creativity and books

What Children’s Books Teach Us About How to Be More Creative

In this post, I’m going to talk about how to be more creative. But I’m going to talk about it through the lens of the lessons about art we learn from Children’s books. After all, many of us used to be creative as kids so it’s worth exploring what went wrong along the way.

As a parent I want my kids to be creative and if I ask a room full of parents, they want that for their kids too. However, do those same parents view themselves as creative people and value creativity? We teach these things to our kids but don’t seem to believe them about ourselves as easily.

But if we want our kids to be creative, I’m sorry to tell you that we have to lead by example. While we can learn about creativity from children’s books, it’s not just for kids.

Hard Things Make Us Stronger (and more creative)

Little Tree is one of my new favorite kids books. Not only does it teach us about fall and the changing of the seasons, but it also teaches us about how the lessons of change and growth apply to our own lives. There is so much to learn from nature about ourselves and our inner creativity.

In the story, the little tree is afraid to let his leaves go but only when he lets his leaves go can he grow into the tree he’s supposed to be. How often are we afraid to do hard things even though we know that we have to? The only way out is through.

It’s easy in hindsight to see that hard things make us stronger, but that doesn’t always make doing hard things easy. I find that it’s important to celebrate a success and notice how it feels after the fact. While you’re climbing a mountain you’re often wondering why you’re doing so, but after you finish and feel the elation of accomplishment you immediately start planning your next climb.

Failure is Great for Creativity

“The only true failure can come if you quit,” Rosie Revere Engineer teaches us. I love this book about the pain of dreaming big and then failing. While it hurts to fail, we must redefine failure as a necessary part of growing as creatives.

The fact is that there is no imagination and no creativity if there’s no failure. In the story, Rosie Revere creates new inventions that don’t always work out. Her great-great Aunt Rose helps her learn that big flops can be raging successes because we have so much to learn from them.

We know that we can’t succeed if we don’t try but the fear of failure often prevents us from trying anyway. It’s unrealistic to think that we’ll get it on the first try and yet for some reason we’re disappointed when we don’t. We think everyone is watching and judging us when they’re probably too focused on their failures or successes to worry about ours.

Comparison Kills Creativity, Being Yourself is the Answer

I think it can be beneficial to be inspired by other creators but I also know it can be detrimental to fall into the comparison trap. In Giraffe’s Can’t Dance, we learn that “Sometimes when you’re different you just need a different song.” Creativity is about putting together our experiences and ideas in a new way and we can’t do that if we’re trying to be someone else.

In the story, Gerald is embarrassed by his dancing because it’s different than the other animals. Eventually, spending time alone he finds his own song and his own dance. The animals come to admire him. But by that point, he doesn’t what they think because he’s so immersed in the flow of his own creativity.

Sometimes we’re so focused outwardly that we can’t flow, we can’t access our creativity. If we focus and we remember that creativity isn’t for everyone else, we can immerse ourselves in the joy of discovery. Creativity is more powerful and wild when we focus on our own intrinsic motivation.

Get Outside, Have New Experiences and Adventures

I’m a true believer that both nature and adventure enhance and inspire our creativity. This is both because of my own experience and because of the research that I’ve read. In The Boy Who Spoke to the Earth, we watch a boy go searching high and low for happiness and eventually learn that “Happiness is all around.”

Nature teaches us about flow through its rivers, it teaches us about struggle in the way a tree grows in wind-blown terrain, and it teaches us about change in the changing of the seasons. When we get outside and allow ourselves to be more present in nature we start to see beauty and possibility everywhere. We don’t have to wait for rare inspiration to strike, we simply have to immerse ourselves in it.

Additionally, we know from the research that being open to experiences is a personality trait that leads to being a more creative person. So heading out and exploring the world through experiences and adventures helps us expand our thinking and our comfort zone. Have an adventure every day, be more creative, not a bad recipe.

Creativity is Important

In What do you do with an idea? we meet a kid who feels burdened worried or embarrassed by ideas. Eventually, however, the kid realizes that ideas have the power to create something. This is a powerful message because sometimes creativity feels less exciting than we think it should.

Creating something new is more work than just checking things off our to-do list. We risk failure, judgment, embarrassment, and investing time in something for no reason. It’s no wonder that sometimes creativity seems like it’s not worth it.

But without creativity, we can get stuck. We don’t find new solutions or best ideas to problems or new answers to questions. Who will be the brave one who takes risks for the potential rewards?

Being Sensitive, Empathetic, or Different Can be a Creative Super Power

There are probably a lot of children’s books that take on the challenge of showing why someone different is awesome. I recently read one of the Upside Down Magic school books to my kids and I loved the life lessons I was able to use as teaching moments without forcing them. This is a great reminder to all of us about the parts of ourselves that we try to hide or stuff down to fit in.

In reality, it’s our differences that make us special. In the story, there’s a group of kids who have upside-down magic, meaning their magic doesn’t work how it’s supposed to. Initially, there’s a lot of shame or frustration around that but eventually, they realize that just because the magic doesn’t work how it’s supposed to doesn’t mean it’s not amazing and beneficial to the world.

In the above section, I talked about the challenges around the impact comparison can have on creativity. What if we focused instead on what makes us unique, special, or who we are? Being overly sensitive isn’t something we should try to stomp out of us but rather embrace because it can lead to different ideas, new connections, and innovative solutions.

Creativity is Learnable: Have a Growth Mindset

In Elephants Can’t Fly, everyone tells Ellie that Elephants can’t fly. How often do others tell us that our creative writing, painting, or photography pursuits are unrealistic or our ideas are too far-fetched? The problem is that creative thinking requires that we generate creative ideas, not reject them.

This reminds me of the importance of a growth mindset. When I asked my daughter what she knows about a growth mindset she put it simply and elegantly. A fixed mindset is when you tell yourself you can’t do something but a growth mindset is when you tell yourself you can.

A creative person has to have a growth mindset otherwise they’ll shut themself off to new ideas for creative pursuits. Sometimes we just need to expand and develop our creative skills and learn something new to accomplish a creative project. All the research shows that creativity is learnable and takes practice.

Creativity is in Our Nature

Finding Wild is a beautiful and creative book about the challenge of finding nature in the modern world. The characters start to look a little further to find what they’re looking for but it’s there hidden in a crack or crevice. The same goes for our creativity.

Sometimes we have to look beneath the surface and remind ourselves who we are. Our connection to nature and creativity is sometimes hard to access but the first step might be reminding ourselves that we are creative and challenging our identity around our creativity. I often say that the first step when discovering how to be more creative is looking at your mindset and limiting beliefs.

If you want to get your creative juices flowing, you might simply need to remind yourself that you’re capable of the sweetest fruit or most fragrant flower even if it’s been dormant for a long winter season. As you build confidence around your creativity, you’ll start to feel more at home with your creative side.

Say Yes to Magic and Imaginative People

I feel like I can’t talk about lessons about creativity from Children’s books without a shout-out to Harry Potter. Magical thinking is the ultimate divergent thinking and we know that divergent thinking is a key to being a more creative person. If anything is possible then new ideas are easier to come by which is why imagination is so important and why it’s unfortunate that we struggle to celebrate it.

Another thing I love about Harry Potter is that a boy who felt like he never belonged finds other magical and innovative people to be friends with. I’ve always said that one of the keys to a creative life is surrounding ourselves with more supportive people. Finding someone else who believes in our dreams strengthens our resolve and ability to make creative thinking part of our everyday lives.

Summary of Tips for Being More Creative People

Speaking of children’s books, we wrote ABCs of Adventure to be a different kind of ABCs book. Based on what we know about creativity, adventure, and nature, we wanted to let kids know that adventure is for everyone and that it can have a positive impact on our lives. We want to inspire more Adventure, Bravery, and Creativity.

From what I know about creativity and how to be more creative, the following themes are seen and explored in our book as well as in the examples above. Creativity is a practice, it’s something we do every day through exploring new ideas, spending time in nature, moving our body, or sitting still. I hope some of these tips help get your creative juices flowing for your future creative projects.

  1. Hard things make us stronger and more creative

  2. Failure is great for creativity

  3. Comparison kills creativity, be yourself

  4. Get outside, learn from nature, have new experiences and adventures

  5. Know that creativity is important

  6. Being sensitive, empathetic, or different can be a creative superpower

  7. Creativity is learnable: have a growth mindset

  8. Creativity is in our nature

  9. Say yes to magic and imaginative people

Creative habits to practice:

  • Brainstorm as many ideas as possible until you find a fresh perspective even if it’s a magical and imaginative one. Be a divergent thinker and maybe an adventurer if you’re inspired!

  • Make sure you take care of your physical and emotional health because even though we all know some tortured artists, healthy creativity requires mental clarity. Hard things make us stronger but only if we learn and grow from the suffering instead of burying it deep down.

  • Spend time with more creative people and make new connections with communities that support your imagination.

  • Pay attention to your daily inputs. Explore healthy habits like reading inspirational books, meditating, yoga, exercise, time in nature, cooking creative nutritious food, getting enough rest, and having fun with your community or hobbies.

about the author

I am Brenda Bergreen, one half of a husband and wife photography team specializing in Colorado wedding photography and videography as well as adventure photography. If you need someone to encourage your creativity, I’m here. (*Links to stuff I like may include affiliate links.)

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