Weekend Write-Off, Writing

Polka Dot Penguin Pottery

It’s usually a good sign when the cover of a book on creativity is oriented so that it opens bottom to top rather than right to left. Once I opened the cover of Polka Dot Penguin Pottery by Lenore Look/illustrated by Yumi Heo, I kept waiting for the page where the text would shift to traditional format, but the entire book continues in this way. And what a testament to the creative process it is. And how refreshing that is addressed in a picture book for children.

Though it’s been floating around our house for awhile, I read it for the first time to my six year-old last week – a day or so after reigniting my love affair with writing my young adult novel. How fitting that I should find this story at that moment in time. The “author”, an eight-ten year old girl, introduces herself by her nom de plume, Aspen Colorado Kim Chee Lee, stating that she writes stories “about monkeys and elephants, aliens and robots, and sometimes, about me.” She goes on to elucidate the writer’s process in the way only a child can. I sniggered to myself that I could’ve used this book a few days previous; if only I’d had the secret to finishing a story!


Illustration by Yumi Heo; image from George Shannon 

Alas, even with this fail-proof plan, Aspen Colorado Kim Chee Lee falls prey to the dreaded writer’s block. Her grandparents suggest some ‘chill-out’ time and take her and her baby sister on an outing. On the way to Polka Dot Penguin Pottery, Aspen continues to make lyrical observations despite her writer’s block. “The wind lick[s her] nose and whistle[s] in [her] ears.” Once she enters the shop, [her] words are swirling around . . . and [she] cannot catch them.” A potent reminder of the fact that we are always writing – even when we walk, stare, converse, dead-head blooms in the garden – not just when we sit at the keyboard.

Unfortunately, the crippling malaise of writer’s block transfers to Aspen’s pottery painting project. Luther and Ivy, who sit nearby, tell her “you have to stay super-still and wait for something to happen.” The shop owner suggests she relax and have fun. When she makes a blotch on her ceramic egg by accident and thinks the project is ruined, her creativity soon blossoms because she realizes she has nothing to lose. “You can only make a masterpiece if you’re willing to make a mess,” says Ivy.

Taking risks and keeping at it are the true key to the creative process. Following your monkey mind even if – perhaps especially if – you don’t know where it’s leading.

“And this is the story that began with just hanging out,” Aspen finishes her narrative with.

All too often, I think writers, at least me, are crippled by the blank page or screen. I may have ideas zipping around my head like crazy, but once the word processor loads that blank screen, I feel a constricting band around my throat. Unless I can ‘not think’ like Aspen in this story. When she wasn’t looking for it, the story found her.


Some additional notes about this book:

  • While the format is landscape, find the spreads that have different views depending on which way you turn the book. For instance, the page where Aspen and her family walk the street; her family in relation to the words and the shops and other people on the street.
  • Search for whimsical details like the squirrel 🙂
  • Consider sharing this with other writers in your life – especially those who have trouble living the simple truth it conveys!
  • Expect to enjoy it perhaps more than your children. I don’t know if I love its value to children or the fact that it’s a kids’ book that introduces the concept of the creative process. I sometimes wonder if authors create some picture books with the adult who will be reading it aloud in mind. (Thank you!)
  • Another picture book I’ve come across addressing the creative process is Begin at the Beginning: A Little Artist Learns about Life by Amy Schwartz
  • It is not a coincidence if you find parallels between the creative process and life.  We could all adapt such useful lessons to our benefit.