by Alison Marcotte 

I’ve always been a quiet comedy fan. I wasn’t in school plays and wasn’t a known jokester, but I loved reading “Zits” in the Comics section of the Sunday newspaper. In college, I continued to admire comedy writing from afar. For our student newspaper The Daily Illini, I got the chance to interview Seth Meyers on the phone (ahh! Still fangirling over that).

My Journey Toward Trying to Write Funny

In 2015, I finally put something out in the universe showing my sense of humor. I created a webcomic on Tumblr called “The Adventures of Andie Mae.”

After some positive feedback, I mustered the courage to take Second City’s course “Writing with The Onion” in Chicago after graduating college. That led to an opportunity to submit a packet to become a contributor to The Onion’s now-defunct celebrity parody site StarWipe, which I wrote for in 2016.

After this experience, I felt confident enough to keep chugging along with writing things that tried to make other people laugh. In 2016, I joined SCBWI, and in 2017, I joined my first SCBWI Illinois critique group, which I’m still part of today.

Tips on Generating Funny Picture Book Ideas

1.   Mine Ideas From Your Childhood and Daily Life
I try to think back on funny things that happened during my childhood and how that could become a picture book. One idea I wrote during Storystorm 2019 was “worst birthday.”

This story idea was based on how my brother, then 7 years old, ruined my 5th carnival-themed birthday party. He kept winning all the games and revealing all the tricks, and I was not having it.

In this Brightly article by Tom Burns, Tom writes about the insane energy and chaos of a child’s birthday party and how there’s a thin line between birthday triumph and tragedy: “Everything is heightened—the parties, the presents, the expectations.” I agree! Birthday parties are full of funny story possibilities.

Think of a memorable birthday party you hosted or went to as a kid, and how that could be turned into a funny story.

Another idea I wrote during Storystorm 2019 was “Ichiro’s dinosaur egg from Christmas.” My 5-year-old cousin Ichiro had told my mom and I that he got a dinosaur egg for Christmas and it was sitting in a cup of water, getting ready to hatch. My mom and I said, “How exciting! ”and he said, “I’m scared.” I thought that was such a funny and honest reaction. He was afraid that a dinosaur would pop out of that egg and gobble up his family, destroy the house, etc. I haven’t written a story about this yet, but I feel like there’s some potential there!

What’s a funny conversation you had this week? Or, what’s something funny you overheard this week? Write it down and see how you can turn that into a story idea.

2.   Read Widely and Take Notes About What Makes You Laugh
Check out a variety of picture books from your local library (I usually look at Chicago Public Library’s staff recommendation list). After reading them, mull over why specific books made you laugh. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Why does this book resonate with me?
  • Why do I find it funny?
  • Why does it stick with me long after reading it?
  • How can I apply this to my own writing?

One funny picture book I enjoyed in 2021 was TOASTY by Sarah Hwang.

TOASTY is about a piece of bread, named Toasty, who wants to be a dog. The absurd premise immediately makes me laugh. Publishers Weekly writes, “Newcomer Hwang’s quirky plot has the meandering joy of a small child’s storytelling logic.” From reading TOASTY, I realized that I want to incorporate more absurd humor in my writing.

Toasty loves dogs-–so much so that he’d like to be one. He knows there are some differences-–most dogs have four legs, but Toasty has two arms and two legs. Some dogs sleep in dog houses, but Toasty sleeps in a toaster. All dogs have hair and fur, but Toasty has neither because he’s made of bread. In spite of these differences, he decides to go to the park to play with the dogs but runs into trouble when they want to eat him. Lucky for Toasty, he is rescued by a little girl who has always wanted a dog but can’t have one because she is allergic. Toasty is the perfect dog for her.

Sarah Hwang’s inspiration for Toasty came from her childhood experience as an immigrant and her discovery that you find your best friends when you’re willing to just be yourself. Her playful art for Toasty came to mind when she saw a piece of toast that reminded her of the way she used to draw dogs as a child.

3.   Write Down Your Ideas and Don’t Edit Yourself
I use the free notetaking app Evernote to write down ideas that pop into mind throughout the day. The app syncs with my computer, so I can just open my laptop later to see all my notes. When writing down funny story ideas, trust your gut and believe in yourself! You have a point of view, taste, and a comedic voice waiting to be heard.

4.   Share Your Story Ideas with Trusted Family/Friends and Critique Members
When I’m still working on a story idea, I usually informally talk about it with my older sister or friends to see if they think there’s potential in the idea. When I have a full draft ready, I share it with my critique group.

One Last Quote to Leave You With

One of my critique members, Rebecca Kraft Rector (author of SQUISH SQUASH SQUISHED), recently shared this quote with our group that really resonated with her (and with me!). It’s from editorial director Meredith Mundy in her interview with funny kidlit author Tammi Sauer.

“My reason for saying yes to all of the titles above is pretty simple: each one of them came to me with a real emotional center. Yes, these books also have big doses of humor and silliness, but at their hearts is a child-centered concern that gets resolved in the art and the storytelling.” ~ Meredith Mundy

As much as I try to add humor and hijinks into my stories, I make sure that it has a child-centered concern at the heart of it.

Thanks for reading! And thank you, Tara, for letting me write a Storystorm blog post alongside kidlit extraordinaires.

Happy Storystorming, everyone!

Alison Marcotte is a Chicago-based picture book writer. She’s passionate about writing stories that are authentic, funny, hopeful, and filled with heart. She’s a member of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, SCBWI, Chicago Writers Association, and Off Campus Writers’ Workshop, and a freelance writer for American Library Association’s American Libraries magazine. 

Her debut picture book, SEEKING BEST FRIEND, illustrated by Diane Ewen, published by Beaming Books, comes out today! Visit her online at, on Twitter @akmarcotte, and Instagram @alisonmarcottewrites.

Alison is giving away a copy of SEEKING BEST FRIEND.

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

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.