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.
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?)
- Journals by The Creative Place
- Paper Relics’ Gallery
- Phizzy Chick
- Traci Bunkers Creates a Visual Journal Page
- Alisa Burke
Do you keep a commonplace book or maintain an art journal? I’d love to hear your ideas if you do :)
What an interesting post, masha Allah. While reading about what a commonplace book is I was mentally ticking off points in my head. I reckon have been doing this since I was around twelve…hmmm noticeably when the preteen melancholia begins eh? :) I loved doodling in mine writing bits of things I read. It was a little piece of me.
I would like to encourage my girls to do visual journaling insha Allah, I tried today in fact, I was inspired by Umm Maimoona’s post on her daughters writing, but Imaan just told me ok mommy, can I just go climb the tree quickly? Needless to say I was not going to interrupt that moment.
I on the other hand …wish I had the time to doodle…sigh.
Thanks for sharing.
wa `alaykum as salaam wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatuh
LOL – preteen melancholia :) You know, I had such a complex about drawing that I hardly ever doodled! I think I was my worst enemy and critic. Just reading through Umm Tafari’s new blog made me think though… it is also the process that is important. The unleashing of creative energies, the ability to tread new ground…
Yes, Maimoonah’s writing is lovely isn’t it? Ma shaa Allah… I so love hearing about little joys like this among us homeschoolers.
Oh yes, trees are VERY important too :)
You are artistic tho masha Allah, your stitchery is beautiful and I feel the pull to start some embroidery insha Allah. Time, time, time! I pray Allah put Barakah in our time!
I always loved art, craft, DIY but I have never really felt artistic at all, in fact I asked my husband: “do I really have to to teach art?” He was appalled at my question citing all the reasons why art is so important for brain development etc which I knew but… me teaching it…? LOL :)
Hope you have a blessed Jumuah
Yes I know what it is like to want to get crafty but not have the time. We have those days too… and the kids and I practically CRAVE stitching and what not. You are right about seeking Allah’s barakah – we can accomplish so much then! I’m seriously not artistic… I’d only started crafting when my kids came along. It was all their doing and their gung-ho spirit (“Hey! I can do that!”) that got me into it :)
I hope that you have a lovely Jumuah too!
I love this idea, I love journalling and this is such a good way of doing it masha’allah.
It’s good to just let go and see where your creativity gets you…. I’m wondering now about a stitchery along these lines…
Kate… looking forward to seeing what you come up with!
Great post. And Jazzakillaah Khayr Akhawaat for your kind words about Maimoonah. Yes for sure Umm Tafari inspired me to start the Ramadhaan Journal last Ramadhaan with Maimoonah and it really helped by the Mercy of Allaah! I think the her writing improved, her thinking power improved so did her art work. Every day we did something new during Ramadhaan and I remember she used to wait for that each day. That time she was just learning to write and now I feel she will do well with a Journal and she would be more independent Insha Allaah. After that essay she had started writing and writing. And I am sometimes amazed how she knows to spell certain words. Subhanallaah. I want to give her a nice Notebook with a little bit looking special for her to feel that she has got something and to make her write whatever she thinks and wants whenever she feels like it Insha Allaah! Thanks Imaan for sharing those wonderful looking pictures.
By the way I used to love these commonplace books too even though I did not know they called it such a name : ) I used to write down verses and aayaahs and sayings of people and the salaf and used to decorate, this actually happened because I remember we used to go to school events and other school students give us the souvenir to write something and sign. So I needed to know some good saying to write. Then when I was about 13 or so I started writing and it does make you feel so good when you are alone or feel lonely. Also even though I liked putting out my feelings and recording it I used to fear so much that someone would read it and that was the last thing I wanted anybody to know so I skipped writing those feelings. Thinking back subhanallaah how many phases of life we have passed: )
I join all of you sisters, I am 0 arts and crafts person and it used to be a big failure for me too. I am only doing something now because of my daughter, I was more than happy to completely drop art when they gave us an opportunity to chose between art and Literature.
I love this idea and have lots of little scraps of paper around the place which I am always looking for but can’t quite find *roll eyes*, it would be useful for me to use a book instead. However for me in my head I’m a better artist than Picasso, but something is seriously lost in the process! My end result is seriously disappointing. I do quite like Kate’s idea of of a sewing commonplace book *rushes off to pen some designs* :-)
wa `alaykum as salaam wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatuh Sisters :)
Umm Maimoonah: Do you still have your old books? I regret not keeping my old notebook but I found a few scraps and transferred them over to my new book :) I’m beginning to believe that we all have an arty and crafty side… we just need to discover our niche! Maybe we were restricted when we were younger (like I was – as I said it was always drawiing and painting in school!) or maybe we just needed to grow into it – I’m truly loving stitching now for example :) Kids don’t have any hang ups … such a blessing… many times they don’t need much teaching. Just good materials and freedom to explore!
Umm Salam: LOL! I know what you mean! I always have these ideas but then I can’t make them a reality on paper! I really find drawing and sketching tough – maybe this is why I prefer doing things that involve repurposing (like the visual journals that involve scrapping) and sewing (where I have a pattern ready for me!). Sewing a commonplace book sounds lovely! Please share if you make one!
No Imaan, I do not have any of those with me, I remember most of it was gone due termites eating lol! Yes our house had these insects because the house is made out of clay : ) so most if not all we had to burn sadly, so I do not have any. Nice that you got some with you, children would love to see Insha Allaah!
This is such a lovely idea! I know my older girl loves to draw and be creative, but this is a great way to combine writing with her creativity and give a place for all her doodles. It looks so nice I feel like doing something similar for all the junk in my head :)
We bought some art pads and started visual journalling – Bear loves it and has been working hard on it. Mars has so much homework that she has done only one page. I got a pad for myself to encourage them but my efforts are slow and pitiful. :P My commonplace book is still text only :P
I keep various commonplace books in different forms, including electronic! Most are not even as vaguely artistic as the one of mine you shared above…just plain old notebooks. For me, its the *practice* that matters. I read more attentively and explore more because of the practice…