Everybody Has It In Them

Andrea Debbink and Emily Balsley Inspire Youngsters' Creativity

By Megan Roessler | Photographed by Kaia Calhoun

“There are a lot of craft books out there,” says Andrea Debbink, pausing, “but not books that cover creativity more broadly.” As an editor who creates lifestyle content for American Girl, Debbink knows a thing or two about the market for nonfiction children’s books. Two years ago, inspired by letters from young readers interested in creativity, she pitched her idea for a guidebook-meets-workbook designed to encourage the skills necessary to think creatively in all aspects of life. In August, “Spark: A Guide to Ignite the Creativity Inside You” finally got to light up the shelves.

Written by Debbink and illustrated by Emily Balsley, “Spark” emphasizes the importance of creativity as a skill that can be learned and developed, rather than a talent innate to some and not others. For adults, this isn’t such a new idea—but for children’s literature, it is. “People aren’t as aware of the issues kids are facing regarding creativity,” Debbink says. With this in mind, “Spark” explores the ways that creativity is different from artistic skill, placing a thoughtful emphasis on women in business and STEM fields. Take, for instance, the “Hall of Creativity” page, which profiles astronaut Mae Jemison and athlete and fashion entrepreneur Ibtihaj Muhammad right alongside singer Ella Fitzgerald, artist and designer Maya Lin, and many more.

Balsley’s watercolor illustrations—painted layer by layer on a lightbox to create lively, saturated color—harmonize perfectly with Debbink’s words. “Most pages are actually about three or four paintings,” Balsley says. “It’s all her handwriting, too,” Debbink excitedly says of typography throughout the book, “that’s actually how she writes!” The two also give a shout-out to American Girl Art Director Dan Nordskog, describing him as a translator who helped to relate the words and pictures, and thought up the ideas behind a number of the flowcharts and activities throughout the book.

“Spark” gives its readers plenty to think on, offering guidance on questions from “What kind of project should I do today?” to “What should my workspace look like?” In terms of what they hope readers will take away, Balsley thinks about the values of a life lived creatively, “Everyone has it in them,” she says, “it’s just a matter of finding what that means.” Debbink scales back, saying, “I hope it gives whoever reads it encouragement.”

To turn your spark of creativity into a flame, Debbink and Balsley recommend the following:

For the pint-sized creative mind—

What Do You Do With An Idea?

By Kobi Yamada

In this charming picture book that follows a young child and an idea that inspires him, Yamada looks at the ways that creativity and intuition can bring color and meaning to someone’s life.

The Most Magnificent Thing

By Ashley Spires

This picture book tells the story of a young girl going through the highs and lows of the creative process. Touching on many of the same issues as “Spark,” “The Most Magnificent Thing” is perfect for slightly younger readers needing the inspiration to follow their creative vision.


By Peter Reynolds

“Ish” meditates on imperfection, telling the story of a young boy who loves to draw, but who becomes discouraged. A delightful story about how imperfection can bring life to artwork and how a hobby can bring joy into the world, “Ish” will warm the hearts of readers young and old.

For old dogs looking to learn new tricks—

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

By Mason Currey

Focusing on the daily rituals of thinkers and makers from Andy Warhol to Jane Austen, this work by Mason Currey promises intrigue and inspiration. “Each chapter discusses a different type of creative person,” explains Debbink, complementing how the book illuminates the broad range of what it means to be creative.

Uppercase Magazine and Little U

By Janine Vangool

“Everything she touches is gold,” says Balsley about Janine Vangool, the publisher, editor and designer behind Uppercase Magazine and its recent spinoff for younger readers, Little U. Uppercase focuses broadly on creativity—featuring themes such as “Looking Back” and “Office” to celebrate different facets of art and creativity that promise to inspire readers of all ages.

Big Magic

By Elizabeth Gilbert

Both Debbink and Balsley gave “Big Magic,” the newest work from the author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” a resounding stamp of approval. Encouraging readers to follow their curiosities, it emphasizes the rewards of living a creative life not through profession, but through perspective.


Read more about the launch of “Spark” here.

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