by Hillary Homzie

Hello, Storystormers. Can you believe we’re almost at the halfway mark? By now, you’ve accumulated dozens of ideas, possibilities, and nuggets of inspiration. I wanted to walk you through a germ of an idea and show you how it became my informational picture book, IF YOU WERE A PRINCESS: TRUE STORIES OF BRAVE LEADERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD, which came out October 18, 2022, from Simon & Schuster, Aladdin Books.

Let’s go back to Storystorm 2018 where I had a long list of glorious half-baked ideas.

I decided to pick one idea and start to develop it.

Usually, I like to begin with a title, often something high concept. That basically means from the title alone (or a quick one sentence pitch), you understand the premise. For example, the film Snakes on a Plane. You get it, right?

You probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear that my middle grade Queen of Likes is about a middle schooler who is too obsessed with the number of likes she gets on her social media account.

Or that Pumpkin Spice Secrets revolves around an incident in a coffee shop that leads to keeping a secret from a best friend.

However, nothing with a cool resonant title was materializing. Instead, when I gazed at my list of Storystorm ideas, I zeroed in on a general concept: princesses.

Ugh! Weren’t there already a million princess books out there? Did the world really need another one?

So then I started to ask myself why? Why do princesses interest you, Hillary?

Well, as a kid I loved fairy tales. According to Bruno Bettelheim in Uses of Enchantment, fairy tales help children symbolically navigate anxieties and dilemmas.

Okay. Dig deeper. Go back to your childhood. Kick up some memories.

When I was six, we moved to Sussex, England where the ruins of the Lewes Castle loomed over our street. Princesses felt very real, and I became enamored with Princess Anne.

Now, ask again why. Why were you so fascinated by Princess Anne?

Because at my new school I was bullied for having a funny American accent and didn’t know how to stand up for myself. Princess Anne was a fearless Olympic-level athlete who notoriously stood up to a would-be-attacker.

Tip #1:
Ask yourself why a subject matter interests you and keep on digging. Continue asking why until you truly understand what motivates your interest in a subject.

In my case, I was attracted to a strong female role model to help me navigate a difficult and lonely time in my childhood.

Tip #2:
Write down a list of 5 or 6 role models (they can be famous or from your personal life). Next to the person’s name list three of their positive qualities. Now see if you can find some commonalities and circle them. For me, it would be bravery–someone who stands up for themselves and others.

If you’re writing nonfiction, try to find someone who embodies a dominant quality you are seeing in your role model. If you’re writing fiction, think about how you can create a primary character who embodies this quality.

My next step was to dig into some research to see if I could find other princesses who embodied qualities that I admired.

Oh my. Eureka! There are so many cool princesses.

A princess from Iraq with an MD/PhD who did cancer research at Harvard and founded the United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science. A princess from Korea who loved astronomy and established one of the oldest astronomy towers in the world. A princess from Uganda who was the ambassador to the United States. The list went on and on. Honestly, I could easily write two more books on this same subject. The hardest thing was leaving women out. After all, so much of women’s history has been neglected. In fact, I discovered that no book existed documenting the accomplishments of real princesses, now and in the past, from diverse lands. (This gave me even more motivation to push forward.)

Now that I had so many treasures, I tried to stuff all my newly found facts into my draft. But the feedback I kept on getting from my critique partners—your manuscript needs to be trimmed.

At first, I balked.

And then I discovered a little trick.

I crafted a simple narrative that a child as young as 3 or 4 could follow and used those nifty facts as supplementary material for sidebars and a 5-page appendix. Not only was the researcher in me thrilled, but, suddenly, as a bonus, I had a book that was appropriate for preschoolers as well older elementary school students.

Tip #3:
Consider how you can write a book that might appeal to different age groups by writing side bars and appendices that younger kids might skip but might appeal to older children.

This isn’t something that you must reserve only for nonfiction. You can also use supplementary material in fiction as well. In the KATE THE CHEMIST middle grade series, Author Kate Biberdorf and I included a chemistry definition at the start of each chapter.

My final piece of advice is not to get mired in judgement at this point in the Storystorm process. Simply allow yourself to be delighted and have a royally good time!


Hillary Homzie is the author of eighteen books, including the picture book, IF YOU WERE A PRINCESS: TRUE STORIES OF BRAVE LEADERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD and the ELLIE MAY as well as the ALIEN CLONES FROM OUTER SPACE chapter series, which was in development as an animated television show for ABC Australia. Her middle grade QUEEN OF LIKES was optioned by Priority Pictures and is a PJ Our Way selection. She teaches at Sonoma State University, the Summer Graduate Program in Children’s Writing, Literature and Illustration at Hollins University and for the Children’s Book Academy. Hillary especially loves coaching others to find their voice. The Los Angeles Times called her teaching: “very attentive and appreciative and encouraging.”

Visit Hillary online at and follower her on Twitter @HillaryHomzie and Instagram @hillary_homzie.

Hillary is happy to give away a free signed copy of her new book IF YOU WERE A PRINCESS: TRUE STORIES OF BRAVE LEADERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD, illustrated by Udayana (prize available to US).

She is also happy to give away a 30-minute Zoom critique of your picture book manuscript or the first five pages of your novel.

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.