by Chana Stiefel

Well, Storystormers. We have made it to January 11 already. While many of us have developed an aversion to the news these days, I encourage you to give your morning newspaper a second chance. Why? Because your newspaper is chock full of book ideas! Here’s how it works:

  1. Brew a cup of coffee.
  2. Sit down with your favorite newspaper—or online equivalent. (I still prefer the paper kind.)
  3. Scan the headlines cover to cover.
  4. When a story idea jumps out at you, STOP! Rrrrrrip out the article. (Warning: Get permission from other house dwellers first. If you’re reading online, just save and print.)
  5. Change a few words in the headline and . . . eureka! An idea!

This tried-and-true method has worked for me for both fiction and non-fiction book ideas. Last year, I saw a headline in the New York Times Magazine that read, “How to Brush a Gorilla’s Teeth.” Rrrrrip! The article was about a primatologist who brushes gorillas’ teeth at the Bronx Zoo. Based on the headline, I wrote a fictional picture book called HOW TO BRUSH YOUR GORILLA’S TEETH. It was a funny how-to about tooth-brushing antics and anarchy. My agent loved it and invited illustrator extraordinaire Julie Bayless to sketch a dummy. (We got some nibbles from editors, but no bites…yet!)


A few years ago, I started a file of clips about creepy critters. They slowly evolved into a book idea, which I pitched to National Geographic Kids. While I can’t divulge the title yet, that book is coming out in 2018.

Two recent headlines that have inspired other book ideas:

Some pointers: Magazines work too. (If you’re in a doctor’s office, cough loudly while ripping.) Make sure to scan all sections, including sports, business news, ads, and even obituaries. A well-written obit will make you laugh, cry, and give you a jolt of inspiration…all elements of a perfect picture book. Remember all those icons we lost in 2016? Maybe you’ll be the one to write a picture book biography about Prince, David Bowie, Gwen Ifill, or Carrie Fisher!

Or perhaps a biography of a lesser-known individual will give you the motivation to start writing. Here’s an obit about Norma Lyon, a farmer’s wife, mother of nine, and butter sculptor at the Iowa State Fair. Lyon is famous for sculpting tons of salted butter into life-size cows, Barack Obama, and a diorama of the Last Supper.

Rodney White/Associated Press

Rodney White/Associated Press

Jus’ sayin’. Keep an open mind. The possibilities are as endless as the AP newswire. At the very least, you’ll be recycling and repurposing your daily newspaper.

So rrrrip away and story on!

chanastiefel_head-shot_colorWhen she’s not shredding her family’s New York Times, Chana Stiefel is writing books for kids. Her debut picture book, DADDY DEPOT (Feiwel & Friends), hits bookshelves on May 16, 2017. Chana’s book about creepy critters will be coming out from NatGeoKids in 2018, and WAKAWAKALOCH, a semi-autobiographical picture book (and Storystorm success story) about a cave girl who wants to change her unpronounceable name, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2019. Chana has also written 20+ non-fiction children’s books for the educational market. She has a Master’s degree in Science Journalism from NYU. Chana is represented by agent John M. Cusick at Folio Literary. Follow her on Twitter @chanastiefel and visit her at, her authors’ blog and


Chana will be giving away one signed copy of her debut picture book, DADDY DEPOT (after 5.16.17), and a written picture book critique up to 500 words.


Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!