by Debbi Michiko Florence

“Where do you get your ideas?” When someone asks this, if you’re like me, your mind might go blank as you struggle for an answer. I’ve written quite a few unpublished novels and picture books over the last fifteen years, and for most, I could not tell you what idea sparked those stories. But I can tell you where I got the idea for my chapter book JASMINE TOGUCHI MOCHI QUEEN.

I came across an article about a multigenerational Japanese American family that got together every New Year’s holiday to make mochi in the traditional way—steaming sweet rice, pounding it, and rolling mochi. Then, a little girl’s voice chimed in my head, complaining that she wanted to pound mochi even though it was a “man’s job.” And Jasmine Toguchi was born.

When my editor made the offer to buy MOCHI QUEEN, it was one of the happiest days of my life. Then, she surprised me by saying she wanted three more books about Jasmine Toguchi, to make a series. I was elated! She asked if I had ideas for more stories. I responded with an enthusiastic YES!

Honestly? I had no other ideas, at least not at that moment. When I wrote MOCHI QUEEN, I wrote it as a stand-alone chapter book. Suddenly, I had to come up with three more book ideas in a very short amount of time. How did I do this?

MOCHI QUEEN has a thread of Japanese culture (traditional mochi-making during the New Year holiday) with a bigger theme of a girl challenging a family rule (too young to participate) and Japanese tradition (pounding mochi has traditionally been a man’s job). With those big picture themes, I sat down and brainstormed. I focused on the cultural aspect since that’s how MOCHI QUEEN came about. I jotted down traditions that I personally enjoyed or was interested in. From that list, I picked out some favorites that I felt I could expand upon.

On Girl’s Day, families with daughters set up a display of special dolls. As a child I loved those dolls, but because they are delicate and fragile, my sister and I weren’t allowed to play with them. I could totally see Jasmine’s mom having the same rule. This became the starting point for book 2, SUPER SLEUTH, where Jasmine is excited to share Girl’s Day with her best friend, but a falling out puts the celebration in jeopardy.

Book 3, DRUMMER GIRL, focuses on taiko drumming. I’d long loved watching and hearing taiko performances and often wished I had been able to learn to play taiko. This one made the list because I knew I’d get to finally take a lesson because, you know, research! This story expanded to lead Jasmine to contemplate the meaning of talent during a school talent show when a nemesis turns the fun event into a competition.


And finally, the idea for book 4, FLAMINGO KEEPER, started with the daruma, a Japanese wishing doll. Long ago, I had wished for one of my stories to be published. I colored in one eye of the doll while I made that wish, and many years later, after I sold MOCHI QUEEN, I was finally able to color in the other eye. I was filled with joy to be able to do this after having it sit on my desk for so long with only one eye. I knew that Jasmine would feel the same joy, but what if her wish was a little impossible? Like wishing for a pet flamingo.

Delving into cultural and family traditions could be a great idea generator. What memories do you have of favorite (or not-so-favorite) traditions? What traditions or stories from your culture fascinate you? Make a list and I’ll bet you come up with more than one idea.

Happy day 4 of Storystorm! I’m cheering you on!

Debbi Michiko Florence is the author of the chapter book series Jasmine Toguchi, about a spunky 8-year-old Japanese American girl. Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen (a JLG selection) and Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth are available now. Two more books will follow – Jasmine Toguchi, Drummer Girl (April 3) and Jasmine Toguchi, Flamingo Keeper (July 3). A third generation Japanese American and a native Californian, Debbi lives in Connecticut with her husband, puppy, bunny, and two ducks.

Visit her at and follow her on Twitter @DebbiMichiko and Instagram @jasminetoguchi.

Debbi is giving away a two-book Jasmine Toguchi prize pack. You can win MOCHI QUEEN and SUPER SLEUTH.

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

Good luck!