I am extremely proud and honored to present this interview with Antoinette Portis, the best selling author and illustrator of Not A Box and Not A Stick. I am very passionate about children’s literature and really appreciate books that encourage a child to “think outside the box”. Being a person who regularly “thinks outside the box”, Antoinette’s books really struck a cord with me. Both of her books are ideal for helping your child be more creative and using their imagination during play with ordinary objects. What would you do with a cardboard box when you were a child? How about a stick?
I think many parents and educators can benefit from Antoinette responses below. Please read and enjoy!
1. What inspired you to write Not A Stick?
I started out, when I wrote Not A Box, wanting to make a book about the childhood satisfaction of playing with ordinary household stuff. I remember, as a child, sitting in our driveway in a cardboard-box train car feeling this rush of joy that my own imagination was at my disposal, anytime I needed it, to turn an ordinary object into something entertaining. It was a power I was aware of being able to wield as a child (maybe the only power!).
My publisher wanted a sequel to Not A Box and I thought about other favorite non-toy toys. It came down to a blanket or a stick.
We had friends visiting from out of town and their son, bored with grownup conversation, went outside and happily played with a bamboo pole. Then a few days later, stopped at a red light, I saw a little boy skipping across the street next to his grandmother, waving a branch that bounced and sprang with each step. He was completely entranced. So Not A Stick it was.
2. How do you think the advancement in electronics and technology has affected a child’s ability to play in today’s world?
Experts from brain scientists to sociologists are weighing in on this topic, arguing both that tech is making kids smarter and better prepared for adulthood and that tech is dumbing them down and making them less prepared. I know for sure that kids are entranced by ipad apps. So am I. But, in my view, both as a mom and a person who’s spent their life in creative fields– it’s important for kids and parents to not rely entirely on the tech and entertainment industry for amusement. How much better for the long life ahead, for children to learn how to draw on their own imaginations to entertain themselves. Plus, it’s the most fun ever! It’s tragic to think of kids not getting plenty of time and opportunity to exercise their innate ability for creative, self-generated play.
When I draw with kindergarteners and first graders, it always gives me a lift. They draw and make up stories with unselfconscious freedom and joy. They don’t judge what they’ve created—they dig in to the process happily, without impediment.
We should nourish this ability and give kids plenty of time for un-organized play at home. Skirting the edge of boredom can be just the push anyone needs to draw on their own inner resources to entertain them.
When my brothers and sister and I would whine at my mom that there was nothing to do, she’d say, “Go play.” And we would. Hence the massive blanket forts that I still remember. Or playing spy, detective, or pirate,
3. Do you have any tips for parents to help facilitate more imagination during play?
My advice is to have plenty of time when the ipads and flat screens are off.
Give kids open-ended toys like blocks, legos, even sugar cubes–any kind of building tool or construction set. Have plenty of different art materials to play around with—clay, crayons, markers, construction paper, paper towel tubes, wood scraps, etc. My daughter made wonderful collages from old magazines and newspapers. The recycling bin is a treasure trove. Remember the joy of making a robot out of paper towel tubes and Quakers oatmeal drums? Let them mess around and experiment. Everybody likes squeezing out glitter glue, even if the end result is nothing but a smeary mess. Remember finger painting? I can still feel the slippery paint under my fingertips. Who cared what it looked like in the end? It was an experience.
Creative play is one area where there’ no wrong way to do something (except maybe not helping clean up after you made a big mess). It’s about the process of experimentation and discovery.
Here’s one little Mom tip: You can give your child drawing prompts (this is great at a restaurant—I always carried paper and pens): invent a new kind of dinosaur (could be a mash-up of known dinosaurs or, say, a mash-up of kitten and T-rex) or a new kind of bug. Or have them make up a new super hero by combining their most longed-for super power with their favorite animal.
I think it’s important for children to grow up trusting their innate ability to create, invent, and problem-solve. There are a lot of messes to clean up in this world that need creative thinkers!