Comics and Graphic Novels: Alternative Storytelling

My husband loves to read graphic novels. These days, he almost exclusively chooses books from the graphic novel section of the library. I’ll admit, I’ve never really gotten into the medium. I used to love reading Garfield comic strips as a kid, but as I got older, I never quite managed to follow an entire story that mixed words with pictures. I think it has something to do with the way my brain processes words and images. It’s two different parts of my brain and they don’t work in sync. They fight with one another for my attention. Though I find graphic novels visually appealing, I have a harder time following the story than if I’m simply reading text.

Given that I don’t know all that much about graphic storytelling, I figured that I’d take an introductory dive into the subject. There are so many different ways to tell a story. We’ve already discussed a few of those ways. Most often we get our stories through the written word or words brought dramatically to life via television or movies. Graphic novels bring us our stories in a unique way, by combining the written word with two-dimensional images.


I decided to approach this topic by gaining some knowledge first. I read Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud, at the recommendation of my husband, graphic novel enthusiast and niche-market comic illustrator. It was a fascinating read. The book touches on the history and definition of the comic, why we respond to cartoon images, and the universal nature of some of these images. It looks at how comics can show the passage of time or emphasize an important detail or event. It covers a lot of ground in an engaging comic format. If you’re interested in learning more about comics, or want to write/illustrate your own comics, I’d definitely recommend this read.


After I read the book, I wanted to know a little bit more about why my husband chooses graphic novels over traditional novels and non-fiction books. He will read even the longest graphic novels, but he never gets very far when he picks up a book without pictures. Why is that? He told me that without the images to ground him, his mind wanders…and not necessarily off-topic. In fact, the more interesting the book or thought-provoking the topic, the more his mind drifts, thinking over what he’s reading, forming his own pictures in his mind. As a result, he reads quite slowly, caught up in his thoughts. When he reads a graphic novel, the pictures put his thoughts into context. The translation of words to pictures that naturally occurs in his mind is already done for him, increasing the speed and depth of his reading.

Fascinating. This is so different from the way my own mind works.

My husband has found that graphic novels are particularly suited to memoirs. The pictures bring you along on a journey into someone’s life, taking you right into the time period without the guesswork that might come from imagining a time and place you’ve never seen. Description, even the best description, can’t necessarily make a life feel as real.

A picture is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes.


Graphic novels are also great at conveying feelings and introspective moments, those moments when no one is speaking, when even getting into the head of a character is less clear than the expression on their face. Words can distract from this raw emotion and a good artist can tap into that.

Illustrations, even without words, will often lead to discussion and a deeper understanding of a topic. And if you ask my husband, we all need a break from reading from time to time.

Me? I’ll read a book any day of the week. But, armed with some basic graphic novel knowledge, I began reading some graphic novels myself. I started with Pashmina, by Nidhi Chanani. This one is a juvenile graphic novel, just the right level for my daughter. I enjoyed the narrative and found the use of color stunning, as the story moved back and forth between reality and mystical memories. As it was written for children, I found it easier to connect the words and the pictures. My tendency is to gloss over the pictures in favor of the words, but I managed to absorb both.


I tried an adult graphic novel, Thoreau, by A. Dan and Maximilien LeRoy. The visuals really brought Thoreau’s life alive for me. I almost wish there had been no words, as I found the visuals so engaging. Of course, I wouldn’t have had a clue what was going on. Even with the words, I think that if I had known a bit more about Thoreau’s life before reading the graphic novel, I would have appreciated it more.

Next, I took a look at a couple of Neil Gaiman works, which gave me the perfect opportunity to compare storytelling mediums, as the graphic novels were adapted from his original novels. How do they compare and which would I prefer?

I started with The Graveyard Book. The graphic novel adaptation that I read was split into two volumes and had numerous illustrators. In all honesty, I didn’t finish it. I found the jump from illustrator to illustrator jarring. As much as I enjoyed The Graveyard Book when I read it in novel form, I found that the words and pictures fought against each other in my mind. For this one, I much preferred to form my own images than have them drawn out for me.

For me, Coraline worked much better as a graphic novel. Though the novel is well-written, many of the original words are retained in the graphic novel, so not much is lost. The pictures really add something to the story. They amp up the creepy factor, which I think is a plus for a story like this one. Some of the pictures easily take the place of descriptive paragraphs and there are numerous instances where the pictures alone tell the story. This made my brain work a little less hard, but I do love the way Neil Gaiman uses words, so I’m a bit torn. Interestingly, the movie version (yet another great way to tell a story) made the story much less creepy and little too cute. These kinds of comparisons are always interesting.

So, what’s the point? What did I learn by dipping a toe into the deep pool of the graphic novel? While they may not always be my preferred method of receiving a story, they work really well for visual thinkers and they tell stories in a unique way. They allow us to really see the story, immerse ourselves in it. Graphic novels and comics allow us to take a different approach, to not have to choose between art and writing. What a great way to get a reluctant writer to share the stories that they have inside. What a great way to see the world as someone else does, without the need for lengthy descriptive passages.

Why don’t we give it a try? Perhaps, this method of storytelling is the one you’ve been waiting for.

Gently Guided Activity #1 Before you begin creating cartoons or graphic novels of your own, take some time to familiarize yourself with the genre, if you aren’t already. I’d suggest heading to the library and checking out their selection of graphic novels. You’ll find great titles for all ages and interests. We’ve got one out now that is all about cooking! Flip through a few. Take note of the pictures, the use (or non-use) of color, the way time or emotion is represented. Use these as examples to help you get started with your own attempts.

Gently Guided Activity #2 Why not try turning yourself into a comic character? If you take a look at the first image that I posted from inside Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, you’ll see a spectrum of comic faces, ranging from extremely detailed to more cartoon-like. You can choose to make yourself into any kind of comic character you’d like. Feel free to embellish, adding a little fantasy to the mix. Do you want your cartoon self to be just like you or would you prefer to have special powers or talents? Think about what you’d like to do before you get started. Once you have an idea, draw out your new cartoon self!

Gently Guided Activity #3 Once you’ve created a cartoon version of yourself, try coming up with a short story that involves your new character. Can you put your new character into a graphic novel or comic setting? Try using one of the following templates to draw a story in graphic format. If you don’t feel like using the cartoon version of yourself that you created above, feel free to come up with a completely new story and characters. Stick figures are OK! Draw whatever story comes to mind. If you’re too intimidated to write and draw your story, feel free to create a visual story without any words or a written story without any images…for now.

Gently Guided Activity #4 Graphic novels move in interesting ways through time. We can use different visuals to express the passage of time. Create a multi-panel comic. The first panel should take place in the past. The last panel should take place in the future. Use the middle few panels (however many you want) to show how we got from the beginning to the end. Play around with different ways of representing time. It doesn’t always have to be linear.

Use the templates that I’ve provided above or create your own with any variety of shapes and sizes to work with. Try your hand at telling a story by mixing your words and your images. If you really hate drawing, you can try using images that you photograph instead. Whatever approach you take, have some fun experimenting with this form of storytelling.

We are all storytellers. We just have to find the format that moves us.

Reading Aloud: Encouraging Dramatic Performance

I’m a huge fan of reading aloud. I didn’t stop reading to my daughter once she learned to read on her own. Actually, I read to my daughter and my husband together almost every morning. I’m like a living audio book. There is something about reading a book aloud that really let’s you immerse yourself in the story, become embroiled in the emotions of the characters. Reading aloud allows us to practice drama without getting onto a stage and pouring our hearts into a performance, without the vulnerability of standing in front of a crowd, playing a role. It models to children what language should sound like, what good writing should sound like. It’s a fantastic way to teach the art of writing, hearing the words spoken aloud, the rhythm, the natural dialogue.

There is much more to reading aloud than simply reading as your kids listen (or don’t listen, as the case may be). When they are young, you are modeling a behavior, the act of adding drama and performance to a written piece. As they get older, and are capable of reading aloud themselves, they will have the tools to bring their own emotion to the piece that they are reading. They will be able to connect with the characters, bring them to life, learn a little about humorous delivery and much more.

Below, you can watch me read the end of The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. I chose this one because I remember so clearly the first time I heard it read aloud. It was 7th grade English class. My teacher read it with enthusiasm and emotion that increased as the story progressed. I was enthralled. I heard it read aloud again, more recently, with little emotion or feeling. The difference to the story was amazing. So, I figured I’d give it a try. Take a look:

I highly recommend reading aloud as a bridge to the dramatic arts. In the safety of your own home, in front of a mirror or your family, you can experiment with acting. You can amp up the inflection, make the story come alive. As a family, you can take turns reading. Even better, choose a play to read, taking on different roles. We have been particularly enjoying William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, by Ian Doescher, in our household. It’s a fantastic read, allowing us to take on different characters and act out scenes. I’m especially keen on the idea that we are introducing Shakespearean language in a story format that my daughter can understand. I think this will be particularly valuable in later years, when she studies actual Shakespeare plays. Watch below to see us give it a try:

But, I digress. The point is, reading aloud, whether a book or a play, allows us to experiment with the spoken word, with drama, with characterization. Even if we never have an ambition to stand in front of an audience and act in a play, this is a creative exercise that gets our minds moving. It’s also valuable in developing a comfort level with public speaking. Another example of how growing our creative confidence can help us in many aspects of our lives.

If you haven’t read aloud in a while, it may seem strange to do so. It may take some time to move from reading in a rather deadpan manner to reading with feeling and emotion. It may take time to develop the ability to read different characters in different voices. If you’re nervous, I highly recommend spending a little time listening to an audio book or two. Finding good narrators for audio books can be challenging. You may need to try out to a few to find someone that really brings the story alive. Once you do, you’ll have a better idea of how to do that very thing yourself.

Here, M and I do a little more reading aloud from some of our favorite books. Take a listen:

You don’t have to start with something as daunting as a novel. Take a poetry book out of the library and practice reading a few pieces. See if the tone of poem changes as you change your speed or inflection. Experiment with the different ways you can use your voice to add interest to the reading. Like anything else, this is something that takes practice.

Gently Guided Activities:

Activity #1 As I mentioned above, I would start with listening to a few audio books, if you are intimidated. If audio books aren’t your thing, try comparing a book to a movie version of the same story. Harry Potter is always a fun one to use for an exercise like this. Listen to the way that the actors deliver their lines. Then, have a look at the book and try to replicate what you hear.

Activity #2 Find a poem or a short passage from a story or novel that you particularly like. Practice reading it aloud until you’ve got it memorized. Perform it in front of the mirror. When you’re comfortable, debut your performance for family or friends. They key is to pick something that you really enjoy, something that can stir your emotions or make you laugh. Don’t make it too long, so that it’s easier to memorize and become comfortable with. This is great practice for anything from public speaking to theatre and works your memory muscles as well as your creative ones. If memorization is daunting, feel free to read from the book, as we did above.

Activity #3 Once you’ve mastered a short passage and you feel that you can add depth and emotion to your reading, you’re ready to take on a longer book. This is a great activity for both kids and adults. Take turns reading to each other. Get immersed in the story. I love to read, as I have mentioned before, and I love to read silently in a corner, wrapped up in the story. Still, when I read aloud, the story truly takes on new life. I understand the characters better. Their feelings become my own.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: When Words and Pictures Collide

Do your kids like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, by Jeff Kinney? My daughter most definitely does. She’s enjoyed them for years. They are not the kind of middle-grade fiction that I would pick up and read myself (I’m not really the target audience), but I have truly enjoyed listening as M has read several of them aloud to me. She thinks they are hilarious and will gladly read them any day of the week. I’d love a little more variety in her reading choice, but she’s reading, so I’m happy.

To me, these books are an awesome bridge between a novel and a graphic novel. This is important, as I’ll be discussing comics and graphic novels in a couple of weeks. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid books seem like a great way to start the conversation about the power of storytelling using pictures. Though these books still rely heavily on words to move the story along, the pictures are an extremely important part of the finished product. They help to set the scene and the tone of the books. Without them, the books wouldn’t be nearly as popular or fun to read.

So, lets talk about the illustrations in Diary of a Wimpy Kid. They are one of the things I love about this series of books. The pictures are meant to be drawn by Greg himself, a middle-school-aged boy. These drawings are part of the journals that he keeps. They are simple. Nothing fancy, but they add so much to the story. They show us that drawings don’t have to be complicated or incredibly detailed to be worthwhile. We don’t need amazing technical drawing skills to tell our stories through images. Even the simplest pictures in the books have the power to convey so much of what’s going on or how the main characters feel about the action. Take a look at how Jeff Kinney can create simple characters, but show so much emotion on their faces, with little detail.

Quite apart from the illustrations, which I find inspiring in their simplicity, another thing that I enjoy about the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is how the author pulled from his own life experience to create the character of Greg Heffley. He used some of his own history to come up with the crazy situations that Greg often finds himself in. Much of the storytelling begins with fairly average day-to-day events in the life of a middle-schooler and his family. Things may go a little out-of-control from there, but we all have these little moments and stories to draw from in our own lives. These books show that even the most mundane parts of our day can be turned into a story, can be made interesting. This is because we can relate. We have those times in our lives, in our days, and we can see ourselves in the characters.

There are many times when I shake my head at Greg’s questionable decision-making. There are many times when I roll my eyes as my daughter cracks up. There are also times when I genuinely laugh, times when I remember how awkward and challenging and funny it was to be a child. I can’t help but like a series of books that can get my daughter interested in reading. I can’t help but appreciate the creativity involved and the inspiration it provides. I also appreciate the vulnerability of sharing one’s own childhood hijinx and mistakes for a laugh.

If you have a reluctant reader, these books are great. If you’re interested in learning how to tell a story using both words and pictures, something longer than a picture book, these are a fantastic starting point. In a couple of weeks, I’m going to turn my attention to graphic novels and comics, a form of storytelling that often relies even more heavily on pictures. So, let’s take a look at how Diary of a Wimpy Kid can get us started, can help us get comfortable using our pictures to add to our stories. Take a look at the books and remind yourself, the pictures don’t have to be anything more than stick figures to get your point across.

Gently Guided Activities:

Activity #1 Let’s try drawing our families or close friends using the simple style of Jeff Kinney as inspiration. Your drawings won’t look quite like his. You’ll have a style all your own. Just remember to keep it simple. What features of your family members most stand out? What little thing can you add so that others will know who you’ve drawn. Is it a hairstyle? A pair of glasses? After you’ve got your cast of characters, draw them all together in a scene. What’s going on? Is it dinner? An argument? A fun trip to the amusement park? Just draw one simple scene with multiple characters. Add words underneath. These words can tell us a little more about what’s going on in your picture.

Activity #2 Most of the events that occur in Diary of Wimpy Kid are simple and every day moments. Using the characters that you’ve created in the activity above, write a short story about a funny thing that happened in school or a simple moment from your life at home. Use both words and pictures to tell your story. You may not think your life or your family are interesting enough to write about, but everyone’s is. Think of a moment that made you laugh or a moment that you rolled your eyes or thought something was ridiculous. Think of a moment you felt happy or loved. Bring those moments to life with words and simple pictures.

Getting Comfortable With Poetry: Fun With Words

Let’s be honest. Poetry can be intimidating. Most of us might appreciate listening to a good poem or reading a poetry anthology, but how many of us feel comfortable enough to call our own words ‘poetry’? If the idea of writing poetry makes you balk, shiver or want to cry, stick with me. Together, we’ll get you writing some poetry. Will it be good enough for that local poetry slam? Who cares?! Will it represent you and your thoughts, feelings and observations? Absolutely!

I am by no means an accomplished poet. I’m not even a good poet. Most of my poetry lives inside birthday cards given to family and friends. Here is a fine example:

Roses are red.

Daffodils are yellow.

Happy Birthday to you.

You’re a very fine fellow.

Seriously. That’s the kind of poetry I usually write. That doesn’t stop me from loving the idea of poetry, the potential of my words if I don’t criticize, if I just write. My words can illuminate and share my inner feelings. They can cast a light on my joy, contentment, pain and heartache. My words can paint a picture in the mind of what I see, touch, hear and smell. My words can bring to life my experiences, help others understand what it’s like to be me. My words are powerful, and so are yours.

When I taught my daughter to write poetry, I started by reading some of my favorite poetry books. I almost always start anything with a book. One of the books that we read together was Out of Wonder, by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth. Out of Wonder is a fantastic poetry anthology featuring poems about poets.

Watch the video below to hear my thoughts on this book and listen to me recite (probably badly) my favorite poem in the collection:

After getting our start reading poetry, my daughter and I felt ready to try our hand at writing our own poems. I asked M to try mixing her usual words and phrases with what I call ‘poetic language’. These are words that are descriptive, beautiful, colorful. They are words that use language to paint a picture, just as surely as a brush can. Here’s a bit of what she came up with (click to enlarge):

M did really well with poetry. I hesitated. I’ll be honest, I’m still not all that comfortable with poetry, but our attempts, our poetic experiments, really took off when we read Jabberwalking by Juan Felipe Herrera, the 21st United States Poet Laureate. This book is fantastic and so unique. I’ve honestly never read anything like it.

Jabberwalking covers a lot of ground, including autobiographical prose. The main premise, however, is that we can all write. We can all be poets. Herrera suggests having a Jabber journal. This is a handy notebook that you carry with you as you walk, jotting down what you see, hear and feel. You can write however you wish, single words, descriptions, or sketches.

“Your burbles are going to become a Seismic & Crazy Epic Poem!” he writes.

Herrera tells us not to worry about where we’re walking or what we’re looking for. “{T}he Poem, the burble, does not want to know were it’s going or even what it is saying.” And don’t worry about legibility or misspellings. You won’t be able to read everything you wrote. That’s okay! When you get home, decipher what you can. Play around with your words and pictures. You can move things around, like Ramon did in The Word Collector. You can add new words. This is how poetry happens. Have fun with it!

“Give your burbles SHAPE (simply move the words around into fun groups)”

“A Jabberwalking poem […] loves to […] BE FREE”

Obviously, I’m messing with Herrera’s words here. I’m cutting things and paraphrasing. There is no real way to replicate what he’s written, so you just need to read it for yourself. The style and content are totally worth the read (read it aloud, I’d suggest). Everything, from the illustrations to the typography, influences the feel of the book. I think you’ll be inspired to try Jabber journaling and poetry writing for yourself. M keeps a Jabber journal in her backpack and one at home, though she hasn’t been using them as much lately. Time to read the book again, I think!

In the video below, you’ll hear my brief thoughts on Jabberwalking, then go on a Jabberwalk with us. Be prepared…it was windy…and we are not professionals!

Gently Guided Activities

Poetry Activity #1 Check out a few poetry books from the library. Try the two I’ve suggested, or choose whatever strikes your fancy. Read the poems, preferably aloud. Take note of the kinds of words that jump out at you. Jot down words or passages that you particularly like or that inspire you. Could you make a poem by using a series of words that you collect from different poems or books? Write a list of your favorite words from a few different books. Rearrange these words until they sound interesting to you.

Poetry Activity #2 Inspired by the poem I shared from Out of Wonder in the first video, try to write a poem about a normal moment in your day. Observe first and take notes. What do you see, hear and smell when you’re brushing your teeth? What about when you’re eating lunch, out for a walk, waiting for the bus or watching tv? Tell us about it through your words. Write it into a poem. Not happy with what you’ve got? Try moving the words around. Does it sound better or worse? Keep trying.

Poetry Activity #3 Start your own Jabber journal. A small notebook that is easy to carry with you would be best. Start walking and writing. Do this alone, with a friend, or with your child. Don’t worry or think too much. Just write down what stands out, what you notice. Learning to be observant is hugely beneficial as we learn to harness our creativity. The words that you write can be turned into poetry or saved for inspiration. It’s up to you. As Juan Felipe Herrera reminds us in Jabberwalking, it doesn’t matter if you can read every word, it doesn’t matter if you’ve spelled everything correctly, it doesn’t matter if you have words or pictures. Just get your observations down, get them down quickly, before you have time to question your own thought process.

How confident are you with poetry? Share a poem in the comments or on my Bonnythings Creative Facebook page. If you try the activities, I’d love to hear how they go!

The Work of Peter H. Reynolds: Part 2

Last week, I introduced you to the creativity-themed picture books of Peter H. Reynolds. I discussed The Dot and Ish, looking at how they relate to creative confidence and providing a few activities based on those books.

Today, I’m finishing up my look at this series. I’ll be talking about two more in this collection, Sky Color and The Word Collector.

Check out the video below to see my take on these beautiful books:

First, we’ll take a look at Sky Color. You guys, this is my favorite of all of the books in Peter Reynolds’ collection. I can’t quite put my finger on why. It could be the gorgeous and inspiring illustrations, it could be the theme of looking beyond the ordinary. Whatever the reason, I love this book and I hope that you will, too.


This one is about Marisol, a confident little artist. She’s so confident, she actually shares her artwork with those around her, supporting what she believes in and spreading happiness. She even encourages her friends to do the same, to get in touch with their own creativity.

Marisol is so excited to work on a mural with her classmates. She enthusiastically volunteers to paint the sky, only to realize that there is no blue paint. What’s a girl to do? How can she paint the sky without blue?

In the end, Marisol realizes that blue is not the only sky color. There are so many ways to paint the sky. She breaks out of the box, looking at things from a new perspective. This is something that we all need to do, from time to time. Even the most creative among us need to look through a new lens, think beyond the ordinary or expected way of doing things. Marisol shows us how to break free from convention and trust ourselves to create.


I absolutely love The Word Collector because it takes a step away from art as a creative medium and focuses on words. It takes a look at how we use them, how we can create with them, and how to harness their power. In The Word Collector, we follow a little boy named Jerome. Unlike his peers, who collect things like stamps or comic books, Jerome collects words. He finds them in books, in conversation, everywhere he looks. He collects them in notebooks and boxes and carefully organizes them. He loves his words.

Everything changes when Jerome is carrying his word collection and he trips. His words go flying, landing completely out of order. This could be a disaster, but it reveals something amazing! Jerome realizes he can put his words together. He can use them to make sentences, poetry, stories. He sees the power of his words when directed toward others. His love of words grows once he realizes their versatility. One day, he climbs to the top of a hill and lets his words go. He shares them with the world, which makes him happier than he can imagine.

Words are powerful things. They can express our innermost thoughts. They can describe our feelings and experiences. They can help others to understand our point of view. Words can hurt. Words can heal. They are a powerful way to express yourself. Stringing them together, whether to tell a story, speak a truth, describe beauty or pull on the heart strings, gives us creative power. Our words are meant to be shared. It’s important for children to know that we are interested in their words. Start a conversation. Ask questions. Find out what words inspire them. Listen.

This week, I have a number of Gently Guided Activities for Sky Color and just a few for The Word Collector. If words are more your thing, don’t despair! I have more word-based activities coming up in future posts. Those activities will connect right back to the themes touched upon in The Word Collector.

Sky Color Activity #1 When I brought my activities to the co-working space, this one was the most popular. Can you make the sky without the color blue? I have put together a template that you can print out. Color the sky any way you want. Crayons, colored pencils, paint … but don’t use blue! Think about the many ways you can color a sky without blue. Will you choose something realistic, like a sunset or a cloudy day? Or, will you use your imagination, coming up with something we’ve never seen?


Sky Color Activity #2 At the beginning of the book, Marisol uses her creativity to make others happy. She shares her work, knowing the power it can have. Try making a card or writing a poem to brighten someone’s day. Think about what images or words might make someone happy.

Sky Color Activity #3 Draw a picture that deliberately changes an important color. What about making the sun blue? Or the grass pink? Does changing the color change how the picture makes you feel?


Sky Color Activity #4 It’s not all about art. Write a poem about the sky. Take several days to jot down ideas as the sky changes over different times of the day and different weather conditions. What colors do you see? How do you feel? Are there shapes in the clouds? What does the sky make you think about? Write down whole sentences or just a few words at time. After you’ve been at it for a few days, take your favorite lines or words and string them together to create a poem.


Sky Color Activity #5 Let’s give collaborative art a try. This would work well for groups as small as two and as large as you’ve got. Get a big piece or a roll of paper. Sketch a design and create a mural. Everyone gets to draw and color part of it. How do your individual styles go together? How do their differences add to the overall look? Need ideas? Perhaps a jungle or savanna scene with lots of animals. You could go under the sea or up into space. Pick a theme and let everyone come up with something to add.

The Word Collector Activity #1 Jerome creates poetry by stringing together his words. Get a notebook to jot down words that you like, interesting words that you hear, words to describe your feelings or your observations of the world around you. Try stringing some words together, even if they don’t make sense. Don’t like what you’ve got? Try moving them around. Put the end at the beginning and the beginning at the end. Keep moving and changing the words until you’re satisfied.


The Word Collector Activity #2 Create a list of some of your favorite words. Draw them. Some will be harder than others. Is it a feeling? You can still draw it. What color does it make you think of? Smooth lines or jagged? If your word is abstract, your drawing might be, too! Remember the lessons from last week and try to be satisfied with -ish.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments. If you try any of the activities, I’d love to hear about it. Head on over to the Bonnythings Creative Facebook page to post pictures of your creations!

The Work of Peter H. Reynolds: Part 1

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I love to read. I always have a stack of books waiting on the table next to the couch. And another stack on my bedside table. I get excited to dive into a story or learn something new from a great piece of non-fiction. I spend way too much time at the library (I even volunteer there). Books, literature and art are my creative comfort zone. I’ll be trying to stretch out of that comfort zone, just as you probably will, but you’ll have to bear with me at the beginning. I’m going to start with a lot of activities that center on books. It’s what I know best. It’s my creative instinct.

This week and next, I’m going to highlight the work of Peter H. Reynolds, and I’m so excited! He has a series of absolutely amazing picture books that center around creative confidence. Many of his characters have lost their creative confidence, for one reason or another. They must seek out that confidence and work to grow it. Peter Reynolds’ books are beautifully illustrated. You may find the artistry alone enough to inspire you, but make sure that you stay for the story!


Some of you are likely already familiar with the books, particularly if you have children. If you’ve never read them, you’re in for a treat. They are amazing books to inspire kids, but I think they may be even more important for adults, with messages we all need to hear. Think you’ve lost your creativity? Think you never had any in the first place? Take a journey with Marisol, Vashti, Ramon and Jerome. You may change your mind. It’s never too late to learn from the experiences of the characters in these books.

I’m going to feature four of Peter Reynolds’ books over the course of two posts. Today, let’s take a look at The Dot and Ish.

In the following video, I’ll introduce you to the concepts and characters that fill the pages of these two beautiful books on finding and taking ownership of your creativity. Brevity is not a strength of mine (something else to work on)! If you have a few minutes, watch the video below:

 The Dot is a story about a girl who believes she cannot draw and refuses to complete her art project. Vashti is a great representation of the many kids and adults who feel they are incapable of expressing themselves through art. The teacher asks Vashti to make a mark, so she does. The turning point for Vashti is her acknowledgment that she does indeed have something to say, even if that something is a small dot. After signing the artwork, taking ownership of it, and seeing it framed and validated by her teacher, Vashti realizes that she has done something special and she challenges herself to do it better. She creates dot after dot, eventually filling a gallery with them, just like a bonafide artist.

The takeaway here, for me, is the importance of validation. Going back to my post on ensuring a safe emotional space for creativity, creative confidence grows when effort is acknowledged and celebrated. If a child thinks no one is paying attention, that no one cares about what they have to say or what they can create, they will stop wanting to create at all. Everyone needs to feel heard, needs someone to lift them up, to kickstart their confidence by validating their effort.


 Now, let’s take a look at another book in Peter Reynolds’ collection, Ish. Perhaps, you feel like your art, your writing, your photography, your…whatever, isn’t good enough. If so, it may be time to consider what standard you’re trying to live up to. Ish will make you think about what happens when we abandon the quest for perfection. What if we appreciate what we can do, rather than always looking at what we lack?

Ish is the story of a boy name Ramon. Ramon is a big fan of drawing and he thinks he’s quite good at it, until is confidence is completely knocked down by a few simple words from his brother. As we’ve already noted, confidence is very fragile. Ramon tries and tries to make his drawings look perfect and he’s about to give up on art altogether, when he realizes he has a fan in his little sister. She’s been taking his art, the pieces he’s rejected, thrown on the floor, and she’s been hanging them in her room. It is in this moment, when once again we see a character validated, that he realizes perfection isn’t the goal. His own interpretation of an object, a person, a feeling, is enough. Ish is enough. And in that feeling of ‘good enough’, he finds his freedom.

I love this story. It shows how easily creative confidence can be torn away, but it also shows the flip-side. It shows that confidence can be built back up. It can be built by one person showing an interest. It can be built by simply changing the bar. What if our own style, our own interpretation is just as good as someone else’s? What if that perfection we’re always striving for is actually preventing us from hearing our own voice?


 Now it’s time for our Gently Guided Activities. I’ve got a few for today. Let’s start with The Dot.

The Dot Activity #1: I’m going to start with a fairly simple activity to go along with The Dot, and it’s exactly what you think it’s going to be. Draw a dot. Paint a dot. Get a dot down on the page any way that you want. Now, look at your dot and ask yourself if you can do it better. How? Would bigger be better? More colorful? Should you use your hands? A pencil? What if you didn’t use a dot at all? Maybe dots aren’t your thing. Maybe your dot is actually a square. Or a triangle. Whatever simple shape you choose, make a few of them. Sign them. This is a beginning. Own it.

The Dot Activity #2: Let’s try turning a dot, a line, a squiggle, a series of shapes into something more. This was one of my favorite activities to do with my daughter when she was younger. She’d mark up a page with wavy lines and then find the picture in the lines. She’d add to it, make it something more than a squiggle. It’s like finding shapes in the clouds. Below is an example. Can you see the random lines that became the painting? Can you see what was added later, to bring it alive?


The Dot Activity # 3: Check out a book about art from the library or do a quick internet search to find artists who used shapes in their artwork. The work of Wassily Kandinsky is a great example. Check out the pointillism movement and look at how Georges Seurat created entire scenes from small dots. Look at the way that an artist may start with something as simple as a dot and end up with something so much more. Try out one of these styles for yourself.

Ish Activity #1: Get a notebook or a sketchbook for your child. Better yet, get one for yourself, too! If you don’t have a notebook, staple together a small stack of plain paper. Let’s call this your Ish journal. Learn to draw, doodle or write like Ramon. Pick objects around your house or neighborhood and draw. Don’t strive for perfection. Sign each drawing and give it a name. Did you draw a cup? Name your art ‘Cup-ish’. Feel like writing a poem or a short story? Go for it. Just let it be -ish. Don’t over-think what you’re doing. Consider decorating the cover of your journal with a nice -ish drawing. Add color. Don’t add color. Use paint. Whatever you want, go for it!

I took an Ish activity to a local co-working spot and had a blast watching the adults in the room draw. It’s amazing how much harder it is for adults to accept -ish.

 Ish Activity #2: A big part of both stories is the validation of the young artist. Hang up some art or writing. Frame it and hang it on the wall. Use clothespins to hang art from a string. Use a magnetic surface or cork board. You can even create a portable gallery out of a cardboard box. We used this box that I had turned into a puppet theatre when my daughter was small. She turned the backside into her own gallery. We could fold it up and put it away when we needed the space or leave it out so that she could proudly display her latest creations.


I hope you have fun exploring the creative concepts of these books. Take ownership. Validate. Let perfection go. As Miss Frizzle would say, ‘Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy!’

Interested in a few of my mistakes? Watch the video below for some outtakes. Video-making is new for me! There’s always room to grow.