• Grace McKinney

Maker's Marks: Picture Books About Creating

Updated: Dec 21, 2018


Gaby and I both come from homes in which something was always being made—artwork, food, clothing, music. I think my family would be aghast if I called ours a household of "creatives," but I think it's fair to say each of us have a way, or a few, in which we love to create. It's through creating that we not only learn more about ourselves but the ways in which we can uniquely contribute to the lives of others, too. Here's a short list of books we're currently loving that highlight creativity in a variety of forms.



I Had A Favorite Dress, by Boni Ashburn and illustrated by Julia Denos


Gaby recommended this book for this list, but I think I want it on a lot more lists. From the get-go, I knew I'd love this peppy protagonist as soon as I read the first page of the narrative: "I had a favorite dress that was my favoritest dress ever. I wore it every Tuesday because that was my favorite day of the week." Besides sharing (initially) a favorite day of the week, I also share having a gifted seamstress for a mother. As the young brown girl in Ashburn's picture book undergoes changes in stature, taste, and season, so does this favorite dress. From tank top to scarf and finally a mixed media piece of art (much like the illustrations themselves), a favorite dress shrinks in size but never in value. This whimsical and effortlessly uplifting book makes change something to be embraced and creativity its perfect companion.

How To, by Julie Morstad


Each "how to" in Morstad's simple, joyful picture book offers a different way of seeing, or doing, something in the everyday. The hum-drum "how to make a sandwich"instead is pictured as a perfect opportunity to pile friends between pillows, and the routine "how to wash your face"is as simple as putting your umbrella aside to feel the rain. Though not creative in the artistic sense, per se, Morstad's book of advice sheds a new light on the way we can experience the world around us.




The Book Of Mistakes, by Corinna Luyken


Creating is neither simple nor easy, and as Bob Ross would say, it's full of "happy little accidents." Luyken's Book of Mistakes is a sparsely-narrated journey through the illustration of the book itself, beginning with a figure and ending with -- well, you'll have to read to find out, but it's breathtaking. From accidentally drawing one eye way too large to making this leg kinda funky, Luyken shows the serendipitous joy of making, and going along with, mistakes.



Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood, by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell and illustrated by Rafael López


A young girl gets a gentle nudge from an artist to put her paintbrush to work, but this time on a wall in the midst of her gray neighborhood. Her own bright vision and the help of her dynamic partner in crime get the whole community on board—even the neighborhood policeman. A celebration of individual and communal creativity, Make Something Beautiful shows what a word of encouragement can do.


Iggy Peck, Architect, by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts


Iggy brings a little mischief to the creativity game when he starts building career making towers with dirty diapers, but his architectural achievements quickly mature to become Sphinxes, cathedrals, chalk castles, and more... Until a no-nonsense teacher stops his construction in its tracks. But when the second grade class gets stranded on an island during their picnic, it's Iggy's skills that saves the day. Not only does Iggy Peck show off the unusual items that can make up a suspension bridge, it also shows that creativity can, quite literally, save the day. Even his teacher's converted when she realizes: "There are worse things to do when you're in grade two/ than to spend your time building a dream." Beaty and Roberts' other collaborations, Ada Twist, Scientist and Rosie Revere, Engineer, are also worth a read for their precocious protagonists' stories.


The Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers


A creative form you may experience less frequently in your life: topiary. Something mysterious is happening on Grimloch Lane... "something good."A young orphan named William watches as, overnight, trees and shrubs become owls, rabbits, and dragons, and what was once a gray, face-to-the-sidewalk neighborhood becomes a joyful and much more colorful community. When he finally finds the man behind it all—the Night Gardener himself—William is able to try his hand at transforming the trees, too. Like Make Something Beautiful, the Fan Brothers' picture book is an ode to the power of public art to uplift the hearts and eyes of those around you.



Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin, by Lloyd Moss and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman


A book of poetry, counting, and orchestral vocabulary all in one, Zin! Zin! celebrates what happens when instruments and their players come together to make music. The onomatopoeic language brings the music to life as each added instrument amplifies the sounds of the group. This one is a particularly enchanting read aloud for young ones and begs to be reread.


88 Instruments, by Chris Barton and illustrated by Louis Thomas


So many instruments, and your parents say you can only take lessons on one -- how on earth do you choose?"Do I pick the squeeziest? The wheeziest? The easiest and breeziest? But how about the slideyest…the squonkiest…the blowiest…?" This book is a great read-aloud with its rhythmic and onomatopoeic language, its bright watercolor illustrations, and an introduction to a slew of exciting instruments with a twist of humor. Find the excitement in being a bit overwhelmed with options, and follow how our protagonist chooses where to begin.




Art, by Patrick McDonnell


Art never seems to stop moving. Art begins with line and color to create squiggles and shapes and puts them together to make masterpieces. Oh, did we mention that Art is the young artist making it all happen? A more colorful descendent of Harold (of the purple crayon variety), Art is an energetic adventure of a young boy with spare but rhyming text leading us all to the familiar refrain: "A picture is worth a thousand words."


Print this list! Click here for a link to a condensed version of this list in Google Drive.


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