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And with this post, we officially conclude Storystorm 2020!

I hope you are continuing to practice daily idea generation. Has the Storystorm practice become a habit? It has for me, even though I notoriously don’t participate in my own challenge! But I continue to collect and record my ideas in a single file, and I return to that file on a regular basis to flesh some out. It’s great exercise for my creative mind, which is always itching to be creative. Is that you, too? I feel positively out-of-sorts if I haven’t been creative in a while, and then it will finally dawn on me—I haven’t done my creative work! And I sit down and get to it. (But first, there is always Earl Grey tea. I’m a bit obsessed.)

Ah, if only it were that easy. And caffeinated.

I have to once again thank Urania Smith of KitLit Nation for helping to randomly select the winners. KidLit Nation is the place for authors and illustrators of color to get their publishing info. Check it out if that describes you!

And without further ado…here are the winners! I will be contacting you shortly via email to arrange delivery of the prizes.

Day 1. Heather Bell (heatherbell37)
Day 2. Shannon Hall
Day 3. Kariail2013
Day 4. Cindy C
Day 5: Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez
Day 6: Bruce Benson
Day 7. Beth Charles
Day 8. Dea Braydon
Day 9. Shirley301
Day 10. Betlw
Day 11. Jim Chaize
Day 12. Maria Marshall
Day 13. Heather Rowley
Day 14. Judith Snyder
Day 15. Thelia Hutchinson
Day 16. Lisa Riddiough
Day 17. Laurel Ranveig Abell
Day 18. Jennifer Weisse
Day 19. Dea Lenihan
Day 20. Elizabeth Brown
Day 21. Leeann Rizzuti
Day 22. Sheri Radford (Sheriradford)
Day 23. Colleen Kosinski
Day 24. Leslie Leibhardt Goodman
Day 25. Susan Schade
Day 26. Eileen Mayo
Day 27. Dina Ticas
Day 28. Darlene Koppel
Day 29. Chelle Martin
Day 30. Wendi Silvano

Thank you, all! I can’t wait until Storystorm 2021, can you?


For years I’ve dreamed of hosting a Storystorm Workshop. Back when the event was still PiBoIdMo, Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and I researched what we needed to make it happen—venue, faculty, meals…and found we couldn’t make it work unless we had a hundred attendees or more.

No. I wanted an intimate group in a cozy setting, where everyone could have access to the faculty and truly feel supported in every way. It would be special, small, and elevate every attendee’s career.

Then I discovered the Highlights Foundation! The location! The private cabins! The Barn! The FOOD!!! (I’m a huge fan of Chef Amanda!)

With the help of the Foundation staff—Alison Green Myers, George Brown, Jo Lloyd—we pulled it all together for March 5-8. I reached out to the best picture book author-teachers I know and we had our faculty:

  • Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
  • Heidi E.Y. Stemple
  • Courtney Pippin-Mathur
  • Josh Funk

Now all that’s missing IS YOU!

We have just a few spots left!

Here’s a sneak peek at our schedule:

Storystorm 2020 Picture Book Retreat & Workshop

Thursday, March 5, 2020
3:00pm Arrival
4:00pm Orientation—learn about the Highlights campus
5:30pm Appetizers (Barn)
6:00pm Dinner (Barn)
7:00pm Tara Lazar Welcome and “Stuff No One Tells You!” Presentation

Friday, March 6, 2020
6:30am Yoga in the Loft (Optional)
7:45 – 8:45am Breakfast (Barn)
9:00 – 11:00 Tara Lazar “Elevate Your Picture Book Game” + Q&A
12:00 – 1:00pm Lunch (Barn)
1:30 – 2:30pm Josh Funk “What Rhymes with Storystorm?”
2:45 – 3:45pm Optional Walk with Heidi Stemple: Gathering Ideas for Texture in Stories
4:00 – 5:30pm Story Ideas Roundtable Discussion: Four Groups w/Faculty Leader
5:30 Appetizers (Barn)
6:00 Dinner (Barn)
7:30 Evening Creative Activity with Tara & Courtney (Optional)

Saturday, March 7, 2020
7:45 – 8:45am Breakfast (Barn)
9:00 – 10:30am Courtney Pippin-Mathur “How to Write by Drawing First”
12:00 – 1:00pm Lunch (Barn)
1:30 – 3:00pm Sudipta Bardan-Quallen “7 Revision Tips to Take Your PB from WAH to WOW”
3:30 – 5:00pm Heidi Stemple “Finding Your Non-Fiction Voice”
5:30 Appetizers (Barn)
6:00 Dinner (Barn)
7:30 Open Mic with Josh, Sudipta & S’Mores (Optionally Mandatory)

Sunday, March 8, 2020
7:45 – 8:45am Breakfast (Barn)
9:00 – 10:00am Tara Lazar “Humor Trends in Picture Books”
10:30 – 12:00pm Q&A with Faculty (Barn)
12:00 – 1:00pm Lunch (Barn)
1:00 Closing Remarks
1:30 Check-out

You can sign up at Highlights Foundation and room with a friend for a discount.

We hope to see you there soon!

Thank you to Melissa Sheperd for the photos of the Highlights Foundation Campus.

Hello Storystormers! Here is the news you’ve been awaiting!

These are the Grand Prize Winners and the agents with whom they’ve been paired! They’ll receive feedback on their best 5 story ideas…

Michele Meleen → Erin Murphy

Natasha Garnett → Joan Paquette

Amy Cory → Holly McGhee

Kristen Rashid → Lori Kilkelly

Amy Harding → Liza Royce Agency

Brinton Culp → John Cusick

Linda Mitchell → Alyssa Eisner Henkin

Juliana Lee → Stephen Fraser

Melissa Mwai → Kat Rushall

Michelle Kashinsky → Jennifer March Soloway

Congratulations! I will be contacting you via email shortly.

Many thanks to Urania Smith of KidLitNation who helped pull the winner’s names. 

If you’re a writer of color, please check out KidLitNation for support and resources!

More daily prize winners to come soon!

Over 800 of you have signed the Storystorm Pledge affirming you have at least 30 new ideas to write into stories! Congratulations! Download your Winner’s Badge and proudly display it anywhere fine badges are displayed!

If you’re a Storystorm WINNER, begin fleshing out your best 5 ideas into elevator pitches…because if you’re randomly selected as one of 10 GRAND PRIZE WINNERS, you’ll be paired with a kidlit agent for feedback on your ideas.

I will be selecting Grand Prize Winners randomly over the weekend. Then those folks will have a few more days to hone their ideas. (But it doesn’t hurt to get started now!)

Here are the Storystorm 2020 Agents!

Erin Murphy, President & Founder, Erin Murphy Literary Agency

Erin was born and raised in Arizona, and founded EMLA in Flagstaff in 1999. She cut her teeth in regional publishing at Northland Publishing/Rising Moon Books for Young Readers, a beloved decades-old Flagstaff company that was bought out in 2007, where she was editor-in-chief. As founder of EMLA she has focused not just on publishing books, but on building careers—and creating a sense of community, as well. In 2016, she relocated the agency headquarters to southern Maine.

Erin represents writers and writer-illustrators of picture books, novels for middle-graders and young adults, and strong nonfiction. Her favorite reads feel timeless, have strong voices, and express unique creative visions. Because of her full client list, she rarely signs new writers or illustrators, but she is particularly interested in adding cultural diversity to her client list. In addition to reading, her interests include traveling, knitting, walking, kayaking, watching movies, and figuring out How People Work.

Ammi-Joan Paquette, Senior Agent, Erin Murphy Literary Agency

Joan is a Senior Agent with EMLA, working from her home office in Massachusetts. She represents all forms of children’s and young adult literature, but is most excited by a strong lyrical voice, tight plotting with surprising twists and turns, and stories told with heart and resonance that will stand the test of time.

An EMLA client herself, Joan is also the author of numerous books for children, most recently he magical adventure The Train of Lost Things, the Princess Juniper series, the picture books Ghost in the House, Elf in the House, Bunny Bus, and The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies, and the “non-fiction with a twist” series Two Truths and a Lie. When she is not on the phone, answering email, or writing, you will most likely find Joan curled up with a book. Or baking something delicious. Or talking about something delicious she’s baked. Really, after books and food, what else is there worth saying?

Holly McGhee, Founder and Creative Director, Pippin Properties, Inc.

Holly McGhee still carried MADELINE around in 3rd grade—until Mrs. Carrier, her school librarian, tricked her into reading longer books by giving her one with her name on it, HOLLY IN THE SNOW. After college, Holly headed straight into the book world of New York City, where she has enjoyed being a secretary, an advertising manager, a sales rep (for one month), and in the six years prior to opening the doors at Pippin, an executive editor at HarperCollins.

Now, as the President and Creative Director of Pippin she is dedicated to shepherding books that make a difference into the world. Someone once told her, “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life,” and that has proven true for her.

Lori Kilkelly, Founder, LK Literary Agency

Credit: Maia Rosenfeld

In 2008, after a number of successful years in advertising and sales, Lori aspired to combine her talents in these areas with her personal passion for children’s literature. Ultimately, this led to her decision to pursue a career change, and she attended the post graduate program, ‘The Denver Publishing Institute’ at The University of Denver. Subsequently, she spent nearly a decade at boutique children’s literary agency Rodeen Literary Management, headed by Paul Rodeen—a George Nicholson protégé.

During her tenure at RLM, Lori rose through the ranks, eventually representing her own clients, and assembled a list of talented, best-selling, and award-winning authors and illustrators. Having worked independently for much of her career, she also began to lay the foundation to eventually open her own shop. Then, with the full support of Rodeen Literary, she formally announced LK Literary Agency in the fall of 2018 and was joined by all of her clients in the new endeavor.

Now, with more than 100 books under contract and titles with every major trade publisher, she is dedicated to continue bringing meaningful, funny, informative, and moving children’s and young adult literature to market, created by an incredibly talented group of authors and illustrators.

Liza Fliessig & Ginger Harris-Dontzin, Partners, Liza Royce Agency

Liza Fleissig, with her partner Ginger Harris-Dontzin, opened the Liza Royce Agency (LRA) in early 2011. A cross-platform company providing development, representation, and strategic career management for clients in all media, their goal is to represent clients in all stages of their careers, from the most established to those developing their craft, as well as debuts. Both former partners in NYC based litigation law firms, Liza and Ginger bring a combined 40 years of negotiating experience to the field. This background, along with connections rooted in publishing, movies and television, allowed them to focus and build on a referral based clientele.

From picture books through adult projects, fiction and non-fiction, screenplays to stage works, LRA welcomes strong voices and plot driven works. Their inaugural books became available in stores January 2013.  Their first was an Edgar nominee, another was an Indie Next Pick, and two others were optioned for film. LRA’s success began right out of the gate.

John Cusick, Vice President and Agent, Folio Jr.

John graduated Wesleyan University in 2007 with a double major in English and Russian Literature—a degree one professor called “fun but useless.” After working as a freelance writer, bookseller, dog walker, cashier, and radio host, he became a literary agent’s assistant and quickly began building my own list. Around the same time I also became an author; my young adult novels, Girl Parts and Cherry Money Baby, were published by Candlewick Press. His middle-grade, Dimension Why, is coming from Harper Collins in 2020.

As a writer himself, John brings both a creative and commercial sensibility to his agenting style. He’s an editorial agent who works closely with my clients, whether it’s developing a debut project or helping a seasoned author take that next step. His goal is to match writers with their dream editor, secure the best deals possible, facilitate the exploitation of dramatic (film and TV) rights in my clients’ work, and grow authors’ readership over long careers.

He is passionate about helping clients achieve their full potential, and I’m looking for dedicated, original, fervent, visionary creators.

Alyssa Eisner Henkin, Executive Vice President, Trident Media Group

After earning her Bachelors from the University of Pennsylvania, Alyssa fulfilled a childhood dream that she professed on a home video at the age of six: move to New York and work with books. In 1999, Alyssa began her career in editorial at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Here she found “kindred spirits” who loved Anne of Green Gables as much as she did and a kids book space that was rapidly growing. In late 2006 Alyssa headed to Trident to expand the firm’s children’s book business. She works hard to ensure each book’s longevity from brainstorming the perfect editor, title and jacket to overseeing successful foreign, merchandising, audio, film and theatrical partnerships.

Alyssa is seeking emerging authors and illustrators in all genres. Feisty picture book protagonists, whether real or imagined, tend to intrigue. Alyssa looks to spice up the canon with projects that break new ground.

Read my interview with Alyssa here.

Stephen Fraser, Senior Agent, The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency

Stephen joined The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency as an agent in January 2005. He worked most recently at HarperCollins Children’s Books, where he edited such creative talents as Mary Engelbreit, Gregory Maguire, Michael Hague, Ann Rinaldi, Kathryn Lasky, Brent Hartinger, Stephen Mitchell, and Dan Gutman. He began his career at Highlights for Children and later worked at Scholastic and Simon & Schuster. A graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont, he has a Master’s degree in Children’s Literature from Simmons College in Boston. He represents both children’s and adult books in a wide range of genres. He’s always looking for good, original writing, like picture books with delicious words.

Kat Rushall, Agent, Andrea Brown Literary Agency

Kathleen joined the Andrea Brown Literary Agency in 2016 after agenting for five years with the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. She represents writers and illustrators for picture books (both fiction and nonfiction), middle grade, and YA.

When it comes to picture books, Kathleen loves to laugh, have her heartstrings pulled, and enjoys quirky, character-driven stories with heart. She would be happy to find more biographies and what some call “ficinformational” picture books (books with a fictional story that ties into the Common Core). She’s always interested in picture books that inspire emotional intelligence, self awareness, and empathy.

Jennifer March Soloway, Associate Agent, Andrea Brown Literary Agency

Jennifer represents authors and illustrators of picture book, middle grade, and YA stories, and is actively building her list. Although she specializes in children’s literature, she also represents adult fiction, both literary and commercial, particularly crime and psychological suspense projects.

For picture books, she is drawn to a wide range of stories from silly to sweet, but she always appreciates a strong dose of humor and some kind of surprise at the end. When it comes to middle grade, she likes all kinds of genres, including adventures, mysteries, spooky-but-not-too-scary ghost stories, humor, realistic contemporary, and fantasy.


The Storystorm 2020 Pledge is now closed! Thanks for participating!

If you’ve been here all month, you’ve been generating tons of ideas!

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

When you have 30 ideas, you can qualify to win one of 10 AMAZING Storystorm Grand Prizes—feedback on your best 5 ideas from one of these kidlit agents!

  • Erin Murphy
  • Ammi-Joan Paquette
  • Holly McGhee
  • Kat Rushall
  • Jennifer March Soloway
  • Lori Kilkelly
  • Lisa Royce Agency
  • Stephan Fraser
  • John Cusick
  • Alyssa Eisner Henkin

(More on this tomorrow!)

In order to qualify for a Grand Prize, your name must be on the registration post AND the pledge below. (The daily prizes only required registration.)

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Are you ready to sign?

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

I bet you thought I was going to post the Storystorm Pledge today! (So did I!)

Instead, take an extra day to get to your goal of 30 new story ideas. Then relax and watch this TED Talk by author Lidia Yuknavitch about being a beautiful misfit. (You are!)

See you back here tomorrow for the Pledge!

by Tannie Smith, Becky Porter, Julia Mann and Kristin Wauson, “The Big Dillustrators”

Hi everyone! We are a critique group of four female illustrators in Austin, Texas. The best thing about having a critique group with specific goals and purpose, is the power and support we give each other to generate and grow new ideas. When we met to discuss what we wanted to share with you all, we discovered each one of us comes up with ideas in completely unique ways, so we thought we would share with you, not just one, but four different tools to inspire your storytelling all year. Enjoy!


Tannie Smith

Each of us is amazingly unique, not just in how we look, but also how we process information. I’m a visual person by nature. Taking endless notes or listening to lengthy explanations has never clicked with me. Just ask my husband anytime he tries to teach me a new game! Show me, don’t tell me. For ideas to flow, I need to see and do. That’s why I rely heavily on what is called the creative bank account. Your creative bank account is that place in your mind where you store all the little tidbits throughout the day. That moment you stopped and observed the way light shines through trees, or that cute thing you heard a kid say, or a color you felt particularly drawn to in a museum.  All those little moments get stored away and allow your brain to start making connections in the background.

In order to keep my bank full, I have to be sure I’m getting out there and experiencing life! I love to look at “Art of” books, or read a book I wouldn’t normally read. I walk a lot and take the time to stop and notice little things. If I see a cool acorn, or leaf or even a small bird skeleton, I bring it home and put it in my curiosities cabinet. When I go out to eat, I look at the people interacting around me. What is their story? Why are they there? One of these actions alone might not generate an idea. But all of them together do! “But Tannie, it sounds like you just do normal things and then … ta-da … an idea …” Yes, its kind of like that, but really it has a lot to do with shifting your mindset. For example, I could go to the grocery story, buy my list, and come home. I would have filled my pantry, but not my creative bank. Instead, I go to the grocery store, and while buying my list, observe the way they display cereals boxes by texture. I take the time to notice the interesting pattern of the concrete floor. I tune-in to conversations around me. It’s all about putting my mind in a place to receive information. Then later, as I draw, my mind starts feeding it all back to me. It’s all about letting your creativity as an artist/writer seep into the rest of your life. You can hear more about this type of idea generating in a great podcast called Cultivating Creativity by 3 Point Perspective.

My challenge to you is to go on an ordinary errand. Maybe to the grocery store, or the gym, or a doctors visit—something you normally consider routine and boring. While doing this errand, I want you to observe three things you never noticed before. Was your doctor’s office always that yellow? Go to a flower shop or park and literally stop and smell the roses! What is the texture of the petals? What kind of bugs are hanging out there? Taste a new fruit you’ve never seen or tasted before. Take time to soak in your environment and see what inspires you. Perhaps you’ll see a face peeking out in the patterns of a wood floor. Why haven’t you seen that little person before? What is their story? What if there’s a whole world living between the grains of wood on that floor? Before you know it, you’ve got the beginnings of a story!


Becky Porter

I listened to a podcast a few years ago in which two great minds discussed what they thought makes an idea interesting. One argued that something is interesting when it defies our expectations. The other argued that a thing becomes increasingly interesting with increased specificity. I have thought back to that podcast often because it directly influenced my process for generating visual and textual narratives.

I have learned to never stop on the first iteration of an idea. My best ideas are usually buried under a boring one. I pick something that speaks to me in that moment (no matter how cliche or hum-drum) and start digging. For example, a few years ago, I created an illustration of a little girl walking into her vacation home to find bears inside. It was dull and lifeless, but I liked the bears and wanted to try to salvage it. How could I make it more interesting? An obvious response to finding bears in your house would be surprise or fear. Cross those off the list. Obvious = boring. What response would defy expectation? Delight? Maybe the bears are trying on her costume jewelry and makeup, and she knows she’s just found big, cuddly kindred spirits. How about aggravation? Maybe they’re watching TV and eating her beloved Cool Ranch Tortitos…for the third time this week. I liked that idea, so I kept digging. How might the bears respond? Growl and attack? Roll their eyes and change the channel? Blush and hide? Try to look innocent and blame the other? Next, my attention turned to their environment. It was nondescript and didn’t help tell the story. It needed specificity. It was a vacation home, but which vacation home? A swanky ski lodge? Memaw’s musty Appalachian lean-to? A cozy lake house cabin? You get the idea. By the time I was done with this illustration, it had a much more interesting visual narrative and I had some fun ideas for a story, as well as some great jumping off points for other narratives—visual and textual.

The next time you’re scraping the bottom of the idea barrel, crack open one of your old Storystorm notebooks, pick an idea that you wrote off as cliche, and start mining. Defy the obvious! Laugh in the face of your first 5 iterations! Go straight-up berserk with specificity! You might be surprised at the gems you dig up.


Julia Mann

Ideas for my illustrations come from so many places. In order for me to generate ideas, my creative bank account must also be full. I love being in nature, going hiking, observing wildlife and the colors in nature. I listen to podcasts, look at “Art of” books, watch favorite movies, and go to the zoo or museums. I also spend time looking through photos online and on Pinterest which is what sparked the idea for my sweater cat illustration.


When looking for ideas, think about what comes easiest to you. What do you naturally love to draw or write about? Animals? People? Trucks, robots or aliens? I love drawing animals, and animals in silly situations—especially cats. So I began looking through pictures of animals I had saved and came across a photo of a cat in a sweater that made me laugh. It sparked my imagination and the idea for the illustration. I started asking myself all kinds of questions: Why is he in that sweater? Does his owner do this to him often? Does he like dressing up? Surely, he can’t be happy in that thing. What is he thinking? “Ugh, I can’t believe I have to sit here for another picture in this dumb, ugly, itchy sweater.”

Then, I asked myself more questions: What could be going on behind the scenes that we don’t see? What is hidden? What else could be making him mad? Maybe the mouse has seen him and is laughing at him too. And that was it! From there, I can start sketching out thumbnails to create the illustration.

So next time you see a photo that inspires you or grabs your attention, notice what ideas it sparks. Figure out what could be going on behind the scenes. It could be the beginning of an idea for an illustration or story!


Kristin Wauson

Illustrators who write say it’s hard to switch off their “drawing brain” and turn on their “writing brain.” But what if we actually didn’t need to flip any switches? At the end of the day, we’re all just storytellers who want to make our audiences feel something.

Since 2017 I have been approaching Storystorm with my “writing brain” using lists and words, because that’s what writers do. There’s nothing wrong with this approach. In fact, an idea from my 2018 list is now out on submission. But, orderly lists don’t always encourage me to expand on my ideas, and unintentionally I’ve been switching off my drawing brain, which is more visual. What if I used both sides together to develop my Storystorm ideas the same way I develop illustration ideas—with visualization and mind maps?

Start with a place. Imagine a place that makes you feel something—a place you love, that inspires you. Maybe it feels nostalgic, or evokes sadness, or scares you. It can be a place you remember from childhood, or one you’ve visited as an adult, or one you’ve only dreamed up. Think of places where something funny or embarrassing happened (like the children’s museum where I laughed until I peed all over the floor. That’s one of the made up ones. Sort of.)

Write it down. Then start branching off to explore the scene. Who is there and what do they look like? What are they doing and why? What are they feeling? What do they want? What is the time period or the time of day? What happened in the moment before or after?

Fill in details until you have explored every nook and cranny of your idea.

Even if you are not an illustrator, consider things that might seem purely visual because these can inform the mood. Consider: color palettes, lighting, objects in the scene, perspectives.

And you don’t even have to start with a place. Maybe you just have a character, or a feeling and you go from there. An idea can grow out of anything, so go forth and get those two brains working together!

Thank you so much for joining us and we hope you’ll use these tips long after Storystorm is over. The Big Dillustrators wish you a prolific 2020!

Tannie M. Smith is an illustrator and author by day, and a Jedi by Knight. Her mission is to defeat the dark side by creating stories and art that are a force of light in the galaxy. She loves to collaborate on picture books, middle grade projects, and editorial illustrations. Tannie has a BFA from Texas State University in Communication Design. She currently lives in Lago Vista, Texas, where she fervently fosters her love for Star Wars, Korean dramas, yoga and tacos. But the thing she loves most is spending time with her ultra-running husband, 2 entrepreneurial teenage boys, 1 energetic pupper, and 2 cats that fiercely work to support whatever stereotype you may have about cats.

Visit her at and on Instagram @createdby_tanniesmith.

Becky Porter is an illustrator living in Round Rock, TX. She’s been drawing, painting, and writing for as long as she can remember. It’s the only ambition she’s ever had besides being a mom–and singing and dancing on broadway (a dream unrealized due to an inability to sing or dance.) When she’s not drawing or writing, Becky spends her time running, reading, book-clubbing, and retiring early to the Nerdery with her husband and three nerdlings for games or movie night. She loves anything that makes her laugh hard, think hard, or both. Anything else puts her to sleep, which is something else she loves to do and is, therefore, a net gain. 

You’ll find her at and on Instagram @beckyporterillustrates.

Julia Mann’s favorite thing about being an illustrator is getting to inspire others with her art.  She loves colored pencils, and the challenge to keep improving as an artist.  Since moving to Austin in 2014, she spends most nights drawing after her kids go to bed.  When not drawing, she is either homeschooling her two boys, going to the gym, hiking, listening to an art podcast, or exploring the Texas hill country with her family.  Julia has a B.A. in studio art with a biology minor from Virginia Tech.

Visit her at and on Instagram @juliamannart.

Kristin Wauson is a children’s book author/illustrator from Austin, Texas. She has a degree in Advertising from The University of Texas at Austin and for 10 years worked as a graphic designer and yoga instructor. Today she is a stay at home mom and a proud member of several amazing kidlit groups, including the Puddle Jump Collective, and The Big Dillustrators. When she’s not drawing, painting, dreaming up story ideas, or taking an online class, you’ll find her perfecting her handstand, helping with her family’s home building business, trying new recipes, and spending time with her husband, their boys and their big brown ‘Hank the Cowdog.’ She is represented by Adria Goetz of Martin Literary Management.

You’ll find her at and at Instagram @kristinwauson.

The Big Dillustrators are giving away a Pickle Pack to one lucky winner! This is a collection of four 5×7 prints. These prints are made using high end archival ink and top quality paper stock to ensure they will stand the test of time. Each artist will chose one of her favorite illustrations to donate.

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

Good luck!


by Jill Esbaum

One little story idea per day. That’s all Storystorm asks.

Yet, in past years, I’ve petered out about January 18th-19th. Oh, I didn’t lack enthusiasm. I lacked discipline. Sooner or later my mind wanted to spin one of those sparkly new ideas into a story, and I let it. Then I got the teensiest bit obsessed, to the exclusion of everything else. My good intentions to make it to the 31st? Kaput. Sorry, Storystorm.

THIS YEAR, I made it. This year, I approached Storystorm not as a hopeful writer looking for a great new idea, but purely as playtime. Farting around. Romping through my brain’s weirder recesses.

Are the ideas I jotted far-fetched? Absurd? Impossibly lame? Yeah, baby. And woo-hoo! Because nobody cares. Nobody. For me, Storystorm is a way of knocking the rust from my receptor antennae so ideas can keep pinging in long beyond January 31st—while I’m reading, watching TV, hanging with friends, babysitting, on family outings, etc. If one of those pings becomes a story later on, great. If not, that’s fine, too.

A few recent pings that led to publication:

While babysitting…

I was watching my 2-month-old granddaughter. She was a little fussy, so I was walking her around, bouncing her a bit, and whispering sweet nothings, like Grammys do. Without thinking, I said, “Oh, sweetie. Don’t cry. We love babies… yes, we doooo…” Instantly, that old cheer popped into my head:  “We got spirit, yes, we do! We got spirit, how ‘bout you?!” That led to the just-published WE LOVE BABIES, a rhyming cheer declaring everything we love about baby animals.

While observing kids…

At the county fair, there was a kiddo who you never saw without his beloved red rubber boots. That turned into FROG BOOTS (releasing March 3, 2020), about a kindergartener, Dylan, who falls hard for a pair of rain boots covered in multi-colored poison dart frogs—his favorite animal. But when he proudly wears them to school, another kid announces that, because they’re purple, they’re girl boots, and Dylan has to decide whether to abandon them forever…or not.

While reading the newspaper…

I saw an article about a long-distance trucker who lost his tiny dog at an interstate rest area, but he didn’t realize the dog had jumped from the cab until he was hours away. He couldn’t turn around immediately without losing his job. ANGST. Long story, short:  The little dog, believing his buddy would come back for him, WAITED at the rest stop for two entire days. (Yes, there was a happy ending.) I couldn’t help but jump into the mind and heart of that lost-and-loyal doggy, which became WHERE’D MY JO GO? (releasing April 15, 2020).


So our challenge, here at the end of the month, is to KEEP those antennae up, now that we’ve got ‘em greased and upright. Then, no matter what we’re doing in our “real lives,” we’ll be open and aware and (like Hotel California) programmed to receive.

The piano teacher was right:  Practice really does make perfect. And Storystorm provides the perfect opportunity for focused practice. (Thank you, Tara!)

Jill Esbaum lives on a family farm in eastern Iowa, where she writes picture books and nonfiction. Her latest picture book is WE LOVE BABIES (National Geographic). Several of her books have been nominated for state awards, and her I AM COW, HEAR ME MOO! won a SCBWI Crystal Kite.

Learn more about Jill and her books at and Find her on Facebook at Author Jill Esbaum and on Twitter at @JEsbaum.

Jill is giving away two prizes to two lucky winners—a picture book critique and a copy of her new book WE LOVE BABIES!

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

Good luck!


by Josh Funk

The most common question I (and probably most authors) get asked by children (and adults) is: “Where do you get your ideas?” I tell them that I get ideas from silly autocorrects and typos, things I’d like to see illustrated, or things that would make terrible picture books and see if I can make them work (all of which I’ve talked about in previous Storystorms).

I also tell students that another place I turn to for inspiration is reading. Many amazing books are published every year—and I try to read as many (picture) books as I can (I don’t read anything with kissing—ew). It’s not only great for market research and a good way to learn from talented creators, but reading published books can be incredibly inspiring—which gets my own creative juices flowing.

Speaking of creative juices, my creative juice is iced coffee. I sometimes joke that I spy on people at the coffee shop to get ideas, but the truth is I’ve never gotten a good one by doing that. Most people just talk about their families or gossip about their neighbors or tell their children to stay away from the creepy, lurking guy with the iced coffee listening to everyone’s conversations.

But it turns out that snooping can help spark ideas. And my favorite people to spy on are artists on Instagram. There is soooo much talent out there, it’s mind-boggling—just head over to Instagram and scan through hash tag #kidlitart.

Note: I am in no way suggesting that you can take someone else’s picture and write a story about it—that would be wrong so DO NOT DO THIS.

I am suggesting that you scan through all of the images as a buffet of what’s possible—just as you would when you read published books as research.

You might find a hungry dragon by Doreen Buchinski …

… or some fan art from NaShantá Fletcher …

… or a self-portrait of Renée Kurilla …

… or a warm nap from Angela C. Hawkins.

Maybe one will spark an idea for a character. Or a feeling or emotion you want to write about. Or maybe you’ll even write a story with a style of art in mind.

Then follow those artists. And look up your favorite artists and follow them. And follow the artists Instagram suggests you follow to find even more. Soon your feed will be filled with more inspiration than your scrolling thumb can handle.

And if your local coffee shop has good WiFi, then do it there—and like me, you’ll be searching for ideas while spying on people in a coffee shop.

Josh Funk is a software engineer and the author of books like the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series, the ​It’s Not a Fairy Tale series, the How to Code with Pearl and Pascal series, the A Story of Patience & Fortitude series, Dear Dragon, Pirasaurs!, Albie Newton, and more.

Josh has written a comprehensive “Guide to Writing Picture Books” that’s available for free on his website’s Resources for Writers section.

For more information about Josh Funk, visit him at, on Twitter at @joshfunkbooks, and of course, on Instagram at @joshfunkbooks. (Photo credit: Carter Hasegawa.)

Josh is giving away one of the following books each to five lucky winners!

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

Good luck!

Special announcement!

Josh will be teaching at our premiere Storystorm Retreat at Highlights Foundation, March 5-8, 2020.

Learn more about our fun and intensive picture book retreat here!

This event will fill up quickly. Sign up today!

Hope to see you there!

Photos from the Highlights campus by Melissa Sheperd.


by Traci Sorell

As other creators this month have noted, ideas for stories come to us in various ways. I can be inspired by almost anything—a walk outside, a passing remark, a memory or simply reading another book. It’s in this last one—reading someone else’s work—that I’ve found a couple of my own stories to tell. I fell in love with the forms and structures used in those books and wanted to challenge myself to replicate those in entirely different stories.

I SAY SHEHECHIYANU, written by Joanne Rocklin and illustrated by Monika Filipina, prompted WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA, my debut nonfiction picture book.


I loved Rocklin’s fictional story of a young Jewish girl expressing gratitude by saying “Shehechiyanu” for experiencing many “firsts” over the course of the year. It sparked my thinking about how in Cherokee culture we’re taught to be grateful for not just wonderful things that happen to us, but also the struggles. That ties to other teachings about balance, resilience, and interdependence. After a helpful critique from award-winning author Suzanne Slade, I made my story completely nonfiction from the perspective of Cherokee people as a collective.

Similarly, AT THE MOUNTAIN’S BASE, my debut fiction picture book illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre, came to me after I typed out the text of IN A VILLAGE BY THE SEA.


Written by Muon Van and illustrated by April Chu, this circular story follows a family waiting for a fisherman dad to come home and includes some fun magic with a cricket too. I began to think about Cherokee and other Native families who wait for their loved ones serving in the armed forces to come home. I intentionally made the pilot female because the service of women, especially Native women, is often overlooked in depictions of servicemembers in books for children.

Beyond just the previous examples, there are other elements of form and structure that I like to play with as I’m writing a story. Most of us have been told repeatedly about the “rule of threes”—three events, three characters, etc. This concept derives from a Latin or European way of thinking and may not serve the story you are crafting at all. In Cherokee culture, the numbers four and seven have greater meaning. So don’t feel compelled to follow that “rule” as it’s really not a rule at all. Likewise, stories can end rather abruptly as they do in many Cherokee ones I heard as a child. I loved seeing this in a picture book released last year, JOHNNY’S PHEASANT, written by Cheryl Minnema and illustrated by Julie Flett, which just won the 2020 Charlotte Zolotow Award for outstanding writing in a picture book. I also see many picture books published outside the United States employing this same method with endings that aren’t drawn out or others not wrapping up neatly as we’re often advised to do in craft workshops and webinars. We live lives full of abrupt endings, question marks and ambiguities—children know and live this too. It can be refreshing to see reality reflected in picture books.

So I invite you to play with form, try different points of view, experiment with different structures, and see where it takes you.  My hope is that you’ll enjoy the journey.

Here are some of my go-to sources of inspiration for finding books:

Cherokee Nation citizen and award-winning author Traci Sorell writes fiction and nonfiction books as well as poems for children. A former federal Indian law attorney and advocate, Traci lives with her family in northeastern Oklahoma where her tribe is located.

Find out more about her work online at or via Twitter @tracisorell and Instagram @tracisorell.

Traci is giving away a signed poster and a copy of AT THE MOUNTAIN’S BASE.

Enter one comment below to enter.

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

Good luck!


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