By Rachel M. Anderson, Freelance Writer

(Twin Cities) - Does your daughter serve pretend tea to her dolls? Does your son often pretend he's an airline pilot maneuvering his plane high in the sky? If so, encourage it! Pretend play is a vital part of a child's cognitive development.

According to licensed psychologist David Walsh, Ph.D., of Minneapolis, pretend play encourages the development of language, vocabulary and communication skills; helps children learn how to deal with fears and difficult situations; helps them build confidence in solving problems; and develops creativity and imagination. "But these phenomena don't just happen," he says. "They come to life and are nourished when children draw, pretend, free-play, listen to stories and daydream."

"When I was growing up, children used to engage in pretend play a lot more than they do today, and I think that's a shame," reflects Barbara Bonnell author of the new children's book Whissie the Not-So-Pretty Ragdoll (Beaver's Pond Press, $17.95, March 2010) an imaginative tale about a brave little doll who wanted a family.

The tale begins as Whissie is dreaming of what life will be like when she finally finds a home. Then all of a sudden she gets into an unfortunate accident. Her leg is torn and she gets thrown away. When she starts to cry, another toy comes to her rescue. The next day though, not just Whissie, but all of the toys on the shelf get thrown away. Refusing to give up, they pull together to solve their problem. Eventually, every one of them finds a home.

"The main lessons I'm teaching through this book are the importance of taking action to improve one's circumstances, why it's so important to be helpful to others and having love and concern for other people," says Bonnell. "These are all important lessons for little ones to learn."

Bonnell's tale is aimed at sparking the imagination of elementary school-aged children, a population of children she feels are watching too much TV and playing too many video games. "They should be spending more time reading, playing with their friends and involved in creative play," she says.

Dr. Walsh, who is considered one of the world's leading authorities on parenting and the impact of media and technology on children's health and development, agrees. He founded the National Institute on Media and the Family (which is now part of the Search Institute) back in 1996 with the mission of maximizing the benefits and minimizing the harm of media on the health and development of children and families. "There isn't a television program, video game or website that can replace those crucial childhood activities," he says.

Bonnell feels that building healthy children is paramount and parents need to take an active interest in, and know the content of what their children are watching on TV. "They should also pay attention to how much time is spent in front of the set," she says. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation is to limit total television time to no more than 1-to-2 hours per day for children of all ages.

"Instead of watching hours of television, children should spend their spare time developing their creativity and imagination," says Bonnell. She hopes the story about a little doll she conceived many years ago, and just recently had published, will serve as an inspiration to all children, especially preschoolers. "I so enjoy seeing the looks on the faces of young children after introducing them to Whissie," she says. "The tale really seems to get the little ones thinking."

Peggy Kramer, who taught Vacation Bible School with Bonnell in the 1990s, and has known her for more than 25 years, was one of the first people to read the book once it was finished. "I think the story is delightful. Barbara really has a good understanding for how children think and her story speaks right to them," says Kramer.

Whissie the Not-So-Pretty Ragdoll is a Beaver's Pond Press book. It is available for purchase through the publisher's Web site: