When I was an editor at Golden Books, I was lucky enough to work with many wonderful authors, but one who stood out for his good humor, his generosity, and his absolute joy in writing for kids was George Stanley. Around Golden, we had a nickname for him—Captain Hook, because, more than any other author we’d worked with, George had a knack for coming up with books with hooks, books that kids really and truly wanted to read based on the idea alone.
The first book I edited of George’s was Ghost Horse. It had a horse . . . who was a ghost! What’s cooler than that? The second book was Snake Camp, about a snake-phobic kid who accidentally gets sent to a camp for snake lovers. Both were brilliant, attention-grabbing ideas that kids were sure to like. (And they did!)
My boss and I began to joke that George had a sure-fire way of coming up with great ideas—a George Stanley Idea Generator. Back then, we pictured a hat, full of slips of paper, each printed with an idea that kids loved to read about. He’d pull out two pieces of paper, and no matter how crazy, mash those ideas together in one book.
By that point, I had written a few books with hooks, usually nonfiction titles on cool topics, like Pink Snow and Other Weird Weather or Bugs, Bugs, Bugs, and, yes, my own snake book, called Slinky, Scaly Snakes, but the idea of mashing together hooks opened a new window on fiction for me. Everywhere I looked, I saw “George Stanley”-type ideas, not only in kids’ books, either. There were kids’ TV shows like Dinosaur Train, adult bestsellers like Pride and Prejudice with Zombies, and movies like Snakes on a Plane. Last year a true George Stanley-type idea became a cult hit—Sharknado, anyone?
So here it is, your shortcut to inspiration! Just pick any of these two words (or throw in some hook words of your own), and you’ve got a book idea. How do you know what a hook is? Animals are always popular. Holidays are great hooks because stores, teachers, and librarians feature these books seasonally. Don’t forget disasters and the supernatural. Dinosaurs are The Once and Future Hook, with dogs a close second, while something like ninjas probably wasn’t popular fifteen years ago, but is surging big time now.
Try it for yourself! Spider Baseball? I’d buy that. Dream Witch? Camp Halloween? Puppy Palace? Wait . . . I think that one has been done.
Of course, the idea is the easy part, the 10% of the iceberg that shows above the water. Now you have to find the inspiration in that idea and figure out what the story is, which is the other 90% of the iceberg. What does Pirate Panda want? What are the obstacles facing her? How will she overcome them? And that, PiBoIdMo’ers, is what being a writer is all about.
Last fall, I had a genuine George Stanley-type picture book published, called 100 Snowmen. ((jpeg cover of 100 Snowmen)) The number 100 ties into a holiday, the 100th Day of School, and snowmen are both seasonal and, especially after Frozen hit, very popular. I know that somewhere George Stanley was smiling down at me. “Yes, grasshopper,” he’d say. “That’s how it’s done.”
Jen Arena writes, edits, and mashes together ideas for everything from easy-to-reads to picture books to early chapter books, including her latest, a bilingual board book with Little Brown, Besos for Baby. Her picture books Lady Liberty’s Holiday and Marta Big and Small will be published in 2016 by Knopf and Roaring Brook respectively. Visit her on twitter at @hallojen or at her website: JenArenaBooks.com.
What? The George Stanley Idea Generator wasn’t enough of a prize? Okay . . .
Jen is giving away a thirty-minute brainstorming session/Q&A/editorial consult phone call. She has twenty years of experience as an editor with Putnam, Golden Books, and Random House and has been writing for kids just as long. Ask away!
This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:
- You have registered for PiBoIdMo. TODAY IS THE LAST DAY TO DO SO!
- You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
- You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)
Good luck, everyone!