Capo family Christmas tradition dictated that every Christmas Eve before bed we would sit in front of the fire and the twinkling tree, sucking merrily on sour gummy worms (our uncle would send a ton of them each year), and read Christmas children’s books aloud. This tradition still stands, even at ages 30, 27, and 23.
This year, as we expect an addition to the family, our thoughts drift toward favorite children’s books we’d like for a little library. The Christmas-themed ones are, naturally, high priority. Below are the treasured books we read growing up at Christmas time, and I earnestly suggest you check them out.
- The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
This is a classic for many families this time of year. For us, it is all about the sound of our father’s voice reading the rhythmic prose, lulling us all into a peaceful, Christmas-y bedtime frame of mind. We also always enjoyed watching him get excited every time we arrived at this softly lit illustration of wolves in the woods on the way to the North Pole:
- Santa Cows by Cooper Edens
Whenever I mention this book, I usually get really dubious looks. Regardless, the Capo family copy of Santa Cows was so beloved it fell apart at the seams. The book was given to me by a dear neighbor when I was really young, and every year we’d pull it out from the Christmas book cupboard as a treat not to be missed. So what is it? Well, it is The Night Before Christmas poem with the words changed to tell the story of a suburban family who are visited on Christmas Eve, not by a jolly old elf, but by a herd of gift-bearing Santa Cows. Intrigued yet? The absurdity of the premise is part of the book’s charm. Additionally, the illustrations are wonderful and full of funny little background details, like the cat-shaped telephone or the Dominoes pizza delivery guy hanging out to play video games. Udderly goofy (forgive me), and marvelously fun—be sure to give this one a go.
- How Santa Got His Job by Stephen Krensky and Illustrated by S.D. Schindler
This book was special for our family as it was one of dozens of books illustrated by our uncle, S.D. Schindler (Incidentally the same uncle who sent the beloved gummy worms). The book tells the tale of a young Santa discovering his vocation through a series of trial and error jobs with the post office, the zoo, an all-night diner, among others. With each failed attempt, however, Santa discovers a skill that ultimately leads him to assume the duties of the Santa we know and love.
Over the last few years of blogging about creativity I’ve made many references to books I’ve read on the subject. Today, I am creating a listicle (as my sister says, everyone loves a listicle) of my favorite five.
Why should you care? There is so much research coming out today about neuroplasticity, or our mind’s capacity to change. It means is that we can continue to learn, to reshape our thoughts, and make connections that didn’t exist before. This is the essence of creativity. Creativity might often seem like a natural gift, where some people have it and others don’t, but I believe it is so much more than this. Creativity is a skill we can practice, a collection of habits we can hone. This is good news because it means that, with a little intentionality and practice, we can better live into our creative potentials. This is true whether you call your self a “creative” or not. We all have problems to solve, relationships to build, and tasks to complete; we can all use a leg-up for improving our creative output.
So here are the top five books I’ve read over the last few years for improving creative skills. If you have a book to suggest, please do! Always looking for more!
- The Accidental Creative: How to be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice, by Todd Henry
Followers of this blog might think I’m a broken record with my constant praise for this book. But as a creative professional, i.e. the book’s target audience, it spoke to me more accurately than so many others I’ve read. Author Todd Henry defines ‘creative professional’ as people who create value with their minds, which applies very broadly across human work. His strategy for creativity is to create habits that balance your capacity to be brilliant, healthy, and prolific simultaneously. Often in the work place, we can be one or two of these things, but without balancing the third, our work will suffer. The Accidental Creative outlines extremely practical ideas for radically improving creative output. More about The Accidental Creative…
- The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron
I confess: I am still working my way through this one. I’ve been working through it over the last year. The book is part workbook and jam-packed with excellent, convicting questions that provoke your memory and challenge presuppositions you may not have known you had about yourself and your ability to produce creative value. Cameron approaches the subject of creativity from a place of faith, but is not so specific in her theological claims that it would throw off more sensitive readers. The idea is that we are created creative, and our Creator wants to work with us in creating new things, as well as work through the fears, memories, and misconceptions that inhibit us from reaching our creative potential. Personally, the book has provided me with revolutionary healing; I had no idea how inhibited I was by negative feedback I’ve received over the years. The book helped me face these memories, name them, and move on. I’m so grateful.
- Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling, by Andy Crouch
I don’t even know where to begin with my admiration for this book.
Culture, according to Crouch, is what we make of the world. This means that when we are handed eggs, our inherent creativity compels us to make omelettes, and therein change and enhance the value of the egg. God created us in His creative image so that we could add value to this world, value that will last throughout eternity. This truth ennobles the work we do because it means that our efforts are not in vain. It also means that we should be especially mindful of our posture toward the culture being made around us. Crouch advocates that instead of limiting ourselves to critiquing culture, copying culture, or mindlessly consuming culture, we need to be cultivating culture, meaning we champion the good culture that exists and develop new ideas for improving our culture moving forward. This book, in short, provides a rich context for why we do creative work and how to do it well.
- Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, by Tim Brown
Ever been to a “brainstorming session” with coworkers and felt like it was a complete waste of time? We’ve all been there. Whether it is a micromanaging boss who needs to control the conversation or a Negative Nancy bashing every idea, innovation is not easily realized in groups. Design Thinking provides a practical and reproducible methodology that makes for effective group brainstorming. This book is full of amazing case studies showing how different the results are when Design Thinking is applied. It presents a compelling case for why designers should be empathetic or “human-centered” and why prototyping sooner than later in the process can be the most efficient way to test new ideas.
- The Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling
Bet you weren’t expecting this one. Bear with me as I explain how this book can teach us about creativity. I believe that effective communication is one of the most critical skills we can attain, and storytelling is one of the best communication tools. Good communication and storytelling require prodigious creative effort to transfer complex concepts through simple means to an intended audience. If you’ve ever struggled to get someone to understand one of your ideas, you know success often depends on a miracle. The Harry Potter books tackle universal themes of joy, pain, friendship, sacrifice, and fear, and do so with nuance, subtlety, and emotion. I regularly urge Potter skeptics to give the books a chance; the creative treatment of its themes, its characters, and narrative are not only immensely entertaining but worth considerable study. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve read Harry. What I know is that I learn new things every time through, and I still have a lot to learn. How is it that I feel like her characters are real people? How does she pace her books so well? Where does she get her plot devices, like the Mirror of Erised or portkeys or horcruxes? Creative Genius. Genius.