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Sallie Lowenstein

Shapes, hand built and decorated by Sallie Lowenstein
Sallie Lowenstein
There is a lot of angst and worry in the world, and there is particularly a lot of distress over the loss of school and learning among children because of days at home due to the pandemic. And that might be true, but there are lots of ways to learn and sometimes, although it might seem distressing at the time, they pay off in the future. When I was a child, we lived in Burma where we went to school only in the mornings because of the heat and a lack of air conditioning, plus we got every holiday of every religion (Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu…) and every national holiday represented in the international community off. In addition, my family traveled to from and the Orient for about four-and-a-half months, during which time we did not go to school. BUT—we saw all the great museums and architectural sites of the 17 countries we visited; we saw things most people never see from the sublime (the golden Schwedagon Pagoda) to the horrific (lepers on the steps of that same pagoda); to the Taj Mahal by moonlight where my father almost had his pocket picked. It was a different kind of education, a different kind of learning, and in many ways, in important ways, was irreplaceable.

I was writing a talk for the Baltimore Bibliophiles that I gave on Zoom on January 20, and towards the end, in reference to the effect of Covid on the book business, I remarked that I have never been so grateful for my creative endeavors as during these days of pandemic. Indeed, my fine art production has exploded. I have written five picture books, two novels, and done thirty-four illustrations for one of the novels. It has kept me sane. And it occurred to me that in these days of isolation and too much time on computers and screens, made even worse by winter weather and shorter days, children of all ages might find new ways of learning and looking at the world through creative endeavors.

Being creative is a physical activity that offers concrete, real-time satisfaction. It gives a rhythm to life. There is a lovely connection between the physical act of creation and mental stimulation and satisfaction. But not everyone knows how to create, as it is not something that schools teach in the abstract. Due to their structure and the need to grade, most “creative” endeavors in school are presented as assignments with specific rubrics.

Maybe Pandemic-Time has a silver lining—maybe it offers a chance to dip into the creative realm and find a different kind of education through creative activities.

If you are at a loss as to how to start, there are many how-to-books and although many are formulaic, the best of them present skills and basics in a way that allows the reader/user to be inventive without limits on creativity. One of the advantages of books over internet instructions for such endeavors is that they allow you to quickly flip back and forth to follow the instructions, and to easily choose between projects. The best of these books is also well written. There is nothing worse than badly written instructions! They become an unsolvable puzzle.

Making things involves many skills: cutting and drawing requires small-finger and eye-hand coordination; making a book to fill with story uses engineering, math, and writing, language and abstract reasoning skills; cooking involves chemistry, measuring, math and results in sensory satisfaction; puppets and creating a puppet show involves dramatic and acting experience, physical manipulation/coordination and social interaction. These activities and many more can fill hours and hours and offer everybody a respite from the Pandemic and children a chance to be both expressive and learn in less traditional ways.

You may want to collect such things as paper towel rolls, ribbon, old wrapping paper, etc. What we consider to be junk can be very useful for these kinds of projects. It may surprise both adults and kids to see what Alexander Calder did with junk in Roarr: Calder's Circus by Maira Kalman (Whitney Museum of Art, 1999) He created his now world-famous Circus from pieces of everything and anything. You can also find cool ways to display and honor what is produced if it isn’t edible—but I promise, cookies and other goodies will not last long enough to be displayed. 
Isabella’s Shoe Studio by Violet Lemay (Duopress, 2014) is a surprisingly delightful book that structures itself around creativity and shoes! Yep, shoes—but it is so much more. There is a story, a little bit of shoe history, and a lot of information about being a creative designer and artist. Plus, it is a sort-of-how-to-book—but far more. It cleverly offers kids opportunities to try out their own creativity right in the book—which also includes them in the process of illustrating the book. The author cleverly has Isabella invite the kids to participate, like a good friend would, by writing it in a conversational style. Although no longer available through Duopress, there are new copies available from an Indie Bookstore: Page-158 ( https://www.page158books.com/) and at some online used bookstores. A great gift, a lot of fun, don’t hesitate to order it for your art-oriented child. It is probably most appropriate for ages 5-9.
Hand Decorating Paper by Marie Browning (Sterling Publishing Co, 2000) covers a little bit of everything from block printing and nature prints to marbling and tie-dying paper. It's nicely done and approachable and gives lots of ways to try lots of things that will encourage experimentation.
A Guide to Making Decorated Paper by Anne Chambers (Thames and Hudson, 1989) is one of my favorite books devoted to decorating papers. What it covers includes paste papers; orizomegami which is folding and dipping rice paper in color to create patterns; and suminagashi, which is paper marbling on water. Although this book was not written specifically for kids, with a little help from parents or an older sibling, some of the projects are appropriate for any age. And parents will enjoy the projects as much as their children.
Kirigami by Jeffrey Rutzky (Metro Publishing, 2007) is a little book full of engineering projects to be executed with folded pieces of paper and a pair of scissors. The results are exquisite, starting with simple projects like snowflakes and working their way up to three-dimensional projects and even some pop-ups. Great for lots of ages.
How to Fold by Larry Withers (Art Direction Company, 1993) is the first of three books in a series. Although it is aimed at designers, it introduces ways of folding brochures and booklets that are simple enough to be adapted for other purposes, from greeting cards, to brochures for events, to chap books for poetry.
The Pop-Up Book by Paul Jackson (Henry Holt, 1993) is a well-presented book of projects for older kids. Most kids are intrigued by pop-up books at some point and here is a book that teaches them the art of pop-up engineering. Jackson himself is one of the acknowledged masters of the art form and if you ever get a chance to see his museum-worthy work, don't miss it.
Making Books with Kids by Esther K. Smith, illustrations by Jane Sanders, photography by Esther Smith (Quarry Books, 2016) is a terrific book with all kinds of interesting project suggestions. Smith has written other great books on bookmaking, and they are all equally well written with easy-to-follow instructions. In this book, I'm particularly fond of the simple accordion "city-book" which is an endlessly adjustable art project. This one is worth owning in order to return to it to over and over. And don't forget to encourage filling the books with original stories.
In Fun with Paper by Heather Amery (Reed International Books, 1993) a whole ream of fun projects for kids from boxes to hats to flowers...The projects are well presented with potential for reusing the skills to create original and different versions.
What fun I've had over the years with Model a Monster by Collin Caket (Blandford Press, 1986). It introduces ways to construct dinosaurs from cardboard that can be applied to make other animals, even zoos of many animals in sizes from large to small. It doesn't matter the size or the animal because the principles are the same. You can make dragons, or giraffes, peacocks or puppy-dogs. Just have fun.
Did you ever want to make a mask for Halloween, or a performance, or just to pretend in? It's not that easy to find a good book on the topic, but Barbara Snook's book Making Masks for School Plays (Plays, Inc., 1972) is just the ticket for hours of fun and magical play once the masks are complete. Although not a glossy presentation, she covers how to use buckram, metal foil, corrugated card and many other materials, as well as a variety of mask types such as stick masks, hat or helmet masks and half-face masks.
Making and Manipulating Marionettes by David Currell (Crowood Press, 2005) is a handsome, well-presented guide to the art of marionettes as both a how to and a history of the art form. Definitely a particular passion, I have seen some amazing things done with these mimickers of human movement and behavior.
For the younger set, here are two more puppet books filled with fun: Sock Puppet Madness by Martyn Allen (Cico, 2013) and Hand Puppets: How to Make and Use Them by Laura Ross (Lothrop, Lee and Shepard, 1973) Although these books give directions for specific characters, these can easily be modified to create other characters with only a little imagination. Ross's book includes rod puppets, which are so much fun to work with. Years ago, I helped my son's second grade class create shadow puppets, which are also rod puppets. They performed an amazing play. And of course, it opened the door for all kinds of skill sets, including staging, lighting and writing the play. Fun, fun, fun!
Make Mine Music: How to Make and Play Instruments and Why They Work by Tom Walther (Little Brown & Co, 1981) introduces kids to different musical instruments, and explains how to make them with easily available materials. You can make a band, accompany a record, or just parade around. As far as I know, a one-of-a-kind book.
And lastly three fabulous cookbooks designed for kids , but with good enough recipes for adults to savor. The delectable recipes are by two famous female chefs. The recipes in Fanny at Chez Panisse by Alice Waters (Harper Collins, 1992) are mouth wateringly good and presented inside the framework of the story of restaurant life. Honest Pretzels (Tricycle Press, 1999) and Salad People (Tricycle Press, 2005) are by Mollie Katzen and are aimed at specific age groups. Honest Pretzels is for 8 and up, and Salad People is for preschool and up. They are both illustrated with step-by-step instructions and also have instructions to the parents for their part in the adventures. Great recipes in all three books, so look forward to feasting and also to proud little chefs.
Old Books, Young Readers is published by Sallie Lowenstein, who is also the owner of the 26 year old publishing company Lion Stone Books (www.lionstonebooks.com), and is the author/illustrator of 18 picture, middle grade, and young adult books.

She speaks at colleges, books festivals, and schools; develops writing programs for children; and mentors small groups of teen authors. A sculptor and painter, she shows her work in galleries and museums around the country.
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