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My favourite picture books are the ones whose stories escape their pages, books that live on in the imagination long after they’ve been returned to the shelf, books which inspire their readers to get excited and make things. And such books are perfect for these days when it’s a little too cold outside, and you’re looking for a fun diversion or two.

How To

by Julie Morstad

It’s been nominated for a 2013 Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature Illustration, and no wonder.

How To by Julie Morstad: A book to inspire you to get excited and make things

Morstad’s How To is a basic guide to life lived whimsically, with a great deal of imagination and style.

julie-morstad-how-to-5-lgIt doesn’t inspire a specific craft project, but instead is the launching pad for several (including chalk-drawings, stilts and butterfly wings) and also to a whole new way of looking at the world.

The Imaginary Garden

by Andrew Larsen and Irene Luxbacher

This is a really wonderful story about the connection between a young girl and her grandfather who has had to leave his garden behind to move into an apartment. Together, Theo and her grandfather create an imaginary garden to fill the void, a painted picture on a large piece of canvas.

image from Luxbacher's Imaginary Garden: a book to get you excited about making things

I love this book because there’s something going on beneath the surface–just what is the grandfather’s story, I wonder?–but I also love that  just about every child who reads it is compelled to pick up some crayons and paper and make an imaginary garden of her own.

Jillian Jiggs

by Phoebe Gilman

I memorized this book when I was seven years old, and now my daughter knows it too.

Jillian Jiggs will make you excited about making things

And she has been inspired to play pirates by it, as well as to fashion a robot head out of tinfoil and a cardboard box. (“I’m mad about boxes! Boxes are fun! No one will guess who we are when it’s done.”) Jillian Jiggs’ imagination is quite contagious and I also remember that its follow-up, The Wonderful Pigs of Jillian Jiggs, came with instructions for making little stuffed pigs of one’s own, with button noses and everything.

The Stone Hatchlings

by Sarah Tsiang and Qin Leng

This book is the follow-up to the acclaimed A Flock of Shoes, the story of a little girl who finds some eggs and decides she is going to hatch them into birds.

get excited and make things. LIke stone hatchlings

Never mind that Abby’s mother tells her that the eggs are just stones–with the aid of some paint and a brush, Abby transforms those eggs into beautiful birds who are alive in her imagination. We’ve had three egg-shaped stones nesting in a pile of silk scarves ever since this book came into our lives, and I don’t doubt that they’ll hatch one day.

Extra Yarn

by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

My love for this book knows no bounds–it’s funny, features yarn-bombing, a brave heroine who defies an evil archduke, and it’s illustrated by Jon Klassen (known for I Want My Hat Back).

get excited

Extra Yarn is the story of Annabel, who finds a box of yarn and starts knitting, and discovers that the length of yarn is infinite. So she knits sweaters for people, sweaters for pets, sweaters for trees and pickup trucks. Her creations fill her dreary little town with brilliant colour, and might just inspire a young reader to pick up a pair of needles.

Chicken Pig and Cow

by Ruth Ohi

Ruth Ohi’s series takes place amongst the residents of a popsicle-stick barn, the residents themselves being plasticine creations, all of whom have been built by Girl.


The friends have adventures, misunderstandings, reconciliations and brave rescues. These books were the inspiration for the popsicle stick barn we’ve got at our house:

get excited and make things like this popsicle stick barn inspired by Ruth Ohi's book


The Paper Dolls

by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb

I love this book by Julia Donaldson, who also wrote The Gruffalo.

Paper Dolls

In delightful rhyming verse, she tells the story of a string of paper dolls who went on to have many adventures and even when their life was over, they lived on in the memory of the little girl who made them. When we made our own string of paper dolls we too called them, naturally: “Ticky, and Tacky, and Jackie the Backy, and Jim with Two Noses and Jo with the Bow.”

You can get a Paper Dolls template here!

* * *

It occurs to me that each one of these book features girls who are getting excited and making things, though Morstad and Gilman do show boys in the mix.

But what else am I missing? Are creative boys being left out of picture books? Or is my reading just a little too girl-centric? Please give me your recommendations for boy-focused maker books in the comments.

Kerry Clare reads and writes in Toronto, and blogs about it at Pickle Me This. Check out her other book lists here.

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