by Pam Calvert

So, today you’re supposed to be eating lots of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, dressing, pies (emphasis on the plural here)…AND talking (not fighting) with your relatives. Enjoying your day! But still…it IS Picture Book Idea Month and so you’re also supposed to be thinking of a blockbuster picture book idea today as well. But I’m not thinking about today. No. I’m thinking about tomorrow.



And in honor of Black Friday, I’m going to veer off from the normal “how I get my ideas” blog post to a more material slant—something all picture book writers should have sitting with them when they’re about to brainstorm. Something you should ask for Christmas so you can weave all those good ideas into editor-loving stories. It’s something I bought myself (SPLURGED on) several years ago and it helped me brainstorm two of my upcoming picture books.

It’s called the Magna Storyboard Pad (pictured). Notice it has three areas where you can draw and lines for writing. “But WAIT!” you say. “I’M NOT AN ILLUSTRATOR!”

Well, I’m not either, but if you’re going to be a picture book author, you better be visualizing your story even before you start writing. This pad forces you to think in pictures. A lot of times, it’s easy for me to get swept away by my words when I should be visualizing my story first. And since I bought this pad, thinking in pictures has never been easier. And another secret?

No one has to see your pictures!

But I’ll show you some of mine so you’ll feel better about your artistic talent (because it’s gotta be better).

When I started on the sequel to my math adventure, MULTIPLYING MENACE, my editor told me I needed to meld one of my contracted stories with an earlier version of the sequel, MULTIPLYING MENACE DIVIDES. The contracted story was entitled, THE FROG PRINCE IN FRACTIONLAND. That meant I had to apply frogs throughout my original (that didn’t even have a frog in the background.) And I had to apply fractions throughout. This required pictures. Oh yeah, and I needed another villain. Panicking, I grabbed my math books, desperately searching for an idea. But then I remembered the storyboard pads. I hadn’t used them (even though it was at the top of my things to do list). I started with the new villain…

Her name was Diva Divine in a feeble attempt to use a play on words with division. Of course, through revision her name ended up being Matilda, but this is what she ended up looking like in the book:

There’s quite a bit of resemblance and I never had a talk with the illustrator, Wayne Geehan, about the witch. He suspected what she’d be like from her actions. But without my visualization on paper, her character may not have come out so well.

Now, the witch was the easy part. So much fun. I had her reading In Stye magazine and wearing Jimmy Ooze shoes (um…that never made it in the book…ha!).

The next part was thinking in fractions. So, I plotted out every element. Here’s one page example when I had to show how the division magic worked with dividing twelve kittens. I brainstormed some ways I could show this on the storyboard paper:

Not only did I brainstorm dividing the kittens into frogs, but I had to divide things by fractions, which makes a larger number. In the storyboard picture I used frogs, but they ended up being pigs. Here’s the finished page of the kittens.

After I completed this story, I was hooked! I would never again brainstorm without my storypad.

Here’s another example using my newest PRINCESS PEEPERS book entitled, PRINCESS PEEPERS PICKS A PET. These are the initial thoughts. Notice, I’m terrible at illustrating, but the ideas flow much more freely when I use it, and I can tell if my story would lend itself well to illustration. You need at least sixteen different scene changes for a picture book.

Here is Peepers trying to find a pet for the pet show:

She’s frustrated because she can’t find anything (that’s a frog on her head!) In the finished book, she does find the frog and it looks like this:

Before I leave you with your Black Friday find, I’ll show you my newest picture book idea brainstorm.


Pam Calvert has written picture books and stories for over ten years. Her picture books include MULTIPLYING MENACE: THE REVENGE OF RUMPELSTILTSKIN and PRINCESS PEEPERS, a Scholastic Book Clubs selection and listed as a Texas Mockingbird picture book pick. Her newest picture books will be out in the spring of 2011 entitled, MULTIPLYING MENACE DIVIDES and PRINCESS PEEPERS PICKS A PET. She’s writing new picture books as well as longer stories from her home in Houston, Texas.