by Erin Dealey

Happy Day 5, Storystormers! This post is about playing with ideas—as an artist. Yep, I’m talking to all of you. Even if your illustrations are stick figures, what you write is ART. And by now you’ve (hopefully) got at least four picture book possibilities in your Idea Notebook and there are more to come. Hooray!

Wait—you do have an Idea Notebook, don’t you? Here’s mine, made from a repurposed book cover.


Many of my ideas stayed right here. Some I’ve gone back to and eventually shaped into manuscripts. A few became books. But having one place to jot ideas down is a huge improvement from my previous method: random scraps of paper + notes in my bullet-ish journal. I also believe that I’m far more creative if I write them down with pencil or pen, instead of going straight to my computer. My Idea notebook is my writer-version of a sketchbook. Do you think Michelangelo headed straight to the scaffolds of the Sistine Chapel or that slab of granite that became David without sketching things out? OK then. Where were we?

The initial idea for my newest picture book DEAR EARTH…FROM YOUR FRIENDS IN ROOM 5 (HarperCollins, illustrated by Luisa Uribe, Dec.1, 2020) is in this notebook. A few years back, I was wowed by a friend’s holiday illustration of a beautiful child-angel holding Earth in her hand. Those you who have read DEAR EARTH know that the main character is not an angel, nor is it a holiday book. So what happened?

Note: If you participated in Storystorm 2019, you’ll remember the fabulous Day 1 post by Cathy Breisacher Pictures Her Ideas and her list of brainstorming questions. As for me, I was so taken with the image of the angel, I wondered: Why is she holding Earth? Is she Earth’s protector? What about Climate Change? Does she take care of the other planets too? How?

That’s when I started playing around in my idea notebook.

I wanted to find a way to show how KIDS could help the angel take care of Earth all year long—not just on Earth Day. Important: Books for kids should be about kids, or kid-centric topics. But how would the angel communicate to the kids? This got me thinking about a format I’ve always wanted to try: a story told only in letters. See my guest post on Lauren Kerstein’s blog for details: 6 Quick-Read Crafty Tips for Writing a Manuscript in Epistolary Format.  (You’ll meet Lauren when she guest blogs for Storystorm later this month!)

Meanwhile, my writing group, the PBJers, made me realize the angel concept might make the book too preachy or worse—a bit morbid (“Aren’t child-angels dead kids?”) Yikes! Their questions and concerns got me thinking—WHAT IF… Room 5 is making New Year’s resolutions and wants to help Earth? What if they write directly to EARTH? And what if EARTH writes back?

What does all of this mean for you, dear Storystormers? On Day 4 of 2020 Storystorm, I hereby challenge you to:

Scroll through the wonderful #kidlitillustration #picturebookillustration examples posted by illustrators on social media. (For other places to find pictures, See Cathy Breisacher: Picture Her Ideas above.) Pick one that resonates with you. Ask it questions. Put the answers in your Idea Notebook so you can play with them and shape them later.

Last but not least, as we work our way through Storystorm 2021, DO NOT STRESS that your ideas are crazy or weird or even morbid or bleh. Instead, let’s think of ourselves as potters. No, not the wand-waving Harry kind. The artist kind. A potter wouldn’t just take some clay, throw a pot, and call it a day. Sometimes we’ll smush our newly thrown pot back into a wad of clay and start over. Sometimes we’ll throw pot after pot and end up with just one that we might glaze and fire. That’s writing, isn’t it? Every one of us is an artist. Storystorm is the start.

Let us resolve to use this month to gather our clay. Then let’s make some art, my friends!

Erin Dealey is the author of 16 picture books & board books (so far), many in rhyme. She is currently revising a middle grade novel which will not go away. And then there were those angsty poems she wrote in college. Dealey’s original career goal was Olympic Gold Medal tetherball player. When that didn’t pan out, she became a teacher, theater director, actor, mom, and author—and welcomes any opportunity to connect kids with words. She lives in northern California with her husband and a very energetic Golden Retriever. You can find her online at and on Twitter @ErinDealey & Instagram @erindealey.

Erin is giving away 1 of your choice–either a picture book critique or a copy of DEAR EARTH…FROM YOUR FRIENDS IN ROOM 5!

Leave one comment below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.