Fueling the Creative Flame

Lisa Brown

This children's book author and illustrator's works include the Baby Be of Use series and the children's book How to Be. She is married to Daniel Handler, who is the author of the Lemony Snicket books, and is the mother of one child, age 3.

Who were the adults in your life who most encouraged your creativity?

My parents, my mother in particular. She took 10 years off from her career to raise me and my brothers, and though she loved being a mother, I suspect that she was often bored. This led her to devise a gazillion ways to keep us, and herself, occupied. We baked bread together, made masks from paper bags, dressed up in our parents' old clothes, learned to crochet, had birthday parties for our stuffed animals, went to museums and playgrounds, and duck ponds, and did any number of other fun and wacky things.

Which books and other materials inspired you most as a child?

I had this phonograph record of someone telling the story of "Hansel and Gretel" that I would listen to over and over and over. When I knew it by heart, I would make my younger brothers act out the story with me, over and over and over. I always had to play the witch. When the tale ended, we would make up additional adventures for the characters (and I made sure that the witch always survived her push into the oven).

We also used to have neighborhood-wide games of things like Star Wars. We would take the story and continue it. I remember there were always too many girls. Everybody wanted to be Princess Leia, so we came up with Princess Leia's younger sister-and then there were a bunch of female Ewoks.

If you could share one piece of advice with a child about being creative, what would that be?

Pretend. Make up stories. Don't be afraid that your stories are no good-just as long as you are having fun while you're making them up. Creativity is just like anything else: Practice makes perfect.

What do you see as your most creative accomplishment?

That's a hard question. My entire career, both as a graphic designer and a children's illustrator/writer, has been an attempt to work creatively.

Why do you think encouraging creativity is important, and how has it helped you in your life and career?

If I weren't creative, no one would want to read my books; they'd be bored. I try to live my life creatively so that I'm not bored either.

How do you keep yourself creative?

I spy on my 3-year-old son.

What have you done to encourage your child's creativity?

We restrict television and limit branded objects. It's not that characters and stories from TV and movies are bad. Some of them are quite wonderful. It's just that one should recognize them as jumping-off points for further imaginative play, not simply as passive entertainment.

But mostly, we give our child ample time alone. Organized activities have their place, but the perfect recipe for creativity includes some time to think, a little solitude, and even a handful of boredom.

What do you think are the ideal toys, games, books, activities, and art supplies for promoting creativity?

Books galore, tons and tons of them. Start reading to your kid as soon as his eyes can focus. Or even before.

And definitely ask your child lots of questions. It will prompt him to come up with his own answers.

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