There are two books that I find myself continually recommending for young families. They are picture books that I consider to be some of the best. My kids seem to agree - our copies are lovingly tattered and torn from the repeated readings.
Roxaboxen is the story of an imaginary town in Yuma, Arizona, created by neighborhood kids from cast-offs in an empty lot. The evolution of the town includes stores, a method of currency exchange (shiny rocks, of course), and a cemetery for the pet lizard that dies. There are police officers chasing speeders on sticks (ridden like horses) and flags of surrender.
In Weslandia, Wes just doesn't fit in with the kids at school. Summer break comes, bringing with it the opportunity for a garden. Wes's garden, though, isn't like his neighbors, all neat and tidy and in rows. He scatters the seeds of his imagination and lets his plot of land thrive. His crop grows, and Wes invents a multitude of uses for it, all of which are necessary in his new civilization - Weslandia. He invents a new written language, develops a flower stalk sundial, and blends his own mosquito repellent from the seeds of his plant. Of course, by the time school starts again, odd little Wes has intrigued all of the kids in the neighborhood and he had "no shortage of friends".
Why do I love these books? Because they inspire kids to try new things, experiment with what they have on hand, and to imagine. The books are a jumping off point, of sorts. Preschoolers and young elementary school age kids will hear these stories and wonder if they, too, could come up with something so clever, so much fun.
I also like the fact that in these stories, there is never a mom or dad insisting that the kids are getting too dirty. Dirty is okay! Kids - and clothes - wash off. One of the best things a parent can do to inspire creativity is to get over their concern about "the mess".
In a world where electronic entertainment is the norm, a book that inspires kids to get outside, experiment with real world items, and take risks is a treasure. Look for these at your library. Better yet? Gift them to a young person you know. I guarantee, these will come out again and again.