by Kate Dopirak

My husband and I were at dinner when I revved right out of my seat: “TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE CAR!” I blurted, never so confident about a new book idea. The problem was . . . I didn’t actually have a new book idea. I just had a title that made everyone from my husband to my crit group to my agent to my editor race to read the manuscript. Too bad I stalled out on the promise of the premise!

My first draft of TWINKLE was about a boy looking for his lost toy car. Both of my sons take endless laps around the house in search of missing things, so I thought I was really zooming along. But I failed to focus enough on one of their favorite things: cars. Wouldn’t my sons, and every other car-loving kid, be disappointed to page through the entire book before finally—FINALLY!—seeing only one car on the very last page? And what about the cover? Shouldn’t the cover showcase the title? Would there even be a car on it?!? I’m embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t thought enough about the visual story.

My original draft didn’t work because it only offered scenes of a kid walking around looking for a toy car. That’s no way to fill an illustrator’s tank! The story needed to be about a car. The car needed to be seen on every spread in the book. It felt like miles of drafts before I realized the car should be fun, adventurous, and high-energy. Even better if s/he has four-wheeled friends!

At last, I had hope of attracting the attention of an illustrator as talented and skilled as Mary Peterson.
I didn’t find success with TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE CAR until I found the story. I didn’t find the story until I considered the art.

by Mary Peterson

I grew up on a farm surrounded by animals and wildlife, rain and snow, and sprouting, growing, blooming things. This is what inspires my art. 18 months ago, if you told me I would fall for a story about a car (one with many four wheeled–not four footed–friends!) I would have laughed. But I did fall for Little Car. S/he has every attribute that attracts me to stories about furry feathery creatures: the toddler energy, curiosity, mischievousness…most of all, the sweetness.

The warmth in Kate’s story inspired both the character and setting. An adorable butter yellow Nash Metropolitan lives at the top of my street. It makes me smile when it goes zipping down the hill. There goes Little Car!

I knew Kate lived in Pittsburgh, so I figured Little Car must live there too. I looked at pictures of Pittsburgh. What an inspiration that was! So much green space and running paths. So many bridges! No wonder Little Car takes the ferry home.

I always thought my inspiration came from animals and landscapes but it turns out they are just tools to tell a particular kind of story. A sleepy little car and a sleepy little rabbit have much in common.

by Kate and Mary

Does your manuscript—especially your main character—have qualities worth illustrating?

Have you thought enough about your visual story?

Give it a try! We’re here, rooting for you to cruise toward success.

Kate loves walking her puppy, watching her sons play sports, and convincing her husband to share a cheese plate instead of wings. She also loves to write for kids. Kate is a certified teacher, a reading specialist, and the Assistant Regional Advisor for Western Pennsylvania SCBWI.

Her books include You’re My Boo (Simon & Schuster, 2016), Snuggle Bunny (Scholastic, 2016), Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Car (Simon & Schuster, 2018), and Hurry Up! (Simon & Schuster, 2020).

Learn more at and follow her on Twitter @katedopirak.

Mary has illustrated many picture books, including DIG IN! and her own SNAIL HAS LUNCH, an easy-to-read chapter book.

She lives in Los Angeles with her husband; their cat, Lucy; and their parakeets, Peety and Pierre. Visit her at and follow her on Twitter @mary_peterson.

Kate and Mary are gearing up to give away a copy of our book, TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE CAR (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster). Beep-beep vroom!

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!