My children love Hayao Miyazaki's movies. I remember when my husband took them to see Howl's Moving Castle when it was released in my hometown. They were hooked. They couldn't stop talking about it. And when I rented (no streaming yet) my first Miyazaki movie, My Neighbor Totoro, I understood the appeal of the world he creates with his unique combination of fantastical story, color, music, and characters. Each of my children has his or her favorites: Tortoro, Sen/Chihiro, Calcifer, Pazu, Nausicaa, Sheeta. So many. My youngest used to sleep with stuffed Soot Sprites tucked in next to him every night. Recently, when I happened to come across a list of Miyazaki's 50 favorite children's books on Open Culture, I was curious and excited. First of all, his 50 FAVORITE children's books? That's a real reader! And I couldn't wait to see what sort of influence books might have had on his imaginative interior life. That is how I came across a book titled, The Ship That Flew by Hilda Lewis.
The Ship That Flew is about the magical adventures of four children who happen upon a model Viking ship that grows to full size when given a command that includes a destination. Upon arrival, it shrinks again to the convenient size of a young boy's pocket. The children fly in the magic ship having adventures in different countries and times. When reading the book, I could easily imagine a young Miyazaki carried away by the gentle tones and colorful fantastic imagery of the story.
Everything about this book having a place among Miyazaki's childhood favorites made sense. The thing that truly surprised me about it was the fact that my 14 year old son let me read it to him. Aloud. Did you see that he's 14? He's also my youngest and my child who doesn't remember a world without smart phones, video games, and YouTube videos. He has been the most challenging of my children when it comes to reading books for pleasure, especially fiction. But when I gave him the pitch; all the details of how I found the book and the fact that Amazon labeled it historical fiction for teens (sneaky, I know) he rolled his eyes, but he started listening. And we flew through the pages of the first book we have read together in a long time.
Sometimes as parents and teachers, it seems too daunting a task to find a place for real books in the hearts of young people immersed in a digital world. But that place is still there waiting to be found. Those of us who found our childhood favorites must listen, observe, and be their guides. Who know what the next young Miyazaki is waiting to read? I have 49 more tries already lined up for my own son, and endless hope for the young readers who are my students.