As adults, it’s easy for us to get entrenched in the necessities of day-to-day living whether it be money, bills, work, deadlines, marketing, dinner, laundry, family time, and the list goes on… I know because I’m guilty. As a TV producer for World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. for ten years, I was immersed in work, concentrating on my career, traveling around the globe, and trying to hold my own alongside 7 foot, 400 lb. men.
But everything changed when I started to hang around two little guys who weighed less than 30 lbs. After the birth of my two boys, I realized the importance of seeing beauty in the ordinary and opening my eyes to things I hadn’t before. I became curious and observant and enjoyed to watch a caterpillar inch along the sidewalk or the clouds drift along the sky. I gained a renewed sense of humor in gas and poop jokes and rediscovered what fun it can be to blow bubbles in your chocolate milk.
As I began to think like a kid, ideas and creativity flowed in my head like Roaring Rapids at Six Flags. I found all of my inspiration for writing came from my two boys. As a result, I felt an urge to express myself on paper.
In fact, the idea for my first picture book, The Bug That Plagued the Entire Third Grade, came to me when one of my sons had that dreaded stomach virus that makes its way around a house until it’s hit every family member! When family and friends called to see how he was doing, I would say, “He caught the bug.” It’s something we all say when we’re sick, but it made me stop and wonder why we say that. Something clicked, so I expanded on the play on words of getting sick and catching an insect. Hence… “The Bug” was born.
The idea for my second picture book, Oh the Possibilities, a work-for-hire I wrote for John Hancock’s Back to School campaign, can also be credited to my two boys. John Hancock was looking for a children’s book about that age-old question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Everyone always takes the time to tell me how my boys are “all boy.” And they truly are, fascinated by everything from super-heroes to dinosaurs to trucks to dragons. I was thinking about professions and thought, what boy doesn’t dream of being a dragon, right? I built off that, so when my character, Miles, realizes he only has human genes and must decide on something soon, he runs through all the possibilities.
As my writing career was starting to take shape, I discovered one of the most dramatic shifts we can make as picture book writers is to see life through a child’s eyes. After all, who are our readers? Picture books are targeted toward 4 through 8 year olds and the rule of thumb is that children want to read about characters their own age or a bit older. So how do you get inside the head of a five year old? I don’t know about you, but I’m the type of person who can’t remember what happened yesterday, so there’s not much chance of me tapping into my own childhood memories and bringing to the surface what I was feeling when I was five. So the best way for me to identify with my main characters is to hang out with my readers. There’s nothing like picking up a crayon and coloring, blowing bubbles, whizzing down a slide, and running my fingers in a sandbox for inspiration.
Chances are, if we’re writing for children, we like to think of ourselves as young at heart. So as you’re wracking your brain for 30 ideas in 30 days, think of some of the children you come into contact with each day, whether it be your own, nieces and nephews, grandkids, or friends’ kids. However, this time, instead of watching from the sidelines, join the race or purposely plan an outing in the rain so you can stomp in the puddles together. Chances are you might just find inspiration from all the pint-sized fun, and reap the rewards, bigger than you ever imagined.
Lori Calabrese is an award-winning children’s author. Her first picture book, The Bug That Plagued the Entire Third Grade, was awarded DFP’s Best Children’s Book Award. She writes for various children’s magazines, is the National Children’s Books Examiner at Examiner.com and enjoys sharing her passion for children’s books at festivals, schools and events. Visit her website to learn more: www.loricalabrese.com.
Lori has generously donated a rhyming picture book critique as one of the PiBoIdMo prizes. A random winner will be chosen in early December, from those who have completed the 30-ideas-in-30 days challenge.