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by Trisha Speed Shaskan & Stephen Shaskan

Writing is often thought of as a solo process. Picture a beret-clad, tortured artist in a dimly-lit room typing on a laptop with a bottle of Absinthe on hand. But it doesn’t need to be that way. Every book is made by a team—the author and editor for starters. So why not collaborate with someone from the start of your story?

Since we first met while working at an elementary school, we’ve been collaborators. We became friends, eventually married (but that’s another story), and formed a rock band together. Stephen played guitar. Trisha played drums.

At school, we co-taught a class. We eventually co-taught classes where we encouraged students to collaborate on creating stories and comics. But it wasn’t until we had both published books—Stephen as an author/illustrator and Trisha as an author—that we began collaborating from the start of the story process.  After our agents submitted an early chapter book for us that was rejected, an editor asked if we were interested in submitting a new chapter book series idea. In the past, Trisha had written the story, then Stephen read it and illustrated it. This time, we decided to collaborate from the start. Since then, we’ve found the process is really beneficial; it helped us create our graphic novel series Q & RAY and our picture book PUNK SKUNKS. This process could help you too.

When choosing someone to collaborate with on brainstorming story ideas, choose someone you fully trust. Once you’ve chosen a person, there are ground rules.

First: Collaborators need to find equal value. Brainstorm mutual interests that could be the subject of a story—basket weaving, sky diving. This allows each collaborator to have the maximum amount of investment in the story. When we first brainstormed a list of ideas to work on collaboratively, “rock bands” was one of the first subjects we both agreed on. Stephen wasn’t so keen on tea parties.

Second: Maintain mutual respect with your collaborator(s). Allow ample space for everyone’s ideas. Remember to keep things positive. There aren’t bad ideas when brainstorming (except for bands that throw tea parties according to Stephen). Think of the brainstorming session as a large pot of soup. Your collaborative cook throws in rutabaga. You don’t like rutabaga, but this is the first time you’re trying this recipe. When the soup is done, you’ll be able to see if the rutabaga works or not. When we brainstormed which animals might play in a rock band, we tried moles, then badgers who looked much better as folk rockers than rockers when sketched, before choosing punk skunks for our story.

Third: Have a sense of humor. Don’t take anything too seriously. Try to laugh at yourself. Even if you seriously want the band to throw a tea party.

Once we’ve brainstormed a story idea together, we also brainstorm the conflict. For PUNK SKUNKS, the natural conflict was one skunk wanted to sing about one topic, while the other skunk disagreed. Together we brainstormed what the characters’ personalities might be and came up with a possible outline for the story. But when it was time to write, Trisha wrote the story on her own, then Stephen illustrated it on his own.

Our first collaborative story idea that became PUNK SKUNKS was rejected as a chapter book as was our second idea, Q & Ray. We loved the stories so we switched the formats. We sold (and have now published) PUNK SKUNKS as a picture book and Q & Ray as a 3-book graphic novel series for young readers. Plus, we learned the benefits of collaborating. There’s group investment in the story. We’ve combined our expertise. The process forced each of us to think outside ourselves and to maybe let go of the tea parties. We hope you try collaborating too.

Trisha Speed Shaskan has written over forty books for children, including the picture book PUNK SKUNKS and the Q & RAY graphic novel series, which are all illustrated by her husband Stephen Shaskan. Trisha is also the author of the upcoming picture book THE ITTY-BITTY WITCH illustrated by Xindi Yan releasing in July (Two Lions/Amazon). Trisha and Stephen, their cat Eartha, and dog Beatrix live in Minnesota. Visit Trisha online at: or on Facebook.

Stephen Shaskan is the author and illustrator of several picture books including: BIG CHOO, TOAD ON THE ROAD, MAX SPEED, THE THREE TRICERATOPS TUFF, and A DOG IS A DOG. He is also the illustrator of the picture book PUNK SKUNKS and the graphic novel series Q and Ray, both written by his wife Trisha Speed Shaskan. Stephen lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with Trisha, and their cat Eartha and dog Bea. Find him at or on Facebook.

You can also follow Trisha and Stephen together on Facebook here.


Trisha and Stephen are giving away a signed copy of PUNK SKUNKS and a signed copy of Q & RAY CASE #1: THE MISSING MOLA LISA. There will be two winners of one book each.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


by Jess Keating

When I first started writing about how to get inspired, I realized the truth: I don’t believe getting inspired is the answer. Instead, we need to be inspired. All the time. Don’t roll your eyes! I know it’s a lofty goal. But you’re a writer: you’re built to do this.

I find everything inspiring. But it takes work. Inspiration is a muscle, not a muse. The more you actively develop an attitude to suit your creative needs, the more it will come naturally. When your whole world is interesting to you, you don’t need to hunt for ideas. They grow around you organically and wait for you to pluck them out of your life.

So how do you become inspired all the time? You cultivate an attitude of inspiration. We’re talking about growing new eyes, new ears—a whole new set of senses here. Or rather, really turning on the ones you’ve got. No more autopilot.

What does this mean? Here are a few exercises that work for me.

1) Every day, learn something new.

This one sounds pretty obvious, but my rule is: if you haven’t written it down, it doesn’t count. Gone are the days of “oh, I’ll definitely remember this!” (You won’t.) You’re a writer, after all. Act like it, and write it down! The goal here isn’t just to get smarter (though that’s always a benefit), rather to go deeper into your own world.

That coffee in front of you? Do you know what part of the world it came from? What other uses could humans have for something like coffee? What’s the Swahili word for coffee? Take something that you enjoy that’s right in front of you, and challenge yourself to learn something new about it. Google it, ask someone smart, anything you need to do to grow a new connection in your mind. And when you’re done, write it down.

Creativity is born from two seemingly unrelated things suddenly making a new kind of sense together. This exercise will build your repertoire of “seemingly unrelated things”. Think of it like an encyclopedia of your life.

2) Never, ever censor or judge your own interests. This kiss of death for any project is when you think it’s something you should do. Leave the shoulds in your life to your bills, your taxes, and getting food on the table. Let your creative side tackle the things you want to do. Don’t box it in. Don’t expect it to be something it’s not. Do not compare your interests to those of anyone else. (That’s a biggie.) Their version of what matters most won’t match yours. That’s a good thing.

Let your true passions and interests breathe, no matter how quiet, untraditional, un-trendy, unsellable, or downright bizarre they are. Reminder: the things that make you strange are the things that make you memorable. Honor them.

You know how, when you’re house training a dog, you’re told to make a big, hairy deal every time they get it right and go to the door when nature calls? That is how you need to respond to your creative self here. Every time you feel that familiar buzz of energy that comes from learning, discovering, or contemplating a thing that excites you, make a gigantic fuss about it. Get excited. Praise yourself (“Ooh, I love this! Go, me!”), and again, write it down. This tells your brain and subconscious one very simple yet crucial fact: I will pay attention and I won’t judge you—send me more of this!

The sooner you get your brain on board, the better.

The way to be inspired all the time is to surround yourself, and your mind, with sources that feed it. Don’t discount a single thing that lights you up. Give it the time of day. Treat it like a special guest. Invite it in for a scone, and pay special attention. It has something to tell you.

3) One final tip? Open a dialogue with the world around you.

Too often, we bookish folks live in our heads. But the downside to existing only in your own head is you miss out on, oh…pretty much everything outside of it.

Something magical happens when you go about your day looking to have a dialogue with the world.

Meaningful, inspiring things have a tendency to find you. Why? Because you’ve made some space for them. The best way I’ve found to do this is by playing a little game with the world. Set yourself up to succeed here.

In your notebook, before you start your day, draw an empty box or a circle on your page. Write the words, “one amazing thing” above it and leave it blank. Then, walk away.

Challenge yourself to be on the lookout for one amazing thing that sparks your curiosity. Curiosity is your heart’s way of telling you to pay attention. The minute you give yourself this exercise, your awareness will go on overdrive. The forced “limit” of that little box is also incredibly freeing. You’re not asking yourself to solve world hunger. You’re just looking for one amazing thing to fill that little box.

Suddenly, your day takes on a different meaning. Maybe you notice the snow piling up in funny angles on the railing outside. Or the way the squirrels’ tails seem to floop around as they run. Or that tiny, shy grin the cashier at the grocery store gives the teen boy buying gum. (Is a new romance afoot?!)

Don’t look now, you’re actively looking at the world with that attitude of inspiration we were talking about! Go, you! You’ll know when you come across the thing that belongs in your notebook.

Do this for a week and you’ll notice some fun insights about what finds its way to your awareness. Do this for a year and you’ll need ten notebooks a day for all the amazing things you’ll notice.

Why are these three exercises so helpful to grow that inspiration muscle? Quite simply: what inspires you is what matters to you. By approaching what matters to you from several perspectives like this, you’ll begin to uncover some truths about what makes you tick creatively. Your viewpoint suddenly becomes amplified.

And, lucky you, you’ve written it down!

Everybody has themes to their lives, and they operate like hidden train tracks beneath our stories. These exercises will shine a spotlight on those emotional tracks so you can build stories that truly resonate with you. And that’s the first step behind creating something that will resonate with others.

This month, (and every month) don’t tell yourself you’re generating ideas. Instead, you’re waking up to the ideas that want your attention. They’re already there, waiting for you. Your job is to pay attention and create space for them.

So…what amazing thing have you noticed today?

As a zoologist and author, Jess Keating has been sprayed by skunks, bitten by crocodiles, and victim to the dreaded papercut. Her books blend science, humor, and creativity, and include the acclaimed My Life is a Zoo middle-grade trilogy, the picture book biography, Shark Lady, and the award-winning World of Weird Animals nonfiction series, launching with Pink is for Blobfish. You can find her on Twitter @Jess_Keating and on her website,

Jess Keating is a fiction and nonfiction writer who loves telling fun stories in any way she can. She also has a Masters of Science in Zoology, so she gets to throw around goofy animal facts a lot.

She is the author of several picture books including PINK IS FOR BLOBFISH, CUTE AS AN AXOLOTL and SHARK LADY. Her forthcoming middle grade novel, NIKKI TESLA AND THE FERRET-PROOF DEATH RAY is out July 2019.

Visit her online at and follow her on Twitter @Jess_Keating.

At the conclusion of Storystorm, prize packs will be given away (books, swag, writing tools). Comment once on this blog post to enter into the prize pack drawing.

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

Good luck!


Bonus: quotes for sharing!


by Nina Victor Crittenden

Are you a fan of puns? I sure am! I grew up in a really punny family so puns have always been one of my favorite things. Puns are a fun way to play with words and a terrific way for kids to develop a love of language.

Tara Lazar’s 7 Ate 9 (illustrated by Ross MacDonald) is an excellent example of fabulous punning for a number of reasons (and you can always count on it for a laugh).

Chicken Lily, written by Lori Mortensen, is full of clever chicken puns. The main character is a chicken who is too chicken to read a poem onstage at school.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving was the inspiration for this promotional postcard that I made back in 2011:

I even put a pun in The Three Little Pugs (a group of pugs is called a grumble):

Let’s pick a random topic and get started:


You don’t need to havarti supplies, just a pencil and paper will do. Immerse yourself in the subject and don’t let anything get pasteurize. Milk it for all it’s worth. Where there’s a will, there’s a whey. Get ready for some brie-lliant ideas to start rolling in. Have fun and be silly, before you know it you could have a pile of…

Thank you, Tara! Have a punderful day, everyone!

Nina Victor Crittenden is an artist, certified veterinary technician, scarf knitter, and tea drinker. She works traditionally using ink and watercolor on hot pressed paper. Nina is the illustrator of Cedric and the Dragon and Chicken Lily, and is the author/illustrator of The Three Little Pugs. She lives in the land of 10,000 lakes with her husband, daughters, guinea pig, bunnies, fish, and two little pugs.

Visit her at or follow her on Twitter @NVCrittenden and Instagram @nvcrittenden.



Nina is giving away one copy of Chicken Lily and one copy of The Three Little Pugs. There will be two winners of one book each.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


by Shutta Crum (from Thanksgiving 2011)

Storystorm is about beginnings—first ideas, first notes, and then, hopefully, first drafts from the exciting tidbits we’ve jotted down during the month. While thinking about beginnings I remembered one of my first writing classes: high school journalism. I don’t remember much from the class except that a good lead should always include the answers to four important questions: the 4 Ws. These are: who, what, where, and when. After a good lead, we were taught the story could move on into the details of how, or why.

Good leads are something that the news reader doesn’t really notice, but are crucial to keeping the reader’s attention. They quickly dispense with niggly concerns and important facts so the reader can settle into the story. It is a technique every picture book writer ought to know.

Answering those four questions right up front in any story tucks the reader in. However, as with many aspects of writing the picture book, the writer for the very young has to do it faster, with fewer words, and sometimes in verse!

Better than hearing this from me—and more fun—is studying how some of our best picture book writers, and illustrators, do it. Below are some of my favorite examples, in prose and in verse.

(Prose) Rosemary Wells, from MAX’S CHOCOLATE CHICKEN.


“One morning somebody put a chocolate chicken in the birdbath.”

Let’s parse this opening line. When: one morning. Who: somebody. (We also see a picture of that somebody—Poppa?) What: put a chocolate chicken. Where: in the birdbath. (And what a great hook for a young child! Why would someone do that?)

(Verse) Karma Wilson, from BEAR SNORES ON.


 “In a cave in the woods

in his deep, dark lair,

through the long, cold winter

sleeps a great brown bear.”

Where: in a cave in the woods in a deep dark lair. When: through the long cold winter. What: sleeps. Who: a great brown bear. (And she did all this with perfect meter! Note: be sure to read Karma’s earlier post, on Nov. 2nd.)

Of course, we are blessed by the illustrations in our picture books. In addition to everything else they do so well, the art carries a great deal of this initial informational load. If the setting is a farm, we see that and it may not be mentioned at all in the text. If it is nighttime, or winter, or the main character is a bear . . . these may, also, not be directly mentioned. If it is not said in the text, it is then incumbent on the illustrator to add that context. Look at Jane Yolen’s Caldecott-winning book, illustrated by John Schoenherr.

(Free verse) Jane Yolen, from OWL MOON.


“It was late one winter night,

long past my bedtime,

when Pa and I went owling.”

When: late one winter night, long past my bedtime. Who: Pa and I. What: went owling. There is no mention of where . . . that is covered by the beautiful farm scene in the illustration.

Occasionally, leaving out more than one of these details may actually enhance the story by focusing the reader’s attention on another detail that may be of more importance. For example, study Jon Klassen’s new book I WANT MY HAT BACK. There is no where indicated (except for a few rocks and sprigs of grass). Nor, even a whenWho and what are of prime importance. (Who: I. What: Want my hat back.) Against almost completely blank pages readers really notice those eyes on the bear and the rabbit. The facial expressions are subtle, yet so important for understanding the story.  In an intensely illustrated background, the significance of those looks might get lost. We assume it is some place where there are bears and rabbits and other animals. And the when is unimportant. As in all things, once you know the rules you also know when it may be best to break them.

(Prose) Jon Klassen. From I WANT MY HAT BACK.

“My hat is gone.

I want it back.”

So study first lines for how good writers quickly dispense with the basic questions any reader has about the world of the story. Then once you’ve tucked your readers in, you can lead them on to discover the answers to those other two important questions: how the story unfolds and why.

Shutta Crum is the author of several middle-grade novels, more than a dozen picture books, and many poems and magazine articles. She adores speaking about children’s books and is an oft-requested presenter, guest lecturer, panel moderator, and keynote speaker. Her latest picture book is MOUSELING’S WORDS (Clarion). It’s her auto-mouse-biography—about a mouse who becomes a swashbuckler of words. The idea came from one of Tara’s Storystorm (PiBoIdMo) challenges. Thanks Tara for challenging us!

You can follow Shutta on her blog & website at, on Twitter @Shutta and on Facebook here.

At the conclusion of Storystorm, prize packs will be given away (books, swag, writing tools). Comment once on this blog post to enter into the prize pack drawing.

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

Good luck!


by Andria Rosenbaum

Writers understand the power of Story. We get that stories can enlighten, educate, make you laugh till you’re breathless, or move you to tears. All good stories make you feel something.

I wish I was a humorous writer, à la Madam Tara Lazar.  

Who wouldn’t want to bring word play, joy and humor to the world of kidlit?

But it turns out that some stories knock on your door unsolicited. Sometimes, they seep into your brain and wrap around your heart. They badger you until you pull them into the world by painting them with words.

These stories can be tricky. Especially when they’re based on truth, or history. If they aren’t handled with care, they can end up sounding boring, sentimental and didactic. When that happens the hearts and minds these stories long to open—remain closed.

More than ten years ago, one of these persistent ideas knocked on my door after I read multiple testimonies from people who had been separated from their parents and siblings during WWII. Even as these children grew up in different countries with new families, they remembered each other. But each believed the other had perished in the war. Some sixty-plus years later, some of them found one another thanks to organizations like The Shoah Project and Yad Vashem.  

Their stories haunted me. They shadowed me like a lost dog looking for home. I wondered how war scars children? How did they survive while others didn’t? What unseen fractures remained? How could they be healed? I felt compelled to share the stories that had shaped their lives.

I knew a manuscript about children of war would be tough to sell. Especially a picture book. But that didn’t matter. I only knew I had to write it. Because this had happened to children, I wanted to write it for children. But how could I begin to describe such a tragic truth?



Looking out of the eyes of a child.

As I read and researched more and more about the Holocaust, I realized I wanted to tell a story sewn together from accounts of siblings from multiple families. I put myself into the heart of the older sister. Her memories became mine. I wrote in her voice. I minimized the graphic details and focused on the separation itself. The main character Ruthi refused to let her story be solely about what she’d lost. Her story became more about what kept her going. It’s about the key ingredients that might have allowed her and others to survive.

I shared the manuscript with my agent unsure of how she’d respond. Thankfully, she loved it and was determined to sell it. Eventually, she did. HAND IN HAND will be published in April by Apples & Honey Press. Maya Shleifer’s incredible illustrations bring Ruthi and her little brother Leib to life, while softening the hard edges of their story through color and character.

Editing helped the book evolved into a story about the effects of separation and war on children.

It became more than just another book about the Holocaust. Though it’s aimed at 7-10 year-olds, I hope it speaks to a broader audience.  

Our stories can’t change history, but they might have the ability to heal. By spotlighting tragic events, books can build empathy and understanding. If you have a tough story you’re longing to tell I hope you find a way to share it. Open the door and embrace it. Try to be honest. Try to be brave. Listen to your characters. You never know who may be waiting for your words.

Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum is the author of TRAINS DON’T SLEEP, illustrated by Deirdre Gill (HMH) and BIG SISTER, LITTLE MONSTER, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham (Scholastic Press), a PiBoldMo idea from 2014. She hunts for picture book ideas from her home in New Jersey. You can follow her on Twitter @andriawrose, or learn more about Andria and her books at:

Andria is giving away a signed copy of HAND IN HAND when it’s published in April.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


by Zachariah OHora (from 2013)

Writing is hard work. Coming up with good characters can be even harder. The market for picture books (at least this moment) is all about character-driven stories.

When I’m trying to come up with a fresh book idea and there isn’t one to steal from my kids, I start with a character.

I’ve developed a method that is very simple. Even if you don’t draw you can fake it.

It’s called “Pimp Your Character” ™.

In a nutshell it works like this…

(Tara’s note: click each image to see it in its full-sized glory!)


Good! You are on your way. If you are feeling confident about this simple version, move on to the advanced version.


Say you are having trouble picking an animal. Maybe you hate animals? If so, try writing dystopian YA.

If you love animals but just can’t decide go to or even better

Pick an animal and refer to the charts above to “Pimp Your Character” ™.

If done right your character will write or reveal it’s own story. All you have to do is be open to hearing it. Don’t be afraid to use peoples own prejudices and expectations.

You might be surprised. Here’s an example.


Sometimes I get lucky. Real life provides me with a story and character idea and they almost write themselves. NO FITS NILSON! was one of those.


Good luck Pimping Your Character!

Zachariah OHora is the illustrator of the New York Times best seller Wolfie the Bunny. His debut as an author, Stop Snoring Bernard! won the 2011 Society of Illustrators Founders Award and was the 2012 State of PA Dept of Ed One book. His follow up, No Fits Nilson! was named the Huffington Post Best Children’s Book of 2013, a Kirkus Best Picture Book of 2013, a New York Public Library Book for Reading and Sharing and was given the PALA Carolyn W. Field Award. His book My Cousin Momo! was named by the Boston Globe a Best Picture Book of 2015 and was a Junior Library Guild Selection. His latest book The Not So Quiet Library hits shelves July 19th. He lives and works in Narberth, PA with his wife, two sons and two cats. Visit him at

At the conclusion of Storystorm, prize packs will be given away (books, swag, writing tools). Comment once on this blog post to enter into the prize pack drawing.

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

Good luck!

by Ashley Franklin

If inspiration is all around us, why does it sometimes feel as if our muse is on vacation—basking in the sun and living the good life while we’re struggling to settle into our creative groove?

Without our muse to guide the way, we are destined to be adrift in a sea of uncertainty headed towards a creative abyss, right? Wrong!

I want to let you in on a little secret. Are you ready for it? Here it is: You don’t need a muse!

There won’t be an “aha moment” around every corner. There may not be an aura surrounding your next big idea. If you want access to a constant source of inspiration, look no further than yourself.  All you need is your inspiration tool box.

My inspiration tool box helps me to generate ideas at any stage of the writing process. What’s great about it is that it only consists of three things: eyesight, insight, and hindsight.

  • Eyesight
    Take a look around. Your home, job, and favorite hangout spots are waiting to be mined for story ideas. Get your axe and get picking!
  • Insight
    Take a long, hard look at something—anything. Take a closer look at it then you normally would. Involve your senses. Take note of how it looks, smells, feels, tastes, sounds. There’s more depth involved in insight than eyesight. Consider your emotional response to what you’re observing. Experience the object of your focus.
  • Hindsight
    You can’t change the past, but you can sure draw some inspiration from it. What made your heart skip a beat when you were younger? What is the most cherished memory of your recent past? Who or what have been most important to you and why? Think about some of your first experiences and the way they made you feel.

You can use all three tools at once, or you can pick and choose. For my picture book debut, NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE, I used a combination of the three to come up with the idea.  Here’s how I used my inspiration tool box:


Q: What do I see a lot of?
A: Princesses. They’re everywhere and on everything.


Q: What’s common about the princesses?
A: Most of them are White. There’s not much variation. They’re all “perfect” according to today’s standards.

Q: What’s missing?
A: Princesses with quirks. Princesses who look like me.


Q: What made me happy as a kid?
A: Barbies. Mom made a point to buy me POC Barbies. I had tons.

Q: How do I feel about that?
A: Back then, the dolls made me happy. They were my favorite. Now, I realize they helped me feel seen (which was especially important because I attended predominantly White schools).

As you can see, I always begin with questions. Personally, I find that beginning with questions helps me to focus my ideas.

Armed with the thoughts gifted to me by my tool box, I decided that I wanted to write an African-American princess story. Many wretched and promising drafts later (thanks, revision!), I came up with Tameika’s story.

I’m happy to introduce to you, my Storystorm family, the cover of NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE:


Ashley Franklin is an African-American writer, mother, and adjunct college professor. Ashley received her M.A. from the University of Delaware in English Literature, where she reaffirmed her love of writing but realized she had NO IDEA what she wanted to do about it.

Ashley currently resides in Arkansas with her family. Her debut picture book, NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE, will be published July 9, 2019 by HarperCollins. The idea for the book originated from a former Storystorm (then PiBoIdMo) challenge. For more information on Ashley, you can visit her website:

Social media savvy?  You can find Ashley on one of these platforms: Twitter @differentashley, Instagram: @ashleyfranklinwrites and Facebook.

Ashley is giving away two prizes to two winners. First, a signed copy of NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE when it releases. Second, a non-rhyming picture book critique.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!



by Tara Lazar (from 2014)

Me and Bo, a perfect 10 of a dog, circa 1980.

When I was growing up, there was an entire section of my home that was roped off. Like a nightclub, a velvet rope draped across the threshold to the living and dining area, off limits to my grubby little hands. A plush sectional beside the picture window always beckoned me, and I’d sneak there to read a book. Many times I’d crawl into the dining room and sit criss-cross-applesauce under the table, where no one could find me, and where I could get a glimpse of our house the way I rarely saw it. It was wondrous, under the table and dreaming (sorry for the borrow, Dave Matthews). I could pretend I was somewhere else because the perspective I had, under that glass and chrome 70’s behemoth, was unique, unusual. I was at home, but also somewhere else.

So now, every once in a while, I sit underneath my own dining room table. To me, it’s the perfect kid’s perspective. I see the world as a child might, peering only at legs and loafers. You know how you never see an adult’s face in Charlie Brown? How they’re just an unintelligible trumpet waah-wahhh-wah-waaaa? That’s the childlike mystique I’m seeking when I sit beneath the table. I see the world a little differently, but yet it’s still familiar, as it is my own home.

This is an early Peanuts strip. Schulz later said that showing adults, even just their legs, was a mistake.

This is an early Peanuts strip. Schulz later said that showing adults, even just their legs, was a mistake.

Go ahead, take up a spot in your home where you rarely sit to rest: the closet, the corner, the stair landing. Make it your nook, your secret hideaway. Look at everything as if a child might, looming larger above you. Grab a blanket and pillows and make a fort. Steal away. Remember those fantastical childhood moments when you were somewhere else, but yet safe and protected at home. It’s a feeling you can recreate to help you delve deeper into the heart of your tale. You’ll be changing your perspective to that of a child—visually and emotionally.

And, if you’d like, sneak some cookies and milk with you. I won’t tell anyone where you are.


Image via

At the conclusion of Storystorm, prize packs will be given away (books, swag, writing tools). Comment once on this blog post to enter into the prize pack drawing.

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

Good luck!


by Shutta Crum

Let’s talk a minute about that list of story ideas you’re keeping for Storystorm month. You may be keeping that list in a journal—or simply on a piece of paper hung on your fridge. Either way, I know there will come a day when you will stare at it and think—I’ve shot my load. I’m all out of ideas! Of course, that isn’t true. Ideas just like to strike when you’re not expecting them—like that cousin you never got along with—sneaky gits! (Ideas & cousins!)

One place authors always look for inspiration is in their journals. I know! You’ve combed them already for this challenge. That’s fine. But the truth is you may not have been keeping exactly the right kind of journal that can help you out of a tight spot. On the 5th Mike Allegra talked about his Journal of Misfit Ideas. I like that! But I want to tell you about a type of journaling that has engendered numerous ideas for me. It’s a journal I keep by my side when I’m reading.

This is a “Good Words” journal in which I note word choices and phrases that stand out to me in the books and poems I am reading, or the lyrics I am listening to. It is a way to go back and suss out why it is that a certain author’s voice moves me. Almost always, it is word choice.

Whether we write picture books, novels, non-fiction, poetry, or beginning readers we are all word artisans, fabricators, roustabouts, and surgeons. So let’s talk about words.

It seems to me that words have personalities, and like any person there is always more than what meets the eye. Words have emotional baggage, a cultural upbringing, physical sensibilities and an historical demeanor. For example, take a look at these beautifully written lines.

  • “I sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world.” (Walt Whitman, Song of Myself #52)
  • “Life’s got to be lived, no matter how long or short. You got to take what comes.” (Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting)
  • “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”  (F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby)
  • “Have you ever heard a blindfolded octopus unwrap a cellophane-covered bathtub?” (Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth)
  • “During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low…” (Edgar Allen Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher)
  • “So the salesman jangled and clanged his huge leather kit in which oversized puzzles of ironmongery lay unseen but which his tongue conjured from door to door…”  (Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes)

There is gut-deep emotional baggage in Whitman’s use of the word yawp, especially when it is paired with barbaric. The perfect word choice. Compare yawp to wail, or yell. Each carries a different emotional feel.

One can see the cultural differences in the language used by Babbitt and by Fitzgerald. Babbitt’s speaker is countrified, perhaps unschooled. This comes about through her use of the verb got. Fitzgerald’s character is highly educated, and perhaps a bit proud of his erudition.

Both the Juster and the Poe quotes arouse a physical (sensual) response on our part. That word cellophane paired with an octopus! And a blindfolded one at that. How perfect. Also listen to all the “d”s and the low vowel sounds (the “u”s and “ou”s) of Poe’s opener to his classic short story. The effect is one of dragging us down, just as the rider is emotionally dragged down upon his approach to Usher’s house. Or for a simpler example of the physical qualities of language: compare the word slide to scud. Which is heavier? Bet you said scud—though we never actually pick the letters up to weigh them. Vowel sounds can create emotions that can feel physical.

Finally, the Bradbury quote is a wonderful example of how language can be dressed in historical garb. The story takes place in the mid-1900s but words like ironmongery and conjure evoke an earlier, less-scientific time in which the rainmaker/salesman seems to be rooted.

When I read someone who obviously has a mastery of language I keep a list in a word journal of all the great words and phrases that writer uses. (It’s OK to learn through imitation! That’s how the masters did it, too.)

From Seamus Heaney I have listed: flood-slubs, whiff, sluicing, glarry, bogbanks, bestowals, etc. From Robinson Jeffers: enskyment. From Charles Wright: scrim & snow-scud, sealash. From M. T. Anderson: maw, starveling, suckings & buffetings. From Edith Wharton: indolent and purpling. From William Steig’s wonderful Shrek! (the original) I have; varlet, afoul, scything.

Often, just looking through this collection of scrumptious words can make ideas come to the table. Put words together from various author lists–and bingo! What if a starveling got lost amid the bogbanks on a purpling night? And then, a sucking sound rises… You get the picture.

Later, when I’m polishing my manuscript this journal helps when I’m searching for just the right descriptive word. Now, you might ask, why not just use a thesaurus? I do use thesauri. Love them! However, this is more personal. These are words that tickled my ear or made my jaw drop in awe, and were used in a masterful way. Also, when I scan them and see the word choices as groupings by author, I get a feel for how each writer created his/her own voice.

But, please! Don’t ask me about my personal daily journaling habits. I’m abysmally undisciplined. I’m much more interested in individual words than I am in words about me as an individual.

So here’s another challenge. Start a Good Words journal as you read this month. And before Storystorm ends, use it and see what happens. Here’s to jumping in and scaring up an idea before it jumps out at you like that crazy cousin of yours!


Shutta Crum is the author of several middle-grade novels, more than a dozen picture books, and many poems and magazine articles. She adores speaking about children’s books and is an oft-requested presenter, guest lecturer, panel moderator, and keynote speaker. Her latest picture book is MOUSELING’S WORDS (Clarion). It’s her auto-mouse-biography—about a mouse who becomes a swashbuckler of words. The idea came from one of Tara’s Storystorm (PiBoIdMo) challenges. Thanks Tara for challenging us!

You can follow Shutta on her blog & website at, on Twitter @Shutta
and on Facebook here.


Shutta is giving away two prizes for two winners–a picture book critique to one winner and two of her books, MOUSELING’S WORDS and SPITTING IMAGE, to another winner.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


by Nancy Churnin

We’ve all seen picture books come out on an important anniversary. These books take a lot of planning—given that a manuscript can take two or more years to be illustrated and who knows how many years before it’s acquired.

But if you can pull off a subject pegged to a key anniversary of an important date, that can provide illumination on the historic event. It may also help with inspiration, a sale and promotion of the book once it comes out.

That date can be the birth year of a famous person or event or of an invention, a law or a song—anything that you feel deserves to be remembered.

My book, IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING came out in 2018, the 100th anniversary of when Irving Berlin wrote “God Bless America.” Of course the flip side of pegging your book to a date is that others may notice this date, too; mine was one of three Irving Berlin books to be released in 2018!

What surprised me about the three books was that I got to know and like the other authors. I even started to think that there could be a fascinating workshop or post about how three different authors could take the same facts and weave such different stories with different narrative styles and points of emphasis.

But we’ll save that post for another date and time! (Tara’s note: yes, please come back, Nancy!)

A good source for research about important dates is Another is

One way to keep your manuscript unique is to find a different take on it. When I was searching for anniversaries that would resonate in 2019, I looked for important events and famous people who were born in 1919.

The most obvious anniversary was the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote in 1919 and that right to vote being ratified in 1920. But it was too obvious. If I chose this subject, I’d be competing against a slew of authors writing about this.

I moved on to 1929. That was the year of the Great Depression, a time when people were desperate and fearful, when too many went in search of scapegoats to blame for their financial insecurity. I searched who was born that year. I found Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  But there were so many books about Kr. King. What could I add to those? And then I found Anne Frank was born in 1929, too.

Most people don’t think of Dr. King and Anne Frank as contemporaries. But they were. They were of different genders, faiths, races and spoke different languages, yet both had so much in common! Both grew up during the Great Depression when African Americans faced racial discrimination in America and Jewish people faced anti-Semitism in Europe. Both met hate with love and left us with words that inspire us today.

Finding that connection impelled me to write MARTIN & ANNE, THE KINDRED SPIRITS OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND ANNE FRANK. It comes out March 5 of this year, in between Dr. King’s Jan. 15 birthday and Anne Frank’s June 12 birthday, in the year when both would have turned 90.

My agent, Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary, sold the book in 2017, knowing it was a tight turnaround. I’m lucky I was able to pull off the project in two years, because I had an editor, Marissa Moss, who believed in it and found an illustrator, Yevgenia Nayberg, who could make it happen that quickly.

But you can be smarter and do a better job of planning ahead. It’s 2019. Try to think four, five or six years ahead or more—for people who were born or events that occurred in 1924 or 1925 or 1926 to give yourself time to research and write and for your publisher to find an illustrator.

Here are some inventions in those times:

  • 1924: Frozen food
  • 1925: Television
  • 1926: Pop-up toaster
  • 1927: Talkies at the movies

And here are some famous birthdays:

  • 1924: George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Cicely Tyson, Lauren Bacall
  • 1925: Dick Van Dyke, Malcolm X, Barbara Bush, Paul Newman
  • 1926: Queen Elizabeth II, Marilyn Monroe, Fidel Castro, Andy Griffith
  • 1927: Cesar Chavez, Eartha Kitt, Coretta Scott King

There’s no need to limit yourself. Go to the library or go online and look up timelines and newspapers for those years. See what and who made the news. You never know what’s going to grab your heart and impel you to write.

Make a date with history. And who knows — it may end up with the publication of your book being a history date that someone will look up some day!

MARTIN & ANNE, THE KINDRED SPIRITS OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND ANNE FRANK, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg, published by Creston Books and distributed by Lerner Publishing Group, is Nancy Churnin’s sixth picture book biography. It’s the parallel journey of Dr. King and Anne Frank, two people of different genders, faiths, races and religions who faced hate with love and left us with words that inspire us today. Nancy’s previous books have won multiple awards and been on many state lists: THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME; MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN; CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT, HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF, IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING and THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE, QUEEN CHARLOTTE’S GIFT TO ENGLAND.

You can follow Nancy on Twitter @nchurnin, on Facebook at, on Instagram @nchurnin and on

Nancy is giving away two autographed copies of MARTIN & ANNE, THE KINDRED SPIRITS OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND ANNE FRANK. There will be one winner for each book.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

Winner of the 2018 Irma S. Black Award and the SCBWI Crystal Kite!
black kite

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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illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019

illus by Ross MacDonald
October 1, 2019

illus by Vivienne To
Spring 2020

illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
August 2020

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