by Janna Matthies

As a guest blogger during this high-gear month of generating Pi Bo ideas, I’m honored to share in the charge to Inspire! My first word of inspiration is this:

My new picture book, TWO IS ENOUGH (adorably illustrated by Tuesday Mourning), releases today! YIPPEE!!


While this might seem like shameless self-promotion (let’s face it, it is), it is also a reminder that people who only a few years ago were not published can one day accomplish that goal. Furthermore, we published authors—after only 4 books or, I hear, even after 25—are still dreaming, churning out ideas, putting bad ones through the shredder, writing, revising, submitting and hoping for the next book. The dream is attainable, and the process is ongoing for us all. We’re in this together!

My second word of inspiration is where I’ll land for today’s post. And it’s good news in a world where life can be hard. Here it is:

Your tough experiences, and those of people you love, can be fodder for meaningful children’s books.

Which brings me back to my new book, TWO IS ENOUGH. This book celebrates the special bond of love in a family of two—one adult and one child. The idea came when my dear, single friend Christine adopted a baby boy, Carter. When I looked for the perfect gift for them, all I found were stories on a theme of “When WE brought you home…” Clearly not the perfect gift for them. I thought about what kind of book Christine and Carter and families like them might need—something that celebrates what they have without reminding them of what they have not. And the answer was clear: LOVE. Whether shaped by adoption, divorce, death of a parent or something else, two-person families have unique challenges. Still…two is completely, fully, wholly, abundantly enough for lots of love. By honing in on the heart of my friend’s real story, I decided the best approach to this book was to stick strictly to the positives.

I’ve taken a different approach to tough topics in two of my other books: THE GOODBYE CANCER GARDEN and PETER, THE KNIGHT WITH ASTHMA. In writing these fictional books inspired by my own family’s health challenges, I chose to directly address the difficulties and then point toward hope.

One note: When we write directly about tough stuff for our youngest audiences, I believe we must be both honest about the facts and considerate of cognitive and emotional maturity. And because I was not writing a textbook or medical pamphlet, no sterile depiction of treatment events would do! I brainstormed about relatable ways to create a strong story and landed on the bridge-building tool of the metaphor.

9780807565179 Peter cvr

The dragon in PETER, THE KNIGHT WITH ASTHMA is a metaphor for asthma. The brave knight is the child empowered to fight and tame his disease.


In THE GOODBYE CANCER GARDEN, the barren winter ground represents a body with cancer. The seasonal cycle of vegetable gardening is as a metaphor for regeneration and hope. And while I used medical terms like chemotherapy and surgery, I explained them simply amidst a full-bodied story with multi-dimensional characters. We picture book creators, with the powerful combination of words and illustrations, have a unique opportunity to step into dark places and shine a light for our readers.

As an aside, books that help young readers face tough issues often fall within the category of “bibliotherapy” books—particularly those that get down to the nitty gritty like my asthma and cancer books. Even topics like potty training, starting school or how babies are born may fit this category or the broader heading of “concept” books (Check out THE BABY TREE by Sophie Blackall—clever, artistic, fun!). As you pore over piles of pictures books, as all good PiBoIdMo participants should do, notice those that touch on tough topics. Study the ones that transcend the issue and lead you—and ideally the children around you—to laugh, release some tears, take courage, or go plant a garden.

My parting question for you is this: What are the tough topics in the narrative of your life or in the lives of children you love? Consider taking some of these and giving them a shot at redemption through a picture book. What story can you create that will inspire young readers toward hope?

JannaMatthiesJanna Matthies is a children’s book author and guitar-toting early ed music teacher. Her books include TWO IS ENOUGH (Running Press Kids, 2015); THE GOODBYE CANCER GARDEN (Albert Whitman, 2011), which earned a starred review from School Library Journal and 2011 Best Foreign Children’s Book at the Sharjah International Book Fair; PETER, THE KNIGHT WITH ASTHMA (Albert Whitman, 2009); and MONSTER TRUCKS (Piggy Toes Press, 2009). She’s also written for Spider and Humpty Dumpty magazines. Janna lives in Indianapolis with her husband and three kids.

Find her at and on Facebook.

PrizeDetails (2)

Janna is giving away a copy of her new book TWO IS ENOUGH.

Leave a comment below to enter. One comment per person, please.

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!