San Antonio author, poet, and scholar Carmen Tafolla wants kids to see the fun and possibilities in everyday things.

“Our kids now may have so many toys, that all do such specific things, that they lose out on being innovative, on all the imaginative ways you can use things,” she said.

When Tafolla reads to young learners at the DoSeum on Saturday, Nov. 30, as a part of the author series at the children’s museum, the focus will be on joyfully nurturing skills and thought processes in relation to “invention, creativity, and repurposing.” 

Tafolla, the former poet laureate of both Texas and San Antonio and author of more than 30 books, will read her 2009 children’s book What Can You DO with a Paleta?

The book follows a young girl through her barrio as she meets familiar faces and finds out that a paleta can have many uses – like cooling off on a hot day or painting a drippy masterpiece, for example.

What Can You DO with a Paleta? follows the template set by an earlier book by Tafolla called What Can You DO with a Rebozo? The books are written, Tafolla said, to get kids excited about using their imaginations and exploring possibilities and potential. 

With their focus on items and neighborhood settings familiar to Mexican and Mexican American children, Tafolla said she also wants the books to offer a sense of belonging and acceptance to kids “who are often told that their neighborhoods are bad and that the people there aren’t the good kind.”

“But any neighborhood where the adults are trying to give special treats to the kids is a good neighborhood,” she said.

She said she wants kids to connect with the book in a way that helps them realize that “they have these experiences, too, so they are special, too.”

Tafolla said she’s also excited to share this book with children because it’s “a chance for them to think about what they can do for others and what others do for them.” As such, the book can be said to teach the value of both giving and gratitude.

After the reading, Tafolla will sign books and DoSeum educators will lead attendees through a series of relevant activities.

Jessica Chavez, a literacy program assistant at the DoSeum, said that the book’s core idea of finding new uses for old things aligns perfectly with an educational theory concept that the DoSeum already works with frequently. 

The concept is SCAMPER, an acronym that stands for a bundle of interrelated approaches to altering something that already exists: substitute, combine, adapt, modify, put to another use, eliminate, reverse. 

In a fun but authentic way, attendees to this event will get a chance to practice SCAMPER thought processes. The goal is for the children to build confidence in their own creative thinking and begin to grasp the endless potential of imagination. 

“I want them to see that invention always wins,” Tafolla said. 

“Most of that creative development happens before age 12, but after that we have to learn to keep using it if we want to keep it strong.”

For Chavez, the author series – Tafolla’s appearance marks the fifth installment of the year – is important because it “gives kids opportunities to see that ‘this person actually made this book,’” thus making the notion of authorship more concrete in their minds. 

“We are super excited to host Carmen in particular,” Chavez said, “who is just this huge San Antonio celebrity.”

During the activities that follow the 11:30 a.m. reading, kids will get to talk with Tafolla and work on their own projects, designed to set their young minds SCAMPER-ing in the fields of creative potential. 

James Courtney is a freelance arts and culture journalist in San Antonio. He also is a poet, a high school English teacher and debate coach, and a proud girl dad.