by Chana Stiefel

Hello Storystormers! It’s hard to believe we’re already three weeks in. How’s it going? Are you churning out ideas like this?

If not, I’d like to jumpstart your idea machine by training your brain to ask a single question:

Where did that come from?

As you go about your day, start thinking about origin stories. Your fluffy slippers, your toothbrush, toilet paper, jeans, Cap’n Crunch, a nest in a tree on your first walk of the day….just look around. Origin stories are everywhere!

They might revolve around something very small.


Or something HUMONGOUS.


They might be about something incredibly important.


Or inventions that made a big splash!


They might even be about something we cherish.

My next picture book LET LIBERTY RISE (illustrated by Chuck Groenink, Scholastic, March 2) is the origin story of one of America’s favorite icons, the Statue of Liberty. Where did Lady Liberty come from? Most of us know she was a gift from France. But did you know that when she arrived in New York City in 350 pieces, America didn’t want her? Americans were supposed to build the pedestal for Liberty to stand on, but when she arrived, the pedestal was only half built and funds had run out. Liberty’s parts, from her torch to her toes, lay strewn about Bedloe’s Island in rain and snow. But Joseph Pulitzer, a Jewish Hungarian immigrant and publisher of the New York World newspaper, felt that Liberty must stand in New York harbor. He said, if anyone gives a penny for the pedestal, he would print their name in his newspaper. And guess what? Schoolchildren came to the rescue by donating their pennies! The World raised $100,000 to build Liberty’s pedestal! How’s that for an origin story?

Here’s another story that’s near and dear to my heart. A few years ago, I read an obituary about Yaffa Eliach, a Jewish historian who spent 17 years traveling the world to rebuild her village in stories and photos after her community was obliterated during World War II. Yaffa’s collection became the three-story high Tower of Faces in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. I’m honored to share that this origin story is the subject of my picture book THE TOWER OF LIFE, illustrated by Susan Gal, coming from Scholastic in 2022.

Still a bit stuck? Make a list of things kids love. Then ask: Where did that come from?

THE WILLIAM HOY STORY by Nancy Churnin is about the origin of baseball signs. Did you know that they came from a deaf baseball player who played in the major leagues in the early 1900s?

Of course, these titles are all nonfiction. But this idea can work for fiction too. Here’s a funny origin story.

My picture book MY NAME IS WAKAWAKALOCH is about a cave girl who wants to change her hard-to-pronounce name (ahem). It’s also about the origins of our names and why names are important.

I was named for my great grandmother Chana who arrived in America 100 years ago. You can learn more here. That’s my origin story. What’s yours?

What are your favorite picture books based on origin stories? And if the hunt for an origin-story idea works for you, please let me know!

Chana Stiefel is the author of more than 25 books for kids. Her next picture book, LET LIBERTY RISE (illustrated by Chuck Groenink, Scholastic, 3-2-21), is the true story of how America’s schoolchildren helped build the Statue of Liberty. Her other picture books include MY NAME IS WAKAWAKALOCH!, illustrated by Mary Sullivan (HMH, 2019) and DADDY DEPOT, illustrated by Andy Snair (Feiwel & Friends, 2017). Recent non-fiction titles include ANIMAL ZOMBIES…& OTHER REAL-LIFE MONSTERS (National Geographic Kids, 2018). Her picture book THE TOWER OF LIFE: HOW ONE WOMAN REBUILT HER VILLAGE IN STORIES AND PICTURES (illustrated by Susan Gal) will be coming out from Scholastic in 2022. Chana loves visiting schools and libraries and sharing her passion for reading and writing with children. She is represented by Miranda Paul at Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter @chanastiefel, and Instagram @chanastiefel. To hear Chana pronounce her name, click here.

Chana will be giving away a signed copy of LET LIBERTY RISE when it launches in March.

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