With the long winter evenings in full flow, two books offer insights and inspiration to help young people find their creative zest

Creative spark is something we all want to nurture in our children. But how do we give them the tools and the courage to have a go? This is where two new books, aim to help. Both authors came at this from the standpoint of ‘what is the book that would have helped me at this age?’.

For Joe Haddow, it was about giving children creative licence. “When I was much younger, at about the age this book is aimed at [8+], I thought art was something you draw and paint and stick on the wall. And I also thought you had to be good. And when I say that I mean trained and then told that: ‘you are an artist’.”

Haddow is most definitely into the arts in its widest sense, with a day job as producer of Radio 2’s wildly successful Book Club and a passion for (and collector’s knowledge of) art, as well as a lifelong obsession with music, especially drumming. Even so,he says he wishes he’d realised in his younger years that art encompasses so much more than stuff on the walls or formal training to pass exams and then go pro. “I just love the idea that we can be creative, as kids, as adults, whenever we want – for no reason whatever.”

Two children's books to inspire creativity
Haddow urges children to explore and make art their way

Art is Everywhere helps children to see the creativity all around them. Also, it aims to help them recognise this is something they can do for themselves and always have an opinion on. That includes not liking everything that other people revere. Haddow nails his colours to the mast early on by using the Mona Lisa as an example, telling his young audience that this is not the Louvre picture he’d give wall room to. Indeed, the mysterious lady is rendered sporting a rather fetching moustache (ably drawn by illustrator Ellie Hawes) to prove the point. Haddow then contrasts that with one of his favourite contemporary artists, Jon Key, explaining why he loves his artworks and his style.

“I just love the idea that we can be creative – for no reason whatever”

From there, Art is Everywhere pulls out other strands – from comedy to dance to music to acting – with examples including Tim Minchin, Rosie Jones, Banksy and Matthew Bourne. There are sources for each name featured so children can find out more – then maybe find their own milieu as a maker and a lover of art.

Laura Dockrill is well known as author of children’s and young adults’ books, but it was the postpartum psychosis she experienced after the birth of her son (shared in the brilliantly frank 2020 book What Have I Done?) that underpins her new writing guide for young people.

You Are A Story was first suggested by her editor. “I’m not going to lie to you, I thought ‘that sounds very audacious’,” she says. “I don’t have the qualifications or the skills to write about writing.” She is, in fact, an old-timer as a successful performance poet and author – also understanding young people’s psyches through book events and workshops.

Two children's books to inspire creativity
Dockrill’s book encourages children to find their own voice, and use it

Nonetheless, she didn’t come to writing via the standard pathways herself and was easily able to recall her own sense of what a writer looked like. “When I was at school, the only writers we studied were dead men. I never thought I’d have a chance to be a book with a barcode on the back of it because I thought ‘I’m a live girl’.”

That recollection became the book’s inspiration, and so too the therapy that writing What Have I Done? gave her. For that ground-breaking book, with her baby nestled against her shoulder, she had started with small bursts, but these became chapters, and she ended up with 250,000 words written on her phone. The process was profoundly therapeutic. “I would physically feel my recovery – filling up, like a cup. I could feel myself coming back,” she says.

She could see how this same power could work for young people – so often struggling to express themselves, to be heard. “Then, I just tried to imagine my 12-year-old self and thought: I’m just going to write for them.” And the book does, chapter by chapter, explaining the process but also encouraging young people to recognise that their voice counts. Dockrill knows writing is really important – she thinks it helped save her – and she wants to pass on the tools and the strength.

“When I was at school the only writers we studied were dead men”

There’s advice on finding your voice, seeing and playing with material and lots of practical tips to keep at it and believe in the worth of what you are doing. “Quite often it’s just them thinking they are not important, their opinion is not valid, that nobody will care,” she says. The book sets out to show them the reverse is true. “Thank god we can communicate – how fortunate we are – if we don’t mind having that really vulnerable and open conversation. I think that needs to be shared more and encouraged,” says Dockrill.

“The quietness of writing is so crucial for our health,” she adds. “It’s broader and more creative than that, actually. It could be playing an instrument or dancing or boxing or cooking. It is whatever it is that gives you peaceful one-on-one time. And that’s the thing with mindfulness, we think that it means meditation, but it just means checking in with yourself.”

* Art is Everywhere by Joe Haddow (UCLan Publishing, £7.99). You are a Story: a creative writing guide to find your voice and speak your truth by Laura Dockrill (Hot Key Books, £7.99).

Further reading: Culture online – fun for young museum explorers