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by Hoity-Toity Otter (and not Abi Cushman)

A little birdie told me something recently that was otterly preposterous. Apparently there are women who… get this… make funny books for kids.

“Really?” I said. “Well this is the first I’ve heard of this and I’ve read many articles about funny kids’ books in major newspapers and magazines, and I don’t recall mention of female authors and illustrators in any of them.”

I continued about my day, chuckling at the very notion. A funny woman??  Who writes for KIDS?? Ho! Ho! Now THAT’S a funny idea for a picture book. For a man to write, of course.

But then something happened. I couldn’t shake this feeling. What if that little birdie was right?? I had to know for sure, so I decided to throw myself into deep research.

Well wouldn’t you know, there ARE funny female authors and illustrators! Quite a few actually. Dare I say, LOTS. I decided to reach out to some of these creators and gain more insight into this phenomenon. Interestingly, for my first question I got the exact same answer from every single person I asked.

So I felt compelled to dive deeper and learn more about their process for creating really funny books. Here are the results.

  • From where do you draw your humor?

From Dev Petty, author of CLAYMATES:

“Life is funny and occasionally (if not often) somewhat absurd. I draw humor from those uncomfortable and weird bits of absurdity around us and how we humans cope with them. Sometimes I crack jokes when I’m nervous or uncomfortable and that friction, that discomfort, can create a lot of room for humor. I also grew up around a lot of funny, creative people and learned how humor connects people. Basically, if I was entertaining, my family let me stay up late.”


From Melanie Ellsworth, author of CLARINET AND TRUMPET:

“For me, individual words and the way we string certain words together can be very funny. So I’m always on the lookout for a silly turn of phrase – sometimes stolen from my daughter and occasionally something I have misheard. I love playing around with puns and idioms and common expressions and seeing if there’s a story there!”


From Julie Hedlund, author of OVER, BEAR! UNDER, WHERE?:

“I get a lot of ideas from movies, comedy shows, books, and even signs and advertisements. When something makes me laugh out loud, I ruminate on WHY it’s funny and brainstorm on how I could make that concept work for kids. I also often get a funny/punny title first and build a story from there.”


  • How do you know if your joke will be funny to kids?

From Isabella Kung, author-illustrator of NO FUZZBALL!:

“First, I would like to acknowledge I am very fortunate that my main character—a cat—is already beloved by many adults and kids. (The internet is obsessed with cat pictures and videos for a reason!) So just getting the character design, attitude, and body language right made a lot of adults and kids laugh. NO FUZZBALL! is very much inspired by my own furbabies, Bubo and Bella. Honestly, I just wrote and illustrated what I found funny and what made me laugh about them. I also drew a lot of inspiration from books and cartoons I loved as a kid. I enjoyed when characters made a mess, and found it hilarious when characters had grand personalities while being completely unaware or misunderstand their surroundings like PINKY AND THE BRAIN. I found that embracing my inner child is the key to writing humor for children.”


From Marcie Colleen, author of the SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS series:

“For me, being attuned to what kids are currently watching in cartoons helps a lot to know what they are laughing at today. When I was writing The Super Happy Party Bears chapter book series my editor asked me to infuse my storytelling with random, absurd humor like in Adventure Time, a popular Cartoon Network show at the time. I sat down and watched several episodes (cool job, right?) and took notes on how jokes were set up, the rhythm of the jokes, and basically the essence of what was considered funny. I was then able to recreate that type of humor when writing my books. Truth is, I’ve never grown up and I LOVE watching kids television. It’s a quick and easy way to see what’s funny to today’s kids. And it’s hella fun.”


From Sam Wedelich, author-illustrator of CHICKEN LITTLE AND THE BIG BAD WOLF:

“When I’m writing, I try and make myself laugh. That’s the first test. The second test is to read it to kids… I have two kids, so I don’t have to go far, but I also send early drafts or jokes to other friends with kids and get their feedback. Did they laugh? Did they want to hear it again? To me, the highest praise I could ever get on my work is that a kid wants to read it ‘again.’”


  • What’s your trick to creating a really funny scene or moment?

From Julie Falatko, author of YOURS IN BOOKS:

“Once I have the story down, I work to shoehorn in as many jokes as I can. I do a revision where all I’m doing is adding as much specific hilarious weirdness as possible. I look at every line and think of how it can either set up a joke or be a joke, and then I make it as silly and weird as I can. Always make it weirder. I have a book with a discarded shoe who likes to sing, one where the main characters wear pizzas on their heads, and one where a dog gives a dramatic speech about a sponge. All those things were added in the “make it weirder” revision.”


From Julie Rowan-Zoch, author-illustrator of I’M A HARE, SO THERE!:

“More often after I get a drawing or sketch to a point where I am satisfied I take a step back (or hold my iPad further away!) and ask, what can I do that would lift the story – or character look? Especially something that happens to everyone, so viewers can relate, or to evoke an emotion – but something that is not in the text! Add a few lines, move them, or REmove them? A shoe on the wrong foot, perhaps? Gum stuck to it? An eye roll? Maybe with juxtaposition: over-sized ears, a tiny stuffie for a bristly character, an exaggerated mouth wide open on a quiet personality! Would the situation, like a haircut, be more interesting in a kitchen or in a classroom? Unexpected color: purple clouds, mis-matched socks, or green eggs! Even something dark, like a random grimace in a crowd, or a pothole in the character’s path. Or just plain silly, like baby ants in diapers? I suppose it helps having a mind that is always looking for a bit of trouble!”


From Kjersten Hayes, author of THE ELEPHANTS’ GUIDE TO HIDE-AND-SEEK:

“My favorite way to create funny scenes is through brainstorming and not stopping with my first idea but pushing myself until I’ve come up with quite a few possibilities. I often set a goal, like I’ll say I need ten different options for how a part will play out and then I’ll brainstorm until I make it to ten. I usually have to get pretty silly to make it that far, which makes things funny. I especially like to use this method to brainstorm how the words and the pictures could show two different points of view or two different parts of the story. Like maybe the character thinks one thing is happening, but reality is a bit different. I also always ask myself after writing a part if this is really the best and funniest possibility I can come up with. I often realize the answer for early drafts is no. Even if I like it, I realize it could be even better. So I try again, and things get funnier. Another small tip—when in doubt, go for drama and exaggeration. Drama and exaggeration are often funny in picture books.”


From Heather Fox, illustrator of LLAMA DESTROYS THE WORLD:

“For me, it’s all about facial expressions and body language- specifically the eyes! That being said, you might notice that a lot of my silly book characters have really big eyeballs.This proves useful in scenes that don’t have dialog (and even ones that do!) with conveying a character’s expressions, emotions, and thoughts. Humor often comes from not just a situation, but the reaction of the character in that situation.”


From Joana Pastro, author of LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS:

“My favorite line in LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS belongs to the witch. When she says: “It’s a monstrosity! I love it!” It’s a simple line, but I find it hilarious—especially when read aloud—because she uses the word monstrosity in an unpredictable way, as a compliment. So, when I’m working on a funny story, I always aim for the unexpected by searching for out-of-the-box situations or the unfiltered honesty that young children have. If I want to amp the humor, I will make a list of predictable outcomes and then a list for absurd ones. I love a good twist, a great surprise. That’s what I always aim for.”


From Tammi Sauer, author of NOT NOW, COW:

“I think every writer has different strengths, and one of mine is humor. Most of what I write just comes out funny. Even so, I don’t settle. When I’m working on a manuscript, I keep toying with each word, each line, and each scene until I get that YESSS feeling. The YESSS feeling usually involves me laughing and crying alone in my office but whatever. It’s the best.”


  • What do you do if your editor/agent/art director doesn’t ‘get it’?

From Doreen Cronin, author of THE CHICKEN SQUAD series:

“Ha!  This happens all the time. I can get in a groove where I think everything is funny. When I hear back that I am alone in that — I re-write. It’s like writing any other genre, not everything you think is coming across (humor, emotion, plot) is coming across clearly. Re-write, re-write, re-write.  Comedians work out their material in a room with an audience and sharpen it until it really works. Writers do the same. Your audience becomes your agent, editor, art director, etc.  (My kids tell me how “not funny” I am all the time!) It’s usually more about sharpening than deleting all together. For every 30 jokes  you write, three of them might actually be ready. Rewrite! The punch-line is there, it just might be circling and you haven’t really brought it in for a landing.”


Well to quote Baby’s father in Dirty Dancing, a movie all sea otters love quoting, “When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong.” I was absolutely bowled over by those responses and give those creators my otter-most respect.

And guess what! It gets even better. I have a special bonus round with the fabulous host of this blog and the author of many funny kids’ books including the upcoming picture book, BLOOP, illustrated by Mike Boldt. It’s the one and only, Tara Lazar! Thank you, Tara, for making my research project extra otterrific.

So Tara, where do YOU draw your humor from?

My father had a dry wit with zingy one-liners. I grew up with his humor, so it was bound to rub off. We watched funny movies together (his favorite was “My Cousin Vinny”) and he let us stay up late to watch Saturday Night Live. What’s especially funny is that he had a very serious, boring job (at least in my opinion) as a chemical patent attorney. I think his humor provided much needed comic relief at work! But he was obsessed with MAD Magazine as a kid—hiding cut-outs of Alfred E. Neuman all over his house to surprise his parents—so I think he was always funny.

My dad, circa 1979

How do you know if your joke will be funny to kids?

Well, I’m still in second grade, so if I laugh, I’m pretty sure kids will, too. I laugh at silly things my own kids roll their eyes at—but they’re teenagers, so, like, pinch of salt.

What’s your trick to creating a really funny scene or moment?

There’s no trick, really. Humor comes from surprise. Sometimes I’m shocked at what spills out because I wasn’t expecting it, either!

What do you do if your editor/agent/art director doesn’t ‘get it’?

I’m lucky in that my agent does GET IT. But sometimes an editor doesn’t. If they provide comments that resonate and ask for a rewrite, I’ll do it. But those that don’t GET IT just don’t and there’s nothing I can do but move on to the next editor. Humor is subjective.

Well, I don’t know about you, but this hoity-toity otter sure learned a lot! And you know what? I just got a wild idea! Maybe someone should tell those newspapers and magazines they’re missing out and should include funny women in their articles! Why hasn’t anyone else thought of this?? I’m going to go do that right now. Ta-ta!

 


Hoity-Toity Otter is not only the author of this article, he also plays the small but pivotal role of “Taxi Cab Passenger Who Eats a Three-Course Meal While Sitting in Traffic” in the upcoming picture book, ANIMALS GO VROOM!, which rolls onto shelves on July 13, 2021 from Viking Children’s Books.

Abi Cushman is the author-illustrator of ANIMALS GO VROOM! and SOAKED!, which was a Kids’ Indie Next Top Ten Pick for Summer 2020. She has also worked as a web designer for over 15 years, and runs two popular websites of her own: MyHouseRabbit.com, a pet rabbit care resource, and AnimalFactGuide.com, which was named a Great Website for Kids by the American Library Association. In her spare time, Abi enjoys running, playing tennis, and eating nachos. (Yes, at the same time.) She lives on the Connecticut shoreline with her husband and two kids.

If you’d like to learn more about Abi and her books, you can visit her website at AbiCushman.com. For special giveaways, sneak peeks, and more hoity-toity otter musings, subscribe to her newsletter.

by Brian Gehrlein

To begin, THE BOOK OF RULES was never supposed to happen. It was just a silly book I wrote in 2017 that was never queried and never shared with my agent because I thought it was dead. However, we wanted to find another project to go on submission with so I took a dive into the dusty corners of my Google drive. And there it was. Lifeless and forgotten…THE BOOK OF RULES. Recalling concepts from The Princess Bride, I wondered if it was all dead or just mostly dead. I decided to find out. Through the magic of revision, several amazing critique buddies, and 10,000 volts of figurative electricity, we brought this “dead” story to life. Ta-da! A once thought dead manuscript Frankensteined to a multi-house offer debut book deal. Moral of the story? Keep an open mind and doubt your conclusions—what if your “worst” story is actually your best?!

So far what I’ve observed about the kidlit industry is that it feels like nothing is happening and then everything is happening. And then nothing is happening. And then EVERYTHING IS HAPPENING! Soon art was happening. Soon a monster was happening. Soon Dennis was happening. Yes, Dennis. Because what’s a good name for a monster that eats children who don’t follow the rules? Obviously Dennis.

Throughout the process, Tom Knight confirmed himself to be the kidlit illustration wizard I knew he was. His stuff is amazing and I couldn’t be more pleased to share this book with him! The first time I saw the cover, I remember shouting, “IT’S DENNIS! HE’S PURPLE! MY NAME IS ON A BOOK!” Crazytown. Bonkersville. A rush of blood to the head with two parts sugar and one part imposter syndrome. Because this book was never supposed to happen…and then it was.

THE BOOK OF RULES is a meta, interactive story that playfully introduces the idea of following rules (lest you be eaten) while weaving in a subtle thread of mindfulness. Due to its meta nature, I love that Dennis is eating the book on the cover—a bit of foreshadowing for one of my favorite parts at the end! I also think Tom really captures the playful tone I was going for with the color scheme and design of Dennis. Look how hungry he is! He’s adorably awful. Marvelously monstrous. I can’t wait for him to break out of this cover and munch his way into your hearts…and also eat your children (unless of course, they follow the rules).

From the publisher: 

An interactive picture book with dynamic illustrations, in which readers have to follow the rules or risk a run-in with a monster—with a gentle approach to mindfulness along the way.

Beware! This book has rules. You must follow all the rules. If you break the rules . . . Dennis the monster will eat you. And you don’t want to be Dennis-food—do you?

With a laugh-out-loud, interactive style, The Book of Rules invites you to get your sillies out before it’s time to focus and listen to directions. And you better get started, because Dennis can’t wait to eat—or, um—meet you!

THE BOOK OF RULES (FSG/BYR) comes out October 19th and is available for preorder.

Thanks for stopping by, kidlit fam! And thanks for hosting this cover reveal, Tara!

Brian is giving away a picture book manuscript plus query critique to a lucky commenter!

Leave one comment below.

A winner will be randomly selected in two weeks.

Good luck!


Brian Gehrlein is the author of dozens of award-winning children’s books that you haven’t read because they don’t exist yet. If only you had a time machine to fact check this absurd claim. Alas, you do not so you’ll just have to take his word for it. Brian enjoys writing snarky pretend-bios at the end of his posts which you can read at pbspotlight.com. Brian thanks you for reading this post. He thanks you for reading this unhelpful non-bio. He especially thanks you for reading this sentence. It was a really good sentence. However, he does not thank you for reading this sentence. You were not supposed to read that one. It was a secret and you’ve gone and compromised the entire mission. What mission you ask? Well, if you even have to ask then you don’t have a high enough security clearance and probably aren’t that cool. For more snark, follow Brian on Twitter @BrianGehrlein.


Tom Knight grew up on Mersea Island on the Essex coast, where he returned to live after having children of his own. Having grown up on a small farm, Tom spent most of his time using his imagination to create new worlds from the hedgerows and haystacks.

After an enjoyable stint as a graphic designer, Tom is now proud to be using his imagination as a full time career. Drawing on a long and abiding love of imagery from childrens literature, Tom has worked for a diverse range of publishers, including Little Tiger Press, Templar, Simon and Schuster, Scholastic and Macmillan. He has also turned his hand to authoring his own titles and is the author and illustrator for the ‘Good Knight, Bad Knight’ books and ‘Jimmy Finnigan’s Wild Wood Band’.

He does all this from a poorly temperature-controlled studio in the garden, where he is constantly distracted by the greedy birds that hang out by the feeder outside his window.

Learn more at Tom’s website tomknightillustration.co.uk and follow him on Twitter @tombabylon.

by Ashley Franklin

Remember NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE? Now we finally get to see Tameika in all of her royal glory! My publisher received such a positive response from readers who fell in love with Tameika’s story that it was decided that she deserved more time to shine. She does just that in BETTER TOGETHER, CINDERELLA.

The NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE cover does an amazing job of capturing the gist of the book: Tameika wonders if she can be Snow White. The cover of BETTER TOGETHER, CINDERELLA does an equally amazing job of doing the same. Tameika is Cinderella, but she’s sharing her space with her siblings.

There are so many things that I love about this cover by illustrator Ebony Glenn! Purple and blue were essential to the cover, and I had a lot of fun adding my input. Of course, we wanted blue for the Cinderella vibe, but purple is associated with royalty. Blue cover or purple cover? As you can see, we went with purple. If I had to pick my absolute favorite thing about the cover, it would be the stars. I often sign NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE with some rendition of “Always shine like the star you are.” This sentiment resonates in BETTER TOGETHER, CINDERELLA too; so to me, the stars are perfect.

What makes this book particularly special to me is that this was a completely different experience from my debut. This title was not something that came easily. I really wanted the perfect rhyme like we had with “quite” and “white” again, but it is not much you can do for a Cinderella rhyme. One of my sons suggested that we use mozzarella and be done with it. Clearly, that would have been a different story altogether.

I can’t wait until kids can see how Tameika adjusts to sharing the spotlight.

BETTER TOGETHER, CINDERELLA will release from HarperCollins on September 7, 2021. Pre-order a copy online today or through your local independent bookstore.

Ashley will be giving away a signed copy of the book once it’s released!

Leave one comment below to enter. A random winner will be chosen next month.

Good luck!


Ashley Franklin is the author of NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE (2019), “Creative Fixes” from the anthology ONCE UPON AN EID (2020), “Situationally Broke” from the anthology WHAT WE DIDN’T EXPECT (2020), BETTER TOGETHER, CINDERELLA (2021) and more. Ashley received her master’s degree in English literature from the University of Delaware. She is an adjunct college instructor, freelance writer, and proud mom. Ashley currently resides in Arkansas with her family.

Ashley is represented by Kathleen Rushall of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Visit Ashley’s at ashleyfranklinwrites.com, on Twitter @differentashley, Facebook at Ashley Franklin, or Instagram @ashleyfranklinwrites.

Today we’re revealing the cover of Jocelyn Rish’s debut BATTLE OF THE BUTTS, illustrated by David Creighton-Pester.

Did you know manatees swim using farts? Or that herrings communicate by passing gas?

Butts are used for breathing, eating, swimming, talking, and even killing in the animal kingdom. Focusing on ten different animals and their derrières, and offering fun facts about their origin, habitat, and “posterior power,” this hilarious book captures the wonder of our ecosystem. Which animal has the coolest butt power? That’s up to you to decide!

Jocelyn, what inspired you to write about animal butts?

I was doom-scrolling Twitter very, very late one night, which is a bad habit I indulge in way too often, but this time it was a good thing! I ran across a tweet with this meme, which says manatees can control their buoyancy through an endless cycle of farting.

I giggled and thought that can’t possibly true. So I Googled it. And it is true! And as a delightful bonus of my search, Google told me about other animals that do weird things with their butts. I don’t think I slept that night as I went down a research rabbit hole of bizarre booties.

I tutor elementary school students who struggle with reading through a program called Reading Partners, so I’ve always wanted to write a book that would appeal to reluctant readers. After hours of reading about these fantastic fannies, I knew this was IT!

Did I ever imaging my debut would be about animal butts, farts, and poop? No.

Am I over-the-moon excited about it? Heck yeah!

And I hope even reluctant readers will be unable to resist a book with animal butts on the cover. Check out these delightful derrières!

What were your thoughts when you first saw the cover?

First of all, I have to say that David is both clever and hilarious (and of course super talented). I can’t wait for y’all to see all the little funny moments in the illustrations.

Anyway, my editor (Allison Cohen) sent me his sketches of several potential versions of the cover. They were all great—one was even set on a stage like the animals were competing, which is how I first envisioned the butt battle—but we all agreed the trophy version was the winner. I just loved the concept of the title on the trophy with our names on the stand—too perfect!

Once I saw the final version, not going to lie, I cried. I never imagined that a cover featuring animal rear ends would be so pretty! The bright colors. The way the greens and blues blend together (half the animals live on land, the other half in the water). The whole thing makes my eyes and my heart happy.

And I’ve never asked David if this is on purpose or if it’s my posterior preoccupation reading too much into things, but the trophy has butts on it! The top of both handles, the bottom of the cup, and the bottom of the stand have light reflections that are butt silhouettes. And even the handles themselves are booty shaped! Or maybe I’m taking this tushie theme too far.

Regardless, I’m thrilled our cover is now out in the world, and I can’t wait for kids to start reading the book!

BATTLE OF THE BUTTS will release from Running Press Kids on September 28, 2021. Pre-order a copy online today or through your local independent bookstore.

Jocelyn will give away one copy of BATTLE OF THE BUTTS to a lucky commenter (to be sent your way when it releases in September 2021!

Leave on comment to enter.

A winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month.

Good luck!


Jocelyn Rish is a writer and filmmaker who never imagined her cheeky sense of humor would lead to a book about animal butts. When she’s not researching fanny facts, she tutors kids to help them discover the magic of reading. Jocelyn has won numerous awards for her short stories, screenplays, short films, and novels and lives in South Carolina with her booty-ful dogs. Visit her website jocelynrish.com.

 

 


David Creighton-Pester is an illustrator and designer from Hamilton, New Zealand. Inspired as a child by picture books, animation, and all things arty, he spent endless hours drawing crazy characters and coming up with silly stories. And still does now! David is also the owner of Scorch Design, a graphic design company he started in 2009. You can see more of his illustration work at davidcp.com.

 

SORRY, THE PLEDGE IS NOW CLOSED!

 

If you’ve been participating in Storystorm all month, you’ve been generating tons of ideas!

Luckily you don’t need tons to “win” the Storystorm challenge. You just need 30 of them!

When you have 30 ideas, you can qualify to win one of 8 AMAZING Storystorm Grand Prizes—feedback on your best 5 ideas from one of these kidlit agents!

  • Ammi-Joan Paquette
  • Miranda Paul
  • Natascha Morris
  • Adria Goetz
  • Jennifer March Soloway
  • Sean McCarthy
  • Susan Hawk
  • Liza Fleissig & Ginger Harris-Dontzin

(More on this tomorrow!)

In order to qualify for a Grand Prize, your name must be on the registration post AND the pledge below.

If you have 30 ideas, put your right hand on a picture book and repeat after me:

I do solemnly swear that I have faithfully executed
the Storystorm 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge,
and will, to the best of my ability,
parlay my ideas into picture book manuscripts.

Now I’m not saying all 30 ideas have to be good. Some may just be titles, some may be character quirks. Some may be problems and some may create problems when you sit down to write. Some may be high-concept and some barely a concept. But…they’re yours, all yours!

You have until February 5th at 11:59:59PM EST to sign the pledge by leaving a comment on this post.

PLEASE COMMENT ONLY ONCE.

The name or email you left on the registration post and the name or email you leave on this winner’s pledge SHOULD MATCH. However, when you comment, WordPress also logs information that allows me to recognize you, so don’t worry.

Again, please COMMENT ONLY ONCE. If you make a mistake, contact me instead of leaving a second comment.

Remember, this is an honor system pledge. You don’t have to send in your ideas to prove you’ve got 30 of them. If you say so, I’ll believe you! Honestly, it’s that simple. (Wouldn’t it be nice if real life were that straightforward.)

Are you ready to sign?

Then GO FOR IT! Let’s see your name below!

by Jarrett Lerner

I’ve been wanting to make an activity book for years now. Something that could help kids – and kids-at-heart! – explore and develop their creativity, and turn to as a source for regular and reliable inspiration. In my free time between book projects, I hammered away at the project, making a few activities here or there, slowly building up a stock of them and hoping I’d soon be able to turn to them more fully and put together a book proposal.

Then came COVID. And lockdown. And remote learning.

I was worried that creativity—already not valued and incorporated in curriculums and classrooms as much as it ought to be— would only be further shoved aside. So, rather than sit on all those activities, I started releasing them, and also making more, inspired myself by what kids were doing with the activities already out there, and motivated by the reception they got from kids and their parents and teachers. For the last couple weeks of March, and then for all of April and May, I released a brand-new batch of activities every weekday morning, and then sometimes a few more on the weekend.

Around that time, my agent shared what I was up to with my editor (all of my current book series are with the same one), and she made an offer on a pair of activity books. GIVE THIS BOOK A TITLE came out in December, and the companion volume, GIVE THIS BOOK A COVER, publishes in May. In the books, you’ll find a variety of activities, all of them created with the goal of kickstarting the user’s imagination and inspiring ideas for stories. In addition to the books, you can still find a couple hundred of other, FREE, easily downloadable and printable activities at the activities page of my website. Between the two books and the site, there are approximately 500 activities.

And while all of these activities were made with kids in mind, while GIVE THIS BOOK A TITLE and GIVE THIS BOOK A COVER are both marketed toward kids, I have received messages, reviews, and pictures of completed activities from nearly as many adults as kids. If you decide to check out my activities, I hope they take you down creative avenues you might not have otherwise explored. I hope they leave you feeling like a more confident and capable creator. And I hope they bring you a boatload of joy and an abundance of inspiration.


Jarrett Lerner is the author of EngiNerds, Revenge of the EngiNerds, The EngiNerds Strike Back, Geeger the Robot Goes to School, and Geeger the Robot: Lost and Found, as well as the author-illustrator of the activity book Give This Book a Title. Jarrett is also the author-illustrator of the forthcoming activity book Give This Book a Cover and the forthcoming Hunger Heroes graphic novel series (all published by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). He cofounded and helps run the MG Book Village, an online hub for all things Middle Grade, and is the co-organizer of the #KidsNeedBooks and #KidsNeedMentors projects. He can be found at jarrettlerner.com and on Twitter @Jarrett_Lerner and Instagram at @Jarrett_Lerner. He lives with his family in Medford, Massachusetts.


Note from Tara:

OK, Storystormers! Time is almost up! The Storystorm Pledge will be posted tomorrow, so if you have at least 30 ideas, you can sign it.

Signing the pledge is on the honor system. You don’t have to prove that you have 30 ideas. (Please don’t send me your ideas! Don’t post them! They are for your eyes only!)

Just sign the Storystorm Pledge tomorrow…or the next day. Actually, I’ll leave the pledge up for FIVE DAYS, through February 5, so you all have plenty of extra time to get-r-done!

Good luck everyone!

by Jackie Azúa Kramer

I’m inspired and emotionally moved by what’s happening in the world today. Children are living through challenging and difficult times in many ways. I have the utmost respect for young readers, and I strive not to talk down to them.

In THE BOY AND THE GORILLA, I had known this lovely family from úmy neighborhood with two adorable, little sisters. I had them over once for a very messy tea party. It was their father who was killed by a falling tree while attempting to drive his family to a safer location during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

My inspiration for the story was imagining the metaphorical idiom “the eight-hundred-pound gorilla in the room” come to life. I leave it to the reader to decide—the gorilla might represent the pain and feelings that the Boy is experiencing from the death of his mother. I envisioned a conversation between the Boy and the Gorilla, a series of questions and answers on death and grief.

I come from, like all of us, a diverse tapestry of experiences in my faith, race, culture, society and politics, all of which influences and inspires my work. As a Latina, it’s not lost on me that twenty-five percent of kids in schools today are Latinx.

In I WISH YOU KNEW (May 2021) a little girl’s father is deported. She wishes people knew how much she misses him and how it affects her at home and school. But with the help of her teacher, they start a sharing circle where her and her classmates share their challenges and by listening with compassion and kindness, together they all help each other.

We’ve all heard many times that inspiration is everywhere; one just has to be open to it. More than that, seek it. Be aware, available and surround yourself by it. Trust the muse, work with it and fearlessly, fall in love with it.

I WISH YOU KNEW was influenced not only by my culture but also inspired by a TED talk. An educator shared, how after feeling she was making little progress with her students, she asked them to complete the statement on a piece of paper, I wish my teacher knew…

The students’ responses changed everything for her.

She discovered she could not teach to kids who feel sad, hungry, scared and angry. The need to create a community of meaningful classroom relationships based on compassion, respect and kindness would have to established before the students were open to learn.

More and more, I feel responsible as a creator to turn these real-life observations into stories that tell a fuller and truer history yet leave room for the reader to ask questions and interact with the story. Never forgetting that a child’s need to be understood, accepted and loved is a universal feeling. We need to meet children where they are with hope and love.

Jackie is an award-winning and internationally translated children’s author. She earned her MA in Counseling in Education, Queens College. She is a member of the Bank Street Writers Lab. Her picture books include, THE GREEN UMBRELLA, “2017 Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year,” IF YOU WANT TO FALL ASLEEP and her newest THE BOY AND THE GORILLA which received three starred reviews described by Kirkus as “Luminous.”

Her upcoming picture books releasing between 2021-2022 are: I WISH YOU KNEW/OJALÁ SUPIERAS; DOROTHY AND HERBERT: An Ordinary Couple and their Extraordinary Collection of Art; WE ARE ONE; MANOLO AND THE UNICORN and MILES WON’T SMILE.

She lives with her family in Long Island, NY. When not writing, you’ll find her reading, watching old movies and traveling to her family’s roots in Ecuador, Puerto Rico and Spain. Visit her online at Jackieazuakramer.com, on Twitter @jackiekramer422 and Instagram @jackie_azua_kramer.

Jackie is giving away one copy of THE BOY AND THE GORILLA and one copy of I WISH YOU KNEW.

Two separate winners will be randomly selected.

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

by Amanda Davis

Hello fellow Storystormers! It’s Day 29, and we’re nearing the end of the challenge-a sad but wondrous thing. Give yourself a pat on the back for making it this far. Hurrah! I hope your well is brimming with at least 28 new ideas from the fabulous posts we’ve read and that you’re raring to go with your writing. So much inspiration! I’m excited to be here as a guest blogger and to help us close out the final days of the challenge. Storystorm holds a special place in my heart as it helped me focus in on developing the manuscript that later became my debut picture book, 30,000 STITCHES. Thanks, Tara!

Now, onto my post!

I’m a very action-oriented person and love when I find new writing or drawing challenges that I can apply to my practice to help me churn out new ideas or work. This is one of the many reasons I love participating in Storystorm each year! For this post, I wanted to share one of my own challenges that I created called, Haiku From Two. I crafted this challenge last year to help me get through the pandemic and needed something to keep me feeling inspired to create, read, and connect. I hope that you find it useful in your own creative practice as well!

WHAT IS HAIKU FROM TWO?

Haiku from Two started out as a 30-Day Challenge on social media.

The premise is:

  • Randomly select two words from the current book you’re reading.
  • Write a haiku* using those two words.
  • Post your haiku on social media with the #HaikuFromTwo.

* a haiku is a three-line poem- five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third (5-7-5).

HIGHLIGHTS FROM MY HAIKU FROM TWO EXPERIENCE:

READING: I don’t know about you, but I tend to have a large stack of ‘to be read’ books hanging around the house. I stare at them, feeling guilty that I haven’t made the time to dive in. When the pandemic hit, I figured that was a great time to whittle down the pile. I hoped the challenge of completing a haiku from each book would push me to keep reading, and it did just that!

WRITING: If you’re looking for a simple activity that can keep you writing, I found this was the trick for me! Some days were challenging, but it forced me to keep those creative juices flowing, which in turn helped me when I shifted gears to my picture book manuscripts, too!

CONNECTION: From authors, to editors, to cover artists, down to the book designers, whenever I would finish my Haiku From Two, I would photograph it and post on Instagram and Twitter, tagging all those involved in making the book. It was a great way to connect with others in the industry. Through the challenge, I’ve made some new online friends, and even e-chatted with authors such as, Ruth Behar. As I would search for the right people to tag in each post, it reminded me that it takes a village to bring our book babies into the world!

INSPIRATION: The reason we are all here, inspiration! These small haikus have the potential to turn into BIG ideas! I now have the option to develop these haikus further and use them as inspiration for new characters, settings, and themes. More on that below.

ALTERNATIVES:  Let’s face it, writing/art challenges can be hard to commit to, so here are some ways you can alter the Haiku From Two activity to best suit your mood and needs.

In-between books? Don’t fret! Instead, use an old book from the shelf or maybe an article you read online. You can even use two words from your favorite song. A magazine or even a dictionary will do. Basically, anything that has words can work!

If you’re not into poetry, no worries! Scratch the syllables and make up a random sentence instead. Perhaps that sentence then becomes the first line of your new picture book manuscript or gives you an idea for some new characters in your story. For example, I’ve been playing around with developing the idea of “Flashlight Ghosts”.

These two words came from the haiku I developed from ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia. I’m not sure what or where yet but Flashlight Ghosts sure sound like interesting characters 🙂 Not to mention I had Rita herself playing along for this one, too!

If you consider yourself an artist as well, after you develop your haiku, you can illustrate it, too! I enjoyed this approach with the haiku I created for COME ON, RAIN, a picture book by Karen Hesse and John J. Muth. My two words were Hot and Air, which made me think of flying high in a hot air balloon.

Now, a new story about a hot air balloon adventure is waiting to be explored!

SIDE NOTE: Don’t put pressure on yourself to create every day! I initially began this challenge in March of 2020 with Lynda Mullaley Hunt’s FISH IN A TREE and intended to do a Haiku From Two each day for 30 consecutive days, but then…life happened…amidst a pandemic nonetheless.

Six months later, I finally reached my Day 30 in September with ALL BOYS AREN’T BLUE.

It took longer than I’d expected, but in the end, I read twelve new amazing books and now have a jar full of potential new story ideas and inspiration!

Even though I reached my 30 days, I’m continuing to partake in the Haiku From Two challenge. I hope you will join me! If you decide to take on the challenge in 2021, see below for the official rules. And remember, no pressure to complete the 30 days. Instead, think of this as another tool in your creative arsenal ready and waiting for the next time you’re in need of a muse.

So, as I close us out of Day 29, I challenge you to a Haiku From Two! Grab a book, randomly choose two words, and form a haiku! Voilá! Your next story idea awaits!  Be sure to tag me on Instagram @amandadavis_art or Twitter @amandadavisart, and use #haikufromtwo to play along!

In case you’re interested, here is my Haiku From Two reading list:

FISH IN A TREE by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia
THE BFG by Roald Dahl (I was in a throwback mood)
THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY by Gabrielle Zevin
A DOG’S WAY HOME by W. Bruce Cameron
LUCKY BROKEN GIRL by Ruth Behar
THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR by Nicola Yoon
AMAL UNBOUND by Aisha Saeed
THE POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo
THERE, THERE by Tommy Orange
ALL BOYS AREN’T BLUE by George M. Johnson
BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson

One last note: today is also Multicultural Children’s Book Day! Follow along at #ReadYourWorld to help celebrate and raise awareness around kid’s books that celebrate diversity and help these books get into more classroom and libraries!

Happy haikuing y’all!

Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. After losing her father at the age of twelve, Amanda turned to art and writing as an outlet. It became her voice. A way to cope. A way to escape. And a way to tell her story. She was thus inspired to teach art and pursue her passion for writing and illustrating children’s books. Through her work, Amanda empowers younger generations to tell their own stories and offers children and adults an entryway into a world of discovery. A world that can help them make sense of themselves, others, and the community around them. A world where they can navigate, imagine, and feel inspired—over and over again. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her partner and rescue pup, Cora.

Her debut creative nonfiction picture book, 30,000 STITCHES, hits stores May 4, 2021 with WorthyKids/Hachette Book Group, and her poetry and illustrations can be found in the Writers’ Loft new anthology, FRIENDS & ANEMONES: OCEAN POEMS FOR CHILDREN (November, 2020). Amanda is represented by Jennifer Unter of The Unter Agency.

To connect with Amanda and learn more about her work, visit her online at amandadavisart.com, Twitter @amandadavisart Instagram @amandadavis_art and Facebook.

Amanda is offering a 30-minute Zoom meeting to chat about a specific story or anything else kid-lit related OR for our educator and librarian friends, Amanda would like to offer a FREE 20-minute virtual classroom visit.

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

by Sita Singh

Hello, Storystormers! It’s my honor to be your guest blogger today.

I first participated in PiBoIdMo (now known as Storystorm) soon after I started to write, and quickly realized that all my ideas come from real life experiences. I was born and raised in India and moved to the United States in 1999. My ideas are inspired either from my own childhood or from my experience of mothering three, first-generation Indian-American children.

BIRDS OF A FEATHER, my debut picture book began with an idea listed in my notebook as “peacocks.” It was inspired from my childhood memories of watching peacocks. But it isn’t enough to say, okay, I’m going to write about peacocks. I needed a story. I needed to craft a character readers would care about. I needed a problem. I needed tension. I needed a lot. I tried several ways to tell my story, but none felt good enough or satisfying. At that same time, I was working on another story idea inspired from my daughter’s experiences; listed in my notebook as “standing out and feeling different.” This too wasn’t coming together to my satisfaction.

Then one day, it clicked. Like pieces of a puzzle. The thought of combining the two ideas (peacocks + standing out and feeling different) got my heart pounding and my imagination soaring. Right away, I knew what I wanted my story to be about.

For me, it took an amalgamation of ideas to spark a story!

Sometimes, connecting unexpected ideas, people, places, and objects, can result in stories that are fresh and unique. January is almost over, and if you’re anything like me, at least twenty-eight ideas must have come to you in form of words, phrases, titles, sketches, and some random thoughts, as well. If you ever get inspired to amalgamate any of these ideas, recognizing the ones that could come together to write a story only you can tell is exciting and rewarding. Here’s to recognizing those ideas!

When Tara asked me to write a guest post, I was curious to see who else has combined ideas to tell their story. Being a member of an incredible group of picture book writers and illustrators, Picture Book Scribblers, I didn’t have to go too far to find out. I was pleasantly surprised to see a generous number of stories come about from an amalgamation of ideas. Check out these ideas and look out for the fresh and unique stories coming to you in 2021!

HOME FOR A WHILE (February 2, 2021)

is an amalgamation of three ideas. 1) I wanted to write a story to honor the children with whom I’d worked when I ran a day treatment preschool. 2) I wanted to write about emotion regulation. 3) I wanted to write about seeing your strengths rather than just focusing on perceived challenges.

-Lauren Kerstein

THE BIG BEACH CLEANUP (March 1st, 2021)

is an amalgamation of three ideas 1) I passionately believe that if enough hands join together we can change the world. I wanted to write about little hands joining together to make big change. 2) I wanted to write a story that showed that you don’t have to be a superhero to make a difference. 3) I wanted to write a story that highlighted the growing plastic pollution problem and the steps that we can all take in our daily lives to make a difference.

-Charlotte Offsay

DON’T CALL ME FUZZYBUTT! (March 3rd, 2021)

I was inspired by both my son’s use of bad words and by our former president’s name calling. When my son was younger, he thought he was so grown up and cool when he used a word that he wasn’t supposed to say. I’d catch him saying it, and then he would come up with some variant of the word. “Mom, I said mitt. It’s not the word you think I said.” During this time, President Trump was also pretty much calling anyone a name who disagreed with him or his policies, and I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of impact are his actions having on our children.

-Robin Newman

A FLOOD OF KINDNESS (April 13, 2021)

1. I wanted to write about a child navigating through a disaster and 2) I wanted to write about how kindness can heal.

-Ellen Leventhal

PRINCESSES CAN FIX IT! (May 4, 2021)

I was specifically interested in writing a fractured fairy tale, and the Twelve Dancing Princesses is one of my favorites, 2.) I wanted to add an empowering, STEM twist and 3.) I was thinking about how rigid gender roles can be detrimental to both girls and boys.

-Tracy Marchini

FLY (Fall 2021)

is an amalgamation of Black Girl Magic and the childhood sport of double Dutch. As a kid I could jump rope, but double Dutch baffled me. I was always mesmerized by people who jump with two ropes. As a kid I didn’t tap into my potential as often as I could have, if only I had known my “magic”. My character, Africa, realizes her ability to double Dutch has and will always be part of her. Black girls are talented on their own.

-Brittany Thurman

BETWEEN TWO WORLDS: The Art & Life of Amrita Sher-Gil (Fall 2021):

1) wanted to showcase a South Asian female artist/painter AND 2) wanted to explore emotions around living across two cultures inspired by my own life experiences

-Meera Sriram

EVERYBODY IN THE RED BRICK BUILDING (Fall 2021)

When I wrote this story, I was raising my children in an apartment. I noticed that there were plenty of books about families in houses, and not as many about families in apartments. So my first idea was to write a book set in an apartment building. My second idea was to write a cumulative story. I loved The House that Jack Built when I was a kid. The logic of the structure was very comforting for me. Those two ideas combined – an apartment story and a cumulative tale – gave me Everybody in the Red Brick Building.

-Anne Wynter

BATTLE OF THE BUTTS (September 28, 2021)

is an amalgamation of two ideas. 1) After I saw a meme on Twitter about manatees controlling their buoyancy through farting, I went down an internet rabbit hole learning about animals that do weird things with their butts. 2) I used to watch way too many competitive reality shows (American Idol, Survivor, Amazing Race), often the more ridiculous the better. As I learned about these talented tushies, I imagined them competing against each other in front of judges, and I knew I had to write about it. I tried to come up with a title that riffed off one of these reality show names (Butts Got Talent! American Butt! Butt Idol!), but they sounded a bit awkward. So as an alliteration junkie, I decided to go with a homage to the old school battle of the bands to end up with BATTLE OF THE BUTTS.

-Jocelyn Rish

MY BORDERTOWN (Fall 2021)

is an amalgamation of two different cultures that have a lot of similarities. The story is in English and in Spanish and says the exact same thing in both languages, but the illustrations show very different cultures. Ultimately I wanted kids to know that even though people on both sides of the border have differences, they are ultimately the same.

-Nicolas Solis

BENNY’S TRUE COLORS (November 17, 2020)

is an amalgamation of these two ideas: 1) I wanted to write about a small brown bat who every night roosted in our brick entryway instead of flying around eating bugs like all the other bats , and 2) I wanted to write about assumptions and judgements made about people based on their outward appearance.

-Norene Paulson

Sita Singh was born and raised in India, and moved to the United States in 1999. She currently lives in South Florida with her husband, three children, and an immensely cute and curious dog. An architect in the past, Sita now enjoys writing heartwarming picture books with a South Asian backdrop. When Sita isn’t reading or writing, she can be found trying new recipes in the kitchen, experimenting with food photography, walking with the dog, or movie marathoning with the family. Her debut picture book, Birds Of A Feather, illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman, will be published on March 2nd, 2021 by Philomel Books. Find out more about Sita on singhsita.com and connect with her on Instagram and Twitter @sitawrites.


Sita is giving away a copy of BIRDS OF A FEATHER.

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

by Vicky Fang

Every single one of my books came from a mix-up of ideas. So here are some exercises to help you mix it up, mash it up, and make something new.

Exercise 1: The Content Mix-up

I keep a running list of ideas on my phone. Just little snippets of words to remind me of things I’ve thought about. Every once in a while, I’ll browse through the ideas and boom! Two ideas will mix together like peanut butter and chocolate and I’ll savor my delicious new story idea. I often find that mixing two different book ideas gives a story the depth it needed to make it stand up. My debut picture book INVENT-A-PET came from these two separate idea snippets smushed together: “Magnificent mixing machine” and “Mixed-up animals.”

So try it out!

  • Find your list of ideas or spend a few minutes brainstorming a new one (these could be character ideas, story ideas, title ideas, etc.)
  • Read through the list and let your brain spark at combination possibilities.
  • For even more ideas, try picking two at random and sit with the combination for a moment to spark new ideas!

Exercise 2: The Format Mix-up

This is perhaps the more unusual mix-up approach, and yet one that has been very fruitful for me. I started out writing picture books, but as I learned more about other formats, those formats mixed with my existing picture book ideas and grew into new stories. After writing and selling Invent-a-Pet, I wrote a chapter book series, a board book series, and a graphic novel series—all based on ideas that were originally picture books!

Here’s how I recommend doing a format mix-up:

  • Start with a new-to-you format that’s fairly close to your comfort zone. (You can always expand from there!) Research and read several books in this category.
  • Notice the differences in story and theme from picture books. What are the advantages of the format? What types of stories work well in the format? What kind of voice works well?
  • Mix it up with your list of picture book ideas! Think about how those format differences might make a lackluster picture book idea shine.

For example, when my agent suggested I try out an early chapter book format, I read a number of Scholastic Branches books to familiarize myself. This new-to-me fully illustrated format allowed for a slightly longer word count, allowing for a more complex plot and cast of characters—which was just what I needed to evolve an old picture book idea about collaborative robots. With a little format mixing, the idea became the LAYLA AND THE BOTS series!

I can share similar stories for my I CAN CODE board books (a picture book concept turned board book by an SCBWI workshop and a wonderful critique partner) and my upcoming early graphic novel FRIENDBOTS (a picture book concept turned comic book sparked by books like Ben Clanton’s NARWHAL AND JELLY.)

So I hope you’ll try some mixing and mashing of content and formats, and find yourself some new stories in the mix!

Vicky Fang is a product designer who spent 5 years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology. She started writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. She is the author of nine new and upcoming STEAM books for kids, including INVENT-A-PET, I CAN CODE, LAYLA AND THE BOTS, and her author-illustrator debut, FRIENDBOTS.

Find out more about Vicky by following her on Twitter at @fangmous and if you’d like to stay up to date on Vicky’s book news, giveaways, and activities, sign up for her newsletter at vickyfang.com/newsletter.

Vicky is giving away a copy of INVENT-A-PET and a copy of LAYLA AND THE BOTS: HAPPY PAWS.

Two separate winners will be randomly selected.

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


BLOOP
illus by Mike Boldt
HarperCollins
July 2021

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
November 2021

"PRIVATE I" SERIES #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
2022

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