10 Picture Books That Demonstrate Creative & Innovative Thinking


Picture books combine both visual and written mediums to create texts that bring stories to life for children and adults alike. When we reminisce about childhood, we’re bound to remember the experiences surrounding at least one particular picture book: the person who read it with us, the feelings it evoked, or how it piqued our imaginations.

As we seek to cultivate children’s creative lives, picture books are a simple–but powerful–way to model how they can innovate and think creatively. Here are 10 of our favorite books that demonstrate creative and innovative thinking:

1. Not A Box by Antoinette Portis

Have you seen a child build a cardboard fort? If not, you’re missing out! In this whimsical picture book, Antoinette Portis shows readers that a cardboard cube is anything but a box.

2. Round Trip by Ann Jonas

Typical early childhood reading skills include understanding how to hold a book with the correct orientation, and reading the book from front to back. In Round Trip, author-illustrator Ann Jonas, surprises readers with a story that can be read from top-to-bottom and front-to-back, but when it’s flipped upside down, the story continues through words and images that reflect into a new plot.

3. Bad Day At Riverbend by Chris Van Allsburg

What happens when a story incorporates a secret threat from outside the pages of its book? You get an amazing story with rogue crayons attacking the characters. In this often overlooked picture book, author-illustrator Chris Van Allsburg demonstrates some of his most creative thinking as he re-imagines how a reader can affect a story’s plot.

4. The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

There’s nothing more frustrating for a child than feeling like they can’t draw. But, when a teacher intervenes to show them the genius of their “dot,” a child’s despair is transformed into a creative drive that leads to a gallery of work. Who says it’s just a dot?

5. Press Here by Herve Tullet

When toddlers can unlock a smart phone and understand the power behind the tap of their finger, what’s so cool about a picture book? Author-illustrator, Herve Tullet shows children that the pages of a book can be just as responsive as a mobile app.

6. Duck Rabbit by Amy Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld

There’s nothing like a good ole’ optical illusion to get your brain ticking. Don’t let the simple text and images fool you! This book gets a room full of children asking: is it a duck or a rabbit? Well, it depends on how you look at it…

7. Big Frog Can’t Fit In by Mo Willems

Who says a picture has to be stuck on a page? Not Mo Willems. In this whimsical “pop-out” book, poor Big Frog just won’t fit! Based on this hilarious story, it looks like it might be time to make a bigger book.

8. Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg

Every artist understands the frustration of making a mistake–too much shadow, the wrong shade of green for that leaf, or a splatter of paint in the middle of that white cloud. Barney Saltzberg shows readers that the most frustrating mistakes can be transformed into our most creative work.

9. What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom

When you’re trying to explain how an idea comes to life, there’s nothing handier than a metaphor. In this delightful picturebook, the author and illustrator work together to create a visual metaphor that shows children how their ideas are like an egg that needs to be  protected, nurtured, and given the time to grow before it can hatch.

10. The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

Every creator and innovator knows that their process is magnificent, but painful. Things don’t always go according to plan, the ideas in our heads don’t come out the way we imagine them to be, and sometimes, our ideas just don’t work. In The Most Magnificent Thing, children can see that even though the process can be frustrating, when we step back and relax, we can see our work with a fresh eye and sometimes, we find the perfect solution!

10 Ways to get Kids to Think Creatively


When working with children, we’re often challenged to promote creative thinking. Our challenge is not to “teach” children to think creatively, but to encourage and support them as they engage in authentic creative learning experiences. Too often, adults are faced with standards, expectations, and programs that run counter to the practices of creative and innovative thinking.

Rather than outlining a scripted formula for getting kids to think creatively, we’d like to offer 10 suggestions that are specific enough to be actionable, but open enough to be catalysts into further exploration and practice.

1. Set the stage

Creativity thrives in open and inspiring environments. While these environments might look differently for individual children, creative learning environments are flexible with space and time, and reflect the shared values of inquiry and experimentation.

For more on creative learning environments, click HERE.

2. Lead with questions or problems

Creativity is sparked by questions or interesting problems. As adults, we can encourage children to think creatively when we position a topic or unit of study as a series of inquiry-based questions or problem-based scenarios that allow students to explore various solutions. 

3. Provide multiple materials

An easy way to promote creative thinking is to provide an array of materials for children to use in their work. When paper and pencil are just one of many options to express and explore ideas, children are primed with the tools they need to think and represent their thoughts in alternative ways.

4. Encourage independent AND collaborative thinking

Sometimes it’s assumed that collaborative learning is the best way to get kids to think creatively. While it is true that creativity thrives in social experiences and dialogue, it is also important to provide children with time to explore questions and problems independently as well.

5. Focus on the “HOW”

When we are faced with multiple standards and specific information that must be taught, we tend to focus on the “what” in learning. What standards did we cover? What did the children learn? What did they produce? If we want children to think creatively, we must shift our focus to address the “HOW” in their learning. Instead, we should be asking children: How did you solve this problem? How did you answer that question? How did you create this solution? 

6. Carve out time

Creativity takes time. A schedule that is compartmentalized and dominated by quantity rather than quality is not conducive for creative thinking. Children need extended periods of time to go deep in their creative thinking, therefore our schedules must demonstrate that we value this time.

7. Celebrate mistakes

Sometimes our best ideas are products of our mistakes. When children are encouraged and allowed to make mistakes, they have opportunities to learn what works and what doesn’t, and this process nudges them toward new ideas and better solutions.

For more on the importance of making mistakes in the learning process, click HERE.

8. Listen, listen, listen

Since creative thinking does thrive in collaborative environments, children must be taught how to listen to their peers. The most effective way for adults to teach active listening skills is to model these skills. When children see us listening and describing how we listen to others, they are learning how put these skills into practice.

For some simple strategies that teach children listening skills, click HERE.

9. Talk, talk, talk

Creativity flourishes in social situations where children can exchange ideas, ask questions, and explain their thought processes. As adults, we can model and encourage the types of dialogue that creative thinkers use in their work.

10. Share, share, share

When creatives share ideas, materials, experiences, and responsibilities, doors are opened into new possibilities and different ways of thinking. Children should have opportunities to engage in the creative process with their peers and to share and receive feedback on their work. This process should be reflective, offering opportunities for children to “think about their own thinking.”

For specific ways to support children as they share and reflect on their creative processes, click HERE.