by Kathleen Doherty

Happy Eighth Day of Storystorm!

One of my favorite topics is INTERTEXTUALITY—a literary theory that whatever you create, is influenced by something you’ve heard, seen, or read before.

In other words, intertextuality is borrowing ideas from another piece of literature and using them to shape a new text. It’s not lifting another person’s work word-for-word. As you know, that’s called plagiarism.

Mark Twain said, “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

Some examples of intertextuality:

  • The main plotline of Disney’s The Lion King is borrowed from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
  • Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” borrows from Romeo and Juliet.
  • Tara Lazar borrows from Mother Goose and other fairy tales in her picture book, LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD.

So how can you apply intertextuality to your writing? Well, I’m suggesting you look at your favorite pieces of children’s literature and think of the plots, themes, concepts, and ideas that resonate with you. How many of those can you rework to make them your own?


In 2012, I was impressed by George Cooper’s use of personification in his poem “October Party.” Cooper used characters like Miss Weather, Professor Wind, and Misses Maple. I borrowed the idea of personifying a month. I kept the idea of a party, but changed the season and activities. I kept the same rhythm and beat and wrote the following poem which was published in “Spider Magazine”:



I used intertextuality in my three picture books. DON’T FEED THE BEAR is based on Yogi Bear always getting into trouble with Ranger Smith. (Yeah, I’m that old. I watched Yogi Bear.)



In my picture book, THE THINGITY-JIG, I reworked the story line from THE LITTLE RED HEN. In my book, none of Bear’s friends want to help him bring a couch back to the forest that he finds in people town. Bear figures out a way all by himself. But Bear lets his friends jump on the couch when he finally gets it home. My ending is a bit kinder than the one in THE LITTLE RED HEN.

In THE THINGITY-JIG, I also borrowed the idea of making up words. I used to read THE BFG by Roahl Dahl to my fourth grade students. In his book, Dahl made up words like trogglehumper, snozzcumber and bellypopper. In my book, I made up rolly-rumpity, lifty-uppity, and pushy-poppity.

My forthcoming picture book, THE TWIST-A-ROO borrows from THE GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANT. In Aesop’s story, the grasshopper is so busy playing a fiddle, he doesn’t store up food for winter and goes hungry. In my book, Badger is so mesmerized by a kaleidoscope, he doesn’t prepare for winter. But my ending is not as harsh as Aesop’s.



In THE WOLF WHO CRIED BOY by Bob Hartman, Little Wolf is tired of his mom’s cooking. It’s the same old thing night after night, Lamburgers and Sloppy Does. How he wishes his mother would serve up a nice platter of his favorite dish—Boy! He dreams of boys-n-berry pie and a steaming plate of boy chops.

But Boy is hard to come by. As Little Wolf trudges home from school one day, he decides to postpone his boring dinner by shouting “Boy! Boy!” But when a real boy finally comes along, do his parents believe him? Of course not. Little Wolf learns the same lesson the boy who cried “Wolf!” did so many years ago.


Kathleen Doherty is a former Educational Specialist/Reading Specialist. Her first picture book—DON’T FEED THE BEAR—is featured on Kirkus Reviews’ recommended list and is in its sixth printing. Her second picture book—THE THINGITY-JIG—received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews and is being published in nine languages. Her third picture book—THE TWIST-A-ROO—is forthcoming in November 2023. Her work has appeared in TIME Magazine, The Mailbox, Highlights for Children, Highlights High Five, Highlights HELLO, and Spider Magazine. She’s won the Highlights Pewter Plate Award, the Highlights Celebrate National Poetry Contest, and a Letter of Merit in poetry from the SCBWI Magazine Merit Awards.

You can learn more about Kathleen and her work at and follow her on Twitter @Doherty60 and Instagram @kathleendohertyauthor.

Kathleen is giving away a picture book critique, fiction, up to 650 words.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.