I love books that invite readers to reconsider the world around them. Just last week I finally had a chance to read the brand new book In Mary's Garden about Milwaukee, Wisconsin resident and artist Mary Nohl. The theme of this book, of seeing the possibilities in everyday life, immediately made me start making connections to other favorite books around this theme. Here are a few of my favorite books for inspiring kids, inventors, and artists.
In Mary's Garden (2015) by Tina and Carson Kűgler. This biography of artist Mary Nohl revolves around her interest in unusual topics and her ability to see the possibilities. For Mary, driftwood and a feather were not items to glance at and walk on but were a "marvelous creature" waiting to be discovered and assembled. Her collections of found objects became incredible sculptures and works of art, and I love how the author's note includes photographs of Mary and her art. I think this picture book is a powerful one for showing kids the possibilities for art in everyday objects and even "junk."
The Iridescence of Birds a book about Henri Matisse (2014) by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Hadley Hooper. This biography about Henri Matisse focuses on the influences and environment of his life as a child. I really liked the emphasis within the text about how these influences shaped and inspired Matisse and his art. I think this book would be a great resource for art teachers to introduce Matisse to their students and to encourage kids to think about their own lives and how to turn them into art.
Roxaboxen (2004) by Alice McLerran and illustrated by Barbara Cooney . Roxaboxen tells the true story of an imaginary town created by the author's aunt and neighbors. Kids can immediately relate to this imaginative play, and the illustrations bring this invented place to life. I read this book to my students every year as part of our end-of-the-year memoir unit, and every year it inspires them to start building and creating. I love how something so small - broken glass, some black stones - can become an entire world.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2012) by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer with illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon. This picture book tells the true story of William Kamkwamba who at age 14 saw the possibilities in junkyard scraps and the knowledge found in his library in Malawi. He eventually taught himself enough engineering skills to creata functioning windmill that brought electricity and pump-irrigation to help his village.
On the fictional side of things, there are many great stories that continue this theme of seeing and believing in the possibilities of everyday life.
The Most Magnificent Thing (2014) by Ashley Spires. This fabulous new picture book by Ashley Spires, the author of the Binky the Space Cat graphic novels, chronicles the trials and tribulations of the nameless main character as she attempts to build the most magnificent thing. I love the combination of styles in the illustrations. I shared this book with my students earlier in the year, and it touched off a great classroom conversation about perseverance, creativity, frustration, and perfectionism.
Papa's Mechanical Fish (2013) by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Boris Kulikov. This fictionalized tale is based on the true story of inventor Lodner Phillips and his efforts to create a functional submarine in the 1850s. It is quite a whimsical take on the story but interesting at least from the perspective of getting kids to think about the barriers to invention and creation and how to overcome them when faced with difficulties. (H/T Christie at Write Wild.)
What are your favorite books for encouraging children to see and embrace the possibilities in their lives?