Books to Foster Creativity

Children are the most creative people I know. They draw on walls, sing in the supermarket, and dance whenever and wherever they feel like it. In only a few years, though, they'll jettison their exuberance. They'll become more predictable, more sophisticated, alas, more grown up.

Before it's too late, provide your kids with lots of ways to express themselves: give them children's books that emphasize creativity. These stories and how-to handbooks will equip them admirably for the journey ahead.


Look-Alikes Jr.
Joan Steiner
Little Brown, 1999, $12.95
All Ages

In this visual treasure trove, ordinary household objects are used to create three-dimensional scenes. Take the space shuttle photo: the shuttle is actually a thermos equipped with a shuttlecock nosecone and spatula fins! Get the picture? Kids (and grownups) will love trying to figure out what every scene is made of.

And if you find your kids building trees out of gloves and loaves of French bread, don't say I didn't warn you! Hang on to your glue gun. This book is habit forming!

NOTE: Fans should check out the previous volume, Look Alikes.

Making Magic Windows
Carmen Lomas Garza
Children's Book Press, 1999, $9.95
All Ages

This workbook introduces children to the Mexican craft of papel picado: cut-paper art. Kin to the making of lacy paper snowflakes, this traditional art form uses brightly colored tissue paper to create festive banners with cut-out flower and geometric designs. Step-by-step instructions for nine designs include easy-to-understand diagrams and line drawings.

The folded paper designs are simple, fast, and beautiful and guarantee a positive experience even for those who don't see themselves as artistically inclined.



The Kids' Magnetic Poetry Book and Creativity Kit
Dave Kapell and Sally Steenland
Workman, 1999, $16.95
All Ages

Here's what kids need to wax poetic: an attractive (magnetically and aesthetically) folding composition board, more than 200 oversize magnetic word tiles in a handy plastic pouch, and a book of ideas to stimulate the muse within. Everything is conveniently spiral-bound to stay together.

The book introduces the basics of rhythm and rhyme, imagery, and form, and suggests lots of ways to write poems, from using pre-set patterns such as haiku to composing poems that are shaped like what they describe. A convenient, portable way to play with words!



Painted Dreams
Karen Lynn Williams
Lothrop, 1998, $16
Ages 5 to 8

Ti Marie dreams of becoming a painter, but her mother points out that paints are expensive; their poor family can't afford such a luxury. But Ti Marie figures out a way to make her own paints and uses the wall behind her family's market stall for a canvas. Painting may not put food on the table directly, but it's a great way to attract customers!

This story boasts an ingenious heroine who won't take no for an answer. Her persistence in pursuit of her art is a hallmark of creativity. Watercolors reflect the colorful Haitian village setting.



Basket Moon
Mary Lyn Ray
Little Brown, 1999, $15.95
Ages 5 to 8

A young boy who admires his father's basket-making skills looks forward to the day when he will be old enough to accompany him on his monthly selling trip to the big city. But he does not anticipate the verbal insults that confront him there. Now he wonders if his pride in his heritage was misplaced: "Baskets were nothing to be proud of. Hillbillies made baskets."

In this coming-of-age story, a boy must decide what's important--what people say or what he feels in his heart. Barbara Cooney's spare illustrations evoke the rural community of basket makers who flourished near Hudson, New York, until the 1950s.



The Fabulous Song
Don Gillmor
Kane Miller, 1998, $12.95
Ages 4 to 8

Frederic was born into a musical family, but the music gene seems to have missed him. After unsuccessful lessons on a variety of instruments, the only positive thought he can muster about music is that his clarinet is small enough to leave on the bus. Which he does. It isn't until a raucous family party where everyone is playing a different song that Frederic takes matters into his own hands, literally, and discovers his true calling.

Rambunctious illustrations follow Frederic's transformation from unhappy music maker to conductor.



Brothers of the Knight
Debbie Allen
Dial, 1999, $15.99
Ages 4 to 8

In this fractured fairy tale, a remake of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, the sons of a conservative African-American minister spend every night secretly dancing the hours away. Though it doesn't appear that they've left their room, to their father's consternation, every morning their dozen pairs of shoes are totally worn out.

It takes a housekeeper with some magic of her own to solve the mystery, while simultaneously cleaning, cooking, winning the reverend's heart, and counseling the boys and their dad on the value of communication. The storyline is a bit heavy-handed, but the detailed illustrations are fabulous, pulsing with hip energy and personality.



Spotlight on Cody
Betsy Duffey
Viking, 1998, $14.99
Ages 7 to 10

Cody knows he's destined for greatness in the third-grade talent show. Only trouble is, he can't figure out what he's good at. He's tried being a comedian (no one laughed) and juggler (don't ask). In desperation, he even asked his parents for help (what exactly is clogging?). Now, as the show deadline looms, being in the spotlight has lost its luster. Is he doomed to go down in history as the "Amazing Untalented Boy"?

Chapter book readers looking for laughs won't be disappointed. And if they learn to focus on what they can do, not what they can't, they'll have learned an important lesson from Cody, only without the mess (see juggling reference above).



Annabel the Actress Starring in Gorilla My Dreams
Ellen Conford
Simon & Schuster, 1999, $14.00
Ages 7 to 9

Annabel is thrilled to land her first acting role. Okay, so it's being a gorilla at a little kid's birthday party--even the most talented actress has to start somewhere! Her discarded furry raincoat lining is less King Kong-like than she'd prefer and she hadn't planned on encountering her archenemy en route to the bash, but the show must go on!

In this early chapter book, the nascent Queen of Improv takes newly independent readers on a hilarious roller-coaster ride through the ups and downs of performance art. For die-hard fans hoping for an encore performance--rest assured, further adventures are planned.



While You're Waiting for the Food to Come
Eric Muller
Orchard, 1999, $8.95
Ages 8 to 14

Here's a compendium of experiments and tricks that can be done wherever food is served. Organized like a menu from Appetizer to Dessert, each experiment lists the number of participants needed (most require just one), ingredients, a detailed recipe, the science behind the scenario, and further thoughts on the subject. Be forewarned: If your kids read this book, they'll want to play with their food.

Written by a science teacher with a flair for fun, this volume teaches kids how to make a minisubmarine and a lava lamp, and how to bend water. Which floats better: diet pop or regular? Discover the answer to this and a host of other scientific questions. Dining out will never be the same.



Broken Chords
Barbara Snow Gilbert
Front Street, 1999, $15.95
Ages 12 and up

Clara is an extraordinarily talented pianist. Some even say prodigy. Her parents have devoted their lives to ensure she has every advantage. Clara has worked so hard to develop her musical genius that she has never had time for typical high school activities. At the age of seventeen, as she prepares for an internationally renowned piano competition that she is expected to win, she encounters something she's never had to face: uncertainty.

Part romance, part coming-of-age story, this novel explores the pressures that the truly gifted face. Great talent has a price. Even if you can afford it, do you have to pay? A thought-provoking look at the cost of excellence.  

Minneapolis resident Lynne Burke, the mother of three, reviews books for parenting publications across the country.

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