Guest Author: Jeni Donatelli Ihm
I am an accidental author. I did not set out to be an author of children’s books. Looking back I have fond memories of my dad reading to me. He was an elementary school principal and had access to many books. Being the youngest of nine children the books on tape (anyone remember those?) he brought home came in handy, as he was often busy helping my older siblings. I would sit and listen while reading along for hours and loved every minute of it. I can still recite some of the lines from these books to this day. When my dad had time, he would read to me and would often make me laugh with the silly voices he made up for each character in the story. Some of my most favorite children’s books were the ones I stumbled upon in our basement that my siblings had read when they were young.
My most cherished of these were Shell Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends, as they were an entirely new discovery for me. I would sit for hours reading his poems, as I was not much into chapter books, but his words held my attention and allowed me space to dream. I took a children’s literature class as an elective in college, and I loved the way my professor sort of sang the books as he read with a rhythm that would draw you into the world on the pages. Being read to like this expanded my imagination and showed me how words can provoke a sense of wonder. I believe that the books I was exposed to as a child and young adult gave me the opportunity to be inspired to explore the possibility of becoming a writer.
I have seen this same creativity come to fruition in my own children during reading. My daughter is a fan of fantasy novels, and these stimulate her to draw elaborate dragons and other characters in these books. My son, who prefers to be read to, likes to build with his Magnatiles while I read to him. It makes me happy to see his imagination at work building and playing with his toys as I read to him.
As a former dancer, my favorite creative visual art experience was seeing a high schooler dance to a poem about police brutality that happened in our city of Chicago involving a teenage boy Laquan McDonald. The dancer’s movements were powerful, strong, visceral, and in step with the rhythm of the words of the poem she danced to, which was written by her classmate. The performance took the audience’s breath away. This type of innovation clearly in this case can promote healing.
These are a few examples of how reading promotes creativity in children. Books allow us to enter into worlds outside our everyday lives, sometimes magical and mystical, but often encourage curiosity. A great book can often lead to ingenuity. Keep your children reading and they, and maybe you too, may come up with the next creative new wave.
All proceeds of Jeni's new children’s pandemic book, Superhero Smiles, published by Eifrigi Publishing benefit UNICEF COVID-19 Relief Fund.