Picture Books to Inspire Wild Creativity

Okay, all, it’s almost June, which means it’s time to gather up (if you can… because your libraries are likely still closed…) books to inspire creativity! When my husband and I sat down to talk about traits we wanted to foster in our children in 2020, creativity was high on our list, and we knew a summer month would be a perfect month for creativity! So, up today, I’ve got a huge list of picture books to inspire creativity… Books that will inspire imagining, writing, crafting, creating, building, music, dancing, daydreaming, and more. Check out the list below, gather what you can from your bookshelves, hit up your library when it reopens, and get excited about a summer of creativity!

So, why read books to inspire creativity? Aside from simply keeping children entertained (which, let’s be honest, is a HUGE reason to inspire children to play creatively and imaginatively), but creativity fosters so much more than just independent play! Children learn and develop so many important skills when using their imaginations and exploring their creative abilities!

Let’s say your child reads Roxaboxen or Weslandia this summer and is inspired to create his own city or even civilization. Right there, you’ve got problem solving, planning, geometry, interpersonal skills (if sharing the city or civilization with others), potentially history/governance, maybe some math and language if they create a money system or a new language… So much is happening! Maybe your child picks up Journey, Harold and the Purple Crayon, or The Whisper, and then she writes the stories to go along with these books. All of the sudden, she’s practicing important writing skills, conventions, and craft! Maybe your children read Beautiful Oops and The Book of Mistakes. They’re going to learn important social-emotional lessons around perseverance, growth mindset, and overcoming disappointment and obstacles. I could go on and on, but you get the point… Let’s get those creative juices rolling!

All links for purchase are affiliate links, and most age ranges listed are publishers’ recommendations. Always remember that you know your child best, and thank you for considering making a purchase through my links!

Not a Box and Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis

A box is just a box and a stick is just a stick… Until they’re not. And at that moment when they transform, you transform, too, as your imagination carries you away into new, magical worlds. These two books are perfect creative inspiration for the youngest audiences! Ages 0-4.

Ruby’s Sword by Jacqueline Véissid, illustrated by Paola Zakimi

An ode to little sisters everywhere, Ruby has to get creative to find ways to play independently when she can’t keep up with her big brothers. Fortunately, sticks can be just about anything, even swords, and even more fortunately, sticks that can be just about anything are enticing to big brothers, too! Ages 3-5, though terrific slightly older too.

The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse by Eric Carle

Are you a huge Eric Carle fan, too? Have you ever wondered where he got his inspiration for his eye-catching illustrations? The pictures in this year might help your young ones gain confidence in their art that maybe doesn’t look like actual objects yet, but your older kids might find the backstory here fascinating, too. Ages 3-5, though I’d probably go even older so that children are familiar enough with Carle’s work as well as old enough to understand inspiration.

Everything You Need for a Treehouse by Carter Higgins, illustrated by Emily Hughes

I posted about this one a few weeks ago when we did a whole week of design and engineering activities inspired by books. And let me tell you, the dreaming and inspiration never ceases with this book! Your children will be creating and recreating their dream treehouse over and over again after reading this one! Ages 3-6, but great slightly older, too.

The Bear’s Garden by Marcie Colleen, illustrated by Alison Oliver

What do you do when you live in a big, busting, busy city, where everything is gray and fairly run-down? You use your imagination to find the beauty around you, of course! And then, just maybe, that inspires you to actually make something real and beautiful in your neighborhood. Be sure to check out the endpages! Ages 3-6.

Windblown by Édouard Manceau

One of the most creative books on this list, in my opinion, Windblown could inspire hours of crafting and creative play! Manceau has taken a handful of small pieces of colored paper and used them to create a chicken, then a fish, next a bird, and more. Try challenging your kids to make different creatures or collages with the same materials over and over again! Ages 3-7.

Also an Octopus by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, illustrated by Benji Davies

Maybe what you’re looking for is a book to inspire your children to tell and write stories this summer. If so, definitely check out Also an Octopus. It’s a perfect outline of how to tell a story, even if your story is, well, unconventional. From the first page, “Every story starts the same way… with nothing,” your interest and inspiration will be piqued! Ages 3-7.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

We received this for a gift before our older daughter was born, and it’s been a favorite in our house ever since. When Duncan goes to use his crayons one day at school, he finds a stack of letters waiting in their place. Letters from the crayons demanding change. Duncan listens, adn the resulting artwork earns Duncan an A+ for creativity… After all, how often are rainbows black, Santas pink, and whales orange? Anything can be when you’re willing to think outside the box! Ages 3-7.

This is Sadie by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Julie Morstad

Sadie ranks towards the top of my favorite book characters. She’s a spunky girl with a big imagination and an even bigger love of books and stories. In fact, “more than anything she likes stories, because you can make them from nothing at all.” I can promise you’re going to love Sadie as a role model for your kids! Ages 3-7.

If I Had a Gryphon by Vikki VanSickle, illustrated by Cale Atkinson

For terrific fantastical inspiration to create imaginary beasts and creatures, look no further than If I Had a Gryphon. After reading this one, my girls illustrated the imaginary beasts they’d want to have as pets themselves! Ages 3-7.

Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg

Do your young children have a tough time with artistic creativity because mistakes paralyze their creative process? Then you need this book in your home or classroom library! Saltsberg shows all sorts of ways that artists could turn their “oops” moments into magic! Ages 3-8. (For a similar book for older audiences, check out The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken below).

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

I’m guessing that just about everyone knows and loves this one, but it wouldn’t be a creativity list without Harold! What a model for the adventures we can have with simply a purple crayon and our imagination! Ages 4-6, but absolutely perfect younger, too. (For a similar book for older audiences, check out Journey by Aaron Becker below).

Boxitects by Kim Smith

If you’ve got a child who grabs your cardboard boxes every time the Amazon Prime shipments come, or if you’d like for your child to do just this, then you need Boxitects in your house! Yes, it’s going to make that child want to build anything and everything with your recycling, but it’s also a wonderful story about teamwork and collaboration. You can read my full review here. Ages 4-7.

Sector 7 by David Wiesner — I’m a HUGE fan of David Wiesner’s wordless wonders, and this gem will definitely spark your imagination! Have you ever looked for shapes hidden in the clouds in the sky? What if there was a cloud factory that could actually design the shapes that you might see in the clouds? Now imagine floating on a cloud up to this factory and secretly designing an ocean in the sky, and you’ve got Sector 7! Ages 4-7, and definitely older.

The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski

Zagarenski’s opening lines read: “There once was a little girl who loved stories. She loved how the words and pictures took her to new and secret places that existed in a world all her own. The characters became her friends, and quite often she grew to love them.” Then, one day, her teacher gives her a beautiful storybook, but the story itself is missing. What is a girl to do without a story to read??? Fortunately, a kind friend helps her realize how to “read” these wordless wonders and let these stories carry her away, just like the written word. Ages 4-7, but I’d skew to the older end of this range and beyond.

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, illustrated by Rafael López — A terrific companion for older children to The Bear’s Garden, Maybe Something Beautiful is based on the true story of the transformation of the East Village neighborhood in San Diego from gray and drab to a walkable work of art. Maybe Something Beautiful is a wonderful testament to the impact that art can have on a neighborhood and may inspire you all to do something to being visual joy to your own neighborhood. Ages 4-7.

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran, illustrated by Barbara Cooney

Ooh, this one has been a long-time favorite of mine, and I’ve loved reading it with my children over the past few years. Roxaboxen tells the story of McLerran’s mother’s childhood days playing in the made-up town of Roxaboxen. This group of children are some of the most creative I’ve ever seen. I have deep hope that my children will have some imaginative play game that sticks with them for the rest of their lives, just like Roxaboxen did for these children. Ages 4-8.

I’m a Frog by Mo Willems

Okay, we’re HUGE fans of Elephant & Piggie around here. So I get really excited when I can find a way to fit an Elephant & Piggie book into a list I’m making. Do you know this one? Piggie delightfully introduces Gerald to the amazing world of pretending, and his mind is blown. “You can just go out and pretend to be something you are not!?” Ages 4-8, but definitely perfect younger, too.

Lift by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat

Creativity meetings sibling jealousy story? Yes, please! Lê and Santat (who also collaborated on Drawn Together) bring us the story of Iris, who often feels as if her baby brother, well, takes over “her” things, from her beloved stuffed tiger to her job of pushing the elevator buttons. When Iris finds a discarded elevator button in the trash, she realizes she can use it to transport herself to magical places and “lift” her spirits if she’s down. The end is really heartwarming, so make sure you check it out! Ages 4-8.

Hum and Swish by Matt Myers

Have you ever interrupted someone’s creative flow by asking “What are you making?” Jamie knows all too well what that interruption feels like. She’s just trying to spend some time with her friend, the sea, and build something, but everyone keeps asking questions about what she’s making. Then, a painter sets up close to Jamie, and their creative connection is instant. Ages 4-8.

Katie’s Sunday Afternoon by James Mayhew (and the rest of his Katie series)

Though we adore Mayhew’s whole Katie series in our house, my girls would tell you Katie’s Sunday Afternoon is their favorite. In each book, Katie goes on special adventures through art, actually jumping into the paintings. Katie’s Sunday Afternoon focuses on adventures though post-Impressionist paintings by artists such as Seurat and Pissarro. Ages 4-8.

Journey by Aaron Becker

My daughters astutely realized this one is a neat combination of Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon and John Rocco’s Blackout. A stunning wordless wonder, Journey is the story of a girl who seems to have nothing to do and no one to play with, until she finds a red crayon on her floor. Turn out, much like Harold, her red crayon takes her on many magical adventures. Ages 4-8, but terrific slightly older, too.

The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater

If your child needs help following creative dreams that are a bit, well, unconventional, then The Big Orange Splot is the book for him! Mr. Plumbean lives on a very cookie-cutter street. Cookie cutter, that is, until a seagull drops orange paint on Plumbean’s roof and sets Plumbean’s creative wheels spinning. Strong talking points about creativity, hopes and dreams, individuality, and more! Ages 4-8.

The Night Gardener by the Fan Brothers

I first discovered The Night Gardener during a mock Caldecott unit in my classroom days, and I’ve loved revisiting it with every reread since. William, a boy in an orphanage on Grimloch Lane, wakes up to find excitement on his normally gray, anti-social street — a tree had been trimmed into the shape of an owl, overnight, with no witnesses! And, to William’s delight, trees continue to transform up and down Grimloch Lane. One night, after celebrating the latest creation with his neighbors, William spots someone unfamiliar and follow him… Only to experience one of his most delightful nights ever! Can you and your children make something beautiful out of the everyday things in your neighborhood? Might that bring your neighborhood together even more? Ages 4-8.

Weslandia by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

I had the opportunity to work as a teacher’s assistant in graduate school for one of the most creative, inspired second grade teachers I’ve ever met. As a way to combine classroom management efforts with an ancient civilizations theme study, she read Weslandia to her students, broke them into groups, and had them design their own civilizations, beginning with their staple crops. It was amazing, just as Weslandia is amazing. Who knows, maybe your child will be inspired to have an all-encompassing summer project just like Wesley’s! Ages 4-8.

What If… by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Mike Curato

What if you wrote and drew prolific stories from your heart, but then one day, your pencil disappears? Would your creativity and storytelling disappear, too? Not for this girl– nothing can stop her from finding a way to express herself creatively and give others a glimpse inside her heart! Ages 4-8.

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts

Oh, Rosie. Rosie ranks up there with Sadie as one of my favorite book characters. Rosie is an engineer who loves making gadgets and gizmos, but one day she loses confidence in her ability to create. Fortunately, she has her own wonderful role model in her great-great-aunt Rose. Not only is Rosie wonderful, but Beaty’s writing makes this a terrifically fun read aloud, too! Ages 4-8, but terrific younger, too.

Art & Max by David Wiesner

We all need a creative muse like Max. Someone who will help us to think outside the box, to explore different techniques, and to try something new. Art resists, very strongly, sometimes very angrily, but in the end, he gives Max’s style a try… Turns out Max’s enthusiasm for artistic process is contagious too! You can read my full review here. Ages 4-8.

Chalk by Bill Thomson — Have you ever drawn something and imagined that it came to life? Thomson seems to know that feeling all too well, as he’s captured the magic of drawings coming to life perfectly in Chalk. On a rainy day in the park, a group of friends finds a bag of chalk, starts to draw, and is amazed as their drawings come to life! Ages 4-8.

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

Ellis has brilliantly written a whole book in a completely made-up, nonsense language, and it’s amazing. Du Iz Tak? is one of my favorite books to read aloud, and analyzing what all these critters might be saying never gets old. Who knows? Maybe your childre will be inspired to create their own nonsense language that actually works for communication! You can read my full review here. Ages 4-8.

The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken

A terrific companion to Beautiful Oops! for older audiences, Luyken’s children’s book debut knocks it out of the park as it encourages children to embrace the mistakes that are inherently part of the creative process. Zooming in on mistakes in a drawing and then showing how she made those mistakes into something integral in the picture, Luyken might just allow your children to enjoy the process and rely a little less on their erasers! Ages 4-8.

Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Qin Leng

When little Hana sets her heart on playing the violin in the school talent show, her brothers laugh so hard at her that they almost fall out of a tree! Indeed, she is just beginning to learn to play, but she desires to follow her grandfather’s footsteps, not only to play beautifully but also to create her own melodies. You’ll never guess what she actually does in the talent show, but she’d make her grandfather Ojiichan proud! Ages 4-8.

Beyond the Pond by Joseph Kuefler

Have you ever wondered what’s at the bottom of a body of water? Especially one that seems to actually have no bottom? Maybe you should join Ernest and explore the depths! Because, after all, who knows what you’ll find on the other side! Will the other side of the pond be big, raucous, tiny, tall, ghoulish, or ghastly? You’ll never know until you check it out! Ages 4-8.

The Dot and Ish by Peter Reynolds

Do you have someone in your life whose encouragement has given you just the confidence you need to create? Do your children need that person in their lives? Maybe they can find that confidence through the words of Vashti’s teacher and Ramon’s little sister. Ages 5 and up.

If I Built a School by Chris Van Dusen (and the rest of his “If I Built…” series)

If you don’t know Chris Van Dusen’s “If I Built…” series, you should remedy that ASAP. With three books in the series (car, house, and school), you’ve got creative inspiration out the wazoo! Click here to see some engineering and design activities we did based on these books earlier this spring, and then read my full review here. Ages 5-8.

Little People, Big Dreams Dolly Parton by Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Daria Solak

It wouldn’t be a good creativity list without a musician’s biography… The Little People, Big Dreams biographies are excellent, and the Dolly Parton book is one of my favorites! Parton’s story is a great one to break out when your children complain of being bored or not having enough toys or playthings… One of the reasons Parton was so drawn to music (besides the natural gift of her voice) was because her family didn’t have much and there wasn’t much else to do. Add to that information about Dolly’s Imagination Library that this book includes and your child will be inspired to both create AND do good! Ages 5-8, but really great for all ages.

Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played with Puppets by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher — I bought this book in my classroom days to foster conversation about being yourself and following your dreams, even when others pressure you to do something else. And Jim Henson is a perfect real-life model of creativity and imagination. Who knows, maybe your children will spend all summer making puppets and putting on puppet shows? Ages 5-8.

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

An African-American artist, Pippin began creating as a small child, making artwork even during his service in World War I. But, during that service, he took a bullet to his right shoulder, injuring his drawing arm so badly that he couldn’t draw or paint anymore. Does he give up? For a while, he does. But, determination takes over, he finds a way to paint again, and these post-war, post-injury works garner him world-wide fame and recognition! I love that Pippin’s story highlights the perseverance and determination that it takes to re-learn a skill, rather than learning something new… Ages 5-8.

Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

If your children don’t know much about the history of children’s stories, their minds are likely to be blown away by this story of John Newbery’s dream of stories that children would actually enjoy reading. Without Newbery’s vision of children’s literature, we may be sorely missing out on the adventures we have as we turn the pages of a book. Ages 5-8.

Niko Draws a Feeling by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Simone Shin

How do you encourage abstract art? Or keep a kid creating when he’s frustrated that his art doesn’t look exactly like he wants it to? Try this one out, where rather than drawing concrete objects, Niko draws the feelings those objects stir inside him. Ages 5-9.

A Day with No Crayons by Elizabeth Rusch, illustrated by Chad Cameron — Liza absolutely loves to draw and color, and she always creates with her beloved crayons. Until, that is, the day she runs out of paper and decides the wall is a perfect canvas. When Liza’s mom takes her crayons away for the rest of the day, Liza’s world turns gray. She’s not sure what she’ll do without her colors! But then, she begins to see the art she creates all around her, first through her anger, then through curiosity and finally intentionality. It turns out, color was all around her the whole time! Ages 6-8.

The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons by Natascha Biebow, illustrated by Steven Salerno

This book might be my seven-year-old’s favorite book. Any time it is in our rotatio, we read it on repeat, over and over and over. She just can’t get enough of the story of how some of her favorite and most-used possessions, her crayons, were created. Just like Binney, you’ll be seeing colors everywhere after reading this bright story! You can read my full review here. Ages 6-9, though this has been a favorite in our house since our youngest was 3.5.

Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca

Winner of the Orbis Pictus Award (outstanding children’s nonfiction), you’re going to want to pick this one up! It’ll inspire your children to tell stories through dance, yes, but it may also inspire them to compose music and/or design sets to tell stories as well. Ages 6-10.

So, has this list inspired you yet? Do you have any “wild creative” books that my girls and I should check out this summer?

13 thoughts on “Picture Books to Inspire Wild Creativity

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