We once went down a street in our neighborhood quite late in December and saw two children. The first wore a cowboy hat, vest (lots of fringe), chaps (more fringe), boots, and a pistol belt with enormous white-handled pistols. He stood motionless in his front yard. The second wore a brown paper bag as a hat and danced ecstatically, twirling a coat hanger on his finger.
We saw a piece in the newspaper that helped us make sense of this.
The article explained that children’s toys, if they are good toys, are tools to unlock the imagination. This unlocking is what Jean Piaget called a “transformation,” by which children “bend the world to the service of desire.”
What we got out of that was that a paper bag was a good toy, because you can make it a hat, a boat, a basket, a grotto devoted to the Virgin Mary. Anything you please. Whereas a cowboy hat is only a cowboy hat, and the more it is a cowboy hat the less it can be anything else. Therefore it is a bad toy, and will probably immobilize any child who puts it on his head.
(Now it does occur to us that an imaginative child—what might even seem to be a bad child, if there is any such thing—might think of some other uses for a hat than putting it on the head. Some of these uses might ruin the thing as a hat, but would thereby increase its value as a toy. In any case, the hat would be transformed.)
Let us therefore write down to give all the little children paper bags and coat hangers for Christmas this year. And blocks, finger paints, clay, story books with lots of pictures, building sets, microscopes, hammers, glue, scissors, colored paper, and, naturally, soup.