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16 Books to Nurture the Creative Genius in Every Child

by Casie Smith

Creativity can be defined as the ability to both imagine original ideas or solutions to problems and then actually bring them to life. We often tend to think of creative thinking as the exclusive realm of artists or musicians, but it’s actually a skill all kids need to become capable, confident learners able to solve big problems. 

Thankfully, play can go a long way to helping children build a strong creative foundation. To help nurture creative thinking through play, we like to help kids keep in mind key creativity mindsets. Here are five of our favorites: 

  • There are infinite possible uses for any object. 
  • There are many possible solutions to any problem
  • The messier the better. 
  • “Wrong” outcomes lead to the “right” outcomes. 
  • We can take things apart and make new things. 

One of our favorite ways to model these key creativity mindsets is through reading. Below is a selection of books that each speak to a different mindset and are sure to ignite the creative spark in your child long after the book is over.

The Squiggle by Carole Lexa Schaefer

One of our all-time favorites, this book blends the joy of color, shape and texture with the power of imaginative play. Once you've read it, give your kid(s) a few yards of ribbon and the chance to imagine, spin, twist, run, roll, and enjoy the endless possibilities for play. Then, check out our Squiggle-inspired DIY activity.

Creativity Mindset: There are infinite possible uses for any object.

Mud by Mary Lyn Ray 

Most kids love mud in all its ooey, gooey, moldable, squishable glory. This book captures the multi-sensory experience that only mud can give. Have play clothes at the ready—we have yet to find a better text to inspire mud play than this one!

Creativity Mindset: The messier the better.

Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis

Children’s inherent creativity is perfectly captured in the back and forth interactions between an adult who sees “just a stick” and a child who invents endless possibilities for what this “Not a Stick” could become. Read this book with your child, then grab a stick or two and take the Not a Stick challenge

Creativity Mindset: There are infinite possible uses for any object.

What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada

In this story, a child carefully tends to an idea that at first may seem a little too big and a little too different, until one day he brings it to life. It’s a celebration of all the “out of the box” ideas that need time and determination to bloom.

Creativity Mindset: There are many possible solutions to any problem.

Perfect Square by Michael Hall

A perfect square is ripped, torn, crumpled, shredded and then… re-imagined into a bridge, a garden, a fountain and more. The square, itself, discovers that it is far more satisfying to deconstruct and and re-imagine than to stay perfect. 

Creativity Mindset: We can take things apart and make new things.

Magic Trash: A Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art by J.H. Shapiro

This book tells the story of Tyree Guyton, an environmental artist who uses discarded materials in his neighborhood to create art that inspires his community. After reading this book, it’s fun to take a closer look at your recycling bin and ask kids, “ What magic trash can we create together?”

Creativity Mindset: There are infinite possible uses for any object.

Mud Book: How to Make Mud Pies and Cakes by John Cage and Lois Long

For kiddos who love to play in a mud kitchen—or those who have yet to try—this book, written by avant-garde composer John Cage and artist Lois Long in the 1950s, offers a great starting place for whipping up a mud feast. After reading, try creating your own recipe for yummy mud-based "treats"!

Creativity Mindset: The messier the better.

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

In this relatable book, a girl has the most magnificent idea in her mind and sets to work to bring it to life. When it doesn't turn out as she has envisioned, she feels frustrated and really, really mad. After taking a break and looking at what she created a little differently, she discovers that sometimes something that is “wrong” can be turned into something “just right.”

Creativity Mindset: “Wrong” outcomes lead to the “right” outcomes.

The Carpenter by Bruna Barros

A child’s imagination can lead them through the most playful of adventures, even with the most ordinary of objects. In this vibrantly illustrated, wordless book, a child discovers his father’s yellow-jointed tape measure and reimagines it as a car, a whale, a tree and an elephant. 

Creativity Mindset: There are infinite possible uses for any object.

Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color by Julia Denos

The inspiration for many colorful Tinkergarten lessons, this book is about a vibrant character who can tame colors. Enjoy this of the artist within us all, then invite your child to explore their inner color tamer! 

Creativity Mindset: The messier the better.

Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney

Music can be found and created all around us. Join Max on a music-making tour through his neighborhood. All you need is two sticks to create and communicate!

Creativity Mindset: There are infinite possible uses for any object.

Rainbow Weaver/Tejedora del Arcoiris by Linda Elovitz Marshall

Ixchel wants badly to learn and to participate in her family’s weaving tradition, but mom is too busy to teach her. Undaunted, she searches for what’s available around her, reusing  plastic bags to weave a rainbow. 

Creativity Mindset: We can take things apart and make new things.

Manuelo the Playing Mantis​ by Don Freeman

Unable to make the music he loves, a praying mantis fashions a cello out of a walnut, a stick and a special ingredient.

Creativity Mindset: There are infinite possible uses for any object.

What If by Samantha Berger

In this magical story, a young girl is so dedicated to the act of creating, that she vows to invent and create even if all of her supplies disappear. It’s a wonderful example of the power of creativity seen through the eyes of a child.

Creativity Mindset: We can take things apart and make new things.

Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg

Creativity comes with lots and lots of mistakes along the way, which is the most wonderful thing about the process. This interactive book celebrates mistakes as an opportunity for new discoveries. Read it together and then make “beautiful oops” a family catch-phrase for turning problems into launching pads for creative thinking. 

Creativity Mindset: “Wrong” outcomes lead to the “right” outcomes.

The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

In this book a child’s teacher encourages her to start with a dot and “see where it takes you.” It’s the perfect inspiration for the child (or adult) who worries about doing it “right,”

Creativity Mindset: “Wrong” outcomes lead to the “right” outcomes.

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