12 Creative Books from our Family Bookshelf

12 books for a creative new year | TinkerLab

What’s on your bookshelf right now? Have you read any creative books lately that make you feel alive, help you become a better parent, or inspire you to grab life by the horns?

Yesterday I shared on Instagram and Facebook that I just acquired a new book, and I was looking for feedback on it. In the process of this, I had a question about sharing what’s currently on my reading list. This list has already been brewing in my mind, so here it is for your inspiration pleasure.

12  creative books to inspire a creative new year | TinkerLab

These are all books that I’ve acquired or started reading in the last month, and that I hope to read in the first part of the new year.  The theme that runs through this list, is that most of these books focus on parenting, making, and creativity. You should also know that I’m in a non-fiction state-of mind, so there’s just one fiction book on the list.

If you have a favorite book that you think we’d enjoy will you add it to a comment? I and other readers like you are looking for more good ideas. Don’t be shy!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase through these links I’ll receive a small percentage at no extra cost to you! 

Creativity, Making, and Tinkering Books

The Art of Tinkering, Karen Wilkinson + Mike Petrich

This book was just sent to me to review, and OH-MY-GOODNESS, it’s a winner. It’s not technically available to purchase until February 4, 2014, but I’ve heard that the Exploratorium book store will start carrying it sooner than that. If you’re in the SF Bay Area, you might want to seek it out sooner.

I Just Like to Make Things, Lilla Rogers

My husband and I were gifted with a a daytime date over the holiday break, and what did we do? We spent two hours milling around a bookstore :) This is one of the books that I purchased.

Creative Block: Get Unstuck, Discover New Ideas. Advice & Projects from 50 Successful Artists (Release date: February 18, 2014)

This book isn’t out yet, but I’m so excited about it that I pre-ordered it. Written by Danielle Krysna, writer behind one of my favorite blogs, The Jealous Curator, who interviews 50 artists about their creative process and how they get things done. I’ve been looking for a book like this for ages and I’m so glad that Krysa is making it a reality.

Family Books

The Nature Connection, Clare Walker Leslie

I’ve had this book for over a year, but I’m dusting it off now because we’re kicking off the new year with it as our trusty outdoor exploration manual. If you’re interested in raising children who have a strong connection to and appreciation for the outdoors, this book is worth looking into.

Cleaning House: A Mom’s Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement, Kay Wills Wyma

My kids have responsibilities, but at 3 and 5 they’re far from taking on chores like cleaning the bathroom or making an income. I’m also not very organized about helping them tackle chores, so I picked this up as a roadmap to help me set up practical tools for fostering good habits in my children. You might enjoy reading the Facebook comments if you’re thinking of getting this book.

Mom’s One Line a Day: A Five-Year Memory Book, Chronicle Books LLC

Back when I was child-less I liked to keep extensive, detailed journals. Um, that’s pretty unrealistic now that I have two kids and barely a second to myself. For memory-keeping, I like that this book only requires me to write down one or two sentences for each day.

The MoneySmart Family System: Teaching Financial Independence to Children of Every Age, Steve + Annette Economides

Oh money, why are we not better friends? I’m sadly lacking in finance skills and get all jittery when I think about balancing my checkbook or investing in my future. Brrr. Chills. Because I know that my kids will likely learn money skills from their parents, I’m nervous for their financial intelligence. This book got amazing reviews and I love the smart skills I’ve read so far.

101 Disneyland Tips, Cam Bowman

I grew up in a fun-loving Southern California family, and I’m a solid Disneyland fan as a result. This book was written by my friend Cam, who happens to be a Disneyland expert and runs a great Disney site called Growing Up Goofy. Her family has season passes and they visit with their 3-and 5-year old frequently, and all of her advice is tested and solid. If you’re planning a trip to Disneyland with small kids, this book is full of useful tips. Cam is also running a book giveaway on her site (closes on January 2, 2014).

Make-your-life-better Books

How to be Interesting, Jessica Hagy

And this is the other book I purchased on that lovely afternoon date! It’s so inspirational for anyone who wants to live a more interesting life. As a home-grown city girl, living in suburbia, this is a book I need.

Life From Scratch, Melissa Ford

This is my one fiction book. Someone recommended it to me. I can’t even remember who now? It’s about a blogger, which is probably what prompted me to pick it up.

Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day, Todd Henry

Chris Guillebeau, NYT bestselling author of The $100 Startup says of this book, “You have a limited number of days on Earth. This book sends an urgent message: make them count!” It’s that limited days thing that really gets me, and I’m always thinking about how I can get the most out of my short life. I really like this book so far.

APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book, Guy Kawasaki

I follow Guy on Google+, and he’s one smart cookie. He’s also published a gazillion books, and in this one he explains why and how to publish an e-book. This is something I’ve been thinking about doing for a while, and I hope that Guy can guide me through the steps of this process.

More Creative Family Book Inspiration

For more creative reading ideas, check out our recent list of the Best Art and Creativity Books for Kids.




The Year’s Best Art and Creativity Books for Kids

The best creativity and art books for kids | Tinkerlab

Books can inspire and nurture us, and at their best they make us better people. To wrap up the year in creative style, we’re sharing the some of the best art and creativity books for kids that were released in 2013. I’m excited to share that TinkerLab: A Hands-on Guide for Little Inventors will come out in June 2014, and you can take a sneak peek at it here.

The best art and creativity books for kids | Tinkerlab

Art and Creativity Books for Kids

If you click on the images in this post, some will take you directly to Amazon links where you can learn more about them.
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The Artful Parent: Simple Ways to Fill Your Family’s Life with Art and Creativity–Includes over 60 Art Projects for Children Ages 1 to 8, Jean Van’t Hul

This creativity book is filled with so many of my favorite art projects, and it was named one of the best books of the year by Amazon! Jean, the author, is also the founder of The Artful Parent Blog,one of my main sources of inspiration for child-directed, process-based art. When my oldest daughter was a toddler, Jean’s ideas got me through many a dark afternoon.

Art Lab for Little Kid (Lab Series): 52 Playful Projects for Preschoolers, Susan Schwake 

The Art Lab series is one of my favorites. They’re well-organized, filled with colorful photos, and the steps are very clear. This art book will be a welcome addition to any home with small children who like to make art.

Red Ted Art: Cute and Easy Craft for Kids, Maggy Woodley

Maggy Woodley is the queen of crafts, and my go-to-gal when I have a question about how to turn pinecones or cardboard rolls into something cute. I’m an advocate for child-led projects, and while this book is filled with crafts, the projects leave a lot of room for personal expression. The projects are clearly explained, the pictures pop with clarity, and most of the materials are easy to gather. Click on the book cover for my personal review of this gorgeous book.

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Martha Stewart’s Favorite Crafts for Kids: 175 Projects for Kids of All Ages to Create, Build, Design, Explore, and Share

175 Projects! As an author of a kids’ project book, the design of this book made my jaw drop. And I haven’t been able to pick it up, which is sort of a problem. What a fun book to browse through! As a Martha Stewart book, the production value is high, and major admiration goes to the big team of people who helped put it together. Like Red Ted Art, if you have an older child, this would be a good one to hand over to them on a rainy day or summer afternoon.

Exploralab, The Exploratorium

This book comes from one of the best science museums in the United States, The Exploratorium, and if you’ve ever wanted to bring a piece of Exploratorium magic home with you this book could be the answer. It’s filled with over 150 projects that help children explore the world around them. The visuals are spectacular, and the book even includes some surprising interactive elements. You can read our review here.

The Artist’s Way for Parents: Raising Creative Children, Julia Cameron

Back in college I devoured Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and gained so much insight from the practice of keeping morning pages. Can you imagine my excitement when I learned that Cameron was tackling how to apply these same skills and ideas toward raising creative children? Her voice is kind and approachable, and whether you use all her ideas or not, you’re sure to get inspired by the fun exercises, enjoyable activities, and actionable steps toward raising a creative child.

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Zero to Maker: Learn (Just Enough) to Make (Just About) Anything, David Lang

While not exactly a book for kids, this book would be inspiring to a parent who’s lost their maker mojo or is thinking about dipping their toes into the maker movement. It would also be a great read for a teenager who needs the confidence to tackle a future of making.

The LEGO Adventure Book, Vol. 2: Spaceships, Pirates, Dragons & More!, Megan H. Rothrock

My five-year old is just getting into Legos, and recently spent the better part of two days assembling a huge Lego house. Her focus was palpable, as was her pride in completing the job. When the job was done, I wondered, what’s next? This book is filled with over 100 ideas for making everything from a mailbox to a dragon, and the diagrams are easy to follow. The only problem with the book is that I now realize that we might need to invest in lot more Legos. You might also enjoy Volume 1 of this book.

Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, Sylvia Libow Martinez  and Gary S. Stager

This book would be a welcome read for educators who are curious about the maker movement and would like to bring their classrooms up-to-date with technology. It’s full of ideas and resources for anyone who’s interested in raising children to become creative thinkers and lifelong learners. If you like to read books on your Kindle, the Kindle version is a far better value than the paperback.

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Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities, Kevin Kelly

So many people compare this to the Whole Earth Catalog (do you remember those?), and for good reason. It’s the kind of book you’ll want to browse through on a rainy day, or take to a cafe and flip through like a magazine over a cup of coffee. Kevin Kelly is one of the founders of Wired Magazine, so he knows a thing or two about technology tools. It includes tools for price tracking, different types of adhesives and what you can do with them, and the differences between a variety of clays (Sculpey vs. SuperSculpey Firm)….just to name a few. What a great resource for the creative family!

3D Printing: The Next Industrial Revolution, Christopher Barnatt

Have you heard that 3-D printers are the desktop computer of our children’s generation? Some people have even referred to the 3-D printer movement as the next technology gold rush! Tinkerers are pioneering new ways to use 3-D printers, and I for one do not want my kids to be left behind. You can finally buy a decent 3-D printer for under $1000, and it’s only a matter of time before that price drops even more. This book won’t tell you which 3-D printer to purchase, but it will fill you in on why and how 3-D printers are changing the future.

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, Chris Anderson

I saw Chris speak at a conference earlier this year, and was captivated by his pitch for introducing children to 3-D printers. If you have a child who has a passion for making things, this book could be a roadmap for his or her future. It outlines what the maker movement is all about and it’s full of inspiration for inventive entrepreneurs. In the future, “everyone with an idea will have the tools to realise it.” This, my friends, is why tinkering and making with young children is so important. The future is changing rapidly, and children with the tools to navigate the new world will be confident makers, inventors, and innovators.

 A question for you

What’s your favorite art or creativity book for kids or parents?

Get Ready for an Easy-breasy Summer


Camp Mom SummerActivities Pack. 84 pages filled with over 45 activities that have you covered for nature discovery, water play, and art exploration.

Hi friends! Is it starting to feel like summer where you live?

We recently pulled out the Slip-n-Slide and popsicle-eating is in full effect.

In case you’re starting to get the summer bug, I wanted to share something fun that’s been brewing behind the scenes over here.

I’ve been working hard with a handful of my favorite creative, playtime bloggers and I’m excited to reveal some of the magic of Camp Mom: Summer Activities Pack with you today!

What’s Inside:

  • Jam-packed 84-page downloadable PDF
  • 45  simple and FUN activities with FULL instructions and supplies
  • Plus, 40+ MORE ideas and links
  • Printable summer planning pages
  • Includes a host of activities for ages 2-8
  • Adventure ideas and tips – you can have adventures without leaving your backyard!
  • Tips for success: How to manage sibling conflict, how to enjoy a museum with your kids, how to talk with children about art
  • Book recommendations

Not sure if it’s for you. Check out some of the sample pages…

Camp Mom SummerActivities Pack. 84 pages filled with over 45 activities that have you covered for nature discovery, water play, and art exploration. Camp Mom SummerActivities Pack. 84 pages filled with over 45 activities that have you covered for nature discovery, water play, and art exploration.

 Order your copy of Camp Mom: Summer Activities Pack today

Just $14.99

Click here to order

Red Ted Art: Cute and Easy Crafts for Kids

Red Ted Art: Cute and Easy Crafts for Kids

Gum nut pencil topper

I love arts and crafts books and often dream of opening a maker space where I can share shelves and shelves of inspiring books full of hands-on goodness with my friends and readers. Wouldn’t that be fun? I just added a new book to my library that I love, and I’m excited to share it with you in this virtual maker space today.

The book is Red Ted Art by UK blogger and crafter extraordinaire, Maggy Woodley. Maggy twists crafty standbys into fresh projects with clear photographs, beautiful design, and an easy-to-follow format that children can easily peruse on their own.

But you shouldn’t just take my word for it. When an advance copy of Maggy Woodlley’s Red Ted Art showed up in my house, my four-year-old got busy with a stack of sticky tabs and marked up all of the projects she wanted to do right away! 

Red Ted Art: Cute and Easy Crafts for Kids

We’re fans of repurposing materials, and Maggy is too, which made the activities especially easy to jump right into. We began with a couple projects that we had materials for, which is easy to do with this book. A quick flip through the book’s pages promise that you can complete just about every project with easy-to-find household and craft materials such as magazines, white glue, felt scraps, paint, and bubble wrap.

Project #1: Gumnut Pencil Toppers

As far as I know, we don’t have gumnuts in our neck of the woods, but acorns are aplenty and we worked on assembling our little yellow octopus friend with just a few materials.

Red Ted Art Book interior

  • To make the legs, we cut two pipe cleaners in half and then folded each of those in half.
  • We painted the acorn cap yellow.
  • When the paint was dry we used the glue gun to attach the eyes and legs.

Gum nut pencil topper tutorial

While the instructions suggested assembling this with white glue, an excuse to pull out the glue gun is always welcome in my house.

Project #2: Racing Walnut Mice

The trickiest part of this project was cutting a walnut in half, but Maggy provides clear instructions on how to split a walnut at the weakest point of the nut. I had a little trouble with this (see the chip little mouse’s mouth), but no one seemed to mind.

walnut mouse tutorial

  • Draw on a mouse face.
  • Glue on felt ears and a long felt tail
  • Place a marble inside the mouse and roll it down a sloping book.

My kids loved the little mouse so much that we never made it to the marble rolling part, but I look forward to trying that out.

Order a copy

If you’re in the UK or Europe, you can find Red Ted Art: Cute and Easy Crafts for Kids via Amazon UK.

If you’re in the US, the book will come out this fall (yay), and you can keep an eye out for it via Amazon.


Contest Details: This is an international contest and open worldwide. Deadline for entries is Friday, April 12, 2013, 9 pm PST. Winner will be chosen randomly. Please leave a comment as your entry. This contest is now closed. Congratulations to Irene, winning comment #33! You will be contacted via email.

A question for you…

What are your favorite (or most surprising ) recycled items to craft with?

The Artful Parent Book: A Review and a Project

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Artful Parent Book: Blog TourAs a longtime fan of Jean Van’t Hul’s charming, approachable, and ever-inspiring blog, The Artful Parent, I’m thrilled about the upcoming release of her book, The Artful Parent: Simple Ways to Fill Your Family’s Life with Art & Creativity. Not only has Jean been a huge source of inspiration to me and countless others, but we’ve become real-life friends and I have a great deal of respect for the way that she encourages her children to find their inner voice through hands-on learning. And her delightful book does not disappoint.

The book comes out on April 9, 2013, so consider this a sneak peek…and read through to the end for details on how you could win your very own copy.

Artful Parent Book Jean Van't Hul

My two-year old and I spent the morning together and I came to the realization that she rarely gets the opportunity to dive into so many of the projects that her older sister enjoyed. Now that I have two children, my girls and I are frequently on the go, my attention is often divided, and their abilities are so different that I usually follow my older child’s interests while her younger sister tags along…and does a great job at keeping up.

Since Jean’s blog was there for me when my first toddler and I got our creative groove on, I thought we’d see what ideas she had in store for us. When I flipped the book to the very first project, Contact Paper Suncatchers, I knew this was for us.

My older daughter and I one made these contact paper suncatchers and this contact paper collage, and we still had plenty of leftover materials to play with.

Artful Parent Book Jean Van't Hul

To make your own suncatcher, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Colored Tissue Paper
  • Scissors
  • Contact Paper (click the link to find it on Amazon)
  • Flowers, feathers, sequins
  • Masking Tape

By some miracle I woke up early and set out all of the materials before my daughter woke up.  To set this up as we did, tape a piece of contact paper to your table. This will keep the contact paper from moving around. Fill a bowl or tray with pre-cut pieces of colorful tissue paper, and then invite your child to attach the pieces to the contact paper.

My daughter’s first instinct was to glue the pieces down, but once she understood how the contact paper worked, she put the glue aside. At some point she decided to layer her collage and realized that she did, in fact, need the glue to stick these extra papers on. If your child takes the project in a new direction as mine did, do your best to go with the flow.

Artful Parent Book Jean Van't Hul

Oh, one more thing…I was also quite honored that Jean invited me to write a piece for her book — what a delight to see this fun provocation in print!

Artful Parent Book Review Tinkkerlab

The Artful Parent is not only jam-packed with sixty simple and creative projects, but it’s also full of tips on the best art supplies for your art pantry, how to talk with children about art, and how to set up an art space.

If you’d like a copy of the book, if you pre-order now you’ll get almost 40% off the cover price. On top of that, if the Amazon price decreases between your order time and the end of the day of the release date, you’ll receive the lowest price. To enter for a chance to win a copy of Jean’s book (if you buy the book for yourself, your winning book would be a great gift!), leave a comment at the end of this post.

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 11.27.04 PMContest Details: You must have a U.S. address to win. Deadline for entries is Friday, April 22, 2013, 9 pm PST. Winner will be chosen randomly.

Thank you to everyone who submitted a comment! I loved reading all of your inspiring memories and stories. Congratulations to Megan, comment #26! You will be contacted via email regarding your prize.

The Book Blog Tour

Do you want to see more? Follow along on the blog tour…

March 18 – Tinkerlab – activity demonstration + giveaway

March 22 – Handmade Charlotte – blog post

March 26 – Playful Learning – activity demonstration

March 28 – Nurture Store – feature post + giveaway

March 30 – Make and Takes – feature

April 1 – Red Ted Art – book review + giveaway

April 2 – Kids Activity Blog – interview + giveaway

April 3 – Pink and Green Mama – blog post

April 8 – Not Just Cute – blog post

April 9 – Creative with Kids – interview

April 10 – Imagination Tree – book review

A Question for you…

Thinking back to your childhood, what is the earliest piece of art that you remember making?


Sister Corita Kent | Art Department Rules

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Corita Kent

I was grew up in Los Angeles, not too far from what was once Immaculate Heart College (IHC). Perhaps one of the biggest legacies of IHC is Sister Mary Corita, better known to many as Corita Kent, artist-activist and chairperson of the IHC art department from 1951-1968.

Do you know about Corita Kent? In her own art, she was primarily a printmaker who used film, calligraphy, folk art, and advertising to help her students think creatively and make the world a better place through art.

Her Art

corita kent art

To give you a little context on Corita’s aesthetic, you may be most familiar with her 1985 “LOVE” postage stamp, or if you live in the Boston area you’ve undoubtedly spotted this colorful water tank

Her Writing

learning by heart corita kentI was first introduced to Corita by a friend of mine who directs the Corita Kent Art Center, located at Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles. Sasha suggested that I pick up a copy of Kent’s book, Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit.

At the time, the book was out of print and the almost impossible-to-find copies could be had for $50 and up. Gasp! Thankfully, I forked out the cash and my life was forever changed.

The book is full of ideas for new artists, artists who could use a little kick in the creative pants, and especially art students. I found my copy just before heading off to graduate school, and still enjoy flipping through it for nuggets of inspiration to this day. I would also recommend this book to any parent with a pre-teen or teenager who’s eager to soak up fresh ways to use art as a form of intervention or social justice.

Corita Kent Classroom

Thankfully, the book is back in print again, and can be had for far less than what I paid (lucky you!). You can find a copy over here on Amazon.

And if that’s not enough, Corita Kent wrote up this list of Art Department Rules that is so fabulous, I know you’ll want to save it to your desktop, just like I have. Or pin it. Or tape it to your fridge. I just love it.


A Question For You…

If you could pick just one of these rules to remember, which one would it be?


note: this post contains affiliate links

5 Creativity Books That Will Inspire You

5 creativity books that will inspire you

5 creativity books that will inspire you

Are you reading anything good right now? I always have a few things on my Kindle and bookstand (I just finished the Hunger Games series), and I recently discovered some creativity books that I thought you might enjoy knowing about.

Raising a creative kid

Jillian Riley from the popular parenting blog, A Mom with a Lesson Plan, just released her highly anticipated e-book: Raising a Creative Kid. Jillian is a former preschool teacher and mama of two kids, and writes with a warm and familiar voice that’s easy to read. Before digging into tools and strategies for fostering creativity in your kids, she invites the reader to participate in a simple exercise that helps us see that we all have creative potential.  Click here to visit A Mom With A Lesson Plan. and learn more.

I’m now a Kindle gal, but I bought this on impulse in our local bookstore and it was well worth the space it’s taking up on my nightstand. I devoured this book in an hour and keep returning to it for bits of inspiration. Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

eco friendly crafting with kids

This just arrived in yesterday’s mail and I’m excited to dig into it. It’s written by Kate from the eye-candy craft blog Mini Eco. The pictures are beautiful and the projects have earth-friendly materials at their center: Eco-Friendly Crafting With Kids

Play These Games: 101 Delightful Diversions Using Everyday Items: This one also came in the mail this week, and I haven’t had time to sink into it, but it looks like it’ll keep us more than busy until the kids hit college. It’s a small paper back chock full of easy-to-read tutorials. We recently made a cardboard box rocket ship from her other book, Make These Toys: 101 Clever Creations Using Everyday Items. The tutorial was easy to follow and my kids have been playing in the rocket all week.P

My husband’s first book! I’m not just saying that it’s amazing because I’m Scott’s biggest fan (next to his mom, or course), but the reviews on Amazon concur. Read about it here: Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration (co-author: Scott Witthoft).

What are you reading?

Note: Tinkerlab shares affiliate links for products we use and companies we adore. If you purchase through those links we’ll receive a small percentage of the sale, which help keep our inspiration engine running!

Why Our High Schools Need the Arts

Why our high schools need the arts

“A must-read for anyone who cares about dropout prevention, Dr. Hoffmann Davis’ latest book is laid out like a map of the developing teenage psyche, leading the reader to a clear understanding of why learning in the arts is critical to adolescent development and engagement in school.”

Kristen Paglia, Executive Director, Education and Programs at P.S. ARTS


It’s my great pleasure to be joined today by my graduate school mentor and founder of the Arts in Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Jessica Hoffmann Davis. For anyone lucky enough to know Jessica in person, she’s a dynamic individual with a talent for breathing life into difficult topics through her easy manner and accessible conversation points.

In her most recent book, Why Our High Schools Need the Arts (Teachers College Press, 2011), Jessica argues that the arts “can give high school students a reason to attend and to stay in school.” If you know anything about the growing number of high school dropouts, this is a solution worth considering.

This book is a must-read for school administrators and education policy makers, but it’s also a call-to-action for concerned parents who hold the direction of a child’s future in their hands.


Why our high schools need the arts

Thanks for joining me today! Your book is full of descriptive narratives that capture the importance an arts-rich high school education. Can you share a favorite story from the book that exemplifies this point?

The story of a student coming out in a visual arts class is a great example of how the arts enable students to give shape to emotions and ideas that may be otherwise difficult to express. A fledgling visual art teacher had a student who was hiding her drawing all through the class. It was the drawing of two young women kissing. Finally, the student “meekly asked” if the teacher would allow her to continue the drawing. He was completely taken aback and replied, “I’m really not sure why you’re asking this question. It’s two people making out. They’re kissing. It’s a beautiful moment. So you want to know what I think? You need to punch up your shading around the jawlines if you want more drama. Those shadows should be directing the viewer’s eyes to the areas of the picture YOU want them to go to. Does that answer your question?” And with a big toothy grin, she just said, “Yes.”

As the parent of two small children who will one day become teenagers (eek!), I got a lot out of this book, particularly how to frame my passion for arts education for school administrators who have the power to make change. How do you hope parents, teachers, administrators, or policy makers will use this book?

I have been working the last several years on putting into words the things that make the arts essential to our children’s education AND (and this is important) what makes arts learning different from what students learn in their other classes. In this new book, as I did in an earlier one called Why Our Schools Need the Arts (2008), I delineate concrete aspects of the arts that give way to particular learning outcomes.. I hope this framework will help arts education advocates launch focussed and effective arguments. The arts are not frills. They are necessary in our children’s development and learning. For adolescents who are struggling with the difficult passage from childhood to adulthood, this is poignantly true. The arts give these students a reason to come to school and therefore, as I say in the book, can help reduce the drop out rate in our struggling high schools.

jessica hoffman davis and her grandson

Jessica watches her grandson paint

You’re the parent of THREE creative kids (now grown up). Can you tell us a little bit about how you raised your own children and what their high school art experiences were like?

I started early and introduced my sons to many hands on arts experiences and trips to art museums before they entered first grade. Although only one of them, my youngest, grew up to be a working artist, I do believe all three have a comfort with and love for art and a strong sense of the aesthetic. They also all had meaningful (if not extensive) arts encounters in high school. My oldest son, Josh eagerly performed in high school theatrical productions and I believe those experiences informed his love for public speaking—his debating in college and law school, and the presentations he does now as a lawyer, teacher, and talk radio guy. My middle son Alex, now an investment advisor, was very engaged in high school sports, but he loved the ceramics he got to do and he shows his little boy the pieces we have around the house with affection and I think still some real pride. My youngest, Benjamin, has always adored the arts and especially theater. He went to a high school where he had the chance to engage deeply in the visual arts and in theater and I think his role as Tevya (Fiddler on the Roof) senior year helped launch his career as an actor and master class teacher in L.A.

What books or websites are inspiring you right now?

One of the things that interests me at this stage of life is getting to know better the young person that I was. Perhaps by more than coincidence, since I’ve been studying high school aged students, I’ve been revisiting some of the books that I loved as a teen ager. I’ve been reading the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tender is the Night, and the Far Side of Paradise) which I adored at that age and it’s been a very dear experience. As much as I enjoy these works in a different way now, I vividly remember falling in love with the writer, feeling I was the person for whom Fitzgerald wrote these books. I’ve also been excited and inspired by the work of some of my former graduate students. For example, Deb Putnoi has a great new book that’s just out called The Drawing Mind: Silence Your Inner Critic and Release Your Creative Spirit and Caleb Neelon’s The History of American Graffiti is wonderful as is Jim Daichendt’s Artist-Teacher: A Philosophy for Creating and Teaching

High School Jessica plays guitar with friends

You conclude the book with the idea that if you ask any high school graduate what they remember from high school they will “tell you of the time they played Captain Hook in the school musical or the day their poem was read aloud in assembly…” A couple of my own strongest memories are of playing flute for the musical Guys and Dolls and painting in the art studio long after class was over…so this definitely rings true for me. When you think back to your own high school memories, what has stuck with you?

I remember profoundly the production of a play that I’d written in high school through which I learned a great deal about a friend of mine whose role (which of course I played) was at the center of the story. It was thrilling to hear the words I’d written spoken by the other students who acted in my play and exciting to have created an artistic whole with so many parts. I haven’t done anything like it since except that two summers ago here in New Hampshire where I live, I wrote and directed a play about a group of women going back for their fiftieth high school reunion and the excitement I felt as the audience laughed at the lines I’d written brought me back to that moment of theatrical excitement so many years ago.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Tinkerlab is wonderful. Congratulations. I’m delighted to be featured here. Thank you Rachelle. Also, if anyone would like to be in touch with me around my writing and/or any of the issues I address, please contact me via my website: jessicahoffmanndavis.com

Thank you so much, Jessica! It’s such an honor to share you and your work with my readers and I hope you’ll come back and talk with us again soon.


One lucky reader will be randomly chosen to receive a copy of Why Our High Schools Need the Arts. To enter, please leave a comment with your own fondest High School memory/ies by Sunday, May 6 at 9 pm PST. Prize recipient must have a U.S. address. Good luck! A winner has been selected. Thanks to everyone who entered.