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The Book List That Will Spark Your Child’s Creativity and Independent Play All Summer Long

best books for kids to inspire creativity

Inside: Are your kids bored? Solve two things at once — get your kids reading this summer and engaging in creative and independent play with these fun books!

Your kids will be bored this summer. Inevitably they will come to you and say, “I’m bored, there’s nothing to do!” (And yes these are the exact same kids who couldn’t wait for school to get out).

Research shows it’s good to be a little bored (too much boredom may be a signal of a deeper need). Being bored is actually one of the normal resting states of the brain that we have become unused to in the age of screens and digital devices that we use to fill every ‘down’ moment.

Being bored stimulates creative thinking, a time to reflect on experiences and memories, and a time to figure out who we are and what we like to do– a search for meaning.

Children's books to inspire creativity and independent play
Photo: What To Do With a Box by Jane Yolen

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Boredom is a necessary state before flow — that magical state when your kids delve into something and are completely engaged in it for a significant amount of time. That kind of play is where kids should be spending most of their time — especially in the summer.

So, what can you do to help your kids get from a state of boredom to one of creative flow? There are so many good ideas out there — the bored jar, boredom buster cards, and summer bucket lists.

I love all of those. We have a bored jar and we create a family summer bucket list. Sometimes, though, kids need a little extra inspiration (don’t we all?), to truly get into a state of creative flow and independent play.

That’s where books come in. Books are the antithesis to boredom in and of themselves, but what if they could also inspire your kids to create something, do a project, or go on an adventure?

I’ve divided the books into categories based on the ideas the books could inspire. You don’t need all of these books — may be one from each section or a few in two sections that you know your kids would really love. Some of these books are geared towards younger kids and some are geared towards older kids. While I do include a few activity books, most of these books are stories that will spark your child’s own creativity and imagination.

With this summer booklist, you accomplish two things at once — summer reading and kids who are engaged and playing on their own. Some of these projects are so fun, though, you’ll find yourself putting aside your to-do list and joining in on the fun!

51 Children’s Books to Inspire Creativity and Independent Play

Books about Creating with a Cardboard Box

Everyone knows a box is not just a box and that kids prefer the box to what was inside the box. We have a huge box that hangs in our garage that has been built on for years. Currently, it is something between a robot and a rocket ship.

Give your child one of these books and a cardboard box and see what happens. As one reviewer of A Box Can Be Many Things said, “Great book to inspire creative play. Be sure to have a large box available before you give the book to your child. They will immediately want to go and build something. Easy to read for my kindergarten granddaughter. Kept her interest and then inspired a whole afternoon of play.”

Cardboard Creations: Open-Ended Exploration with Recycled MaterialsCardboard Creations: Open-Ended Exploration with Recycled MaterialsI Am Not a Cereal Box: 10 Exciting Things to Make with Cereal BoxesI Am Not a Cereal Box: 10 Exciting Things to Make with Cereal BoxesWhat To Do With a BoxWhat To Do With a BoxNot a BoxNot a BoxA Box Can Be Many ThingsA Box Can Be Many ThingsBoxBoxChristina Katerina and the BoxChristina Katerina and the BoxBig Box for BenBig Box for Ben


Books About Drawing with Chalk

There is something uniquely summery and magical about sidewalk chalk. It brings to mind endless days and neighborhood kids playing together.

Inspire your kids to get creative on the sidewalk with one of these books and a box of sidewalk chalk. As one reviewer states about Chalk, “This is an adorable story. Love the sparkle in children’s eyes as their imagination soars with ideas to draw with sidewalk chalk after reading this book.”

 Books That Will Spark Your Child's Creativity and Independent Play
Photo: Chalk by Bill Thompson

ChalkChalkSidewalk Chalk: Outdoor Fun and GamesSidewalk Chalk: Outdoor Fun and GamesChalk on the Wild Side: More than 25 chalk art projects, recipes, and creative activities for adults and children to explore togetherChalk on the Wild Side: More than 25 chalk art projects, recipes, and creative activities for adults and children to explore togetherAmelia Bedelia Chalks One UpAmelia Bedelia Chalks One UpThe Chalk Box KidThe Chalk Box KidHieroglyphsHieroglyphs


Books About Building Things

With the right inspiration, kids can spend hours building. Some of the benefits linked to playing with blocks are boosts in language development, spatial skills, math skills, divergent thinking, and social skills.

There isn’t a more open-ended toy that invites children to create whole worlds. These books are great for sparking some ideas for world-creation in your child. And for extra fun, take the blocks outside for a day.

As one reviewer of Dreaming Up, states “This was a great book to encourage children to build their own creations. The pictures that showed buildings that were like the children’s models serve as an inspiration to imagine and that dreams and creations can become realities.”

Dreaming Up: A Celebration of BuildingDreaming Up: A Celebration of BuildingWhen I Build With BlocksWhen I Build With BlocksJack the Builder (MathStart 1)Jack the Builder (MathStart 1)Block CityBlock CityLook at That Building!: A First Book of StructuresLook at That Building!: A First Book of Structures


Books About Daydreaming and Imagination

Sometimes in summer or on vacation when the days start to meld together, you feel as if you suddenly found more time. And in those slow hours, you start to let your mind wander.

These books help your kids get excited to simply let their imaginations guide their days. As one reviewer of Inside my Imagination states, “This beautiful book is sure to stimulate a child’s own creativity, and help her to believe that she can be whoever she wants to be.”

In My Room: A Book of Creativity and ImaginationIn My Room: A Book of Creativity and ImaginationImagination VacationImagination VacationInside My ImaginationInside My ImaginationEmily's Runaway ImaginationEmily’s Runaway ImaginationImagination According to HumphreyImagination According to HumphreyWhere's Your Creativity?Where’s Your Creativity?


Books About the Backyard

“Go outside and play!” Those could be the best four words you could say to your kids. Because outside is where kids need to be (and we should join them because we can benefit too).

These books will help to inspire some magical backyard adventures — whether it be a fairy hunt, birdwatching, or building — adventure awaits just a step outside our door. As one reviewer states about Look Up! ” It was fun to read it to the kids and then make toilet paper binoculars that they take outside and can look for the birds in the book.”

best books for kids to inspire creativity
Photo: The Backyard by W. S. Mason

The BackyardThe BackyardLook Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own BackyardLook Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own BackyardBackyard FairiesBackyard FairiesSTEAM Stories: The Backyard BuildSTEAM Stories: The Backyard BuildBackyardBackyardBackyard AdventureBackyard AdventureNot a StickNot a Stick


Books About Drawing and Creating with Paper

Kids love to draw, cut, and create with paper. One of the easiest and best “gathering” activities we did with our scout troop this year was putting down a pile of colored paper and few paper airplanes on a table. When the scouts arrived they were instantly drawn to the table, folding, throwing and creating. The whole meeting could have been about paper airplanes!

As one reviewer states about Snippets, “We spent more than 2 hours cutting, coloring, talking, and laughing! The next day, and the following, and the following, for almost a month now, my son has started to build a whole Snippet City (seriously, I need to vacuum now!). A city complete with walls, houses, fire station, zoo, bridges, trees, roads, even signs. My son has gone crazy creative–and all he needed was paper, crayons, scissors, and…well…some time with mom!”

The Kids' Book of Paper Love: Write. Craft. Play. Share.The Kids’ Book of Paper Love: Write. Craft. Play. Share.Snippets: A story about paper shapesSnippets: A story about paper shapesHenri's ScissorsHenri’s ScissorsLines That WiggleLines That WiggleI'm NOT just a Scribble...I’m NOT just a Scribble…Let's Make Comics!: An Activity Book to Create, Write, and Draw Your Own CartoonsLet’s Make Comics!: An Activity Book to Create, Write, and Draw Your Own Cartoons


Related: Books that Inspire Your Child to Become a Problem Solver, a Critical Thinker, and Change the World

Books About Having a Lemonade Stand

There is nothing quite so quintessentially summer as making lemonade and making a lemonade stand. And it’s a great learning activity too. Sugar, lemons, and sunshine = instant memories. These books will help inspire your kids to make their lemonade stand a reality.

As one reviewer writes about The Lemonade Stand, “My daughter adores this book and has been having fun this summer creating recipes to sell in her own lemonade stand. A fabulous book to get kids working and earning!”

The Lemonade Stand Cookbook: Step-by-Step Recipes and Crafts for Kids to Make...and Sell!The Lemonade Stand Cookbook: Step-by-Step Recipes and Crafts for Kids to Make…and Sell!When Grandma Gives You a Lemon TreeWhen Grandma Gives You a Lemon TreeLemonade StandLemonade StandPeg + Cat: The Lemonade ProblemPeg + Cat: The Lemonade ProblemThe Berenstain Bears' Lemonade StandThe Berenstain Bears’ Lemonade StandOLIVIA Opens a Lemonade StandOLIVIA Opens a Lemonade StandAwesome Adventures of the Lemonade BoysAwesome Adventures of the Lemonade BoysAlex and The Amazing Lemonade StandAlex and The Amazing Lemonade Stand


Books about Summer

And finally, here are some books that are simply about summer — which is inspiring in its own right. Summer goes by all too quickly, especially with kids. These books are a good reminder to soak it in and be mindful of the season.

summer books for kids
Photo: And Then Comes Summer by Tom Brenner

SummerSummerAnd Then Comes SummerAnd Then Comes SummerSummer Days and NightsSummer Days and NightsSummer is HereSummer is HereSummerSummer


I hope these books inspire you and your kids to have a creative and playful summer! I wrote this to inspire kids to find their inner creativity and to play independently, but I hope you will be inspired to slow-down, savor, and be creative right alongside your kids. Happy summer!

Related: Picture Books That Teach Kids How to Stop and Think, Handle Emotions, and Be Mindful

Related: How to Build a Sandbox

summer book list for kids to spark their creativity and independent play

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  • Leslie H
    June 25, 2019 at 11:14 am

    These are some fantastic activity books, thank you! My kids definitely fill their summer up with reading and I will be ordering a few of these recommendations today. I think it’s also important to give children books that teach them important life lessons with examples that children can readily relate to and ideas/actions that are easy for them to try with friends, family, and their community. A book that my kids absolutely adore is “The Dyno Dinosaur Family Presents: Waves of Kindness” by Sharida McKenzie (https://dinosaurfamily.wordpress.com/). I mean, it’s great for any child that loves dinosaurs (my son!) BUT it also features unicorns, elephants, monkeys, and other animals that show easy to implement ideas for spreading kindness. From something as simple as putting away your toys to ending your evening with the very important question, “What did you do to make the world a better place today?” It is a book that we use as a reference almost on a daily basis now. I cannot recommend it enough – Happy Summer reading