When my children were young, I became enamored with children’s books. In just five minutes, I could have a cuddle with my little one as we journeyed through a delightful story full of fun and visually captivating characters. I would sneak off to garage sales on the weekends, where I could easily find used children’s books for 25 cents each. My kids cheered each time I came home with a large box of books, and we would sit and explore them all together. At one point, I had nearly 1500 children’s books in my house.
I hold this memorable time close to my heart. Reading these children’s books, we laughed uncontrollably together through Shark versus Train, debated the tone of the various “ruffs” in Sandra Boynton’s Doggie book, and practiced empathy together when we reached a point in Charlotte’s Web when I began crying over the death of the spider, and my son put his hand on my hand and said, “Mom, I think you need to take a little break.”
As a creativity and education expert, I have always been on the look-out for “creative” children’s books. Along the lines of my post on books to help you live a more creative life, I could recommend hundreds of children’s books that fit this category. However, in this post, I wanted to share the books whose messages I believe will nurture and foster a creative mindset in you and your child and whose message has stuck with us over time.
Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg
The first book I recommend is Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg. If you follow my work, you may be thinking, “A bit biased, Cyndi?” and it’s true that Barney and I do a lot of work together, including the YouTube channel we’ve built. However, you probably don’t know the background as to how Barney and I began our work together.
I received a copy of Beautiful Oops as a gift back in 2010, when the book was first published, and I immediately fell in love with it. Its message is clear: take a mistake and turn it into something beautiful. My son, who was just two years old at the time, LOVED this book. We began to play with this book’s concepts whenever an “OOPS!” would arise, and “I made a beautiful oops” became part of my family’s vernacular.
Three years ago, I saw that Barney would be presenting at a children’s book fair in my hometown. My family was ecstatic to meet him. If you saw us in the front row watching his Oops presentation, you would have thought we were a group of teenage girls in the 80s awaiting New Kids on the Block. The moment his presentation ended, we rushed to get our books signed. I sheepishly mentioned that I was a creativity professor and how much I loved the message of his book. He was intrigued by the study of creativity, and we exchanged business cards. The rest is history.
Ultimately, if you want your children to live a creative life and have a creative mindset, they need to know that mistakes, or “oops,” will be a huge part of the process. And while the book won’t help you overcome all of life’s challenges, it is a good starting point to help kids deal with life when they make a mistake.
Sidebar: We are planning a Creativity and Education Month of Oops in 2021, so if you are interested in getting involved, please sign up for our newsletter.
Finally, while becoming creative besties with Barney, he pointed out that his book Andrew Drew and Drew would be an excellent addition to this list. It is about a boy named Andrew, who just keeps drawing and imagining. I ordered a copy, and I have to agree—it is a pure delight, demonstrating the playfulness of creating new ideas.
The Creatrilogy by Peter Reynolds
I am also a massive fan of Peter Reynolds, who, together with his twin brother Paul, run Fablevision Learning. I met the two brothers at the Creative Problem Solving Institute four years ago and was immediately impressed with their passion and dedication for bringing creativity into education. Peter has published many wonder-filled books, but, for this post, I would like to focus on their Creatrilogy series.
The first book is The Dot, a story about a little girl named Vashti, who feels as if she cannot draw. Her teacher encourages her to start with a dot. The dot leads to more dots, and more pictures, and a love for creating art. Every year on September 19th, educators and their students worldwide can celebrate International Dot Day to make their mark!
Sky Color is the second book in the series, featuring a young girl named Marisol who has to draw the sky for a class mural but doesn’t have the color blue. Instead of being defeated, she dreams up a sky whirling with beautiful colors.
The third book in the series is Ish. This story is about a boy named Ramon who loves to draw. One day, Ramon’s older brother laughs at his drawings, leaving Ramon feeling like he can no longer draw successfully. Every time he tries to create a drawing, it ends up as a crumbled ball of paper. One day, he chases his sister into her room, where he finds a gallery of his crumpled drawings. He points to one of his drawings and says, “That is supposed to be a vase.” His sister responds with, “It looks vase-ish.” This releases Ramon’s worries to be perfect, and the rest is ish-tory!
Overall, this Creatriology is a fantastic reflection of the creative spirit that each of us is born with and can always access if we simply look at things differently.
Of the three books, Ish is the one that resonated with my family and me the most. Even at eleven, my daughter still talks in “ish” language.
How are you feeling? “Good-ish.”
Did you like my joke? “It was funny-ish.”
How was the lasagna? “Lasagna-Ish.”
Not a Box by Antoinette Portis
Have you ever given a child a present and they just want to play with the box? Then you’ll probably love the book Not a Box! This not-a-box turns into a spaceship, race car, mountain, and robot! It is similar to the popular improv game, “This is not a…it is a…” If you are looking for fun things to do with your children while stuck inside staying safe over this break, borrow the book from the library and encourage them to build with boxes.
Also, if you like this book, Not-a-Stick has the same message, but with a stick. However, fair warning: if there are two or more children involved, sticks typically turn into swords!
What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada
I love the message of this book so much. What do you do with an idea? Spoiler alert: you change the world. This is the story about a boy who has an idea, plays with it, nurtures it, builds it a house, and loves it (even though others may not). With my rose-colored, idealist views goggles on, I had tears in my eyes the first time I finished reading it. Seriously, if I could choose one book to empower kids and show them how an idea can change the world, this would be it.
Perfect Square by Michael Hall
This colorful delight starts with a perfect square that is perfectly happy. Then it cuts the square up, tears it into pieces, shreds it, and shatters it, and guess what? It turns into a window of fun!
This is a book of aesthetic play. Plus, you can easily give your child “perfect squares” of paper to play with, tear, shred, shatter, and recreate when you have finished reading the book to extend the learning!
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
I decided to leave this book for last, since it’s such a classic (originally published in 1955), and it makes a perfect bedtime story. Harold is a young boy who goes for a walk in the moonlight, carrying only a purple crayon. Along his walk, he draws a wondrous adventure replete with sailboats, dragons, and buildings with lots of windows. It concludes with him drawing a bed, dropping his crayon, and drifting off to sleep. I particularly love this book because it exemplifies using your imagination to create a world that doesn’t exist.
Endnote: Cultivating a Love of Books
You may be wondering what happened to all of those children’s books in my house. Now that my children are 11 and 12, I Marie Kondo’d most of the books and donated them to a local school for a startup library. I also gave a box of my favorites to my best friend who was starting her early childhood journey to read with her daughter. The beauty of books, especially creativity books, is that they share ideas that can stay with you forever, and then they can be passed on to others to continue the fun, wonder, and possibilities! They also cultivate a deep connection between you and your child and spark a love of life-long learning.