It’s hard to get inspired sometimes. Life is hard. The world is scary and weird and can sometimes feel hopeless. I find myself struggling with the theme I chose for this column despite normally being a hope-filled, generally inspired individual. Sometimes we need a reset. It can be overwhelming for anyone, of any age, to hear about the world and all the bad stuff in it. Escaping to a good book with an inspirational protagonist can help reset your mindset and facilitate your own inspiration. Kids and teenagers, just like fully grown adults, have moments of discouragement and slumps in creativity. Sometimes I need a hero/heroine to remind me about the joys of discovering passion, overcoming oppression or rescuing their people. Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen might be fictional characters, but the emotions they evoke in readers are real.
I asked my friends online to tell me about books they read as teens which gave them inspiration. There were lots of responses and a wide variety of books with many themes. Something that shone through as a common inspiration was a strong protagonist. Some of the books were set in fantasy landscapes, while others were set in real places and times. Regardless of the setting, most of the time the book was about self-discovery or overcoming adversity. When I reflect upon the books I read as a teen that made me feel empowered and inspired lots of popular YA titles come to mind. The Golden Compass books by Philip Pullman, The Hunger Games series, Harry Potter. I think I am inspired by the unlikely hero. I am inspired by the small and downtrodden rising up to promote the power of good in the world.
For very young readers who might need some inspiration in times of challenge, or who do not feel they are up for a creative challenge, I recommend the books The Dot and Ish by Peter H. Reynolds. (Both available in the Lennoxville Library.)
The Dot tells the story of young girl, Vashti, who sits in her Art class discouraged and feeling like she is not able to make anything worthy of the title Art. Her teacher tells her to just make a mark. She defiantly makes a small dot on the page, and then her teacher instructs her to sign it. The next day she comes in to find the picture framed in the classroom. Vashti is inspired to create many more dot pictures because her teacher believed in her and allowed her definition of art expand.
The book Ish has a similar theme. Drawing is what Ramon does to make himself happy. But a rude remark by Ramon's older brother, Leon, turns Ramon's carefree sketches into joyless work when he becomes convinced his pictures are not accurate, and therefore not good enough. His little sister later finds all his rejected pictures and hangs them up in homage. He learns this and realizes his narrow definition of ‘good’, or ‘realistic’ is limiting his enjoyment and creativity. He learns that a house in a drawing can be ‘house-ish’ and that perfection is not necessary for art to be good. Kids often feel a lot of pressure to make something perfect or correct at school or even in their extracurricular lives. This book explores letting ourselves relax to let creativity flow and feel inspired by what we create, and not needing to meet the rigid standards others set out for us.
I think what I find more inspiring about books as an educator and parent is how many beautiful books exist to lift up important messages of kindness and hope. We live in a world which is scary and uncertain. I feel lifted up by the gorgeous work that contemporary children's literature is generating. We are so blessed to have so many excellent and inspiring stories to share with our families. Stop by your local library soon to pick up something to warm your heart and make you feel inspired.