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This is a sketch drawn by my friend Paula Cohen during a virtual critique group meeting.

Paula’s top left and then there’s (clockwise) Karen Rostoker-Gruber (with an animal mask on the wall behind her), Margery Cuyler, me (with tea), Laurie Wallmark, and Rachelle Burk. It was a lovely meeting full of laughter and sharp writing feedback, plus it was the highlight of everyone’s month since we’ve not been together during the pandemic. In the “before times” we would gather for breakfast at Panera and inevitably stay for lunch, too! But since March 2020, it’s been Zoom-a-zoom-a-zoom-a-zoom.

We were all eagerly anticipating Paula’s debut picture book as author-illustrator (originally titled SHIRLEY’S STORE, then SHIRLEY’S BIG IDEA) because we had been together through the many revisions she made, through agent queries, through publisher submissions, and finally through the offer with Levine Querido. We all rode that rollercoaster with Paula (screaming, laughing, crying and holding tight with sweaty palms).

Finally, TODAY IS THE DAY! Happy book birthday, Shirley and BIG DREAMS, SMALL FISH!

Let me tell you about Shirley 1.0! Shirley is really Paula’s mom, “working” at the family grocery store in Albany, NY. I remember we joked with Paula about how the first Shirley looked a little too matronly to be a young kid.

One of Paula’s original Shirley sketches.

And Uncle Morris appeared a little too senior for his wife to be having a baby in the story.

Oh, how we laughed with Paula! She took the criticism well, with humor. Of course, Shirley and Uncle Morris went through some transitions…they both got more hair…

I remember Paula being particularly proud of this spread in BIG DREAMS, SMALL FISH—where the neighborhood customers are trying Shirley’s store delicacy from the comfort of their homes.

The original page didn’t show the true depth of Shirley’s effect on the neighborhood (but we loved it all the same).

The change was her art director’s suggestion, and it was brilliant. The new scene shows the diverse immigrant community. There’s the glow of the lights from within the apartments and plenty of smiles. It radiates warmth—just like Paula’s original sketch, but on a neighborhood scale.

And just like the real Shirley, who embodied warmth and shared the importance of family in her community, too. BIG DREAMS, SMALL FISH is Paula’s homage to her mother.

And this blog post is my homage to Paula. She passed away suddenly on Thursday.

Visiting Paula’s summer camp on “Fractured Fairy Tale Day”. She made that Goldilocks wig!

I’m in a state of shock and disbelief. Paula was one of those vibrant, upbeat, joyous people you loved to be around because she made you feel good. She gave great big hugs in a tiny 4’10” frame. Her art was always a delight. In fact, I met Paula at a NJ-SCBWI conference because of her art. She had displayed a playful image of a polar bear and a girl swimming underwater. I sought her out to compliment her.

Here’s a sketch of that polar bear and girl, who became characters in a friendship story that she hoped to sell soon.

And Paula’s polar bear even got to be a star with the Coney Island Polar Bear Club!

Well, this was supposed to be a post about BIG DREAMS, SMALL FISH but it’s about Paula instead. You can see the joy she brought to others through her art, and my own dream is that Paula’s work will have a ripple effect, touching everyone who comes across it. It was her dream to be an author, and she did it. Mazel Tov, Paula!

So please, check out Paula’s book. Share it, request it at your library, do what you can to spread the warmth.

Thank you!

Paula and her beloved pooch, Joxter the Schnauzer.

Author Janet Sumner Johnson is here today with a cover reveal of her new picture book, BRAVER THAN BRAVE!

Before the big reveal, I asked Janet about the genesis of the story.

Once upon a time, my son wanted to ride the big roller coaster at the amusement park. Though he was scared, we waited in line as he built up his courage. When we got to the front, he still wasn’t sure he could do it, but there was a big sign over the way out: CHICKEN EXIT.

He didn’t want to go through that exit, and he wasn’t sure he was ready for the roller coaster. He had a tough choice to make!

Fast forward many years. My daughter was complaining that all the kids at school wanted her to do a thing that she didn’t want to do. She said, “I’m just tired of everyone telling me to be brave!”

I remembered my son’s experience, and those two ideas collided. They had me questioning the concept of Brave. What does it really mean to be Brave? How do kids show their Brave? What if Brave is different than we think?

From the thrilling roller coaster ride in the background, to the determination on Wanda’s face, Eunji Jung’s art really captures the heart of the story. I can’t wait until BRAVER THAN BRAVE hits the bookshelves! 

Thanks, Janet. And here’s the cover with art by Eunji Jung…

Wanda desperately wants to be brave like her big brother, Zane, but it’s not easy. When the Coaster of Doom opens at the amusement park, Wanda is determined to conquer it. But up close, it’s scarier than she thought! With all eyes on her, she must find the confidence to be her own kind of brave.  

Janet is giving away a copy of BRAVER THAN BRAVE once it’s released on August 1, 2022 from Capstone.

Comment once below with your brave moment!

A random winner will be selected this summer.

Good luck!


Janet Sumner Johnson lives in northern Utah with her husband, three kids, and a dog. As a kid, she loved riding roller coasters, but refused to enter Haunted Houses (she still won’t!). When she’s not writing or planning her next book, Janet loves eating cookies, laughing, and going on long walks. Sometimes she even does all three at once! She is the author of the middle grade novel The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society, and the picture book Help Wanted: Must Love Books. You can learn more about her at janetsumnerjohnson.com.

by Ana Siqueira

IF YOUR BABYSITTER IS A BRUJA…you must learn some new tricks to escape from her spells.

¡Cuidado! You might regret it.

This book is based on my experience being a Mom witch for some long minutes. Yes, for the longest three-block walk ever, my three-year-old daughter decided to shout: “You’re not my real mom. You’re a witch!” Imagine my situation. And all because I told her, “No, you can’t dive for the last 100th time.”

This story that marinated in my head for over 20 years, is finally a book. But I changed Mom to a babysitter.

And here is the premise:

On the night before Halloween, a new babysitter might be more than she appears. If she wears a black sombrero and cackles like a crow, she might just be a bruja! One little girl is determined not to fall victim to this witch or her cats. Is bath time a bruja’s way of putting her in a boiling cauldron? Can she keep la bruja at bay with a magic potion? Can she get the bruja trapped in the enchanted tower or maybe make her disappear forever?

With boundless imagination and plenty of tricks up her sleeve, the young protagonist may just have the best night ever!

To celebrate the creation of this book illustrated by the fabulosa Irena Freitas, I’m promoting a pre-order giveaway.

If you pre-order this book and send the receipt through my website contact form, I will either:

  • critique your first page or a query letter
  • send a signed bookplate
  • visit your classroom (virtually-15 minutes)

These offers are valid from February 15th to March 15th.

Also, leave a comment below with any question about writing picture books and I’ll reply!

IF YOUR BABYSITTER IS A BRUJA also comes in Spanish—CUANDO TU NIÑERA ES UNA BRUJA—Illustrated by Irena Freitas, edited by Alyza Liu (Simon and Schuster, August 23rd, 2022).

Check out some spreads below and even a book trailer with an original song. (Be careful. Cuidado! It’s too catchy. Hahaha) by my seven-year-old grandson, Luka.)

 


Irena Freitas is an author & illustrator currently based in Manaus, Brazil, working for clients internationally. She has an MFA in Illustration from Savannah College of Arts and Design and loves illustrating people, funny situations that happen in our daily life, and whimsical stories. When she is not reading and illustrating books she likes to travel and visit new places.

Visit her at irenafreitas.com.


Ana Siqueira is an award-winning author from Brazil who cackles but doesn’t wear hats. When not flying with brujas, she teaches Spanish to adorable little ones, where she casts a learning spell that nobody can resist. Ana has published IF YOUR BABYSITTER IS A BRUJA, BELLA’S RECIPE FOR SUCCESS (Beaming Books), and EL PATO QUIERE UVAS (Educational Market- Teacher’s Discovery). More books coming in 2023 and 2024. She loves being an abuela and a vovó to her Cuban-Brazilian-American grandkids. She lives in Florida with her husband, who just might be a wizard. Visit her at anafiction.com and you can get signed copies of her book at Tombolo Books.

Dear Picture Book Writers, you may know that I serve on the Rutgers University Council of Children’s Literature and help organize our annual conference. Back in 2017, we selected a newly-published author, Kate Dopirak, to be our “Success Story Speaker,” as she had been a mentee at our conference. We also knew her to be a warm, enthusiastic and engaging presenter.

Sadly, Kate passed away the following year. But several of her closest writing friends got together with SCBWI to offer a scholarship in her name. I asked author Trisha Speed Shaskan to tell us about SCBWI’s Kate Dopirak Craft & Community Award.

Trisha, tell us, who was Kate Dopirak?

Kate Dopirak was the author of several picture books. The last book she wrote, HURRY UP! A BOOK ABOUT SLOWING DOWN, which is an ode to being present, illustrates one of Kate’s best qualities: She was ever-present as a wife, mom, friend, author, and community member.

Ten years ago, when I met Kate at the SCBWI annual conference in L.A., her smile radiated warmth and welcoming. Each year afterwards, I looked forward to seeing Kate at that conference where we discussed writing, or as fellow educators shared stories, such as the wonder of witnessing a child string together letters into a word for the first time. Inevitably, Kate lit up while discussing her husband Josh and sons Joey and Bobby who often inspired her stories. She used her role as an assistant R.A. to connect people to each other. In Kate’s presence, a party of three quickly became a party of ten.

Although she lived in Pennsylvania and I live in Minnesota, Kate and I kept in touch. Knowing the ups and downs of the children’s book business, Kate was an UP. When the picture book I wrote PUNK SKUNKS was published, Kate bought it, posted about it, and congratulated me—always the cheerleader.

In 2018, Kate passed away too soon from sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Kate is greatly missed by her family, friends, and the children’s book community who have created the Kate Dopirak Craft & Community Award in her honor.

What kind of manuscripts does the Award committee hope to receive?

The committee is hoping to receive a picture book manuscript that stands out for the writing, idea, concept, subject or a combination or those qualities. The committee is also looking for a writer who creates and builds a sense of community.

How can picture book writers apply?

SCBWI members can apply for the award. The winner will receive tuition to the SCBWI Summer Conference and 20-minute consultations with a picture book editor and a literary agent. The deadline is February 18, 2022. (That’s soon! Hurry up!)

For more information, go to KateDopirakAward.com.

Today I’d like to welcome KidLit Caravan to the blog. They’re a troupe of authors and author/illustrators with debut picture books headed your way in 2022! They found each other on social media and have become fast friends. Their debut picture books may be “gnu” in 2022, but there are already more stories coming down the pike for 2023 and beyond…

I asked them to tell us a little about their books and what inspired them, considering we’re right on the heels of Storystorm! These delightful books will soon be on the shelves and are available for pre-order. Plus, read to the end because there’s something the Caravanners (is that a word?) want to give you, too!


BIG DREAMS, SMALL FISH
Levine Querido, March 2022

Paula Cohen

After my mother passed away I realized I’d never asked her about what it was like to live above her family’s grocery market. I realized that, as a writer, I could imagine it! Using her spitfire character and a handful of pictures of the original store, I created the story of a little girl growing up in an immigrant neighborhood, sharing her family traditions with the customers.


OLD FRIENDS
Feiwel & Friends, July 2022

Margaret Aitken

As a family doctor in Scotland, I was saddened by the loneliness many of the community’s older members were experiencing. Then, many years later, my son’s preschool attended a local care home. The interaction between the children and the seniors was so touching and it got me thinking–if only there were more multigenerational groups! OLD FRIENDS is a fun story about found family that reinforces the idea that friends can be of any age.


FRIDGE-OPOLIS
Little Bee Books, September 2022

Melissa Coffey

I was gobsmacked to learn we waste up to 40% of all food in the US! Food is the number one thing dumped in landfills, yet we don’t automatically equate food waste with pollution and climate change. I wrote FRIDGE-OPOLIS to entertain, engage and empower kids to become planet-saving superheroes through their everyday choices and habits. I can’t wait for readers to meet Mayor Mayonnaise and the other hilarious characters trying to save their city from rancid ruin!


MISTER ROGERS’ GIFT OF MUSIC
Page Street Kids, August 2022

Donna Cangelosi

As a child psychologist, I use play, art, and music to help kids express and manage uncomfortable feelings. Several years ago, I read an article describing how Fred Rogers used music to deal with his own childhood illness and bullying. Knowing how he helped children in the same way on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, I wrote this picture book biography–a celebration of the extraordinary gift of music that Fred Rogers gave to all children.


COUNTING TO BANANAS: A MOSTLT RHYMING FRUIT BOOK
Flamingo Books, April 2022

Carrie Tillotson

My son did his usual starfish float during swim lessons, and one day the instructor counted “One-two-three, four-five-six, seven-eight-nine, BANANAS!” Hysterics ensued. When the instructor said “Don’t you love my counting to bananas?”—I knew a picture book title was born.


THE LEAPING LADDOO
Albert Whitman & Co., March 1, 2022

Harshita Jerath

I was making laddoos (luh-DOOS), a round shaped Indian dessert, for my son’s birthday. And while shaping the laddoo it slipped from my hand onto the floor. This reminded me of the Gingerbread Man story and I promptly noted the idea. THE LEAPING LADDOO is a fun, fast-paced cultural take on this classic tale.


A PENNY’S WORTH
Page Street Kids, April 5, 2022

Kimberly Wilson

During Storystorm 2019, I looked at the coin jug on my kitchen counter and saw something more––a plucky penny on a mission to prove she’s cent-sational! Through Penny’s journey, I realized I had the opportunity not only to make readers laugh with countless puns and introduce them to money math, but to show them something priceless––the importance of self-worth.


DOLLY!: THE STORY OF DOLLY PARTON AND HER BIG DREAM
Christy Ottaviano Books, June 7, 2022

Robyn McGrath

Dolly Parton’s passion and drive have always fascinated me, where did it come from? When I began my research I learned that Dolly set to dreaming at a young age, even when the odds were stacked against her. Knowing what an inspiration she is to so many, myself included, I knew Dolly’s story had to be told… for our youngest readers and biggest dreamers!


UP AND ADAM
Kids Can Press, May 3, 2022

Debbie Zapata

When I had my first child, the doctors told me my baby had Down syndrome. From the start, my son’s open-hearted and infectious smile was on a mission to brighten people’s days. My dad would say, “Up and at ‘em, Adam!” When Hurricane Sandy struck New York City, I was reminded of how resilient New Yorkers are in times of need. In the story, Adam and his dog, Up, help their neighbors in the aftermath of a storm, lifting spirits as they go.


BRAINSTORM!
Sleeping Bear Press, July 2022 (cover art TK)

Rebecca Gardyn Levington

One rainy day, much like the MC in my book BRAINSTORM!, I had a terrible case of writer’s block. My brain felt like the weather—cloudy, gloomy and gray. To avoid staring at the blank page, I turned my attention to the brewing storm outside my window when—kerplink!—I felt the tiniest drop of an idea. What if ideas poured down from the sky? Like a rainstorm?…No, wait! Like a BRAINstorm! I immediately began writing a poem, which later became the first draft of BRAINSTORM! I hope this rhyming concept picture book inspires kids to play in the puddles of their own creativity.


BUS STOP
Cameron Kids, October 2022 (cover art TK)

Angela H. Dale

While passing by a new bus stop in my neighborhood, I was completely captivated by the swarm of kids gathered there. It took me right back to my own childhood, waiting at a similar intersection, playing games with siblings and friends until the school bus arrived … or, rarely, (spoiler alert) hearing someone call out that the bus wasn’t coming. I had so much fun naming (26!) characters from amongst my children’s friends and classmates. Can’t wait for them to see their names on the page.


NAMASTE IS A GREETING
Candlewick Press, October 2022

Suma Subramaniam

I spent my childhood years in India in a tiny apartment with a large family and a secular community from all backgrounds and Indian ethnicities. As a child, I bonded with my neighbors and friends when we embraced and celebrated our differences. I wanted to capture that experience by breaking down the well-known word, Namaste, into smaller, “easy-to-understand and apply” pieces.


ROSALIND LOOKED CLOSER: AN UNSUNG HERO OF MOLECULAR SCIENCE
Beaming Books, August 2022

Lisa Gerin

As a children’s librarian, I was always looking for new biographies for kids. I decided to write my own featuring unsung heroes and heroines of history and science. When I noticed there were no kid bios about Jewish scientist Rosalind Franklin, I was inspired to tell her story of discovering the shape of DNA’s double helix. During researching, I discovered she also contributed to helping doctors find a vaccine for the polio virus in the 1950s, so relevant to today’s world!


You can follow the whole of Kidlit Caravan online at KidLitCaravan.com, on Twitter @kidlitcaravan and Instagram @kidlitcaravan.

Comment below and you could win one of two picture book manuscript critiques—any format! Prose, rhyme, non-fiction, fiction… 

Two random winners will be selected in March.

Good luck!

by Diana Murray, who picks the freshest ideas

Congratulations! You made it through Storystorm. Instead of simply waiting for ideas to come to you, you went out there and actively churned them up, sought them out, and grabbed them! An idea may just be a word or short phrase. It may not seem like much, but really, it’s the beginning of everything! An overwhelming thought. Which idea do you choose? How do you proceed?

First, Marinate!
I urge you to proceed slowly and let your ideas fully develop. While you’re going about your usual business of walking the dog, running errands, or even sleeping, your brain is actually hard at work, with creative juices flowing. Feel free to jot a few notes down to keep track of things, but don’t rush into committing to a story. This marination phase has already been happening all through Storystorm and there’s no need to stop the process quite yet. For example, my book “Unicorn Day” sprouted from the idea of dolphins having a party in the ocean. I got the seed of the idea while observing dolphins down in Florida. But I didn’t start writing as soon as I had the idea. I let the idea sit around in my mind for a few weeks. I kept thinking about how majestic dolphins seemed, as if they were unicorns of the sea. Eventually, “Dolphin Party” evolved into “Unicorn Day”. If I had started writing the story immediately, I may have never made that mental leap.

What’s fresh?
If you had to choose between limp, out-of-season asparagus and crisp zucchini fresh from the farm, which would you choose? Probably the latter. If there have been a million books about a particular idea lately (especially bestsellers), and it seems the topic has been done to death, maybe now is not the time. Maybe you put that idea aside, at least temporarily, and work on a “fresher” one instead. Aside from what other books are out there, it’s also a matter of what feels fresh to YOU. For example, when I was brainstorming “Goodnight” books, I had many ideas that seemed like they had been done quite often, but when I wrote “Goodnight, Veggies” on my list of options, it made me chuckle a bit to myself. I thought it sounded a little odd and unexpected. That’s why it stood out to me. It should be noted that “Goodnight” books in general have been done a million times. So I’m not saying you should rule out everything that’s already been done. I mean, chefs aren’t going to stop making spaghetti with tomato sauce. There’s a reason people like that dish. But chefs who want to get noticed will put a unique twist on this old favorite. And most importantly, choosing something that feels fresh to YOU will help keep YOU interested and having fun. When the writer is having fun, it comes across on the page.

What are you in the mood for?
How do you decide what to make for dinner? Often, it’s just about what you’re in the mood for. Perhaps you’ve been craving tacos all day long. Why fight it? It’s the same with ideas. There is often one idea that is constantly calling to you. If it’s constantly popping in your head, no matter how hard you try to wait or to think about another idea on your list, then that’s it. That’s the one you should go with. Tacos it is! And that’s another good reason to try to wait and marinate in the beginning. It makes it easier to notice which idea is screaming for your attention more than all the others. This also comes down to personal preferences and experiences. No matter how fresh it is, you probably aren’t going to cook with zucchini if zucchini just isn’t your thing. On the other hand…

Try something new
If you’ve been eating nothing but tacos day after day, maybe it’s time to expand your horizons. On cooking shows, the judges always praise the contestants who reach past their comfort zone. And I can see why. Even the best chefs are always growing and learning and trying new things, even if that means they’re taking more risks. Trying something new is another way to keep things fresh and fun for yourself. Do you have a non-fiction idea but that’s not what you usually write? Give it a shot. Never wrote a concept book? Maybe now’s the time. When I wrote HELP MOM WORK FROM HOME!, I specifically wrote it in second person because I had never tried that before and I thought it would be fun. So when you’re choosing an idea from your list, maybe you try something different. Zucchini pizza, anyone?

Once you’ve chosen your well-marinated main ingredient, the idea, it’s time to start cooking! Don’t forget to taste often, add spices as needed, and have some other tasters (i.e., critique partners) on hand, too. Enjoy!

I also want to take a moment to thank Tara. I have been a huge fan of Storystorm since it first began and I’m so grateful for the feast of inspiration!

Diana Murray is the author of over twenty books for children (board books, early readers, and picture books), both published and forthcoming. Her books include the National IndieBound Bestseller UNICORN DAY and its sequels, UNICORN NIGHT and UNICORN CHRISTMAS, as well as HELP MOM WORK FROM HOME!, GOODNIGHT VEGGIES, GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE, and PIZZA PIG. Diana’s poems have appeared in many children’s magazines and anthologies. She grew up in New York City and still lives nearby with her firefighter husband, two children, and a dancing dog. To learn more, you can visit her website at dianamurray.com or follow her on Facebook, Instagram: @dianamurrayauthor, or Twitter: @DianaMWrites.

The 2022 Storystorm Pledge is now closed.

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

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

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

  • Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
  • Tara Gonzalez, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
  • Sean McCarthy, Sean McCarthy Literary Agency
  • Kelly Sonnack, Andrea Brown Literary Agency
  • Charlotte Wenger, Prospect Agency
  • Lisa Fleissig & Ginger Harris-Dontzin, Liza Royce Agency
  • Maeve MacLysaght, Copps Literary Services
  • Susan Hawk, Upstart Crow Literary
  • and a special consult from me!

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-January 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 7th at 11:59:59PM EST to sign the pledge by leaving a comment on this post.

PLEASE COMMENT ONLY ONCE.

The name you left on the registration post and the name you leave on this winner’s pledge SHOULD MATCH. However, when you comment, WordPress also logs info that allows me to recognize you, so don’t worry if they’re not exact.

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.)

Before you sign, you can also pick up your Winner’s Badge!

There are winner’s mugs and T-shirts you can purchase at cafepress.com/storystorm. All proceeds ($4 per item, if you enter via the link) go to Blessings in a Backpack. If there’s other SWAG you want, I can add it to the shop…just ask!

Now…are you ready to sign?

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

by Samantha Berger

Storystormers, StorystormTroopers, Team Tara—
whatever you choose to call yourself—guess what?
It’s the end of the month and YOU DID IT.
Standing O, big bravo, red roses throw!
Take a bow, because it is January 31st, and YOU ARE HERE.
Insert applause here __________________!
And here____________!

By now, you’ve read a post a day and seen all kinds of ways folks find inspiration. And I’ve read ‘em too – ain’t it $!#?* cool? Inspiration is everywhere. Those posts were filled with all kinds of helpful hints and tricks to try. It was, well, INSPIRING!

And NOW…

(drumroll, please)

it’s *your* turn!

Because wherever you are in your writing journey, your ideas and your process, and the way YOU get inspired, are truly important.

And today, I’d like to shine the light on THAT.

So—I’d like to invite you to play a game I play with my friend Desmond.

We’ve been playing it since he was about five years old, and we STILL play it today, ten years later (even though NOW he’s a teenager with a black belt in Karate and a doctorate in sarcasm).

It helps both of us set our brains to STORM mode, and express ourselves without overthinking.

It’s a game called 21 Questions (so it doesn’t get confused with 20 Questions).

Here’s how you play:

I ask 21 open-ended questions and you say the *very first thing* that comes into your head.

  • There are no stakes.
  • There are no mistakes.
  • There are no right answers.
  • There are no wrong answers.
  • You can change your mind.
  • You can play again tomorrow.
  • You can have totally different answers.

This is just an exercise to let your brain storm, your ideas flow, and see who you are at this particular moment in time (*an awesome writer with great ideas. Shablam!)

Ready? Let’s go.

  1. If they made an action figure of you, what would it be wearing?
  2. What is the BEST Halloween candy?
  3. If you made a time capsule today, what’s one thing you would put inside?
  4. If you could meet anyone, real or fictitious, who would you pick?
  5. If you could get paid to do ANYTHING AT ALL what thing would you pick?
  6. What is your earliest memory?
  7. If you could throw any kind of theme party, which one would you pick?
  8. If you could switch places with another person for one day, who would you pick?
  9. When is it important to tell someone the truth, even if it hurts their feelings?
  10. What was one of your most memorable dreams?
  11. What’s your superhero name?
  12. If you got paid to study anything for four years, what would you most want to learn?
  13. What would you NEVER do on a dare?
  14. If you found a genie in a bottle and got one wish (which couldn’t be for more wishes) what would you wish?
  15. If you woke up and had a friendly pet monster, what would you name them?
  16. If you woke up tomorrow and could be an instant EXPERT at something—what thing would you pick
  17. What thing is totally unfair?
  18. If you could invent anything—what would it be?
  19. What’s the grossest thing you ever did?
  20. When is it time to stand up for someone else?
  21. If you wrote a book that was coming out tomorrow, what would you call it?

GOOD JOB!

Play it again and again, and see where it takes you, and what it inspires within!

Storystormkateers, I have only one thing left to say here—a mantra, if you will—

Yay for YOU in 2022! (*my kinda rhyme)

I’ll be rooting and cheering for you, every day of the year.

Samantha Berger is the award-winning author of over 80 books for young readers, including WHAT IF… (illus by Mike Curato), ROCK WHAT YA GOT (illus by Kerascoet), CRANKENSTEIN, A CRANKENSTEIN VALENTINE, and TRICK OR TREAT, CRANKENSTEIN (illus by Dan Santat).

She is also a three-time Emmy nominated television writer, previous Editorial Director of Nickelodeon for 12 years, and currently writes for many branches of Sesame Street. Samantha lives in sunny Santa Monica with her Dingo-Chihuahua rescue dog Polly Pocket, who is a daily reminder of resilience and the power of love.

Play along online at samanthaberger.com, Twitter @bergerbooks, Instagram @samanthabergerauthor, and Facebook.

Leave a comment with one of your 21 answers, or favorite questions, or basically, anything at all. I will be giving away a signed copy of my book WHAT IF…

…illustrated by Mike Curato, all about the power of creativity to triumph over ANYTHING.

And as always, the deepest of bows (ow, my back) and greatest of gratitudes to the Queen of Kindness, Tara Lazar, for making this happen AGAIN, and for such a stellar charity (Blessings in a Backpack). Mwwwah!

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.

by Dev Petty

Ideas are funny things. They hang around. They nag. They sit silent and unused, waiting for their moment like that sassy, sequin sweater tank top I got (for a steal!) about eight years ago and look absolutely divine in, which has never, ever been worn. I think about wearing it. I even try it on for special occasions now and again. But I can’t pull the trigger…back into the closet it goes.

We all have a drawer of ideas, some that we’ve worn, at least a little, by writing them into stories which may not have worked out. Others are impossible to even try on, too bright, too weird, too…much. But once in a great while, you get up the nerve and the stars align and you put that sequin sweater on everyone compliments you about it and you feel like a million bucks and now it’s your favorite thing in the world.

So I’ve maybe taken this metaphor too far. So let me tell you about shopping in my own idea closet.

Back in high school, a pal of mine relayed something a pal of his had said (honestly, it was pretty inappropriate) and I thought it was really, deeply funny. It was really just ONE WORD said with spot-on timing. It crept into my general banter over the years. I never forgot it. Over these last years of writing picture books I tried no less than four times to wrap a whole story around just that line, it delighted me so. Nope. Nothing.

I put it aside. For years. But then I was working on my next book: DON’T EAT BEES (Life Lessons From Chip the Dog) which will be out from PRH in May, and I realized that it was the perfect setup for this line, this single word, which teases through the book and creates just the perfect ending (you’ll have to read it to find out what it is). The book nearly wrote itself after that and I couldn’t be more excited about it—Mike Boldt and I are back together again, this time with a dog (not a frog).

Sometimes a story idea is just a line. It’s not a title or a character. It’s not about friendship or bravery or anything specific. It’s a line, a word, a mechanism, a perfect pause in response to a visual gag. It’s a monster at the end of the book, a fish who most definitely didn’t take a hat that he totally, absolutely took, a seagull who was carrying a bucket of paint, though “no one knows why”. Forget plot-ty superhero movies, we’re talking Newhart, Buster Keaton, The Far Side, Jack Handey here. Small, might-be-insignificant-to-others-but-you-write-picture-books, idiosyncratic oddities which shine a light on the human experience.

Sometimes the biggest ideas aren’t elaborate, they’re simple—because those simple things can reflect bigger ideas about how we process the world, our inclinations, our conflicts. They cut down to the core that we all share and remove themselves from more specific experiences like family or school or doctor’s offices. Sometimes these little idea fragments can have whole stories wrapped around them, or become just twists, endings, or story structures. My most successful stories have come from things just like this. Truth? This can take a little more time, or at least “different” time than a more traditional approach. You may not know who your character is, or what their problem is, or any of the usual stuff. But I’m a big believer that boundaries and edges create the best work, and if you DO have a concept you’re trying to work in, you let that lead and you follow.

Now, how do you find these odd little conceptual thingamiggies? Surely, the best ones will come from your own life. They will come from your own vernacular, stories told over dinner about funny happenings, misunderstandings, mistakes. They come from your childhood, your family and your friends. They come from television shows and films, I’m a particular fan of lines from songs and I might be able to retire on my former coworkers’ quirks alone! When you stop looking for whole stories and just start seeing the world as concepts and twists, surprise endings, odd moments, you can turn those things into rich, layered stories with wide appeal because they aren’t so specific to one person or their experience. Even if you have NO idea what to do with one of these little fellas, just write em down. They may even nag you until you try them on.

So go dig around in your life-drawer. You may find your sequin sweater in a forgotten, half-written manuscript, or a childhood story your kids have heard you tell so many times they can tell it themselves. Try it on and look in the mirror. It might just turn into one hell of an outfit!

Dev Petty writes books for kids. Hopefully ones which make you laugh a lot and think a little. She lives in Berkeley with her husband, daughters, two dogs, one mean cat, and a snake named Boots. You can read Dev’s work in two upcoming books this spring, DON’T EAT BEES, Life Lessons From Chip the Dog, illustrated by Mike Boldt (PRH) and HOW OLD IS MR. TORTOISE?, illustrated by Ruth Chan (Abrams). Visit her at devpetty.com and follow on Twitter @devpetty and Instagram @devpetty.

Dev is giving away a half-hour zoom to talk about PBs, plus 3 copies of her new book DON’T EAT BEES (when released).

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.

by Susie Ghahremani

People sometimes talk about inspiration as if it’s something that only strikes at random. I find that inspiration is more like the graphic I created for this year’s Storystorm: seeds that might bloom into something beautiful and luminous.

My illustration for Storystorm 2022!

Our published books are the result of a million tiny adjustments and years of persistence. My guided journal: GROWTH: A JOURNAL TO WELCOME PERSONAL CHANGE (Roost Books) took seven years from my initial concept to publication, and I know a lot of us have similar stories of our long haul efforts.

However, inspiration seems like almost the opposite: It’s the whimsy and spontaneity that propels us to get us started in the first place.

Early sketches of GROWTH, and the final journal published 7 years later.

You can get a Storystorm Idea Book from Cafepress! Proceeds go to Blessings in a Backpack.

I’ve participated in Storystorm for *years* (with many thanks to our brilliant host Tara)! Spontaneity plays a big role in what I love about Storystorm: I love how accessible and quick the prompts are. I also love the time constraint of the month of January!

It’s easy and fun to commit to a daily practice that takes just minutes each day but gives our creativity momentum with 30 ideas right at the start of the year.

So, let’s talk about how time constraints and spontaneity work well together to inspire

I write in my journal, draw in my sketchbook, and take a walk every day. The artwork and stories I make are created with ideas generated during these practices. Think doing this kind of thing is a massive time commitment you don’t have time for? I used to think that! (Even though hours can get sucked into social media or TV without my noticing the passage of time…)

One day, I set a timer and discovered it only took 15 minutes for me to loosely fill a page with drawings.

It took only 15 minutes to walk around the block.

A lot can happen in 15 minutes!

Do you have a timer in your home? Grab it for this prompt!

(Even Googling “set a timer for 5 minutes” will start a timer in your browser!)

I use this timer that startles me to push myself to draw or write 15 minutes at a time.

We’re going to go on a quest for inspiration that will take you 15 minutes total.

Prepare to set that timer three times, 5 minutes for each round.

Round one:

Go on a scavenger hunt around your home. Look for any object that feels like it sparks a feeling of curiosity in you. Bonus points if you step outside! Gather up these objects and bring them back to your writing space. Take every part of 5 minutes to do this!

Round two:

Draft a list of the possible ways these objects might be a part of a story you’d tell. Take all 5 minutes to do this. 5 minutes might feel longer than you think, but stay with it and generate as many ideas as you can until the timer goes off.

Round three:

Set a timer for 5 minutes and draft one of those ideas into something legible: something you can build upon – something someone else might be able to read. If you feel adrift, focus on writing a short poem or haiku.

When you have a sliver of time in your day, spontaneously set a timer with a goal to get creative and see what’s possible!

Susie Ghahremani is an award-winning illustrator, author, and a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. Susie’s author-illustrator debut picture book STACK THE CATS (Abrams), was named a Kirkus Best Picture Book of the Year and Amazon Best Children’s Book of the Year. Susie is also the author-illustrator of BALANCE THE BIRDS (Abrams), and illustrator of picture books WHAT WILL HATCH? and WHAT WILL GROW? by Jennifer Ward (Bloomsbury) which received three starred reviews, was named a Bank Street book of the year, and appears on many state reading lists. She also illustrated SHE WANTED TO BE HAUNTED by Marcus Ewert (Bloomsbury); and LITTLE MUIR’S SONG and LITTLE MUIR’S NIGHT with words by John Muir (Yosemite Conservancy), which benefit Yosemite National Park. Susie also creates stationery, apparel, and gift items including the recently released GROWTH: A JOURNAL TO WELCOME PERSONAL CHANGE published by Roost Books. Her shop, Boygirlparty, is ranked among the top 25 bestsellers in Art on Etsy.

Follow her on Twitter @boygirlparty and instagram @boygirlparty, or on Facebook. Visit Susie’s website at boygirlparty.com.

Susie is giving away a copy of her GROWTH JOURNAL published by Roost Books.

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.

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Coming soon:


TIME FLIES
"7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I" BOOK #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
April 26, 2022

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