Parent Resources

Ginger Carlson on Nurturing Creativity and Curiosity


Ginger Carlson is the author of the recently released Child of Wonder: Nurturing Creative & Naturally Curious Children, an educational consultant, and a mother of one enthusiastic boy named Zeal.

Note: Readers will have a chance to win a copy of Ginger’s new book at the end of the interview.

JEAN: I love your book, Ginger! It is packed with so many great ideas. I’m sure I’ll be referring to it for a while. Can you tell us why you think it is so important to nurture creativity and curiosity in children?

GINGER: The short answer, but big idea, is that creativity and curiosity–expressing one’s self, the desire to learn, and wondering about the world–is any child’s birthright. No matter the circumstance, it is what we are born with; it drives us as human beings, and in that respect there may be nothing more important that a parent should nurture.

The longer answer is what I often get into on a deeper level in my workshops and speaking engagements; more and more we are moving to become a society that isn’t valuing these things. Sadly, creativity and thinking skills are literally vanishing from learning environments around the country. We can trace this decline back to the Industrial Revolution, but it is now more than ever that we see this lack of importance placed on creative thinking. So I am on a mission of sorts to start up a Creativity Revolution. Will you join me?

JEAN: Yes! Creativity can mean so much more than art-related creativity. Can you talk about other ways children (and everyone!) can be creative?

GINGER: Yes, it certainly can look like so many things. When people talk about creativity they often think of visual arts: painting, drawing, or crafts. In many ways, I think it might be shorter to list ways our little ones can’t be creative. Creativity, and the desire to express ourselves, is the fabric of our lives and is especially tangible in young people who are nurtured in that way. From cleaning up in the bathtub after a hike in the woods, to building towers, to experimenting with the air around us, creativity is in everybody and is everywhere.

In Child of Wonder, I explain Multiple Intelligence theory and have included chapters on many of the ways creativity might play itself out in the lives of young children. Those things might be math, spatial thinking, language (both oral and written), science and scientific thinking, nature, games, active play, cooking, costuming, cooperation, and problem solving. Taking it even a step further, creativity could be a way of looking at the world and how we approach each creativity tool (art supplies, etc), but also every person we come in contact with. Aah, the potential.

JEAN: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and what led you to be passionate about this subject and to write Child of Wonder: Nurturing Creative & Naturally Curious Children?

GINGER: Originally, the idea for the book came from my experiences teaching in an urban school in Los Angeles in the early 1990’s. I was hyper aware of my students need to develop their critical thinking skills and have opportunity to positively express themselves. When we eventually went on to teach in International and Embassy schools throughout Asia and the Indian Subcontinent, and saw the same universal need for learning to think and wonder and love learning! Ultimately, having a child of mine own was the catalyst for putting all those ideas down on paper and into the form you see now as Child of Wonder. Which leads nicely into your next question.

JEAN: Since Maia is my muse and inspiration, I just assume other people’s kids are often theirs. Is this true for you? Can you tell me about your son and his role in creating your book?

GINGER: I see that a lot too with artist and writer friends. We’re mamas, and therefore can’t separate our kids from our art. When Zeal was born, I read a quote that said, To become a mother is to wear your heart on the outside of your body for the rest of your life. That is certainly the case for me.

My son, Zeal (who is now 7 ½), whom the book is dedicated to, will probably never realize the breadth of his role in this book. I wrote most of it in the very early morning hours, while he was sleeping, but he was surely an immense part of it coming to fruition. Because of him, I started writing more often than I had before. He inspired magazine articles and my first children’s book (which is still unpublished, but as a manuscript has won awards). Inspired by wanting to tell him my story, I wrote a novel. He is probably also the reason I learned to knit and started sewing and gardening again He and his dad are certainly the main reason I became as interested in cooking as I am.

JEAN: Your book is chock full of accessible ideas and activities to share with our children. I know I’ll be referring to it again and again as Maia gets older. How did you come up with all the ideas? Will you share a few favorites with us?

GINGER: Over the course of many, many years, and LOADS of trial and error. Almost every idea in the book I have done myself with either Zeal, my nieces and nephews, kids who have been in our art, cooking, science, or book groups over the years, or the 10 amazing kids in my scouting group, who appropriately named themselves “The Sparkly Starflies”. And there are a lot of personal stories that came from years of talking with teachers, parents, grandparents, and of course, from the children themselves.

I have a hard time picking favorites because there are so many things I feel important, and they are different in each chapter, but I guess I have to say that if I had to choose, I would say my favorite is the chapter called “Give Me Space” which is about creating special places and spots that allow for creativity to emerge by giving children time and space for quiet moments, contemplation, rest, relaxation, and imaginative play. From finding simple spaces under tables or made of pillows and scarves atop beds to more elaborate projects like lofts and treehouses, there are a variety of activities and ideas for nurturing creativity through special quiet spaces.

I am also partial to the chapter about messes because I feel strongly about the need for constructive messes in order for creativity to bubble to the surface. In that chapter, there are many recipes and ideas for accepting, creating, containing, and even cleaning up messes.

JEAN: What are a few of your favorite toys, books, or activities for promoting creativity?

GINGER: As I mention in the book, the tools for creativity and curiosity often don’t cost more than imagination. That said, many of my favorites items that do are in the book as resource lists at the end of every chapter, which include books, cds, games, etc. There, they are organized by chapter subject (storytelling, science, mess making, cooking, outdoor play etc). As of this writing, my favorite tools for creating are:

Nature: Studies show that children who play outside in natural environments (not just on playground equipment) play more creatively than those who don’t. So I think the most important creativity tool is the great outdoors.

Our Words: Children need our stories and they need to not always focus on the printed word. When we tell stories to kids, we connect with them and use imagination in a different way than when we read to them.

Wire! There are so many wonderful sculpting wires out there and they lend themselves so well to focused creativity. It’s also a great supply to support fine motor and hand muscle development. We have gotten to the point where I just always have sculpting wire with me (I keep a roll of it in my purse). Zeal likes using small silver or copper wire now to make little intricate sculptures or functioning contraptions or handles for things. Wire of all sizes is available from an art or craft supply shop, but try for some wonderful colored wire that is easy for little hands to mold into the creation of their dreams.

Containers: We all have them lurking in our cupboards and in our recycling bins. Containers of all shapes and sizes are a must, in my opinion. They collect leaves, stones, rubber bands, cotton balls, paper clips, or Lego pieces. Kids learn sorting, gain an understanding of classification, and are encouraged to gather their materials in a somewhat organized fashion. I’m partial to using recycled containers for a few reasons, but I recently saw these beautiful wooden nesting boxes in the Chinaberry catalogue and think we might need a few. That might have to be a whittling project in the near future.

Sculpt-a-mold: this is a great material that is available from art supply stores. You just add water and you can make just about anything. It’s the same principle as papier-mache if you are sculpting something large, but it is just an easy material to pull out and create with. It is really messy, so depending on how many kids are working with, you might consider doing it outside.

Here’s a unicorn horn Zeal made recently out of it (the horn of Dianthus, to be specific).

I also really like sculpture sand–great sensory building experience!

Material: I think every family should also have, and keep accessible at all times, some light materials (playsilks, parachute etc) for kids to play with. They lend themselves so well to being an ocean for the animals, a cape, a roof for a playhouse, or a dancing scarf. Ours, borrowed from my old belly dance costumes and a few fun ones we picked up in India, are stored on clips by the door as you enter Zeal’s room, although most of them are usually in use so they can’t really ever be found there. I think it is also worthwhile to have a few small scraps that can be cut up or used to paint with, or added to collage.

Blocks: I also can’t say enough how important I feel a nice set of wooden blocks are for children. Their potential is wide-reaching for children of all ages and is such an amazing brain developer on so many levels. Some believe that building with blocks is also the foundation for learning to read. And speaking of reading:

A few of my favorite books:

The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater

A Quiet Place by Douglas Wood

The Wise Woman and Her Secret by Eve Merriam

Fairy Houses Everywhere by Barry and Tracy Kane And I am currently in LOVE with this precious book, which is also bilingual (Spanish and English)

Abuelita Full of Life by Amy Costales We also really enjoyed, as a family, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart and the latest Caldecott winner, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik, but both are more appropriate for older kids.

  I’m also a big, BIG fan of Byrd Baylor’s books. My favorites of hers are: Everybody Needs a Rock I’m in Charge of Celebrations The Other Way to Listen The Way to Start a Day The Table Where Rich People Sit

And I think it is VERY important for parents to introduce wordless picture books to their children because they provide a way for kids to connect with out words, add their own, or make interpretations that might not happen when the words are there. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher by Molly Bang

Little Star by Antonin Louchard

Sidewalk Circus by Paul R. Fleischman

I could go on and on talking about books, but I’ll stop there.

JEAN: Thank you for all those wonderful ideas and resources! Anything else you’d like to add?

GINGER: I think the most important thing about creativity is that it is available to all people, it doesn’t discriminate, and that is what makes it so special. When we nurture creative kids, we are then nurturing people who will eventually grow into creative, thoughtful, thinking adults. That gives me tremendous hope for our world! Thanks for having me as a guest on your beautiful blog, Jean.

JEAN: Thank you, Ginger. You’re a wealth of information! To learn more about Ginger and her book, you can visit her website or her blogs: Thinking Outside the Recipe and Wondershop. And check back next week for part two of her interview with more great ideas for nurturing creativity and curiosity…


  • Reply
    April 21, 2008 at 5:44 am

    Sounds like something that’s right up our alley. We have a very, very curious son. :0) Thanks! ( [email protected] )

  • Reply
    April 21, 2008 at 5:53 am

    This sounds like a great book. I look forward to reading it.

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    April 21, 2008 at 5:56 am

    Awesome! I love the great interviews you always post, and this book looks fantastic. :)

  • Reply
    April 21, 2008 at 6:04 am

    Sounds like a really inspiring book. Thanks for the interview.

  • Reply
    mud mama
    April 21, 2008 at 6:07 am

    Don’t enter me in the draw, I won the last one, I just had to say how much I appreciate your blog and the interviews! I have a pretty short blogroll and your blog is a daily stop. It is as if you were in my head and post just the perfect thing I’m looking for each day!
    Oh, and Byrd Baylor is one of my very favorite children’s authors too! We’re on our third copy of The Big Orange Splot (I wish I could find it in a board book!) it is sort of a theme at our house :-)
    Now I have MORE books to add to my wishlist!
    Thank you so much!

  • Reply
    April 21, 2008 at 6:15 am

    I had no idea that all of these creative urges that have started since my kids were born is a common theme among mamas. I just read Amanda Blake Soule’s book and she talks to the same point. It feels like a sort of fellowship with other like minds that I never would have known existed had it not been for fantastic blogs such as this one! Thanks to Ginger Carlson and, of course you Jean, for the interview! :)

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    April 21, 2008 at 6:37 am

    thanks for the interview and the info about the book! It ties into where we are in deciding about kindergartens for our daughter. Love your blog!

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    April 21, 2008 at 6:50 am

    thanks for a great interview. I love how creativity can be in everything you do.

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    April 21, 2008 at 5:22 am

    Sounds like a wonderful book. I love reading books that promote art and creatvity in children. It’s sad to see that some of that is being lost in our schools. T

  • Reply
    Julie Liddle (ART IN HAND)
    April 21, 2008 at 9:40 am

    I agree…as far as being inspired by our children. It changes us to the core, and I think re-connects us to some of that uninhibited creativity from our own childhoods that we may have been pushed to the far recesses of our subconscious. And as profound as that discovery (or re-discovery) is when we have a child…perhaps even more profound, for me, has been the realization of how DIFFERENTLY each child expressed their creativity. While my younger son (5 1/2) is definitely my artsy guy who is accompanied at all times by a troup of well-developed, fantastical imaginary friends, my older son (8 1/2) is no less creative, but it comes through in his problem solving skills, his use of language, and his more linear, but highly detailed imaginative play. Thanks for the great interview. Love to read about others’ ideas…and come across inspiration for new ways to use materials, etc…there’s always something new to discover.

  • Reply
    April 21, 2008 at 9:49 am

    What an interesting interview! I’ll definitely be checking out this book. I always worry that I’m not fostering my daughter’s creativity enough.

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    April 21, 2008 at 9:50 am

    I just learned about Ginger last week and started reading her sites … love this interview so thank you. I’m always amazed — and a bit depressed — realizing how much we can do and how much I have yet to do with my girls. One day at a time, right? I’d love a new book to get some good ideas flowing. (by the way, spring came last week and has since left, again. but, we were able to get our sculpey rocks done!)

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    April 21, 2008 at 9:56 am

    I’d love a copy of this book for some new ideas! Spring and summer are coming…

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    April 21, 2008 at 10:11 am

    Really great interview. Good job!

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    April 21, 2008 at 10:13 am

    Great interview full of ideas. Thanks!

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    April 21, 2008 at 10:17 am

    Great interview, I look forward to part 2! These days I am trying to provide my daughter with environments and interesting things to explore…a new walking trail by a river, a box of wooden spools with colorful thread. My challenge has been to let go of my own anxiety and expectations of what she will get out of the experience. I want it to be wonderful, but sometimes she’s just not in the mood.

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    April 21, 2008 at 11:15 am

    I’m excited to see another book of this genre pop up! Can’t wait to read it :)

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    April 21, 2008 at 11:42 am

    It sounds like a great book. I would love to read through it.

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    April 21, 2008 at 8:11 am

    Wonderful interview… Glad to know more about Ginger and her work. I’ll definitely check out the book and many of the resources mentioned. Thank you!

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    April 21, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    excellent interview! i can’t wait to read the book! always love some new ideas and i love the twisteez website!

  • Reply
    Aimee Wood
    April 21, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    This blog is so informative and beautiful! This book looks like a “must read” for all! Can’t wait to take a look at it.

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    April 21, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    Everytime I read this blog, and the recommendations for various activities, I am ready to grab my daughter and go DO something! Thanks for the inspiration!

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    April 21, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    this seems like it would be a great read for my internship. hope i win:)

  • Reply
    April 21, 2008 at 9:47 am

    Great interview, and great ideas. I love those wooden nesting boxes

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    April 21, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    I love the sound of that book and I would love to read it! So many parenting books and magazine articles focus on one little part of a creative life and to me, give the impression that that one thing must take up a lot of time and take up maximum importance, but this book sounds like it presents a well rounded picture of what a creative life is like for a child. Love the unicorn horn!

  • Reply
    April 21, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    Oh, sounds like a wonderful book! I love hearing about encouraging creativity in children. Thanks for the interview!

  • Reply
    April 21, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    I just started reading your blog, and am greatly enjoying your author interviews. I’d love to be entered in the drawing for this book. Thanks!

  • Reply
    April 21, 2008 at 10:44 am

    This interview had so many great ideas… my mom still has the set of wooden blocks my sister and I played with as kids, and I think it’s time to bring them to our house! It’s so nice to see that things of lasting value as well as things that can be repurposed are what she recommends here.

  • Reply
    April 21, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    another great interview, thank you.

  • Reply
    Make and Takes
    April 21, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    I would love this. I can’t wait to find out more about this book. What a great resource. Thanks for the great giveaway.

  • Reply
    April 21, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    I really appreciate all these interviews that you share with us… to get such unique perspectives on different styles of working art into the lives of children is really a well rounded education for me as a mom.

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    April 21, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    and another smashingly wonderful interview. I think my favorite yet.

  • Reply
    April 21, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Sounds like a great book. Please sign me up! :) I’ll take this time to say that I love your blog. Yours and Crafty Crow are where I go for art inspiration.

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    April 21, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Another inspiring interview and the book looks wonderful!

  • Reply
    April 21, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    Sounds like another book to put on my “must-read” list. I always feel I need a little coaching in how to loosen up. I was glad to see the twisteez recommendation–the other day I was thinking about whether I should buy some or something else. Twisteez it will be.

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    April 21, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    I’ve already purchased the book, so I don’t need to be in the drawing. The book is definately worth getting. I haven’t finished reading it but I’m enjoying every time I pick it up. Kudos to Ginger!

  • Reply
    April 21, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    I’m excited – I saw this book online somewhere awhile ago, but lost track of the name of it. I could only remember the cover! I figured if it was meant to be I’d come across it again, and here it is! Too cool. :)

  • Reply
    April 21, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    There are some new and neat ideas here. This is a message I am constantly trying to send out. There are so many more ways to be creative than visual arts alone. Let’s celebrate them all!

  • Reply
    April 21, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    What a wonderful interview! Thank you for taking the time to contact others and sharing them with us.

  • Reply
    Krystal Shirley
    April 21, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    Thanks for the great interview.

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    April 21, 2008 at 7:50 pm

    Thanks for that great interview! I will definitely keep trying to be more and more creative with my little guys! It’s always great to have support and inspiration to do that, I look forward to reading this book!

  • Reply
    April 21, 2008 at 7:50 pm

    Great interview! I am putting this book at the top of my reading list.

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    April 22, 2008 at 3:37 am

    Thank you for another inspiring interview. I love the connection she made between building blocks and reading. I second that! And I think that blocks actually help build a foundation for developing writing skills as well. My son is currently building with his unit blocks non-stop. We just had to add more blocks to his set!
    Thanks again for the interviews – they are full of information, ideas, links to explore, book recommendations… What a wonderful resource!

  • Reply
    April 22, 2008 at 4:02 am

    This book looks so amazing, I can’t wait to read it. The interview is so inspiring.

  • Reply
    April 22, 2008 at 6:26 am

    I’m so glad to see books like these being published as a resource for parents – I’m always up for new ideas! Thanks!

  • Reply
    April 22, 2008 at 6:58 am

    I wish I found more resources like this when my oldest was younger. I am much more relaxed about “learning’ with my younger two and they “teach” me on a regular basis through their curiosity!
    I was redoing a shrub bed yesterday and had several kids (some mine and some not mine) playing around me in the yard. When they realized I was finding worms they started a gathering mission which led to us all stopping and getting a magnifying glass and studying earthworms for a little while.
    Keep up the interviews, I love them!

  • Reply
    April 22, 2008 at 9:07 am

    Nice interview. For my day job I’ve been a department manager at one place or another for a good 15 years now. The biggest struggle I have with my staff is helping them to become problem solvers. I think having a good creative mind is the most important skill in problem solving. Those that are open and able to see beyond the immediate problem to how it could have come about, why it happened, and how we can change or fix it are the ones that succeed. And that’s one of the important things we want for our children – to succeed in whatever they choose to do.

  • Reply
    April 22, 2008 at 11:03 am

    Wow! This is my first visit to this website. I will definately be adding this to my favorites list. I would love this book as I have a 20 month old and one on the way. My daughter is constantly asking me to tell her a story, so I am especially interested in that section of the book1

  • Reply
    April 22, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    Great interview – I love those wooden nesting boxes, too! Practical advice on materials to have on hand, and I like your book suggestions.

  • Reply
    April 22, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    What a great name for a little boy–Zeal! I love it.
    Thank you for this interview. This is the first I have heard of Ginger Carlson and her book, and I can’t wait to read more.
    I’ve just finished reading Amanda Soule’s The Creative Family, and now this . . . I am filled with inspiration. What an exciting time to be a mother!

  • Reply
    April 22, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    great! i love more ideas for how to be creative with my kiddos!

  • Reply
    April 22, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    Sounds like a great book–I’m so glad to have found this interview!

  • Reply
    julie k
    April 22, 2008 at 9:47 am

    Forsuch a gift, such a taonga which by its style and content will have a truly global connection.I can see it being a delight for children and tamariki in New Zealand, where it makes it to the family library shelf.

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    April 22, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    I would LOVE this and so would my son.

  • Reply
    April 22, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    You always bring together the best interview subjects, and I love her ideas about playing outdoors and the other creative philosophies she embraces. I’ll have to work on being more amenable to messes… sigh. =)

  • Reply
    Ashley Young
    April 22, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    I love watching children explore their world through creative projects and make believe. Thank you for reminding us about the importance and signficance of raising our children with creativity.

  • Reply
    April 22, 2008 at 8:01 pm

    My one-year-old loves to play, and we always try to come up with something new to explore every day!

  • Reply
    April 22, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    I loved the list of books. Some of them are on our list of favorites but some I had not heard of. Thanks for giving me some books to add to my wishlist.
    I also love the focus on nurturing children’s creativity that is evident in this interview.

  • Reply
    April 22, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    Thanks for the great ideas and tools to encourage creativity. I definitely to let my daughter experience nature more often.

  • Reply
    April 23, 2008 at 3:28 am

    Thank you again for another great and inspiring interview. I love how enthusiastic your interviewees are, it really transfers to your readers!

  • Reply
    Mommy Bee
    April 23, 2008 at 5:24 am

    This book sounds wonderful for a mom like me who doesn’t have a creative bone in her body! Thanks, Jean, for a GREAT giveaway!

  • Reply
    Ginger Carlson
    April 23, 2008 at 9:14 am

    Thank you to everyone for all your kind comments and obvious love for nurturing a creative life in yourself and your children. I feel lucky to be a guest in this amazing community of thoughtfulness and creative energy. I look forward to joining you again for the second part next week. Thank you, Jean!

  • Reply
    April 23, 2008 at 9:21 am

    This book looks awesome! As a mother to three boys, I could really use some ideas to encourage their creativity! I am so happy that I found this interview!

  • Reply
    April 23, 2008 at 11:22 am

    This was a really great, inspirational interview!

  • Reply
    April 23, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    I have been thinking about this topic very much lately and have been really trying to begin helping my own family live more creatively. I’d love any ideas and insight I can get!

  • Reply
    April 23, 2008 at 8:38 am

    Always looking for more creative inspiration for myself and my kids. This book looks great!

  • Reply
    April 23, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    I think this book looks so grand!

  • Reply
    April 23, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    Wow! Thanks for sharing so many fabulous books and great interviews!

  • Reply
    April 23, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    Very cool. I definitely would like to encourage my kid in some more creative arts other than storytelling (at which she seems to excel). She usually gives up pretty quickly with most things and has trouble expressing herself with visual art. Besides, I really don’t want to stifle her creativity – she’s got a LOT of it.

  • Reply
    April 23, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    Inspiring! I love seeing my son grow through creative play.

  • Reply
    April 23, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    Your blog is beautiful! I just stumbled upon it and will be back for art inspiration regularly.
    I enjoyed the Ginger Carlson interview. Thanks for offering her book – please sign me up for the giveaway!

  • Reply
    Fiona Macfarlane
    April 24, 2008 at 8:09 am

    Great interview and thanks for ll the book recommendations.

  • Reply
    April 24, 2008 at 9:39 am

    Great interview, really enjoyed it. The book sounds fabulous :o)

  • Reply
    April 24, 2008 at 10:30 am

    I’m so excited to have found this great blog, and wonderful book!

  • Reply
    Amber Broda
    April 24, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    Sounds like an amazing book, I can’t wait to read it. I am always looking for new ways to help my daughter grow in her creativity. Thanks for the book suggestions too, I just placed holds at my local library.

  • Reply
    April 25, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    This book looks awesome! I need a lot of help w/ fostering creativity in my children.

  • Reply
    Sharon Gilbert
    June 1, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    I’m a granny and a storyteller and have been working as a reading assistant in an elementary school for the past 6 years and Ginger you are right on the mark. Our children need the creative arts and stories and they are not getting enough of it to develop their critical thinking. Sadly our county is now going to phase librarians out of the school system in the next three years. I’m appalled. But I see hope in my daughter and son’s families where creativity has remained in full force as their children have grown up and in young parents like you and your responders.

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