Colby Sharp, a Michigan third-grade teacher, is so passionate about literacy, that, besides teaching, he reviews children’s books on his website and blogs about everything book-related on the Nerdy Book Club website. Now Sharp is going to expand on the importance of reading and writing by editing an interactive anthology, The Creativity Project, which Little, Brown Books for Young Readers has bought for publication in 2018. The Creativity Project is Sharp’s first published book, and targets middle-grade readers as well as elementary school teachers for use in classes.
The Creativity Project will feature contributions by 43 children’s book authors and illustrators representing a variety of genres and from diverse backgrounds, including Sherman Alexie, Kate DiCamillo, Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler), Sophie Blackall, R.J. Palacio, and Jewell Parker Rhodes. Each contributor initially was asked to provide two writing prompts, which were then given to another contributor to help them get started after selecting one of the two prompts.
“They can create anything based on [the prompt],” Sharp said, “It can be a short story, poems, a short comic. We have no idea. Isn’t that crazy? I really wanted them to have a choice.” The prompt selected by each contributor will introduce that piece, and the 43 prompts that were not selected will be listed in the back of the book.
“Collecting the prompts as they came in was one kind of tremendous fun,” said Sharp’s editor, Susan Rich, who bought world English rights to the book in a preempt from Molly O'Neill at Waxman Leavell Literary Agency. “But the experience of matching prompts to creators together with Colby was like being set free in an alchemist’s laboratory. What would become of an idea given to one creator versus another? Colby brought extraordinary vision for the potential in every pairing. Building a book that celebrates collaboration and creativity with such a creative collaborator is a true joy.”
During a phone conversation during a break between classes at Parma Elementary School, Sharp explained that the Creativity Project was inspired by a confluence of interactions with authors at conferences and conventions. He recalled hearing Linda Urban speak at the 2011 National Council of Teachers of English conference about reading aloud in class a story she’d written during junior high, and a classmate calling it “weird.” Urban, Sharp noted, disclosed that the response from her classmate “crushed her for decades.” She continued writing, but it wasn’t until she was in her mid-30s that she submitted anything for publication (A Crooked Kind of Perfect).
Sharp recalled children’s breakfast speaker Dav Pilkey at this year’s BookExpo saying that he had conceptualized Dog Man while he was still in school, and was sitting in the hallway after having been kicked out of class for misbehaving.
Sharp noted that “it blew [his mind] when he discovered that Laurel Snyder and Aaron Becker had gone to high school together in Baltimore, and that they not only were friends and aspiring writers who encouraged each other at the time but both subsequently succeeded in fulfilling their dreams.
The anecdotes related by all of these successful authors made Sharp realize that “tomorrow’s writers are sitting in my classroom, and they need support and encouragement. We need to get them started; we need to get the wheels turning.” It all comes down to, he pointed out, expressing one’s creativity without restrictions. “Every time you sit down to write, it doesn’t have to be perfect,” he said, “It’s about creating.” This insight, in turn, inspired him to reach out to authors and illustrators and ask them to undertake a project that would inspire young readers and aspiring writers to unleash their own creativity.
Little Brown’s marketing department recently sent each contributor their two writing prompts – in a care package that included a paper “thinking cap,” a “do not disturb” door-hanger, and confetti made from book pages. From her home in Scottsdale, Ariz., Rhodes praised the Creativity Project, calling it “awesome fun” and declaring, “I’m already loving it. This refreshing project will stimulate minds and inspire writing of all kinds. In a very real way. these prompts will help develop our diverse writers of tomorrow.”
And, from her home in Minneapolis, DiCamillo reported that she was already hard at work on her prompt. “I am sitting in my office with the door closed (and with the privacy door-hanger engaged) and my thinking cap on my head,” she wrote. “I just threw the confetti up in the air and it is drifting down around me as I type these words. I might look ridiculous, but I feel hopeful. And that is a good thing – a creative thing. Here we go!”
Referring to DiCamillo’s words, Sharp said that he “pictured her sitting in her house in Minnesota, doing the same thing that kids all over the country are doing. One of the greatest writers for kids ever is going to be doing the same thing as a third-grader in Parma [Michigan] is doing. That’s crazy.”