Book Review: Two Books to inspire Creativity

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Occasionally we stumble upon a book that reminds us of what an inspired childhood looks like. You know, a childhood where we are free to just be creative, silent, thoughtful, appreciative. In awe. The Raft by Jim LaMarche is one such book.

Nicky isn't very excited about spending time with his grandmother in the country. In fact, he's downright sad. His dad has to work, so that means Nicky must spend his summer out by the river, deep in the Wisconsin woods, with his Grandma, also known as 'river rat'. With low expectations and a heart longing for something more, he says goodbye and watches his Dad's car disappear into the pines.

At first, things seem strange. In her cottage, books are scattered everywhere, walls cluttered with sketches, stuffed fish and maps of rivers.... there's even a nearly-finished bear carving staring proudly from a table. Nicky slowly takes it in as the days pass by, all the while helping his Grandma with random chores. When his Dad told him that Nicky's grandmother would keep him plenty busy, he was absolutely right!

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Nicky's first point of noticeable frustration is when he tries to fish from his Grandma's dock. After waiting and waiting and waiting with his hook in the water, he decides, very resentfully, that there are no fish in that river. But, after some patient encouragement from Grandma he tries again. This time it was in the waiting that he discovered something.

Roused from a nap by the loud chirping of birds, he noticed something floating towards him. Free and untethered, the raft floated aimlessly down the river. Finally, after butting into the dock where he sat, Nicky reached out to clear away leaves and branches only to discover that the raft was covered in drawings. Wonderful drawings..... a deer, a raccoon, a dragonfly, a fox. Other drawings as well... and immediately Nicky was drawn in. How did these drawings get there?

It is here at this moment that summer begins for Nicky. From fishing, poling upriver for a swim, to pitching a tent on the raft and watching the night come alive with so many creatures.... Nicky accepts and embraces this newly discovered gift: a raft that takes him places and allows him to observe and relate to something much bigger than himself..... God's amazing creation.

As Nicky spends time on his raft he is met by so many of the animals pictured for him there, right under his feet. And, as he observes his Grandmother quietly drawing and carving away , he is inspired to put to use the large sketchpad, pencils, and crayons that she gave him. He draws a great blue heron and an otter.  As the summer nears it's end, he discovers something far more grand to illustrate... and as the book comes to a close, Nicky's final drawing is born from personal experience.

“I discovered the power of drawing, and learned that when you draw something, you get closer to it and know it better.” Jim LaMarche

If not for the warm, inviting, and beautifully crafted illustrations, then for the  imagination-stirring and wonder-inducing storyline, The Raft is a perfect book to redirect a young boy's gaze from what is happening on the nearest screen to what is happening right outside his front door. Just as importantly is the lesson of not disregarding the older generation. As Jim LaMarche writes from his own boyhood experience of “becoming a river rat, and becoming an artist”, he relates to his readers that time with someone older than ourselves can be fun, adventurous, and meaningful.  

In My Little Artist by Donna Green you will find yet another story of the wonder of moments spent with a grandparent, but as experienced by a little girl. Like The Raft, My Little Artist is auto-biographical in style and the illustrations are wonderful masterpieces crafted by the author.

Beginning with a grandmother leaning over a small girl sitting in a chair, she lovingly braids the youngster's hair.

“Grandma how do I become an artist? I want to be just like you?”

“Well, I guess that depends on your heartsight.”

What follows is a charming story of how a young girl learns to close her eyes to really see the world outside. The light dancing through the trees, the smell of the sunlight falling to earth.... these things can't be touched or caught, but they can be imagined and perceived. 

“Grandma fueled my curiosity with intriguing snippets of wisdom wherever we went, and in the magical light of her garden, taught me the meaning of heartsight.” Donna Green

It is through this imagination or 'heartsight' that this grandma passes down and instills a love for nature, a love for art, and the desire to dream of everything beautiful. My Little Artist is a great book to pull out and enjoy with your daughter over a cup of hot tea. By the end you both will be desiring a nicely spread quilt on a sunny patch of grass, a box of watercolor paints, and an easel.