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by Kate Dopirak

My husband and I were at dinner when I revved right out of my seat: “TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE CAR!” I blurted, never so confident about a new book idea. The problem was . . . I didn’t actually have a new book idea. I just had a title that made everyone from my husband to my crit group to my agent to my editor race to read the manuscript. Too bad I stalled out on the promise of the premise!

My first draft of TWINKLE was about a boy looking for his lost toy car. Both of my sons take endless laps around the house in search of missing things, so I thought I was really zooming along. But I failed to focus enough on one of their favorite things: cars. Wouldn’t my sons, and every other car-loving kid, be disappointed to page through the entire book before finally—FINALLY!—seeing only one car on the very last page? And what about the cover? Shouldn’t the cover showcase the title? Would there even be a car on it?!? I’m embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t thought enough about the visual story.

My original draft didn’t work because it only offered scenes of a kid walking around looking for a toy car. That’s no way to fill an illustrator’s tank! The story needed to be about a car. The car needed to be seen on every spread in the book. It felt like miles of drafts before I realized the car should be fun, adventurous, and high-energy. Even better if s/he has four-wheeled friends!

At last, I had hope of attracting the attention of an illustrator as talented and skilled as Mary Peterson.
I didn’t find success with TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE CAR until I found the story. I didn’t find the story until I considered the art.

by Mary Peterson

I grew up on a farm surrounded by animals and wildlife, rain and snow, and sprouting, growing, blooming things. This is what inspires my art. 18 months ago, if you told me I would fall for a story about a car (one with many four wheeled–not four footed–friends!) I would have laughed. But I did fall for Little Car. S/he has every attribute that attracts me to stories about furry feathery creatures: the toddler energy, curiosity, mischievousness…most of all, the sweetness.

The warmth in Kate’s story inspired both the character and setting. An adorable butter yellow Nash Metropolitan lives at the top of my street. It makes me smile when it goes zipping down the hill. There goes Little Car!

I knew Kate lived in Pittsburgh, so I figured Little Car must live there too. I looked at pictures of Pittsburgh. What an inspiration that was! So much green space and running paths. So many bridges! No wonder Little Car takes the ferry home.

I always thought my inspiration came from animals and landscapes but it turns out they are just tools to tell a particular kind of story. A sleepy little car and a sleepy little rabbit have much in common.

by Kate and Mary

Does your manuscript—especially your main character—have qualities worth illustrating?

Have you thought enough about your visual story?

Give it a try! We’re here, rooting for you to cruise toward success.

Kate loves walking her puppy, watching her sons play sports, and convincing her husband to share a cheese plate instead of wings. She also loves to write for kids. Kate is a certified teacher, a reading specialist, and the Assistant Regional Advisor for Western Pennsylvania SCBWI.

Her books include You’re My Boo (Simon & Schuster, 2016), Snuggle Bunny (Scholastic, 2016), Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Car (Simon & Schuster, 2018), and Hurry Up! (Simon & Schuster, 2020).

Learn more at and follow her on Twitter @katedopirak.

Mary has illustrated many picture books, including DIG IN! and her own SNAIL HAS LUNCH, an easy-to-read chapter book.

She lives in Los Angeles with her husband; their cat, Lucy; and their parakeets, Peety and Pierre. Visit her at and follow her on Twitter @mary_peterson.

Kate and Mary are gearing up to give away a copy of our book, TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE CAR (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster). Beep-beep vroom!

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Karen Rostoker-Gruber

Soon after my manuscript FARMER KOBI’S HANUKKAH MATCH was under contract with Apples & Honey Press, the Executive Editor e-mailed me about a book that she wanted me to write for her about mitzvah clowns.

I did a lot of research for this project. I didn’t know much about the topic. I called several organizations to inquire about mitzvah clowning, how one could get involved and what the process entailed. I also interviewed several mitzvah clowns in order to get an insider’s view.

There are several organizations that teach people (and mice, in my case) how to become mitzvah clowns. They teach you how to put on clown make-up, how to make balloon animals and hats, how to sing songs, how to juggle, how to dance, and the most important part of all, how to talk and comfort everyone in senior homes and hospitals. I didn’t realize how much went into the making of a mitzvah clown.

Now, I had the topic. I did the research. I just had to write a great book that wasn’t teachy-preachy. Not so easy.

At 3 am one morning (you can’t rush creativity), I dreamed up a shy mouse named Maddie. But in order to understand my new character Maddie, I had to go back in time to when I was a shy child—so shy, that people used to call me Giggles, because that’s all that I did.

I think that’s also why I became a self-taught ventriloquist at 8 years old. My sister was 5 years younger than I was, so I entertained her by making all of her dolls, stuffed animals, and actually, all of her food, talk. It was fun for me! I used to (and still do) hide behind all of my puppets while they say crazy things that I would never have the guts to say out loud. And I believed then and still believe now, that everything has a voice—a bug, a blanket—even an egg.

Here’s a photo of me and my puppet Maria.

I also remembered that I was hired as a clown for a next door neighbor’s birthday party. And I recalled that once I dressed up and put on clown make-up, I felt like a different person. I called myself Bubbles. So, that got me thinking…what if a shy mouse wanted to become a mitzvah clown? How would that work? What obstacles would she have to overcome? How would she overcome them? And, most of all, how could I get that all into 29 pages (the last page needed to be left for a “Note for Families”) or less?

Then I got to work.

There had to be someone who Maddie (the mouse) could trust and feel comfortable enough to make her do something that she had never done before.

In my book, Maddie is soooo shy, that she can’t talk to Grandma’s friends—until one day a mitzvah clown shows up. His name is Giggles. Giggles the Mitzvah Clown isn’t pushy; he’s very approachable and fun. The more Maddie watches Giggles, the more comfortable she feels. At first, when Giggles asks Maddie if she’d like a balloon hat, all Maddie does is nod. But once Giggles gives Maddie a big red nose, a rainbow wig, and a balloon hat, she no longer looks or feels like herself at all. And that is what dressing up is all about! Once you don’t look or feel like yourself, you can ask or say things that you normally wouldn’t have the guts to say. Also, Giggles’ approachability makes it easy for Maddie to explore her new self. As her new self, Maddie asks Giggles if he could teach her how to be a mitzvah clown.

Giggles teaches Maddie how to put on clown make-up, make balloon hats, sing songs, juggle, dance, and most importantly, how to talk and comfort everyone in senior homes and hospitals—especially Maddie’s grandma and her friends.

By the end of the book, Maddie gains more confidence in herself, and is able to talk and laugh with Grandma and her friends, without wearing wigs, noses, or hats.

Once I had the manuscript ready, I e-mailed it to the Executive Editor. She brought the manuscript to the Art Director/Editor. The Art Director/Editor had a great idea. She wanted the illustrator to take Maddie from black and white (when she is shy) to full color as she gained confidence in herself, which was very clever. The colors, when they do appear, literally “pop” off the page.

It’s always a magical process seeing your characters come to life on paper.

I just did my first live performance (with my puppet) of the book at a JCC with, believe it or not, two real mitzvah clowns–“Big Daddy” and “Professor Z.” It was a blast!

In July 2017, this book became a PJ Library selection and went out to over 21,000 Jewish children in the United States and Canada. MADDIE THE MITZVAH CLOWN was my 14th traditionally published book. But in order to write it, I had to dig down deep, back to when I was shy myself—just like Maddie.

Karen Rostoker-Gruber is an award-winning children’s book author, ventriloquist, and humorist. Karen is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, The Authors Guild, and was on the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature. She was a guest on the Ricki Lake Show and has been promoting her books on over 62 radio shows around the country. Visit her at and follow her on Twitter 

Karen is giving away a picture book critique. (As one of Tara’s critique group members, Tara urges you to enter for this prize–Karen is an excellent critiquer.)

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Jarrett Lerner

Without a doubt, the question I get asked the most by kids is this one: “Where do your ideas for stories come from?”

In response, I always say something about how ideas are mysterious, elusive things, and tell them that, if they want to be a story creator someday, they should read lots of other people’s stories, pay attention to the world around them, and make plenty of time in their lives to sit around and just wonder, imagine, and play.

But the truth of the matter is that the question is a bad one. It’s fundamentally flawed. (Don’t worry—I don’t tell the kids any of this.) Because ideas don’t come. They’re not tame, obedient things. It’s not like us writers are diners at some fancy restaurant, sitting around sipping fine wine, confident that a waiter will show up soon with a nice, juicy, perfectly prepared idea on a silver platter. No, an idea is more like a dog who’s just realized he’s about to be taken to the vet. Ideas have to be chased down, wrestled into submission, tricked or bribed with treats.

Over the years, however, I’ve developed some techniques to help generate ideas – and to then at least make the things sit and stay, if not actually come when called for. One of these is a game I like to call . . . WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE! Here’s how it works: you take two things that usually don’t go together—and then you make them go together. It was in this way that I got the idea for ENGINERDS.

Boxes are constantly being delivered to my house. Usually, they have books or cat food or laundry detergent in them. But one day, I did a little world-colliding. I wondered what might happen if a robot—a walking, talking, farting robot—showed up in a box on some kid’s doorstep.

More recently, I played this game on a long drive. I was on the highway, and I told myself that I was going to collide the next two, non-highway-ish things that I happened to pass. Road signs didn’t count. Neither did other cars. I also decided to rule out rest stops, since I’d already visited three that day and was sick of them.

Soon enough, though, I saw a cow, hanging out all by her lonesome in a big, grassy field. And shortly after that, I passed a billboard for a furniture store. Those seemed like two things that didn’t usually go together. Now all that was left to do was make them go to together.

For the next several miles, I asked myself a series of increasingly specific questions, each one helping me pick apart and develop my idea a little more. What is the cow doing at the furniture store? Is she supposed to be there? Does she work there? How and why did she get into this line of work? Does she find it fulfilling? Or does she dream of bigger, better things?

By the time I reached my hotel, I had a whole story worked out in my head about this cow who sold couches. Was it a good story? No. It was not. It was basically just a bunch of flimsy clichés strung together with some groan-inducing “moo” and “udder” puns. I wasn’t about to run up to my hotel room and write the thing down.

But the experience of finding that idea, the practice I got by unpacking it—all of that was time very well spent. It’s like exercise. It’ll make the next idea a little easier to track down and tame.

That’s what Storystorm is all about, and one of the reasons it’s so brilliant. It reminds us that, when it comes to writing, there’s a time for quality and a time for quantity. First drafts, for instance? All about quantity. Just get the story out of your head and down on paper, then go back later and polish those sentences until they’re pretty.

At this point in the month, you’ve no doubt already got yourself a nice pile of story ideas. A couple weeks from now, that pile will be a little bigger. Whether or not any of those ideas turn into a full-fledged story, rest assured that all of the piling and unpacking you do throughout the rest of the year will leave you a stronger, sharper, better-equipped storyteller.

Happy world-colliding! And happy writing!

Jarrett Lerner writes books about farting robots, belching knights, and other serious matters. You can find him online at and on Twitter at @Jarrett_Lerner. You can also often find him hanging out at the, which he cofounded and helps run.

He lives with his wife, his daughter, and a cat in Medford, Massachusetts.

Jarrett is giving away a signed copy of ENGINERDS and some enginerdy swag.

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!



by Michelle Cusolito

I’ve said this in other places, but I think it’s worth repeating here: I reject the idea that authors should write what we know. I believe we should write what we’re curious about. What captures our imaginations. What we’re passionate about or what we want to explore deeply.

I’ve nurtured a sense of wonder since I was a child growing up on a farm building hay bale forts and mucking around in nearby swamps. Once I lived abroad for the first time, my interests expanded to learning about other cultures and ecosystems. I am curious about the world. That curiosity determines the topics I choose to research and to write about. (I write fiction and non-fiction picture books, but I lean mostly toward non-fiction).

My debut, FLYING DEEP, invites young readers to imagine themselves piloting deep-submersible Alvin two miles below the ocean’s surface to explore the unique ecosystem that thrives near hydrothermal vents. I am not an Alvin pilot. I had never been inside Alvin or even seen Alvin up close when I started the book. But I WAS fascinated by the idea of piloting Alvin. I was especially fascinated by the alien-looking animals that live near the vents. How could I not be fascinated by dinner plate-sized clams, six foot tube worms and an octopus with appendages that look like Dumbo’s ears? I knew I wanted to write a picture book on the topic because I was so interested in learning more.

FLYING DEEP was a Storystorm (PiBoIdMo) idea in 2014. At that point, I had no idea how I would write the book or even what kind of book it would be. I only knew I was fascinated by Alvin and hydrothermal vents.

My approach to Storystorm was to list every topic I could think of that I was interested in. I used a printed PiBoIdMo calendar and wrote my ideas in the boxes. I allowed each idea to be as big or small as it came to me. Sometimes it was a topic, or a character or even a kind of book I wanted to try writing. I didn’t put any rules on it except that I had to fill every box in my calendar. Just one tiny box per day. No big deal. And I didn’t actually write one idea per day. Some days I wrote 6 or 7 or 8. Other days I wrote none, but my subconscious was certainly at work. One nugget on that calendar became FLYING DEEP. Another nugget became a manuscript that is now out on submission. That one took me years to research and write. Am I bored by the topic? Nope. I still get excited when I come across new articles about my subject. (The remaining ideas on my 2014 calendar did not see the light of day because, well, they were junk. But that didn’t matter. I got two viable manuscripts out of that list.)

So, today, instead of trying to come up with a fully formed idea, try this:

Sit with your notebook, calendar, or laptop and brainstorm. What are the topics you love? What are your passions? What intrigues you? What fascinates you? Who do you admire? Write quickly. Get everything down.

Maybe you love pickles, or ceramic tiles or the way light streams through tree leaves in the late afternoon sun. Are these fully formed book ideas? Of course not. Are they all book worthy? Maybe not, but I can imagine ways these COULD lead to something interesting, funny, or educational. (There are books about bacon and pasta that came out in recent years. Why not pickles? I’m not going to write that story, but maybe you will). This is where you come in: you craft the book that’s right for you.

How many ideas did you come up with? Guess what? All of them count toward your Storystorm total!

Michelle Cusolito’s debut, Flying Deep, will be published by Charlesbridge in May. Flying Deep won the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award and is a summer 2018 Junior Library Guild selection. Michelle climbed inside deep-submersible Alvin to complete research for Flying Deep. Michelle has lived in the Philippines and in Ireland. When she isn’t mucking around in the world, she’s usually in her home office or local coffee shop weaving these experiences into stories for children. Learn more at

You can connect with Michelle on Instagram @mcusolitoTwitter @MCusolito, and Facebook.

Michelle is also making a special request. Her favorite local Indie, Eight Cousins, suffered a catastrophic flood last week. Eight Cousins is an amazing local business run by true booksellers. The storefront is closed until sometime this spring, but they are open for on-line orders which will be staged out of a temporary location. Last fall, Michelle had already arranged for pre-orders placed through Eight Cousins to be signed by both Michelle and Nicole Wong (the illustrator) before being shipped to purchasers on publication day (May 22, 2018). To sweeten the deal, she’s adding a chance in a special give-away. Learn more here:

Please support independent bookstores. If you plan to pre-order Flying Deep, will you order through Eight Cousins or your own favorite local book store? Thank you for your consideration.

Michelle is offering a critique of a fiction picture book up to 700 words or a non-fiction picture book up to 1200 words.

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Tami Charles

Repeat after me: I might fail, and that’s okay!

Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Tami Charles and I am a Storystorm failure.


Because effective today, on this sixteenth day of January, whereupon I should have a minimum of sixteen story ideas, my grand total is. . .wait for it. . .a whopping three. THREE!!!

Hold on, guys. Be right back.

Storystorm, Day 16, self-portrait.

Well, that was cathartic!

Moving along. . .

I’ve been a member of PiBoIdMo (now Storystorm) so many times, I’ve lost count. In the beginning, I outdid myself. Thirty ideas, in thirty days? Ha! How about sixty-two?

Truth be told, my “idea” count decreased with each year and honestly, I’m okay with that. As I reflect on where I am today, versus where I was then, I realize that 98% of my ideas were really, REALLY bad! I didn’t land an agent or any book deals with those ideas! (Thank the good Lord, himself!)

In fact, the first year I “failed” Tara’s challenge, I drafted the idea for my debut picture book, FREEDOM SOUP. That next year, I “failed” again because I thought I was Superwoman. I had also joined Nanowrimo, where I wrote my debut novel, LIKE VANESSA, and brainstormed seventeen picture book ideas.

But for me, it was all about quality versus quantity.

Thanks to Storystorm, I’ve learned how and where to find nuggets of inspiration. Jogging in the park. Waiting in line at Home Depot. Sitting in the doctor’s office while my son barfed in a bag. (Good times!) On a conference call with an editor who personally requested a “Cheerios” type of picture book. (True story. Also: thank you Carter Hasegawa!)

Inspiration is literally everywhere. Sometimes you find it yourself, but other times it finds you. And here’s the BEST part: all it takes is a word, a doodle, a sentence, to mark the moment.

Plot, characters, setting, bleh! Who cares? It’s the IDEA that counts and it’s that IDEA that will turn into a STORY later.

Now if you’re one of the Storystormers who’s up to 74 ideas already, this blog post is probably not for you. (Show offs!) I want to specifically address those who might be feeling “less than” at this point.

Are you behind in your story idea count?

It’s okay.

Do you feel like every.single.idea stinks worse than Limburger cheese?

It’s okay.

Are you worried that other Storystormers are sailing ahead of you and somehow that makes you less qualified?

That’s not okay.

One of my favorite quotes is, “The race isn’t given to the swift, nor to the strong, but to the one who endures until the end.”

Right here, right now, let’s make a proclamation together.

Repeat after me:

I, ___________, do hereby proclaim that my time is not up yet. I still have 14 more days to meet my goal. And no matter the count, I know that I will still win the million dollars that Tara Lazar has promised every participant.

So what are you waiting for? Grab your journal or PC, and Storystorm with abandon.

Former teacher. Wannabe chef. Debut author. Tami Charles writes picture books, middle grade, young adult, and nonfiction. Her middle grade novel, LIKE VANESSA, debuts with Charlesbridge on March 13, 2018. Thus far, the novel has earned starred reviews from Kirkus and Foreword, has been selected by the Jr. Library Guild for Spring, 2018, earned a spot in the Top Ten for ABA’s Indies Introduce List, and won the SCBWI Book Launch Award. Tami’s picture book, FREEDOM SOUP, debuts with Candlewick Press in fall, 2019. She had the opportunity to be featured in a cooking segment with Michael Strahan on Good Morning America, where she demonstrated a Thanksgiving version of the popular Haitian soup. Tami has more books forthcoming with Candlewick and Charlesbridge. She is represented by Lara Perkins of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.

Visit her online at and on Twitter @TamiWritesStuff.

Tami is giving away a copy of her debut MG novel LIKE VANESSA.

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


by Melissa Iwai

Yay! We’re halfway through this year’s Storystorm! How is it going for everyone? The ideas for inspiration of the previous guest bloggers have been great. I just love being part of our KidLit family! As my husband, Denis Markell, has told me numerous times, the people in the Kidit are so much more supportive, open, and welcoming than those in the cutthroat world of theatre and television! And comparing it to my (very) brief life in academia, I agree whole-heartedly.

Though I am surrounded by positive, encouraging, like-minded people, I am my own worst critic. And sometimes that critical voice can stop me and hold me back before I’ve even started putting ideas to paper.

I have always loved writing stories and illustrating them from the time I was a little kid, and I don’t remember having this “judge-y” voice in my head back then.

I just remember how much fun it was to create. So how do I turn off that critical voice when I’m brainstorming new story ideas?

I raid my brain when that judge is asleep. Or at least not fully awake.

OK, here’s where this post might get too “woo-woo” to you, but hear me out. If you have this issue—and even if you don’t!—I encourage everyone to start keeping a dream journal if you don’t already. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy—just a notebook or scraps of paper will do (though try to keep them together for easy referencing later!)

Scientists have said that keeping a dream journal can enhance one’s creativity. In the Journal of Creative Behavior, a study concludes that “Enhanced dream recall through daily dream logging fosters aspects of creativity….[and] that increased awareness to dreams increases creativity through a ‘loosening’ of stereo-typed thinking pattern.”

From my own personal experience, I have found this to be entirely true. I have been dream journaling on and off since I was a teenager. When I was younger, my motivation was to learn how to lucid dream (dreaming in a semi-conscious state and directing the dream). Later I became fascinated by how powerful dreams are as a window into our interior lives and how they can be used to understand ourselves better. Then, relatively recently, I have realized that my dreams are actually a huge potential source of creative ideas. The seed idea for my first authored book, SOUP DAY, came from a dream I had. In it, a mom chopped onions with her little girl in a warm colorful kitchen. And they were making soup!

Did you know that the discovery of the Periodic table, the mechanism of the lock-stitch sewing machine, and the song “Yesterday” were all inspired by dreams? “Yesterday” was so fully realized in Paul McCartney’s dream, he thought it was possibly someone else’s song that he had heard before. Luckily for pop culture, he recorded it while he still remembered it.

I’m not implying that if you record your dreams, you’ll come up with a complete piece of work, but I would wager that you will definitely connect with another part of yourself you might not even know was there. You may also figure out a twist or a solution to an existing story idea you are already working on.

At the very least, you will amuse yourself.

And the exercise of writing upon waking is sure to get your creative juices flowing, uncensored, sans critical voice.

Can’t remember your dreams, you say? You CAN train yourself to do it. And the more you practice this daily habit, the more you will remember—and in more detail.

Tips for Mining Your Dreams for Material:

  1. Keep a notebook or paper and pen by your bed, Jot down anything you remember when you wake up to go to the bathroom or upon waking up in the morning.
  2. Make an intention to remember your dream right before you go to sleep.
    Say out loud to yourself, “I will remember my dreams”. You may also make an intention to solve a problem in your dream.
  3. Don’t stress if you can’t remember anything in the morning. Relax and try to give yourself time to just lie in bed before leaping out of it (the snooze button is helpful). Sometimes I have the best ideas in this twilight state before being fully conscious – I’m not entirely dreaming, but I’m not entirely awake either. This is a great time to focus on a specific problem you might have. You’ll be surprised at what kinds of connections your brain will make. For example, what a character in a story might be, what their day might look like.
  4. After you are more conscious, go over your notes and rewrite them more clearly — chances are they look a bit like chicken scratches. If you do this in the morning, you’ll have a better chance of remembering what you were referring to. And then later, in the future, you will be able to actually read your notes.
  5. Every now and then review your dream notes. Maybe something that you dreamed in the past leaps out at you, and you see a kernel of a story idea in it.

So if you’re like me and sometimes have that voice in your head filling you with negativity…just wait until it goes to sleep! And who knows? Maybe a fantastic new book idea might come to you…and that really would be a dream come true!

Melissa Iwai is the author of Soup Day and Pizza Day and the illustrator of many other books, including Let’s Go to the Hardware Store and Truck Stop, by Anne Rockwell. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her son, Jamie and her husband, author Denis Markell. Visit her online at and on Facebook, Twitter @meliwai & Instagram @melissaiwai1.

Melissa is giving away a copy of SOUP DAY.

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Rachelle Burk

So here we are, nearly halfway through Storystorm month. Although you’ve broken most of your other New Year’s resolutions already, you are still on track with your writing goals due to the support and inspiration you’ve gotten from Tara and all the Storystorm guest bloggers. You’re thrilled with how your manuscripts are coming along.

Oh, you’re not? You like your ideas but think your rhyme sort of stinks? Your dialogue sounds unnatural and your characters feel flat? Do you need another pair of eyes (or two or three), but haven’t a clue how to find a critique group?

I feel your frustration, and I’m here for you.

In 2009 I taught a workshop at my local library called “How to Write a Children’s Book and Get It Published.” Perhaps the title promised a bit too much for a two hour workshop, so as a follow-up for the participants I created a simple website with about a dozen links to helpful articles and resources.

That is how was born. Today it contains hundreds of links in over 30 categories, and has been included in seven consecutive years of Writer’s Digest Magazine’s annual list “101 Best Websites for Writers.”

No matter where you are in your writing—a novice or published—you will find useful resources. If you need help creating strong scenes or flashback scenes, developing your character or naming your character, understanding the rule of “Show-Don’t-Tell” or the “Rule of Threes,” Category #1: Helpful Writing Articles is where to start.

Does your rhyming story make you feel like pulling your hair out a strand at a time? Yeah, mine too. So when I wrote DON’T TURN THE PAGE!, (a rhyming story within a prose story), I relied heavily on Rhymezone, one of two rhyming dictionaries you can find in Category #16: Rhyming and Poetry. I also love Dori Chaconas’ incredible lesson, “Icing the Cake: Writing Stories in Rhythm and Rhyme,” one of many poetry help links.

Writing can be a lonely business. When Storystorm 2018 is officially over, where will you find support? Category #10: Critique Groups can lead you to your perfect writing partners. Category #9: Online Forums will help you connect with other writers on the SCBWI Blue Board, Absolute Write Water Cooler, Yahoo groups, and more. You will never be lonely again.

With the help of your new critique partners and ever-growing group of supportive online writing friends, you finally have a manuscript ready for submission. Should you send it to an agent or directly to a publisher? How do you choose among them? What are the pros and cons of self publishing, and how would you go about it? Your head swirls with confusion and anxiety! But then you remember and a sense of calm washes over you, because, like that trusted friend who’s just a phone call away, those helpful links are just a click away. You soon learn how to write a Query Letter: Category #6, then browse through several Publisher Lists: Category #3.

Within the Publishers category you’ll find such valuable links as the SCBWI Market Survey Guide and Nancy Allen’s list of Small and Midsize Publishers. When I was ready to submit my middle-grade science-adventure novel THE WALKING FISH, I consulted Evelyn Christensen’s list of Educational Markets, which led me to Tumblehome Learning Inc, a specialty publisher dedicated to producing science-themed children’s books. Two years later Tumblehome published my picture book biography PAINTING IN THE DARK: ESREF ARMAGAN, BLIND ARTIST. I also have Evelyn to thank for her Writing for Children’s Magazines ezine for leading me to publishers for some of my magazine stories. Maybe you’ll find your next publisher among one of these lists.

Oh, you already found a publisher? Congratulations! What happens now? Category #26: Book Marketing and Promotion is dedicated to helping you get the word out. Make a book trailer. Master social media. Write a press release. Do a radio show interview. Be sure to also create a free author profile page on Amazon, Goodreads, and other major book sites (Category #27: Author Sites), get others to plug your book (Category #21: Book Reviewers), and prove to all how remarkable your story really is (Category #19: Contests and Awards).

Now that you’ve got a few books out there, let your journey inspire children! I have been accused of writing books only because I have so much fun visiting schools. (That’s not all together untrue). If the idea of doing school visits terrifies you, it shouldn’t, now that you can consult Category #12: Author Visit Resources to help you develop and market your program.

Once you have excited the kiddies, where can the budding writers go to remain inspired? Category #29: Resources For Kids Who Write links to a massive list of resources exclusively for children, including online writing communities, publishing opportunities, contests, and more.

I have tried to leave no subject uncovered when creating Do you need to find famous quotes or onomatopoeia words for your story? Create a proper bibliography? Determine your story’s readability level? Construct a book dummy? Seek out work-for-hire opportunities? Do you have a legal question regarding publishing? Are you an illustrator who wants to showcase your work, or an author who is seeking one? I’ve got you covered. There is nothing to stop you now.

Rachelle Burk is a scatterbrain with a scattered life; a recently retired social worker, she continues to work as a professional clown, storyteller, and rescue squad volunteer. She added “writer” to her resume later in life (she was 50 when her first book was published). Rachelle writes both fiction and nonfiction, including picture books, chapter books, a middle-grade novel, and magazine stories. More than anything (except maybe scuba diving), she loves to do author visit programs at schools around the country. She lives with her husband/adventure partner in New Jersey. Visit her at, and follow her on Twitter @Rachelleburk where she highlights favorite resources and announces new links.

Rachelle is giving away a picture book critique. (As one of Tara’s critique group members, Tara urges you to enter for this prize–Rachelle is one of the best at critiques.)

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Lori Mortensen


The Muse.

The first crumb of an idea.

That’s where all writing begins, right? But what if you’re sitting there and you have no idea where to begin? When I first began writing, I heard the phrase, “Ideas are everywhere.” Although this was supposed to be encouraging, it made me feel even worse. Oh, oh! I thought. I’m surrounded by ideas and I still don’t know what to write about.

Initially, not knowing where to begin shook my confidence and made me wonder if I had anything to say after all. However, as I persisted and kept trying, I discovered the main ingredient.


Including myself might seem obvious, but at the time it wasn’t. I was a beginner. What did I know? Ideas were somewhere “out there.” However, as I made a conscious effort to notice what stirred my imagination, what to write seemed to grab me by the lapels and say write about this!


One of the biggest moments occurred several years ago when I was roaming around my local thrift store and noticed a figurine of a cow happily sitting on a crescent moon. It was one of many used knickknacks clustered on a shelf. Ordinarily, I would have strolled right on by. But this time as I stared at the accomplished cow, I was intrigued. How did she get there? I wondered. In a heartbeat, I knew I wanted to write the story. I bought the figurine and went home. As I wrote, it was exciting to figure it all out. How would she try to jump to the moon? Would she really make it? I loved coming up with the unexpected twist at the end.

Nobody else cared about the cow sitting on the moon. But it stirred my imagination. The story about a spunky cow trying to jump the moon became my rhyming picture book CINDY MOO. I was thrilled when HarperCollins snapped it up.

Houdini Hounds

Then, there were my neighbor’s dogs. Houdini hounds, really, that regularly broke out of their backyard and raced down the street. Moments later, my neighbors sprinted after them. “Come back, Rollie and Wendy!” they yelled.

Although the dogs’ antics certainly annoyed my neighbors, the dogs stirred my imagination. I thought, Wouldn’t it be fun to write a story about somebody chasing a dog? After a few false starts, my story took off–just like the dogs. As I wrote each verse, I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. How would the determined main character try to catch the dog? Would the main character really catch the dog in the end?

My rhyming picture book, COWPOKE CLYDE AND DIRTY DAWG, became one of Amazon’s best picture books of 2013.

It was the “me” factor once again–the main ingredient—and how I reacted to what I saw.


In April, my picture book IF WENDELL HAD A WALRUS will hit the bookshelves. This story began a bit differently. At the time, I’d been reading a variety of quiet picture books where the main character had an inner longing of some kind. I loved the idea of an inner longing and wondered where an inner longing might lead. As I thought about it, I imagined looking up into the clouds and seeing something that pulled at my heart. When “walrus” popped into my head, I was hooked.

A walrus?

The fun, quirky idea captured my imagination. Why would someone want a walrus? What would they do if they got one? Would they really get one in the end? When I came up with the unexpected twist, I was delighted. An editor at Henry Holt fell in love with it too.

So the next time you’re scouting around for an idea, keep an eye out for forgotten figurines, Houdini dogs, and the like. Then, add the all-important main ingredient.


Lori Mortensen is an award-winning children’s book author of more than 70 books and over 350 stories and articles. Recent releases include Chicken Lily, (Henry Holt), Mousequerade Ball (Bloomsbury) illustrated by New York Times bestselling illustrator Betsy Lewin, and Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range (Clarion) a sequel to Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg, one of Amazon’s best picture books of 2013. When she’s not letting her cat in, or out, or in, she’s tapping away at her computer, conjuring, coaxing, and prodding her latest stories to life. For more information about her books, teacher activities, book trailers, critique service, events, and upcoming releases, visit her website at

Lori is giving away a copy of COWPOKE CLYDE RIDES THE RANGE, the sequel to DIRTY DAWG.

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Alicia Padrón

Inspiration is wonderful but can be a scary word, don’t you think? If you are in the creative field you know very well what I am talking about.

I am incredibly lucky to be able to do what I love for a living, which is illustrating children’s books. Even though I am not a writer, I believe writing and illustrating are very much alike; one deals with words and the other with images, but both tell a story and more importantly both are governed by our creative side.

As I am sure most of you know tapping into that creative side is no easy task. I wish I had a general step-by-step guide to help others find their ideas but the truth is I don’t. I am sure there are many ways people can approach this but all I can do is share what I’ve found works for me, and hope this can help you as well.

So, what do I do to find inspiration? How do I get my ideas? The answer is simple.


Yes, nothing and I’ll tell you why.

When I first get a manuscript for a book, I read it and I am excited and eager to start working on it but I don’t. I don’t enter my studio, I don’t sit on my work table, I don’t do research on libraries or bookstores, I don’t even pick up a pencil. I do nothing work related.

I allow myself a good amount of time, from 2 to 3 weeks, and I make sure I have that nothing time when looking at the deadlines and agreeing on taking on a new book project. I need it for two reasons, one is to let the pressure of coming up with something amazing right away slowly fade, but more importantly to allow me to find and tap on my creative side.

I believe inspiration and creative ideas live in our subconscious, which is usually hidden and quiet because our consciousness is out and about controlling our everyday activities and dealing with all the stress of deadlines, paying bills, and general worries in life. We will not be able to feel inspired or come up with ideas unless we manage to shut that consciousness off.

In order to do this I find the best way is to engage in a lot of mechanical activities, those that require manual labor, so to speak, but don’t require actual thinking to accomplish them, like going out for walks, talking a shower, driving, sewing, washing the dishes, knitting, pottery, etc.. Any activity you feel you can do on “auto pilot” mode will work, they allow the consciousness to go sleep and for us to open communications with the creative side.

In my case it is walking 5 miles every day, taking long showers, listening to music and driving, those are the moments I find I am at my creative best, and I take advantage of this.

I think about the characters in my book, will they be an animal or a kid? How can I make them special? What do they look like? Do they have any special likes or dislikes? How can I make them relatable to the kid reading the book? I think about the setting, how can I make it engaging and visually interesting? I want to grab the little one’s attention with my illustrations, perhaps tell a visual story that only they can pick up or add a small detail they can find from page to page? I think about the general look of the book, what can I do to make this book special and stand out from others out there? Is it a bedtime book? How can I make it feel peaceful and calming? Is it a scary story aimed for very little ones? How can I make it not so scary but still let the message come across to them? I think and think for weeks until I feel my head is going to explode with so many wonderful ideas and images that I can’t hold them any longer and that’s when I enter my studio, sit down at my desk, grab that pencil and start working! It’s a wonderful feeling.

Some of those ideas I keep, others I might change a little, but the important thing is I am able to tap deep down when I needed to and by the moment I sit down to work I am no longer worried about a blank page staring back at me, instead I am filled with excitement and feeling productive.

You have to be brave and trust that even though it might feel risky to do noting for those weeks, it’s actually one of the most important stages you should go through. Allow yourself that time; it will pay off in the end. Use it to think hard, let that love for writing grow inside you, until your head is filled with wonderful ideas and your heart is filled with such excitement that you can’t take it any more. Then, and only then, you will know that is time. Inspiration will no longer be scary but a wonderful thing.

Alicia Padrón has illustrated 24 books for children, including the New York Times best seller GOODNIGHT, NUMBERS (Crown), LITTLE FOX, LOST (Pajama Press), ABC, BABY ME! (Random House), UN BESO ANTES DE DORMIR (Ediciones SM) and BRUSH, BRUSH, BRUSH! (Scholastic). She is known for creating heartwarming characters, especially babies and animals, in a sweet and sensitive style. All of her artwork is rendered in watercolor and finished digitally. Alicia and her family are originally from Venezuela and now she spends her days illustrating in her home studio in Florida, with her dog Lucy always by her side.

Visit her online at and on Twitter and Instagram @AliciaPadronArt.

Alicia is giving away a signed copy of her book GOODNIGHT NUMBERS, written by Danica McKellar.

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Sue Fliess

When I do school visits, the number one question I get is Where do you get your ideas from? And that is probably the toughest question of all to answer! What I really want to say is, Pass…next question please?

Alas, since I get asked this question so often (from adults as well), I’ve thought about it plenty. Inspiration is such a wacky thing to me. My answer is usually not what people expect or want to hear, and requires immediate explanation. I say: I get ideas from the things, people and places around me. I know, so vague, right?! But what I’ve come to realize is that, over time, I have trained my brain to always be looking for a story.

For example, I was in an airport once and saw a poster advertising some travel product. There was a goat on it. Bam! I got an idea for a story from seeing this goat. I cannot tell you why, but this goat spoke to me. I’ve also gotten ideas from hearing portions of conversations, even from kids mispronouncing words.

Another time, I was discussing a title change of one of my books with Tammi Sauer, between sessions at a conference. I told her my pirate book, which I’d titled A Pirate’s Life, was going to be changed to HOW TO BE A PIRATE, per the editor, and that I was trying to warm up to the idea. Tammi said, Oh, but then you could do more ‘How to Be a’ books. Of course…genius! That evening, I scrawled out what would become HOW TO BE A SUPERHERO. I sold it, and then went on to sell HOW TO BE A PRINCESS, which pubs this May!


Just this fall, I hired a handyman to hang numerous photos in my house. One of them was of my kids in front of the Hatteras lighthouse. He made a comment about how much he loved lighthouses. It prompted me to think about why I love them. And just like that I got an idea for a picture book from listening to my handyman. Will let you know if it finds a home…

Finally, I am writing or thinking about writing so much, that, yes, I sometimes dream about it at night. Usually the ideas I get in my dreams are complete garbage, but occasionally they’ll at least spark an idea. This time, however, was different. In my dream, a friend asked, ‘What are you working on?’ and I answered with confidence, ‘I’m writing a fractured nursery rhyme called Mary Had a Little Lab.’ Of course, in real life, I was writing no such thing. I have a Labrador retriever, so I figured that is why I had that answer. My first reaction was, boy, that’s a dumb idea. But then I thought, What if lab is short for laboratory? So I wrote MARY HAD A LITTLE LAB about a girl inventor who makes her own pet sheep, and it publishes this March with Albert Whitman & Co.

Watch the trailer here:

I once got an idea for a story because I tried to remember a book that someone else had written. When I blurted out a title, I knew I had the title wrong as soon as I said it. But then I thought, gee, that’s a pretty great title. Surely, it was already a book. But it wasn’t. So I wrote it. My agent is shopping it now. Maybe it will be a book, after all.

So, Storystormers, start training your brain now to see the story in everything. Take a walk without your phone. Ask What if? Make things talk to you, read, observe your surroundings—as in, really look at things. Listen and hang out with creative people. There are lots of great ways to get inspired, and while these are just a few, I hope they’ve jolted your creative veins.


Sue Fliess has published over 20 children’s books including We Wish For a Monster Christmas, How to Trap a Leprechaun, From Here to There, A Fairy Friend, Tons of Trucks, and many Little Golden Books. She’s written for O Magazine, Writer’s Digest, Huffington Post, Walt Disney, and more. Sue lives with her family in Virginia. Visit her website at

Sue also has a counting board book coming out this June with Scholastic called HAUNTED HALLOWEEN. 

And though she doesn’t have a cover yet, this fall, look for Amazon/Two Lions to publish the hilarious adventure, MRS. CLAUS TAKES THE REINS, which follows Mrs. Claus as she takes over Christmas because Santa wakes up too sick for the gig. Here’s an illustration from the book:

Sue is giving away a picture book critique.

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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My Picture Books


illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Early 2019

illus by Vivienne To
Spring 2019

illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
Summer 2019

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