Books to Help Your Child Think (Outside the Box)

Ginger Carlson
March 17, 2016

When we talk about rearing children who live a creative life, one filled with thinking skills, problem solving, and self-expression that almost always includes lives filled with models of creativity.  Those models come in all shapes, sizes and forms, not the least of which is the model of a great book.

When choosing and reading good books, help your child "think outside the box" by considering and engaging in the following:

Wonder aloud about the book. As you read through a book with your child, share outloud your own thinking and what you might be wondering about the story.  Tell about what the book reminds you of: past experiences, people you have known, situations you have found yourself in, or other books or stories that have similar plots or characteristics.  When you wonder about a book, you are then modeling how to thoughtfully and critically engage a story. 

Question the story line.  And when you are reading a book and you find yourself not necessarily agreeing with what a character chooses, how the author words something, or perhaps you just find the story not aligning with your belief system, use it as an opportunity to engage your child in thinking critically about the world.  Ask questions like why do you think the author said that? Or make statements like do you think that character is being a good friend? Soon you'll notice your child asking similar questions and making statements in a similar manner. 

Don't feel like you have to stick to the words all the time. Many wonderful picture books are written much more wordy than many preschools can physically sit for.  As you are reading, feel free to take creative license with the author's words.  Give some of the more silent characters their own voice or just shorten a long paragraph to make it more accessible to your child's listening abilities. 

Try a wordless picture book. Even if your child can already read (and perhaps especially if they can), wordless picture books are a true wonder in their ability to get children thinking and imagining a storyline and words of their own.   A few of my favorite wordless picture books are: Tuesday by David Wiesner, The Snowman by Raymond Briggs, and The Sidewalk Circus by Paul Fleischman. 

Choose books with interesting and unique plots, characters, and ways of looking at the world. It may seem obvious that to live a creative life we must surround ourselves with models of creativity.  Unfortunately, the children's book market is saturated with books that are less than creative so it can be difficult to wade through.  From a few classics to some brand new titles, some of my favorite books that encourage creative living are:

And To Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss

For every Seuss-lover out there, this, his first book, is not to be missed or overlooked for some of his more mainstream and popular titles.  This is the story of Marco as he walks home from school True to Seuss-ism, Mulberry Street is filled with rhyme, rhythm, and refrain that will have your kids imagining themselves right down your own streets.  A wonderful book for modeling creative thinking in an ordinary, everyday situation.

 The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater

As the story goes a seagull drops a can of orange paint (none knows why) right onto Mr. Plumbean's house.  The neighbors are aghast when Plumbean doesn't fix it right away, disturbing their "neat street".  But one by one, they each go to speak with him, and uncover their own creative selves along the way. This old favorite is a fun and glorious story about self-expression, individuality, and believing in your dreams.  I highly recommend this book for all ages!

The Dot and Ish by Peter Reynolds

Dare I say that anything by Peter Reynolds is a safe bet when it comes to choosing a book that honors and models a creative life? Well, his two books The Dot and Ish are certainly good starting points. Both offer a thoughtful glimpse into a moment in young artists' life and process, while encouraging a view of the world that is all your own.

 Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran

In an age where children are over-planned and over-stimulated we find that they often miss out on opportunities to play with natural materials in a truly creative and open-ended way. Roxaboxen is an excellent model of children who make their play themselves in a seemingly "boring" setting: an empty lot. Using only rocks, boxes, and imagination, the children engage in an elaborate simulation in the town and environment that comes from the pure delight of having time, space, and a few simple things to work with. This is a great read for a child who might be ready to sit for a longer story. It is also a wonderful way to introduce stories from Mommy and Daddy's childhood play.

These are only a few of the wonderful choices out there that encourage a more creative, thoughtful mindset. When we turn to books to help model and enhance the creative life, we find that with the many wonderful titles available to our preschoolers and a few good reading strategies, they will do just that, think outside the box!


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