One of the things that I would like my kids to do is to maintain a commonplace book. I used to do this during my schooling days and have revived the practice lately after discovering a few fragments that survived our many moves.

In this day and age, when people need to recall a quote, they can always refer to the library or good ol’ Google. However, in earlier centuries when libraries were smaller or not as accessible and books were far dearer, ardent readers and lovers of good words would copy out passages they wanted to remember in their own notebooks or what is known as the commonplace book. It is simply a journal in which people copy poems, sayings and passages that they encounter. This can be information that they find useful – such as recipes, remedies, scientific facts – or words that they find inspiring – speeches, exerpts of religious scriptures and the like. Writers like Henry David Thoreau, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Mark Twain all kept such books.

There are many advantages to this practice. It makes one a better reader – rather than just passively skim over the words, one gives pause to think and to read more deeply and reflectively. The commonplace book can be one’s bank of useful knowledge and serve to inspire new ideas.

For me, it has also been a personal record of the ideas that have shaped me at different stages in my life. I found in my old notes, poems, exerpts from Shakespeare and also passages from novels I had studied as an English Literature student in junior college. Later, I wrote out speeches and inspiring words about revolution against oppression and racism – I was passionate about these topics when I studied History and Sociology in university. When I began to study the deen in greater depth, I began including verses from the Qur’an and ahadeeth. In a way, my commonplace book details a map of my growth and exhibits a portrait of me.

Commonplace Book (Moleskine Foldout)

Not my book, but an image of a Flickr user’s (Chris Lott’s) commonplace book with Japanese folds

My commonplace book is pretty… well… commonplace. I do try to write in my best penmanship (and that’s not saying much!) but it is quite a plain book on the whole. However, after reading through Umm Tafari’s blog, Visual Journaling 4 Kids, I am considering jazzing up my journal and encouraging my kids to make theirs (when they start in shaa Allah) vibrant and lively as well. I have a huge fear of failure when it comes to art and I don’t want my kids to inherit this complex, so I hope to combine commonplacing with art journalling. I think that this will go down well with my girls – Mars already diligently writes in her diary and has begun writing essays, while Bear loves art and is beginning to test the waters of self-expression. They can add their own flavour and interpretations to their compilations.

I’ve looked through several sites (Pinterest has been most helpful!) and found lots of inspiration. Some are daily journals or diaries and not commonplace books per se, but think how lovely our personal anthologies of beautiful words can be with a little design. Some of these journals are like the arty scrapbooks that many hobbyists produce. However, the one thing I’ve noticed about them is that they need not be as expensive to produce – you don’t need a large stash of embellishments, stamps, adhesives, ribbons, stickers and what not. I think you can produce decent pages using good pens, colour pencils, paint or crayons and by recycling materials you find around the house.

I will probably refer to Visual Journalling 4 Kids, Art Projects for Kids and a book entitled The Creative Journal for Children by Lucia Capaccchione.


Here is a Flickr user (Virginia Blue) who keeps a daily doodle journal.


Another page by Virginia Blue – I like her catchy doodles. I wish I had the same flair, but I overthink things!


Chronicle of a month by Tracy U. Look at the details!


Home by Tee Thompson. She has a blog at Green Isles Crafts where she shares how she creates pages. (Some involve drawing people, just so you know.)

Some other random links for ideas (exercise caution… OK?)

Do you keep a commonplace book or maintain an art journal? I’d love to hear your ideas if you do :)