Last week, I had the pleasure of working with ten very talented elementary and middle school-aged writers. My colleague (an elementary school teacher) and I met with them for four afternoons, and began each session with an activity that we hoped would help spark their creativity and take their stories to new places.
About a month ago, I happened to hear an interview on NPR that became the basis of our first session. Since Scott (my colleague) and I both enjoy talking about character development, we typically start there. But this year, inspired by that NPR interview, we decided we wanted to start with something different.
The subject of the interview was art historian and children’s book author Marianne Malone. Malone is the author of The Sixty-Eight Rooms Adventures, a series of children’s books inspired by the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. Constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot, the rooms in this exhibit are like rooms in the world’s most exquisite and expensive dollhouse, revealing interiors spanning seven centuries. The furnishings in each room are authentic to the culture and time period. In addition, it’s possible to look beyond the featured room into adjacent hallways and out of windows to what lies beyond the room.
What better inspiration could there be for a story setting? And although we live in Pennsylvania, not Illinois, our students could still explore these setting starters. Thanks to the wonders of technology, all seven pages of meticulously crafted rooms were available to us online.
Our writers began with simple setting descriptions, and ten different stories with unique characters emerged from a simple website exploration.
As a parent, I’m sometimes concerned that technology stifles creativity; too many hours on too many devices can have the effect of distracting our kids from creative offline pursuits. But, as a writer, I know I often turn to the Internet for inspiration, just as my students did last week. I’m good with words, but not with visuals, and so I’m grateful for online photos of landscapes, photos and settings that bring my ideas into sharper focus and perhaps even inspire the next step or location in a story I’m working on.
What could a virtual trip to the Art Institute of Chicago’s Thorne Miniature Rooms inspire for your child? I have lots of ideas. What are some of yours? I’d love to hear about your adventures in the comments below.
Copyright 2014 Lisa Hess