Cultivating curiosity, Writing

The Importance of Imagination-SCBWI Los Angeles

I have been remiss in blogging since my return from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference in Los Angeles. I’ve had a hard time processing all of the wonderful inspiration and information and distilling it into something more than just a transcript of the proceedings. However, I think I’ve finally hit on some takeaways in keeping with the spirit of Creating Curious Kids.

First, imagination: Rock star Tony DiTerlizzi’s tag line is “Never abandon imagination.” (And when I say rock star, I mean it. There was an hour wait for his autograph, and I half expected people to ask him to sign body parts.) DiTerlizzi told a powerful story in his keynote. The summer he was 12 and refused to play outside in the South Florida heat, his mom told him to go into his room and find something to do. Tony stuffed a Trapper Keeper full of drawings and encyclopedic notes, using paper, art supplies and his imagination. These drawings would later spark his blockbuster SPIDERWICK series.

Boredom, I think, is a necessary ingredient for imagination to run free. Kids — and grown ups too — need to be bored so we have room to imagine and create. We need time for quiet without distractions. Deborah Underwood, author of THE QUIET BOOK, reinforced this point. The quiet while she waited for a concert to start inspired her popular book, as it allowed her to observe several different types of quiet. Had she been checking Facebook on her phone or talking to someone beside her, THE QUIET BOOK may never have come to be.

Aside from boredom, we also need access to the tools of imagination: art supplies, papers, pencils, computer programs, flour, LEGOs, whatever media you or your children work best in. Famed illustrator Bryan Collier didn’t take an art class until high school, but he remembers the magic of watching the watercolors bleed together on the paper. Meanwhile, puppeteer Kevin Clash (aka Elmo), works in fabric and thread. He famously used the lining of his dad’s good coat to make a puppet when he was a child. Everyone is an artist or creator in his or her own way, we just work in different media.

In my next post, I’ll talk about moments of inspiration and how we can hopefully provide these for our children.



I just watched Being Elmo, an amazing documentary about puppeteer Kevin Clash’s — and Elmo’s — journey to stardom. If you haven’t seen this movie, you must. For writers, it’s fascinating to see how Clash developed the character of Elmo. Another puppeteer gave up on Elmo and literally threw Elmo at Clash in disgust. The movie shows some early clips of Elmo talking in a caveman voice, a far cry from his modern-day, high-pitched sing song.

Clash started making puppets as a precocious 10-year-old, using materials like the lining of his dad’s trench coat (whoops!). He truly was a curious kid, and his family nurtured his talents. Kevin’s dad shrugged off the trench coat incident, which amazes me. I try to channel Kevin’s dad as I watch the boys get into everything (and I mean everything).

When Finley noticed some holes in my socks, I thought making some sock puppets might be fun. After all, the boys enjoyed making paper-bag puppets in the past. I let the boys select buttons for eyes. They both picked red stars,which I sewed on. Then they picked yarn for hair, which we glued on. Cooper picked some psychedelic blue hair, while Finely went with brown with touches of blue. Then we made shirts and scarves out of fabric scraps and attached them with glue.

So far, the boys have been having a great time playing with Puntoff (Finley’s) and Rocko (Cooper’s). Puntoff’s favorite thing to do is bite my finger. He’s a silly one.