On Creativity and Writing

I have always wondered why I don’t mind taking a hundred photographs and throwing out the 50 or even more that are slightly out of focus or didn’t capture the image the way I wanted, but that I expect every word I write to turn out brilliantly.

Thanks to my friend Deb for pointing out that in every creative process you need to be willing to create some (and maybe a lot of) duds, learn from them, throw them out either literally or figuratively, and keep trying. Sometimes you need to perform exercises that are meaningful only to your own process in order to produce works that speak to others in the future.

What do you think?

Fireworks for Fourth of July

Reading Fireworks by Vicki Cobb and Michael Gold (Photographer) is a wonderful way to get ready for the Fourth of July.


The author says, “You’ll get a bang out of this” and she is right. You can almost see the lights, hear the explosions and smell the smoke from reading the first few pages. She calls it “painting the sky with light and sound.” Cobb quickly points out, however, that although spectacular and interesting, fireworks are not toys. They can be extremely dangerous and even deadly.

In addition to discussing the nuts and bolts of fireworks themselves, Cobb also packs in a lot about the science behind the show. She educates the reader about scientific terminology, such as combustion, what an element is and how a match works. She even describes how a “party popper” works, which is the type of explosive a child might have experienced first hand.

The photographs definitely add to the quality of this book. Did you know that different types of fireworks have beautifully descriptive names like chrysanthemum, peony, soaring palm and silver willow? Michael Gold’s images make you want to “ooh” and “aah” just like for the real thing.

Interspersed throughout the book are great hands-on activities. Some are familiar, like growing crystal gardens using laundry bluing. Others are innovative, like doing a flame test to show how the fireworks get their colors. This experiment will require more than just adult supervision; the author suggests an adult should carry out the final step of adding the materials to an open flame of a gas stove.

Vicki Cobb has a friendly, conversational style that makes even difficult material easy to read. In the case of this book, younger readers may need some help with the unfamiliar terminology. Adults wanting to learn more about pyrotechnics will also find this book fascinating and useful.

If you are interested in adding new dimensions to your Fourth of July fireworks experience, this book can provide it.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Library Binding: 48 pages
Publisher: Millbrook Press (September 2005)
ISBN-10: 0761327711
ISBN-13: 978-0761327714


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at Tales from the Rushmore Kid.

Photo provided by Public Domain Pictures

Stories and Real Life

My son pulled out A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh books last weekend for yet another reading. We have read them together again and again through the years, and still find something new to enjoy each time. My son appreciates the gentle humor and easy relationships between the characters, I think.

While reading the books, I often pictured Milne telling the same stories to Christopher Robin in a big old armchair, a scruffy Pooh bear tucked in beside them, lit by a nice fire crackling in the fireplace. I often wondered how Christopher Robin benefited from having these wonderful stories written just for him. Therefore, when I spotted Enchanted Places, an autobiographical work by Christopher Milne, I was eager to find out what his life had been like.

As is often the case, imagination does not quite meet reality. The Just-Pooh.com website has a description of Christopher Milne’s life if you want to get a quick summary. Basically, as was the culture at that time and place, Christopher Robin was raised by a nanny and sent off to boarding school. He had little interaction with his father and he did not enjoy the stories at all. He felt the books were more about his father than himself.

It was a rude awakening to realize this could be true of my writing, too. I keep Christopher Milne’s resentful words in mind whenever I write something “for” my son. I hope it keeps me more honest.

Enchanted Places by Christopher Milne

When We Were Very Young (Pooh Original Edition) by A. A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard


In the “What Picture Books Tell Us About Writing” post, I mentioned how it seems like people are often categorized as writers or illustrators, at least for children’s picture books. Later I realized there is probably at least one other group, those that use oral language. Storytellers, poets and songwriters would fit in this group.

I once went to a wonderful presentation by the children’s book author, Jim Arnosky. Mr. Arnosky is both a writer and an illustrator of many nonfiction books about animals and the natural world. He sang a few songs during the presentation, and then shared that the words to his books often came to him in the form of songs and/or rhymes. I remember being fascinated at the time, because although I tell bedtime stories every night and have sung hundreds of made up silly songs, I don’t think any of them have been book material. What a wonderful ability to have.

Have you ever turned a song into a book?

Books by Jim Arnosky
All About Turkeys (All About) by Jim Arnosky

Drawing from Nature by Jim Arnosky