for the last 20 years. Just imagine. The truth is we learn a lot from them, they are a really great women, we would have spent hours and hours chatting and talking about the cards.
It will be wonderful when you come, to have the chance to wonderponder together. Plus, we didn't have enough time for them to do any of their own scenes and they seemed keen to try that, so when you come, that will be the perfect occasion.
We are very much looking forward to meeting the women at Soto del Real and having the chance to discuss freedom with them. When we do, we''ll be sure to report back.