by Andria Rosenbaum

Writers understand the power of Story. We get that stories can enlighten, educate, make you laugh till you’re breathless, or move you to tears. All good stories make you feel something.

I wish I was a humorous writer, à la Madam Tara Lazar.  

Who wouldn’t want to bring word play, joy and humor to the world of kidlit?

But it turns out that some stories knock on your door unsolicited. Sometimes, they seep into your brain and wrap around your heart. They badger you until you pull them into the world by painting them with words.

These stories can be tricky. Especially when they’re based on truth, or history. If they aren’t handled with care, they can end up sounding boring, sentimental and didactic. When that happens the hearts and minds these stories long to open—remain closed.

More than ten years ago, one of these persistent ideas knocked on my door after I read multiple testimonies from people who had been separated from their parents and siblings during WWII. Even as these children grew up in different countries with new families, they remembered each other. But each believed the other had perished in the war. Some sixty-plus years later, some of them found one another thanks to organizations like The Shoah Project and Yad Vashem.  

Their stories haunted me. They shadowed me like a lost dog looking for home. I wondered how war scars children? How did they survive while others didn’t? What unseen fractures remained? How could they be healed? I felt compelled to share the stories that had shaped their lives.

I knew a manuscript about children of war would be tough to sell. Especially a picture book. But that didn’t matter. I only knew I had to write it. Because this had happened to children, I wanted to write it for children. But how could I begin to describe such a tragic truth?



Looking out of the eyes of a child.

As I read and researched more and more about the Holocaust, I realized I wanted to tell a story sewn together from accounts of siblings from multiple families. I put myself into the heart of the older sister. Her memories became mine. I wrote in her voice. I minimized the graphic details and focused on the separation itself. The main character Ruthi refused to let her story be solely about what she’d lost. Her story became more about what kept her going. It’s about the key ingredients that might have allowed her and others to survive.

I shared the manuscript with my agent unsure of how she’d respond. Thankfully, she loved it and was determined to sell it. Eventually, she did. HAND IN HAND will be published in April by Apples & Honey Press. Maya Shleifer’s incredible illustrations bring Ruthi and her little brother Leib to life, while softening the hard edges of their story through color and character.

Editing helped the book evolved into a story about the effects of separation and war on children.

It became more than just another book about the Holocaust. Though it’s aimed at 7-10 year-olds, I hope it speaks to a broader audience.  

Our stories can’t change history, but they might have the ability to heal. By spotlighting tragic events, books can build empathy and understanding. If you have a tough story you’re longing to tell I hope you find a way to share it. Open the door and embrace it. Try to be honest. Try to be brave. Listen to your characters. You never know who may be waiting for your words.

Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum is the author of TRAINS DON’T SLEEP, illustrated by Deirdre Gill (HMH) and BIG SISTER, LITTLE MONSTER, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham (Scholastic Press), a PiBoldMo idea from 2014. She hunts for picture book ideas from her home in New Jersey. You can follow her on Twitter @andriawrose, or learn more about Andria and her books at:

Andria is giving away a signed copy of HAND IN HAND when it’s published in April.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


by Zachariah OHora (from 2013)

Writing is hard work. Coming up with good characters can be even harder. The market for picture books (at least this moment) is all about character-driven stories.

When I’m trying to come up with a fresh book idea and there isn’t one to steal from my kids, I start with a character.

I’ve developed a method that is very simple. Even if you don’t draw you can fake it.

It’s called “Pimp Your Character” ™.

In a nutshell it works like this…

(Tara’s note: click each image to see it in its full-sized glory!)


Good! You are on your way. If you are feeling confident about this simple version, move on to the advanced version.


Say you are having trouble picking an animal. Maybe you hate animals? If so, try writing dystopian YA.

If you love animals but just can’t decide go to or even better

Pick an animal and refer to the charts above to “Pimp Your Character” ™.

If done right your character will write or reveal it’s own story. All you have to do is be open to hearing it. Don’t be afraid to use peoples own prejudices and expectations.

You might be surprised. Here’s an example.


Sometimes I get lucky. Real life provides me with a story and character idea and they almost write themselves. NO FITS NILSON! was one of those.


Good luck Pimping Your Character!

Zachariah OHora is the illustrator of the New York Times best seller Wolfie the Bunny. His debut as an author, Stop Snoring Bernard! won the 2011 Society of Illustrators Founders Award and was the 2012 State of PA Dept of Ed One book. His follow up, No Fits Nilson! was named the Huffington Post Best Children’s Book of 2013, a Kirkus Best Picture Book of 2013, a New York Public Library Book for Reading and Sharing and was given the PALA Carolyn W. Field Award. His book My Cousin Momo! was named by the Boston Globe a Best Picture Book of 2015 and was a Junior Library Guild Selection. His latest book The Not So Quiet Library hits shelves July 19th. He lives and works in Narberth, PA with his wife, two sons and two cats. Visit him at

At the conclusion of Storystorm, prize packs will be given away (books, swag, writing tools). Comment once on this blog post to enter into the prize pack drawing.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Good luck!

by Ashley Franklin

If inspiration is all around us, why does it sometimes feel as if our muse is on vacation—basking in the sun and living the good life while we’re struggling to settle into our creative groove?

Without our muse to guide the way, we are destined to be adrift in a sea of uncertainty headed towards a creative abyss, right? Wrong!

I want to let you in on a little secret. Are you ready for it? Here it is: You don’t need a muse!

There won’t be an “aha moment” around every corner. There may not be an aura surrounding your next big idea. If you want access to a constant source of inspiration, look no further than yourself.  All you need is your inspiration tool box.

My inspiration tool box helps me to generate ideas at any stage of the writing process. What’s great about it is that it only consists of three things: eyesight, insight, and hindsight.

  • Eyesight
    Take a look around. Your home, job, and favorite hangout spots are waiting to be mined for story ideas. Get your axe and get picking!
  • Insight
    Take a long, hard look at something—anything. Take a closer look at it then you normally would. Involve your senses. Take note of how it looks, smells, feels, tastes, sounds. There’s more depth involved in insight than eyesight. Consider your emotional response to what you’re observing. Experience the object of your focus.
  • Hindsight
    You can’t change the past, but you can sure draw some inspiration from it. What made your heart skip a beat when you were younger? What is the most cherished memory of your recent past? Who or what have been most important to you and why? Think about some of your first experiences and the way they made you feel.

You can use all three tools at once, or you can pick and choose. For my picture book debut, NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE, I used a combination of the three to come up with the idea.  Here’s how I used my inspiration tool box:


Q: What do I see a lot of?
A: Princesses. They’re everywhere and on everything.


Q: What’s common about the princesses?
A: Most of them are White. There’s not much variation. They’re all “perfect” according to today’s standards.

Q: What’s missing?
A: Princesses with quirks. Princesses who look like me.


Q: What made me happy as a kid?
A: Barbies. Mom made a point to buy me POC Barbies. I had tons.

Q: How do I feel about that?
A: Back then, the dolls made me happy. They were my favorite. Now, I realize they helped me feel seen (which was especially important because I attended predominantly White schools).

As you can see, I always begin with questions. Personally, I find that beginning with questions helps me to focus my ideas.

Armed with the thoughts gifted to me by my tool box, I decided that I wanted to write an African-American princess story. Many wretched and promising drafts later (thanks, revision!), I came up with Tameika’s story.

I’m happy to introduce to you, my Storystorm family, the cover of NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE:


Ashley Franklin is an African-American writer, mother, and adjunct college professor. Ashley received her M.A. from the University of Delaware in English Literature, where she reaffirmed her love of writing but realized she had NO IDEA what she wanted to do about it.

Ashley currently resides in Arkansas with her family. Her debut picture book, NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE, will be published July 9, 2019 by HarperCollins. The idea for the book originated from a former Storystorm (then PiBoIdMo) challenge. For more information on Ashley, you can visit her website:

Social media savvy?  You can find Ashley on one of these platforms: Twitter @differentashley, Instagram: @ashleyfranklinwrites and Facebook.

Ashley is giving away two prizes to two winners. First, a signed copy of NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE when it releases. Second, a non-rhyming picture book critique.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!



by Tara Lazar (from 2014)

Me and Bo, a perfect 10 of a dog, circa 1980.

When I was growing up, there was an entire section of my home that was roped off. Like a nightclub, a velvet rope draped across the threshold to the living and dining area, off limits to my grubby little hands. A plush sectional beside the picture window always beckoned me, and I’d sneak there to read a book. Many times I’d crawl into the dining room and sit criss-cross-applesauce under the table, where no one could find me, and where I could get a glimpse of our house the way I rarely saw it. It was wondrous, under the table and dreaming (sorry for the borrow, Dave Matthews). I could pretend I was somewhere else because the perspective I had, under that glass and chrome 70’s behemoth, was unique, unusual. I was at home, but also somewhere else.

So now, every once in a while, I sit underneath my own dining room table. To me, it’s the perfect kid’s perspective. I see the world as a child might, peering only at legs and loafers. You know how you never see an adult’s face in Charlie Brown? How they’re just an unintelligible trumpet waah-wahhh-wah-waaaa? That’s the childlike mystique I’m seeking when I sit beneath the table. I see the world a little differently, but yet it’s still familiar, as it is my own home.

This is an early Peanuts strip. Schulz later said that showing adults, even just their legs, was a mistake.

This is an early Peanuts strip. Schulz later said that showing adults, even just their legs, was a mistake.

Go ahead, take up a spot in your home where you rarely sit to rest: the closet, the corner, the stair landing. Make it your nook, your secret hideaway. Look at everything as if a child might, looming larger above you. Grab a blanket and pillows and make a fort. Steal away. Remember those fantastical childhood moments when you were somewhere else, but yet safe and protected at home. It’s a feeling you can recreate to help you delve deeper into the heart of your tale. You’ll be changing your perspective to that of a child—visually and emotionally.

And, if you’d like, sneak some cookies and milk with you. I won’t tell anyone where you are.


Image via

At the conclusion of Storystorm, prize packs will be given away (books, swag, writing tools). Comment once on this blog post to enter into the prize pack drawing.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Good luck!


by Shutta Crum

Let’s talk a minute about that list of story ideas you’re keeping for Storystorm month. You may be keeping that list in a journal—or simply on a piece of paper hung on your fridge. Either way, I know there will come a day when you will stare at it and think—I’ve shot my load. I’m all out of ideas! Of course, that isn’t true. Ideas just like to strike when you’re not expecting them—like that cousin you never got along with—sneaky gits! (Ideas & cousins!)

One place authors always look for inspiration is in their journals. I know! You’ve combed them already for this challenge. That’s fine. But the truth is you may not have been keeping exactly the right kind of journal that can help you out of a tight spot. On the 5th Mike Allegra talked about his Journal of Misfit Ideas. I like that! But I want to tell you about a type of journaling that has engendered numerous ideas for me. It’s a journal I keep by my side when I’m reading.

This is a “Good Words” journal in which I note word choices and phrases that stand out to me in the books and poems I am reading, or the lyrics I am listening to. It is a way to go back and suss out why it is that a certain author’s voice moves me. Almost always, it is word choice.

Whether we write picture books, novels, non-fiction, poetry, or beginning readers we are all word artisans, fabricators, roustabouts, and surgeons. So let’s talk about words.

It seems to me that words have personalities, and like any person there is always more than what meets the eye. Words have emotional baggage, a cultural upbringing, physical sensibilities and an historical demeanor. For example, take a look at these beautifully written lines.

  • “I sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world.” (Walt Whitman, Song of Myself #52)
  • “Life’s got to be lived, no matter how long or short. You got to take what comes.” (Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting)
  • “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”  (F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby)
  • “Have you ever heard a blindfolded octopus unwrap a cellophane-covered bathtub?” (Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth)
  • “During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low…” (Edgar Allen Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher)
  • “So the salesman jangled and clanged his huge leather kit in which oversized puzzles of ironmongery lay unseen but which his tongue conjured from door to door…”  (Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes)

There is gut-deep emotional baggage in Whitman’s use of the word yawp, especially when it is paired with barbaric. The perfect word choice. Compare yawp to wail, or yell. Each carries a different emotional feel.

One can see the cultural differences in the language used by Babbitt and by Fitzgerald. Babbitt’s speaker is countrified, perhaps unschooled. This comes about through her use of the verb got. Fitzgerald’s character is highly educated, and perhaps a bit proud of his erudition.

Both the Juster and the Poe quotes arouse a physical (sensual) response on our part. That word cellophane paired with an octopus! And a blindfolded one at that. How perfect. Also listen to all the “d”s and the low vowel sounds (the “u”s and “ou”s) of Poe’s opener to his classic short story. The effect is one of dragging us down, just as the rider is emotionally dragged down upon his approach to Usher’s house. Or for a simpler example of the physical qualities of language: compare the word slide to scud. Which is heavier? Bet you said scud—though we never actually pick the letters up to weigh them. Vowel sounds can create emotions that can feel physical.

Finally, the Bradbury quote is a wonderful example of how language can be dressed in historical garb. The story takes place in the mid-1900s but words like ironmongery and conjure evoke an earlier, less-scientific time in which the rainmaker/salesman seems to be rooted.

When I read someone who obviously has a mastery of language I keep a list in a word journal of all the great words and phrases that writer uses. (It’s OK to learn through imitation! That’s how the masters did it, too.)

From Seamus Heaney I have listed: flood-slubs, whiff, sluicing, glarry, bogbanks, bestowals, etc. From Robinson Jeffers: enskyment. From Charles Wright: scrim & snow-scud, sealash. From M. T. Anderson: maw, starveling, suckings & buffetings. From Edith Wharton: indolent and purpling. From William Steig’s wonderful Shrek! (the original) I have; varlet, afoul, scything.

Often, just looking through this collection of scrumptious words can make ideas come to the table. Put words together from various author lists–and bingo! What if a starveling got lost amid the bogbanks on a purpling night? And then, a sucking sound rises… You get the picture.

Later, when I’m polishing my manuscript this journal helps when I’m searching for just the right descriptive word. Now, you might ask, why not just use a thesaurus? I do use thesauri. Love them! However, this is more personal. These are words that tickled my ear or made my jaw drop in awe, and were used in a masterful way. Also, when I scan them and see the word choices as groupings by author, I get a feel for how each writer created his/her own voice.

But, please! Don’t ask me about my personal daily journaling habits. I’m abysmally undisciplined. I’m much more interested in individual words than I am in words about me as an individual.

So here’s another challenge. Start a Good Words journal as you read this month. And before Storystorm ends, use it and see what happens. Here’s to jumping in and scaring up an idea before it jumps out at you like that crazy cousin of yours!


Shutta Crum is the author of several middle-grade novels, more than a dozen picture books, and many poems and magazine articles. She adores speaking about children’s books and is an oft-requested presenter, guest lecturer, panel moderator, and keynote speaker. Her latest picture book is MOUSELING’S WORDS (Clarion). It’s her auto-mouse-biography—about a mouse who becomes a swashbuckler of words. The idea came from one of Tara’s Storystorm (PiBoIdMo) challenges. Thanks Tara for challenging us!

You can follow Shutta on her blog & website at, on Twitter @Shutta
and on Facebook here.


Shutta is giving away two prizes for two winners–a picture book critique to one winner and two of her books, MOUSELING’S WORDS and SPITTING IMAGE, to another winner.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


by Steve Barr (from 2013)

I can’t really begin to pinpoint where my inspiration comes from. When people ask where I get my ideas, I don’t tend to have an answer ready. Ideas just seem to leap into my head out of nowhere. My best guess is that there’s some faulty wiring in my brain. That’s most likely due to the regular “thumpings” my older brother gave me on a daily basis as we were growing up. Perhaps he knocked a few screws loose.

I can get inspired by all sorts of things. Some of my best ideas pop into my mind when I’m driving down the highway with no music on, just daydreaming. Or when I’m laying in bed drifting off to sleep. If I had music blaring inside the truck, the lyrics would be too distracting and I’d just end up singing along with them. At home, when I’m locked away in my studio, I do listen to music. But it’s usually jazz, classical or new age. Anything that doesn’t have words blasting into my mind. I want all of the words that are rushing through my head to be my own.

I OBSERVE. By that, I mean I tend to truly look at everything around me. If I’ve hiked miles away from civilization and I’m sitting on a mountaintop watching a hawk fly above me, I’m usually thinking “Oh….THAT’S how their wings are shaped when they’re drifting!” and I incorporate that into my work later. You may sometimes see me sitting in a mall somewhere, and it will appear that I’m gawking at people passing by. Sometimes I stare. But what’s actually going through my mind is “So, that’s how the wrinkles on a coat look when someone bends their arm” or “What a crazy hat! I need to remember that and draw it later.”

I also LISTEN. When other people are talking, I really want to hear what they have to say. Their problems, their frustrations and the things that make them laugh. Because, after all, any of those conversations can be the foundation of an idea for a book or a cartoon. Inspiration is all around us, and we just need to learn how to harness it in our own way.

For instance, a friend was recently telling me that he was concerned that his wife was thinking of getting rid of him. On my ride home, the idea for a cartoon about that popped into my head and I drew it the next day.


Yet another acquaintance was complaining about having trouble getting to sleep. As I was approaching my cabin later that night, a raccoon darted across my path. Those two subjects merged in my mind, and another cartoon was born.


The process of creating books and cartoon ideas are very similar. It’s just that cartoons are compressed into images and thoughts that can be expressed quickly, while books use pictures and words to give a longer, more complete story.

But, like everyone else involved in creative endeavors, there are those days where I’m stopped dead in my tracks by a severe case of “writer’s block”. What do I do then? Well, sometimes I give myself a break, walk away from my work and let my batteries recharge. But if I’m faced with a tight deadline, whether it’s self-imposed or from contractual obligations, I do have a backup plan. I use a technique taught to me by another successful cartoonist when I was young. I take a sheet of notebook paper and divide it into columns. The columns are labelled “Main Character”, “Setting”, and “Supporting Characters”. I fill the columns with all sorts of possibilities, then either close my eyes and randomly circle sections from each column or I simply pick combinations that I think might work. This creates unique combinations I may not have thought about otherwise, and can help trigger new ideas and possibilities.

Cartoonists, like authors, are doing the same thing as a movie director. They created a cast, give them their lines and put them in the right surroundings.

Here’s an example of the chart:


Once one of the combinations begins to trigger ideas, I roll with it….trying to think of what the characters might be saying to each other or how they would be interacting. This method would probably work just as nicely for inspiring writers as it for helping cartoonists. I ask myself what the characters would have in common, or what issues they might be struggling with. And here are the results of combining a dog, a restaurant and a woman on a date:


So, my creative process is very similar to approaching a railroad crossing. Stop. Look. And listen!

Sometimes it results in wonderful inspiration. And other times it results in a train wreck. If the latter happens, I just dust myself off, tuck that idea away for a different time and start on another.

As the late great cartoonist Gil Foxx once wrote in a book he signed to me, “Persist. Over…..and over….and over…and over.” Just keep chugging away, and eventually you are bound to end up on the right track.

Another great source of inspiration can be your editor. (Or an agent, if you have one.) Something I think that many writers and artists tend to forget is that your editor is your best friend. They’re your teammate. You both have the same goal. You are both trying to develop the best product possible. I know quite a few people who like to argue with their editors when they’re given input, because they feel a bit insulted that someone is trying to change part of their creation.

I’ve never looked at it that way. I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with some of the finest editors in the field, and I would always listen to their suggestions because I knew they had my best interests at heart.


Do you know that Maurice Sendak had originally intended to call Where the Wild Things Are something totally different? Yup. He was going to title it Land of the Wild Horses. But when he started working on the illustrations, he realized that he wasn’t very good at drawing horses. It was his editor’s suggestion to change it to “WIld Things,” inspired by a Yiddish expression that referred to boisterous children.

Can you imagine the world of children’s literature without Where the Wild Things Are in it? I can’t. And it may never have happened if he hadn’t been willing to collaborate closely with his editor.

CrazyCreaturesCover2Christina Richards, my editor at IMPACT Books, edited my books perfectly and seamlessly. By the time I received the galley proofs for Draw Crazy Creatures, I could not tell which words were mine and which ones were hers. She had removed unnecessary and redundant text during the editing process, and had made minor changes to some of my sentences that had a major impact on them. A major impact that made them better. She made the book flow smoothly.

So I’d highly recommend that folks in the creative end of this business open themselves up to constructive criticism, helpful suggestions and any input from the editorial staff they are working with. These people are in the positions they are in because they know what they are doing. They are the inspiration behind the scenes, and when they’re done helping you, they will have played a huge role in making you and your work shine.

Steve Barr is the author and illustrator of Draw Crazy Creatures and Draw Awesome Animals from IMPACT books. He’s also written and illustrated a series of 11 books in the 1-2-3 Draw line from Peel Productions.

In the fall of 2014, Steve began taking free cartoon drawing classes to pediatric patients in hospitals and at camps. In a very short time demand for these programs increased dramatically, and other cartoonists and illustrators started asking how they could do something similar in their own areas. That’s how his non-profit organization “Drawn To Help” evolved into something really special that he’s taking nationwide. Learn more at

At the conclusion of Storystorm, prize packs will be given away (books, swag, writing tools). Comment once on this blog post to enter into the prize pack drawing.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Good luck!


by Nancy Churnin

We’ve all seen picture books come out on an important anniversary. These books take a lot of planning—given that a manuscript can take two or more years to be illustrated and who knows how many years before it’s acquired.

But if you can pull off a subject pegged to a key anniversary of an important date, that can provide illumination on the historic event. It may also help with inspiration, a sale and promotion of the book once it comes out.

That date can be the birth year of a famous person or event or of an invention, a law or a song—anything that you feel deserves to be remembered.

My book, IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING came out in 2018, the 100th anniversary of when Irving Berlin wrote “God Bless America.” Of course the flip side of pegging your book to a date is that others may notice this date, too; mine was one of three Irving Berlin books to be released in 2018!

What surprised me about the three books was that I got to know and like the other authors. I even started to think that there could be a fascinating workshop or post about how three different authors could take the same facts and weave such different stories with different narrative styles and points of emphasis.

But we’ll save that post for another date and time! (Tara’s note: yes, please come back, Nancy!)

A good source for research about important dates is Another is

One way to keep your manuscript unique is to find a different take on it. When I was searching for anniversaries that would resonate in 2019, I looked for important events and famous people who were born in 1919.

The most obvious anniversary was the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote in 1919 and that right to vote being ratified in 1920. But it was too obvious. If I chose this subject, I’d be competing against a slew of authors writing about this.

I moved on to 1929. That was the year of the Great Depression, a time when people were desperate and fearful, when too many went in search of scapegoats to blame for their financial insecurity. I searched who was born that year. I found Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  But there were so many books about Kr. King. What could I add to those? And then I found Anne Frank was born in 1929, too.

Most people don’t think of Dr. King and Anne Frank as contemporaries. But they were. They were of different genders, faiths, races and spoke different languages, yet both had so much in common! Both grew up during the Great Depression when African Americans faced racial discrimination in America and Jewish people faced anti-Semitism in Europe. Both met hate with love and left us with words that inspire us today.

Finding that connection impelled me to write MARTIN & ANNE, THE KINDRED SPIRITS OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND ANNE FRANK. It comes out March 5 of this year, in between Dr. King’s Jan. 15 birthday and Anne Frank’s June 12 birthday, in the year when both would have turned 90.

My agent, Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary, sold the book in 2017, knowing it was a tight turnaround. I’m lucky I was able to pull off the project in two years, because I had an editor, Marissa Moss, who believed in it and found an illustrator, Yevgenia Nayberg, who could make it happen that quickly.

But you can be smarter and do a better job of planning ahead. It’s 2019. Try to think four, five or six years ahead or more—for people who were born or events that occurred in 1924 or 1925 or 1926 to give yourself time to research and write and for your publisher to find an illustrator.

Here are some inventions in those times:

  • 1924: Frozen food
  • 1925: Television
  • 1926: Pop-up toaster
  • 1927: Talkies at the movies

And here are some famous birthdays:

  • 1924: George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Cicely Tyson, Lauren Bacall
  • 1925: Dick Van Dyke, Malcolm X, Barbara Bush, Paul Newman
  • 1926: Queen Elizabeth II, Marilyn Monroe, Fidel Castro, Andy Griffith
  • 1927: Cesar Chavez, Eartha Kitt, Coretta Scott King

There’s no need to limit yourself. Go to the library or go online and look up timelines and newspapers for those years. See what and who made the news. You never know what’s going to grab your heart and impel you to write.

Make a date with history. And who knows — it may end up with the publication of your book being a history date that someone will look up some day!

MARTIN & ANNE, THE KINDRED SPIRITS OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND ANNE FRANK, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg, published by Creston Books and distributed by Lerner Publishing Group, is Nancy Churnin’s sixth picture book biography. It’s the parallel journey of Dr. King and Anne Frank, two people of different genders, faiths, races and religions who faced hate with love and left us with words that inspire us today. Nancy’s previous books have won multiple awards and been on many state lists: THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME; MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN; CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT, HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF, IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING and THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE, QUEEN CHARLOTTE’S GIFT TO ENGLAND.

You can follow Nancy on Twitter @nchurnin, on Facebook at, on Instagram @nchurnin and on

Nancy is giving away two autographed copies of MARTIN & ANNE, THE KINDRED SPIRITS OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND ANNE FRANK. There will be one winner for each book.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Bonnie Adamson (from 2010)

Those of us you who were children once upon a time will surely remember how frustrating it was suddenly to have been plunked down in a world where everyone knew more than you did—about everything. Children spend a great deal of time trying to figure things out: where does snow come from? Why can’t dogs talk? What happens next? Or, as we say in our family: “Who ordered the veal cutlet?”*

Kids develop their own little GPS-like subroutines, constantly recalculating to keep themselves on track—but sometimes, inevitably, they get it wrong. Misperceptions and missed information lead to misunderstandings . . . and—I won’t sugar-coat this—little misunderstandings often lead to:

Major Disappointment!

Total Humiliation!


(Yeah, I was grown before I figured that one out.)

Thank goodness for picture books!

In a picture book, you can check out your own real-live dinosaur any time from the Storybook Lending Zoo.

You can have the queen invite the golfer with the highest score to the palace for tea, and meet the prince, who is even worse at Goony Golf than you are.

You can become a super-hero in training, and rid the world of evil, baby-eating furniture.

How cool is that? As children’s book writers and illustrators, we get to do this all the time. So, having aired three of my own neuroses . . . er, picture book ideas . . . here is a tip for today: think back to those times in your childhood when things were not quite what you expected them to be—and imagine what it would take to discover a new, old friend . . . or have the last laugh . . . or fly to the rescue.

And then, for the love of heaven, explain to the little person in your life that dinosaurs are really extinct; that, as silly as it sounds, low score wins at Goony Golf; and that, yes, if necessary, a very tiny baby can sleep safely in a dresser drawer . . . but only if you take the drawer OUT of the dresser first!

*A line from Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie . . . um, maybe you had to be there.

Bonnie is the illustrator of Rutabaga Boo! by Sudipta Bardhan-Qualllen, Bedtime Monster by Heather Ayris Brunell, and the “I Wish I Was” series from Raven Tree Press. She is represented by Marietta Zacker of the Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency.

Visit her at or follow her on Twitter @BonnieAdamson.

—> Bonnie then, practicing her skeptical glare; and now—an older and wiser children’s book illustrator.

At the conclusion of Storystorm, prize packs will be given away (books, swag, writing tools). Comment once on this blog post to enter into the prize pack drawing.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Good luck!


by Jen Betton

If you’ve been to any sort of children’s book writing event, you’ve heard how much editors and agents want character-driven stories. But what if that is hard for you? What if you’re like me, and you have a tendency to create characters who are just placeholders for the plot? What if you create amazing characters, but have a hard time getting the plot to work around them?

This is the story of how my first published book was written, which also happened to be my first truly character-driven manuscript.

In 2014, I lurked in the sidelines of Storystorm (PiBoIdMo at the time), and I read Diana Murray’s post about character-driven stories. She recommended creating a character with a personality trait that was in direct opposition to their goal. This struck a chord with me but didn’t result in anything much until a couple months later when I read the absolutely perfect LIBRARY LION, written by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. In it, the Lion (who naturally would like to roar) becomes a fixture at the library (a place of quiet) – boom, instant conflict! I adored this book, and thinking of Diana’s post, sat down to think of some animal characters who natural tendencies might lead to conflict.

I wanted to have an animal character because it allowed me to play with making an internal trait external. So I started brainstorming animals and inherent conflicts: A bear wants honey—no inherent conflict there, but a sloth who wants to race, aha conflict. Very quickly, I came up with a hedgehog who wants a hug!

The words weren’t right and I didn’t have an ending, but I immediately had a character, and a conflict, and HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG was born! After a lot of fleshing out, a persistent, prickly little hedgehog feeling down in the snout and droopy in the prickles tries to find a hug. He asks a number of places, gets discouraged, and eventually finds someone feeling the same way.

So get a notepad, and start brainstorming your own list—what is a trait that an animal or person might have? It might be something like this:

  • Sloth – slow
  • Lion – roars
  • Magpie – hoards sparkly things
  • Hedgehog – prickly
  • Matilda – messy
  • Victor – loud

The second step is to create a list of things that would make that natural trait difficult—it could be a goal or desire, or just a situation that makes that inherent quality problematic—anything that creates conflict. What if the sloth wants to hurry up? What if the lion loves a library and needs to be quiet? What if the magpie loses all her stuff? What if the hedgehog needs a hug? What if the messy girl needs to find her homework? What if the loud boy needs to keep his baby sister asleep?


If you start to look, you’ll notice a lot of characters out there have some sort of inherent conflict: in Anika Denise’s STARRING CARMEN, the main character loves being the center of attention, but needs to share the spotlight. In Lisa Anchin’s upcoming debut, THE LITTLE GREEN GIRL, the protagonist wants to leave her garden to see the world, but she is literally rooted in place, being a topiary. In Molly Idle’s PEARL, the mermaid wants to do something important, but is given a humble grain of sand to protect. Sometimes it could be two conflicting desires (instead of a personality trait and desire) like in Sherman Alexie’s THUNDER BOY JR, where little Thunder wants his own name, but doesn’t want to hurt his dad’s feelings.


Another variation on this exercise is to put two characters who have opposing traits or desires together: for example in Alexander Milne’s Pooh books, Rabbit loves order and Tigger loves to bounce on him—that creates an instant tension between the two.

I love this exercise because at the end of it you have a character (or two!) and the beginning of your plot! Happy story-hunting!

Jen Betton loves to draw and make up stories with her pictures. In Kindergarten she got into trouble for drawing presents on a picture of Santa, and she has been illustrating ever since. She wrote and illustrated HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, published with G.P. Putnam’s Sons, and she illustrated TWILIGHT CHANT, an NCTE notable book, written by Holly Thompson, published with Clarion. You can find more of her work at, or on Twitter and Instagram @jenbetton.

Jen is giving away a signed copy of HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG, with an activity kit and bookmarks.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


by Susan Taylor Brown (from 2009)

I’m a collector. I can’t go on a walk without finding something I have to pick up and take home with me for my idea box. A stick. A rock. A broken toy. I also have a hard time throwing things away so an item headed for Goodwill might find its way into my idea box. It’s a great way to jumpstart my tired brain. Whenever I find something new or old or interesting, I toss it in the box.


Does something in my idea box jump out at you?

What kind of creature has a purple feather? What would a little kid be carrying around in that black jewelry box? Does that green silk scarf belong to a magician? What would those sunglasses be if they weren’t normal sunglasses? Who lost their yo-yo?

By asking myself questions about things in my prop box I can get my writing motor revved up again.

Whose black gloves are these?


What kid is trying to solve the case of his grandmother’s missing brooch?


I know this is all about Storystorm 2009 and I know you haven’t had a chance to build an idea box of your own yet. But wait. You probably already DO have one. Or even two. If you have a junk drawer where you toss items that don’t have a home, you have a good start on an idea box. Here’s my junk drawer.


Your turn. Go open any drawer in your house right now, junk or otherwise, grab something out of it and then write about it as though it were something entirely different.

What if the box of matches was really a bed for teeny tiny fairies?

What if the string was a rope to help a princess escape from the castle.

What if the ribbon was a rare snake that had been stolen from the zoo?

That’s all it takes. An ordinary object and a question, “What if?”

You get the idea.

Susan Taylor Brown has authored poetry, fiction and non-fiction books for children and adults. She lives in San Jose, California with her husband Erik Giberson and their white German Shepherd, Zoey.

Susan is asked a lot about where she finds her ideas. She thinks this is a funny question because she never has to go looking for ideas, they find her. Sometimes she’ll read something and not even realize that an idea has burrowed into her brain. It might not pop up for weeks or months or even years. Then one day she can be eating breakfast and BOOM, the idea will jump out and say, “Write about ME!”

Learn more about Susan’s work at

At the conclusion of Storystorm, prize packs will be given away (books, swag, writing tools). Comment once on this blog post to enter into the prize pack drawing.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Good luck!


Winner of the 2018 Irma S. Black Award and the SCBWI Crystal Kite!
black kite

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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My Picture Books


illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019

illus by Ross MacDonald
October 1, 2019

illus by Vivienne To
Spring 2020

illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
August 2020

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