“Approaching Life Creatively.”
A Review of
The Creative Family,
by Amanda Blake Soule.
By Jeni Newswanger-Smith.
The Creative Family:
How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections.
Amanda Blake Soule.
Paperback. Trumpeter. 2008.
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I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve picked up a child’s craft book only to find things that none of my children would actually be able to create. The given crafts require cutting skills far beyond their ability (their ages are 5, 4 and 3). The crafts are usually fairly uncreative, as well. In order to finish many of these crafts, I find myself doing most of the “work.” The Creative Family is not a typical parent-child craft book. Amanda Blake Soule believes that all children are creative and all parents have the ability to nurture that creativity. She fills her book with creative ideas that will appeal both to parents who have been teaching their children art skills from the cradle and to those who don’t own crayons or scissors.
Soule knows well what she’s writing. She’s the mother of three creative children, aged 7, 5 and 2 and the author of a popular crafting blog: http://www.soulemama.com
As a crafting book, this one is unusual. I would say it is more of a family living/crafting hybrid. The book contains mostly open-ended ideas, allowing for creative expression. Being a creative family is not about output. Rather, Blake Soule asserts that a creative family functions in a way that’s self-perpetuating. A child is naturally creative, which inspires the parent to be more creative. In being creative herself, the parent then encourages her child’s creativity by example and so it goes.
But what makes this book truly unusual is that Soule doesn’t limit her definition of creativity to paper, crayons, paint, etc. Soule truly desires for families to approach life creatively. She encourages parents to see the creative side of dressing up, writing letters, playing games, giving thanks—even in picking up trash from public spaces. For her, creativity is a way of life, and although she does not claim Christianity herself, this mindset is one that is of much importance to followers of Jesus, the Creator of all.
This book is incredibly accessible. It contains no claims such as “100 project your kids will love!”, but provides many useful jumping-off points for limitless creativity. The book does contain detailed directions for a few new and interesting projects (child-made stuffed toys, freezer paper stencils, painted cloth placements to name just three). However, the book mostly contains ideas that are exciting because of all the possibilities, for example: Family Drawing Time, child-taken photo albums (sewn, of course!), nature walks, and gratitude poems. In one section, titled “Gathering,” Blake Soule reflects on how we gather ideas and materials. I appreciated this section so much, I read it twice. Why spend money at a huge chain store buying craft supplies in huge, overwhelming quantities, when most of us have things in our pantry (beans, lentils), dresser drawers (old shirts), and backyards (pinecones, stones, leaves) that are perfect for creative use? When purchasing supplies, Soule encourages parents to buy good quality items ( for example, most kids like painting, but get frustrated with typical watercolor pallets made for children).
I’m also drawn to her ideas of ritual and celebration. Blake Soule’s ideas here mirror some Christian disciplines: celebration, daily rituals of gathering and gratitude.
If I were to find a negative about this book, it would simply be that there are so many wonderful, interesting ideas, that it’s almost overwhelming. I’m overwhelmed with all the things I want to say about it. Soule’s approach to life is so full of joy, gratitude and gentleness. Most of our lives are so hectic and over-filled. However, if we took time out to slow down and enjoy just a few of Soule’s ideas, we would probably gain more than just an increased level of creativity.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com