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by Alison Marcotte 

I’ve always been a quiet comedy fan. I wasn’t in school plays and wasn’t a known jokester, but I loved reading “Zits” in the Comics section of the Sunday newspaper. In college, I continued to admire comedy writing from afar. For our student newspaper The Daily Illini, I got the chance to interview Seth Meyers on the phone (ahh! Still fangirling over that).

My Journey Toward Trying to Write Funny

In 2015, I finally put something out in the universe showing my sense of humor. I created a webcomic on Tumblr called “The Adventures of Andie Mae.”

After some positive feedback, I mustered the courage to take Second City’s course “Writing with The Onion” in Chicago after graduating college. That led to an opportunity to submit a packet to become a contributor to The Onion’s now-defunct celebrity parody site StarWipe, which I wrote for in 2016.

After this experience, I felt confident enough to keep chugging along with writing things that tried to make other people laugh. In 2016, I joined SCBWI, and in 2017, I joined my first SCBWI Illinois critique group, which I’m still part of today.

Tips on Generating Funny Picture Book Ideas

1.   Mine Ideas From Your Childhood and Daily Life
I try to think back on funny things that happened during my childhood and how that could become a picture book. One idea I wrote during Storystorm 2019 was “worst birthday.”

This story idea was based on how my brother, then 7 years old, ruined my 5th carnival-themed birthday party. He kept winning all the games and revealing all the tricks, and I was not having it.

In this Brightly article by Tom Burns, Tom writes about the insane energy and chaos of a child’s birthday party and how there’s a thin line between birthday triumph and tragedy: “Everything is heightened—the parties, the presents, the expectations.” I agree! Birthday parties are full of funny story possibilities.

Think of a memorable birthday party you hosted or went to as a kid, and how that could be turned into a funny story.

Another idea I wrote during Storystorm 2019 was “Ichiro’s dinosaur egg from Christmas.” My 5-year-old cousin Ichiro had told my mom and I that he got a dinosaur egg for Christmas and it was sitting in a cup of water, getting ready to hatch. My mom and I said, “How exciting! ”and he said, “I’m scared.” I thought that was such a funny and honest reaction. He was afraid that a dinosaur would pop out of that egg and gobble up his family, destroy the house, etc. I haven’t written a story about this yet, but I feel like there’s some potential there!

What’s a funny conversation you had this week? Or, what’s something funny you overheard this week? Write it down and see how you can turn that into a story idea.

2.   Read Widely and Take Notes About What Makes You Laugh
Check out a variety of picture books from your local library (I usually look at Chicago Public Library’s staff recommendation list). After reading them, mull over why specific books made you laugh. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Why does this book resonate with me?
  • Why do I find it funny?
  • Why does it stick with me long after reading it?
  • How can I apply this to my own writing?

One funny picture book I enjoyed in 2021 was TOASTY by Sarah Hwang.

TOASTY is about a piece of bread, named Toasty, who wants to be a dog. The absurd premise immediately makes me laugh. Publishers Weekly writes, “Newcomer Hwang’s quirky plot has the meandering joy of a small child’s storytelling logic.” From reading TOASTY, I realized that I want to incorporate more absurd humor in my writing.

Toasty loves dogs-–so much so that he’d like to be one. He knows there are some differences-–most dogs have four legs, but Toasty has two arms and two legs. Some dogs sleep in dog houses, but Toasty sleeps in a toaster. All dogs have hair and fur, but Toasty has neither because he’s made of bread. In spite of these differences, he decides to go to the park to play with the dogs but runs into trouble when they want to eat him. Lucky for Toasty, he is rescued by a little girl who has always wanted a dog but can’t have one because she is allergic. Toasty is the perfect dog for her.

Sarah Hwang’s inspiration for Toasty came from her childhood experience as an immigrant and her discovery that you find your best friends when you’re willing to just be yourself. Her playful art for Toasty came to mind when she saw a piece of toast that reminded her of the way she used to draw dogs as a child.

3.   Write Down Your Ideas and Don’t Edit Yourself
I use the free notetaking app Evernote to write down ideas that pop into mind throughout the day. The app syncs with my computer, so I can just open my laptop later to see all my notes. When writing down funny story ideas, trust your gut and believe in yourself! You have a point of view, taste, and a comedic voice waiting to be heard.

4.   Share Your Story Ideas with Trusted Family/Friends and Critique Members
When I’m still working on a story idea, I usually informally talk about it with my older sister or friends to see if they think there’s potential in the idea. When I have a full draft ready, I share it with my critique group.

One Last Quote to Leave You With

One of my critique members, Rebecca Kraft Rector (author of SQUISH SQUASH SQUISHED), recently shared this quote with our group that really resonated with her (and with me!). It’s from editorial director Meredith Mundy in her interview with funny kidlit author Tammi Sauer.

“My reason for saying yes to all of the titles above is pretty simple: each one of them came to me with a real emotional center. Yes, these books also have big doses of humor and silliness, but at their hearts is a child-centered concern that gets resolved in the art and the storytelling.” ~ Meredith Mundy

As much as I try to add humor and hijinks into my stories, I make sure that it has a child-centered concern at the heart of it.

Thanks for reading! And thank you, Tara, for letting me write a Storystorm blog post alongside kidlit extraordinaires.

Happy Storystorming, everyone!

Alison Marcotte is a Chicago-based picture book writer. She’s passionate about writing stories that are authentic, funny, hopeful, and filled with heart. She’s a member of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, SCBWI, Chicago Writers Association, and Off Campus Writers’ Workshop, and a freelance writer for American Library Association’s American Libraries magazine. 

Her debut picture book, SEEKING BEST FRIEND, illustrated by Diane Ewen, published by Beaming Books, comes out today! Visit her online at alisonmarcotte.com, on Twitter @akmarcotte, and Instagram @alisonmarcottewrites.

Alison is giving away a copy of SEEKING BEST FRIEND.

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

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Kimberly Wilson

In January 2019, I stared at the coin jug on our countertop through my Storystorm lens and wondered, could there be a story here? In my notes, I wrote Lucky Penny, A Penny’s Purpose, and…A PENNY’S WORTH, which became my 2022 debut picture book (Page Street Kids)!

The title evolved into a story about the importance of self-worth, told with a ton of punny humor and a pinch of money math. As you can see, this Storystorm gift Tara gives the kidlit community has been invaluable to me, and I’m excited to pay it forward this year by sharing some of my favorite ways to generate new ideas.

Idioms and Puns: Worth Their Weight in Gold

Pick a word or topic and google related idioms and puns. Then follow them down the internet rabbit hole. Make a list of all the word play that stands out as you go. If you’re lucky, you will find lines, a title, or even a theme for your next story! While writing about money, I listed every pun and idiom I could find on the topic. I even made some up! One of my favorite finds is the word “grand” because it means both “large” and “thousand,” and it worked perfectly with my story, A DOLLAR’S GRAND DREAM (Page Street Kids, 2023), about a dollar bill who finds living large may not be as one-derful as it seems.

Spend Some Time in the Shower

Lately, I’ve noticed shower power trending. Why? Because it works! If I had a nickel for every time I texted my critique partners, “I just got out of the shower and had an idea…,” I’d be rich! So, at some point today, I encourage you to grab your loofah and that pun or idiom you found and let the ideas flow until you’re pruny. An open mind + a hot shower = Storystorm ideas. And you can take that to the bank.

Critique Groups are Priceless

My CPs are the absolute best, and they’re always up for a brainstorm session. For a fun way to turn a word or phrase in your notebook into a full-blown idea, gather your writing friends, a posterboard, some markers, and a glass of wine (if you’re so inclined). Then take turns going around the table, or Zoom screen, and bounce ideas back and forth. Have fun with this, and remember, no idea is too silly!

Listening to Music Pays Off

Turn on your favorite tunes and listen to the lyrics! They just might spark an idea. It worked for me, and now I use this brainstorming tool ALL THE TIME. Backstory: Mark Hoffmann, the amazing illustrator for both of my forthcoming books, posted a reel on Instagram for another book he had coming out. I loved seeing his artistic process set to music and commented on his post. Moments later, he wrote back, said he planned to do a similar post for A PENNY’S WORTH, and asked if I knew any money songs. Of course, I did! So, I started listening to some old favorites, like If I Had a $1,000,000, by Barenaked Ladies, and Billionaire, by Travie McCoy. These songs were not quite right for Penny, but they inspired the sequel! Bonus: brainstorming to music can be done almost anywhere––in the car, at the park, or (for a double-dose of inspiration) in the shower. Cha-Ching!

I hope this post allows you to cash in on some cent-sational new ideas. Happy Storystorming!

Kimberly Wilson’s prized childhood possessions included a butterfly Trapper Keeper full of her stories, an overflowing bookshelf, and a pocket thesaurus. But it took many years (and a couple careers) before she pursued her dream of writing for children. A lover of puns and word play, Kimberly enjoys mixing humor, heart, and educational details into her writing. Her debut picture book, A PENNY’S WORTH (Page Street Kids) is illustrated by Mark Hoffmann and releases April 5, 2022, followed by the sequel, A DOLLAR’S GRAND DREAM, in 2023. Kimberly lives in North Carolina with her husband, two daughters, and their puppy. Follow her @authorkimwilson on Twitter, or @kimberlywilsonwrites on FB, Instagram, Goodreads, and LinkedIn. Visit her website at kimberlywilsonwrites.com.

Kimberly is giving away a copy of A PENNY’S WORTH (upon its release).

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

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Chana Stiefel & Picture the Books Friends

Recently, I was listening to a podcast when the interviewer asked, “When was the first time you saw yourself in a story?” And I thought to myself: NEVER! I’ve never seen myself in a character in a book. And isn’t that one of the main purposes of our writing: for kids to see themselves in books and to learn and grow from the experience?

Looking back to my childhood, it’s possible that I saw myself in books by Judy Blume. And maybe little Sal collecting blueberries in Robert McCloskey’s classic picture book is me.

But the question got me thinking: How can we as authors create characters or tackle subjects so that our audience can see themselves and be inspired? The answer: Start with yourself. Write your truth. Write the stories inside you that no one else can tell.

When I wrote the picture book MY NAME IS WAKAWAKALOCH (illustrated by Mary Sullivan, HMH), I channeled all of my feelings of growing up with a hard-to-pronounce name. I used to get so frustrated when people mangled my name and called me Shayna, China, and Kahana. Plus, I could never find my name on a T-shirt. But I reflected on the power and kindness of my namesake, my great-grandmother Chana, and the Hebrew translation of my name, which means “charm” or “grace.” Now I wear my name proudly and hope that other kids with hard-to-pronounce names will too.

Recently, I dug even deeper. For the first time in my 30-year writing career, I have two Jewish-themed books coming out. This coming fall, THE TOWER OF LIFE (illus. by Susan Gal) will be published by Scholastic. It’s the true story of Yaffa Eliach, a Jewish historian and Holocaust survivor who traveled the world for 17 years to rebuild her town in stories and photographs, creating the Tower of Faces in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Tragically, like Yaffa’s family, my mother’s family was decimated during the Holocaust. Yaffa’s courage and hope in the face of unbearable tragedy spoke to my heart. Here’s a sneak peek of the art by Susan Gal (Scholastic).

On a much lighter note, this fall I’ll also be launching MENDEL’S HANUKKAH MESS UP co-written with my husband, Larry Stiefel (illus. by Daphna Awadish, Kalaniot), a funny Jewish holiday story about each of us having a spark no matter how much we mess up. Both stories are uniquely Jewish, but they also share the universal themes of empathy, community, and lifting each other up.

I can’t explain why it took me so long to write Jewish stories. But one thing is certain: I am now putting my heart on the page and expressing my true self. My Judaism is a major part of my life—it’s my heritage, my culture, my religion, my upbringing, my values, my family, my community. And I hope that by sharing my Jewish stories, not only will other Jewish kids see themselves in books, but children from ALL backgrounds will hopefully learn from them too.

More Personal Picture Books From the Heart

To help spark more story ideas, I asked my wonderful Picture the Books launch partners: How do you see yourself in your books coming out in 2022?

I hope their messages inspire you to dig more deeply and find that piece of yourself to lift up others. Only you can tell your story.

TOGETHER WITH YOU is a lyrical trip through the seasons with an adult and child. Together they face all kinds of weather and discover, in the end, what matters is being with each other. Authored by Patricia Toht and illustrated by Jarvis, it will be published by Walker Children’s Books in the UK in August 2022 and Candlewick Press in the US in January 2023.

Patricia says: Many of the seasonal activities in this book are those I shared with my own children. And now, as a grandparent, I hope my grandkids will make these fond memories with their parents and grandparents, too.

A PERSON CAN BE… (Kids Can Press, fall 2022) written by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Carey Sookocheff, addresses ways kids can be different, seemingly contradictory things at the same time. Excited and nervous. Brave and afraid. Imperfect and treasured.

Kerri says: I wrote this book because when I was a kid I didn’t have the vocabulary to identify all of the things that I was, and all of the things that I was feeling. I love that emotional intelligence is more highly valued in today’s society and I wanted to contribute to kids developing in this area. I’m especially fascinated with how a person can feel seemingly contradictory emotions at the same time and so I thought it would be fun to expose kids to this concept.

HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR! written and illustrated by Jannie Ho (Penguin Random House, Fall 2022) is a story about the zodiac animals getting ready for Chinese New Year.

Jannie says: I’ve always wanted to write a story that related to my own culture and upbringing. When I had my own child, I saw a huge need for these types of books as an immigrant parent. Many details in the art/setting are from my parents’ house; it is very special for me to share a bit of my own childhood with the world.

WHEN YOUR DADDY’S A SOLDIER written by Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan, illustrated by EG Keller (Viking, October 11, 2022).

Gretchen says: I grew up in a culture so underrepresented in children’s literature that I never saw myself in print as a child. It wasn’t until I read MILITARY BRATS: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress by Mary Wertsch as an adult that I felt that lightning bolt experience—an experience so profound that it forged in me a goal that I would do the same for military children. In 2022, Viking will release my picture book WHEN YOUR DADDY’S A SOLDIER. I am a daughter of a soldier and veteran of three wars. Choosing an illustrator with family military ties was essential to my editor, and illustrator  EG Keller is the son of a veteran too. It is my deepest hope that military brats young and old alike will find themselves in this heartfelt story about a boy whose father goes off to war.

THE BEST BED FOR ME (Candlewick, Spring 2022) by Gaia Cornwall, is about a little girl pretending to be different animals instead of going to sleep. She really needs more room to spread out–like a whale in the ocean! Or maybe upside down like a bat would be better?

Gaia says: As the bulk of this story was started and completed during Pandemic Family Time at Home the increasingly frustrated Mama character is definitely based on myself, though I don’t always hold it together as well as she does.

While I think bedtime struggles are pretty universal, really I wrote this book for kids who have two moms. Though family structure is purposefully not the focus, this book is a big, giant hug to similar families in my life. I am lucky to see parts of myself represented in all kinds of books and I really want that experience for every reader.

WOVEN OF THE WORLD (Chronicle, Fall 2022) written by Katey Howes and illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova, is a picture book that explores the global artform of weaving, while presenting each person as a tapestry, woven of many influences, their pattern and purpose unfolding in time.

Katey says: When I was small, I was certain I knew what I would become, what my life would look like “when I grew up.” But as time passed, and as I was blessed in the many people, values, traditions, artforms, and cultures that influenced my life, I watched my pattern and my purpose unfold in unexpected ways. I saw how intersections brought strength, and how beauty could be found in contrasts. I saw how the ties that bind us stretch through space and time. This book celebrates the epic art of weaving while also assuring each reader they are a work of art, a work in progress, a thing of beauty, warmth, and strength—a message I long needed to hear, and want so much to share.

VIP: STACEY ABRAMS – VOTING VISIONARY (HarperCollins, January 18, 2022) written by Andrea J. Loney, and illustrated by Shellene Rodney is a middle grade biography about lawyer, voting rights advocate, and bestselling novelist Stacey Abrams.

Andrea says: When I was young, most books about female Civil Rights leaders featured strong, bold, charismatic women who protested, struggled, and even bled for freedom and justice. While I admired their courage, I silently wondered, “Yeah, but what if she was just a quiet little kid like me? I want a fair world too, but I’m too little to change anything.”

So I was fascinated by Stacey’s journey from a tiny town in Mississippi to the halls of Georgia state politics and beyond. She’d felt the same way I’d felt—the way many kids may feel while reading about famous people—but she still found a way to make things happen. This book is all about a painfully shy girl learning how to hone her various talents, overcome her fears, and connect with unlikely allies in pursuit of freedom, justice, and fairness for all.

Chana Stiefel is the author of 30 books for children, both fiction and nonfiction. When kids read her books, she wants them to say, “Wow! I never knew that!” or “Awww!” or “Ha!” and always “More books, please!” THE TOWER OF LIFE: How Yaffa Eliach Rebuilt Her Town in Stories and Photographs (illustrated by Susan Gal, Scholastic) and MENDEL’S HANUKKAH MESS UP (co-written with her husband Larry Stiefel, illustrated by Daphna Awadish, Kalaniot) will be coming out in Fall 2022. Learn how to pronounce Chana’s name (and more) at chanastiefel.com. Follow Chana on FB, Instagram, Twitter @chanastiefel.

Chana will be giving away a signed copy of her 2021 picture book, LET LIBERTY RISE! How Schoolchildren Helped Save the Statue of Liberty (illustrated by Chuck Groenink, Scholastic Press).

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

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Serena Gingold Allen

I have a secret. But in the interest of inspiration, I’ll share it with you. I used to dislike board books. Which isn’t really a big deal except for the fact that, it turns out, I’m a board book author. I used to think that board books were lame. After my first child was born, I found that my husband also didn’t like board books (I think we must have just had a poor collection of them). But there we were, knee deep in diapers and board books we didn’t like. It finally occurred to me that since I was a children’s book writer, I could write one. I asked my husband what he would like in a board book. He said something like, “I want a book that has more than one word per page, isn’t boring, and is fun to read aloud. Oh, and if I learned something new, that would be great too.”

I had exactly zero ideas. But I didn’t forget what he said. Some time passed. Then one night, I was awake breastfeeding and I found myself morosely thinking, “I’m the only person awake in the whole world.” Then I thought, “Well, who else is awake right now?” I started imagining all these nocturnal animals romping around the neighborhood having fun. And then a rhyming couplet popped into my mind (which was really weird because I had never written in rhyme before).

This idea quickly took shape and the couplet became the opening lines of MOONLIGHT PRANCE. Revisions flowed and a few months later, I submitted Moonlight Prance to a handful of publishers. It was plucked from the slush pile at Chronicle Books by my editor, Ariel Richardson. She not only wanted to acquire it, but offered me the opportunity to write a companion title. She wanted another book with movement, but this time with a daytime setting and a spring-y feel.

I had absolutely no idea what to write, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. Also, the idea of writing in rhyme again was daunting because I still didn’t consider myself to be a rhymer. I had made it work once by having a pretty good ear for listening, but I wasn’t sure I could do it again. I was overcome by feelings of self-doubt. I knew I needed to teach myself more about rhyming, rhythm, and meter. And I needed some inspiration. I remembered how I started MOONLIGHT PRANCE with the idea of writing a book for my husband to enjoy and I thought, What if I write this one to entertain my son?

From the time my son learned to crawl, he made a beeline to his bookcase every day upon waking. A lot of the books we had were bedtime books, but we didn’t have any books about mornings. That’s when I knew I wanted SUNRISE DANCE to not just take place during the day, but first thing in the morning. I wanted more fun words to express movement and settled on a dance theme. It took a lot of revisions, but with my editor’s feedback and direction, I eventually wrote a version that we both liked.

Since writing my debut books five years ago, I’ve read hundreds of board books and I now have a huge appreciation for the genre. It’s hard to imagine that I used to dislike board books. Being inspired allowed me to write in a style and genre that I never would have otherwise. I’ve shared all this with you in the hope that you’ll be inspired to try writing something outside your comfort zone. Be courageous and you might discover something new about yourself and your writing.

Maybe you’re thinking, Thanks for sharing your story, but where can I find my next idea? I too appreciate the Storystorm posts that include a practical aspect, but I wasn’t sure what advice to give when I began this post. For some reason I grabbed my dictionary to look up the definition of “inspiration.” But as I started flipping through, I remembered this thing that my best friend and I used to do when we talked on the phone in high school. We’d each open our dictionary and take turns trying to read every word on the page as if it were part of a story. This memory made me giggle (life before text messages and social media sure was different). So I opened to a random page and starting reading. When I got to the word “jumble” I stopped. It made me think of this game that my son plays with his grandma and BAM! I had a new idea for a story.

So here’s my challenge for you: open up your dictionary and choose a random page. Scan until a word captures your attention and then let your mind go. Write down anything that pops into your head and maybe, just maybe, your next idea for a story will be staring up at you.

Serena Gingold Allen is the author of MOONLIGHT PRANCE and SUNRISE DANCE (Chronicle Books, April 2022), both novelty board books about wild animals. Growing up in the foothills outside of Yosemite, Serena spent her childhood observing the natural world. She now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, but she still spends a lot of time in the great outdoors hiking and rock climbing with her husband and their two children. Visit her at serenagingoldallen.com and follow her on Instagram @serenagingoldallen and Twitter @serenagingold.

Serena in giving away a copy of MOONLIGHT PRANCE to one winner and a copy of SUNRISE DANCE to a separate winner once they become available (release date is set for April 5, 2022).

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

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Valerie Bolling

As adults, we sometimes forget what it’s like to be a kid. Being a kid is fun. You can be carefree, silly, and curious. You get to engage in a plethora of experiences for the first time.

Speaking of the first time, think of your first-time experiences.  Like learning how to ride a bike. This is such an important milestone for children and the topic of my next book, TOGETHER WE RIDE, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita (Chronicle, April 2022), which features a girl learning how to ride a bike with the support of her father. When was the first time you rode a bike? What about the time you learned how to read, played with a new friend, traveled to a new place, or tried a new food?

The first time I tried chitterlings (pronounced chitlins by most), considered a delicacy by some, my grandmother and aunts eagerly watched for my reaction. I still remember the awful taste as I declared, “It tastes like what it smells like, and you know what it smells like.” I wonder if there might be a story hiding in this memory?

I didn’t enjoy those chitlins, but there were many things I did enjoy. What about you? What did you enjoy as a child? Did you enjoy dancing, birthday parties, holiday celebrations, building snowmen, or spending a day at the beach?

My best times were spent playing with my cousins and neighborhood friends. We did everything together – rode bikes, played school and house, and all sorts of games with a ball (catch, dodgeball, and kickball). We loved playing our games. We would play in the middle of my narrow one-way street, and I made up a chant to signal an oncoming car: “A car, a car, a C-A-R (spelled out).” That was our clue to move to the sidewalk until the car passed. My book, RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN, illustrated by Sabrena Khadija (Abrams, September 2022), was inspired by games I loved to play outdoors as a child. What were your favorite childhood games? Who did you play them with? What songs did you sing or create?

Creating things is so much fun as a child. Whether it’s making cakes in a sandbox, finger painting on a big piece of paper, or constructing a make-believe animal out of papier mâché (I made an elephant). Art is always fun for kids. That’s why the main character in my early reader series, ZOYA GLITTERS!, illustrated by Kai Robinson (Scholastic, May/July/November 2023), is a girl who loves to create art.

Letting one’s imagination run wild is the best. My favorite fantasy as a child was turning our large vegetable garden into a pool for the summertime and then having it magically transform into an ice skating rink in the winter, since swimming and skating were two of my favorite activities. What did you dream of or fantasize about as a child? I bet there’s a story somewhere.

Other story ideas:

  • What’s something you learned as a child or wished you could’ve learned? Were there certain lessons you wanted to take, but your parents said no? What else did your parents say no to that you did anyway? A naughty story is always fun!
  • What was funny to you as a kid? What’s funny to your kids? What gets them to belly-laugh? Chances are if it makes a kid laugh, it’ll be a winning story!
  • What are questions you wanted answers to as a kid? What’s a funny question a kid has asked you? What if you provided a made-up answer to the question? That could make a funny story.

Channel your inner kid. All sorts of story ideas will emerge. You may even stumble on some memories that you’d forgotten. Memories that can become fodder for wonderful stories—stories that kids will want to read. What’s buried in your memories that could become a wonderful story for a young reader?

May you write stories that children, as well as the inner child in each of us, will enjoy. And, like a child, may you have fun doing it!

For further inspiration, read this post by Tara.

Valerie Bolling is the author of the 2021 SCBWI Crystal Kite award-winning and CT Book Award finalist LET’S DANCE! Valerie has been an educator for almost 30 years. Since her book was released a week before the pandemic shutdown, she has been engaged in numerous virtual storytimes and author panels. Immersed in the writing community, Valerie is on the faculty at Westport Writers’ Workshop and a member of SCBWI, the Authors Guild, NCTE, and ILA. She is also a 2020 WNDB Mentee and a 2022 WNDB Mentor as well as a member of Black Creators HeadQuarters, The Brown Bookshelf and Highlights Foundation’s Amplify Black Stories, and 12X12 Picture Book Challenge. In addition, Valerie is a member of three co-marketing groups—Kid Lit in Color, Soaring 20s PBs, and PB Crew 22—and three picture book critique groups. Valerie has two books scheduled for release in 2022 (TOGETHER WE RIDE and RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN), five more slated for 2023 (TOGETHER WE SWIM, NEIGHBORHOOD JAM, and ZOYA GLITTERS!, a Scholastic early reader series), and one for 2024. Valerie and her husband live in Connecticut. Get all her links: linktr.ee/ValerieBolling.

Valerie is giving away a query critique, goal-setting meeting, or 20-minute phone chat—winner’s choice!

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

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Kari Lavelle

Thank you for this opportunity to write about two of my favorite subjects, creativity and the power of an idea! This blog has inspired me for many years—how wonderful to start the year off with curiosity, looking around me for any bright, shiny, new ideas. The magic that in any moment, an imaginative spark will zing its way into my brain!

When people ask how I got the idea for WE MOVE THE WORLD, I share that it all stemmed from my FOMO (fear of missing out). In 2017, I was traveling and not able to participate in the Women’s March in Austin, TX. I missed it again in 2018, too. My intense FOMO got me thinking about why people walk for different causes. I researched other causes people walk for and wrote a manuscript titled WE WALK. A few revisions later, that manuscript sold to HarperCollins. (And then I rewrote it several times before we landed on the finished product of WE MOVE THE WORLD.)

One purpose for walking I didn’t include in the original manuscript was creativity. Researchers consistently suggest walking to boost creativity. So the next time you’re wondering where all the ideas are or how to craft that perfect ending, put on your sneakers and walk out the door.

A few questions as your feet hit the pavement:

  • Do you need to reflect on a specific plot point of a current manuscript?
  • Or do you need to just daydream?
  • Is there a podcast that ignites your imagination?
  • What happens when you indulge different senses? Or walk slower? Or faster?
  • Do any of your neighbors inspire you to create a character? (Tread carefully here!)
  • How can you get more curious? More playful? More open to your imagination?

A central theme within WE MOVE THE WORLD is that change happens with small steps. The more I share this message, the more I internalize that my own progress happens in small increments. This theme has been especially helpful to me as we navigate these tricky times. During the pandemic, I started walking our dogs twice a day—and it’s no coincidence that I’m working on a dog-themed manuscript featuring several of my neighborhood pets.

I am quite behind on my own Storystorm ideas this month, so I’m off to take another walk. One step at a time. One imaginative spark at a time. I wish you all abundant creativity, lovely winter walks, and zero moments of FOMO in 2022!

Kari Lavelle is the author of WE MOVE THE WORLD (HarperCollins 2021). She has always had a love of words: as a kid reading books, as a speech pathologist helping children communicate, and now as a writer creating stories. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, two children, and two dogs. Learn more about Kari and her books at karilavelle.com and follow her on Instagram @karilavellewrites and Twitter @karialavelle.

Kari is donating a signed copy of WE MOVE THE WORLD and a 30-minute ZOOM that can be used for anything (picture book critique, career consultation, chatting about favorite books). These are two separate prizes!

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

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Carrie Tillotson

When people ask me, “Where do you get your ideas?” my too-literal brain often interprets this as, “Please tell me where you were, physically, when you got the inspiration for your book. Were you sitting on the toilet? In the shower? Waiting in the rain for half an hour?” But then I realize what they really want to know is how I get my ideas.

Ironically, one of the main ways I get ideas is by writing in weird places. For instance, one idea sparked while I was revising an old manuscript in a stuffy, steamy pool room. My son was at his swim lesson, and I was sitting on a bench nearby. Every lesson, my son performed a starfish float, a skill where he lay on his back with arms and legs spread like a starfish. Every time, the instructor counted to ten, “One-two-three, four-five-six, seven-eight-nine, BANANAS!” And every time, hysterics ensued.

One day, my son joked with her about ending on ten instead of bananas. “What?” she said. “Don’t you like my counting to bananas?” SPARK! I looked up from my manuscript, then scribbled down the phrase, knowing instantly that this was the stuff of picture book titles. I had no idea what the book was about but knew it was something I had to explore. Five years later, COUNTING TO BANANAS: A MOSTLY RHYMING FRUIT BOOK (Flamingo Books, April 2022), illustrated by Estrela Lourenço, is my debut picture book. All thanks to writing in a hot, humid pool room. Although the book is about an opinionated banana more than a swim lesson and starfish floats, it embodies the same sense of surprise and delight that my son experienced when his swim instructor counted to bananas instead of counting to ten.

With notebook and pen in hand, working on a story in a “weird” place had my creative juices flowing. My mind was tuned into ideas and opportunities. Had I been playing on my phone instead, I might not have even overheard the hilarious conversation. Other “weird” places I’ve written and gotten ideas include:

  • Hammock
  • Bus
  • Library
  • Park
  • Bus stop bench
  • Picnic table
  • On the floor in front of the fireplace
  • Coffee shop
  • Taekwondo dojo
  • Airplane
  • Beach
  • Blanket fort (my personal favorite!)

Weird places I have not yet written, but might enjoy:

  • Hot air balloon
  • Dogsled
  • Gondola
  • Disneyland’s Splash Mountain
  • The Space Needle
  • Under a bed
  • Museum
  • Tent in the snow
  • Treehouse
  • She-Shed
  • On a surfboard
  • Carousel
  • On horseback

Okay, okay—maybe I am just listing things I would like to do in general, but I also like to write. Why not mix writing with my favorite activities or even my daily errands? I wrote part of this post while lying upside down over the edge of my bed to see if it inspired anything unusual.

Today, I challenge you to find a weird place to write. Then tune into your surroundings and see what sparks. You never know where inspiration might strike next!

Carrie Tillotson is a biostatistician turned book author. Her debut picture book, Counting to Bananas: A Mostly Rhyming Fruit Book, arrives on shelves in April 2022, followed by its sequel, B is for Bananas: A Going Bananas Book in Spring 2023. As a child, Carrie loved to read, paint, and draw, and thought books were written by dead people. She later met a real-live author and realized she could be an author one day, too. After working as a biostatistician for 13 years, Carrie now sculpts her interest in science and fun into playful picture books. When not reading and writing, you can find her running, playing games, and eating ice cream (though usually not all at the same time). She lives in Oregon with her husband and son, two dogs, and two chickens. Visit her online at carrietillotson.com, and on Twitter and Instagram @carrietillotson.

Carrie is giving away one copy of COUNTING TO BANANAS: A MOSTLY RHYMING FRUIT BOOK (upon its release).

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

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Amalia Hoffman

I started writing and illustrating after I lost my parents. That was a painful time in my life. For a long period, I traveled back & forth to Israel to visit my family in Jerusalem—first at my parents’ home, then at the hospital. During these visits I also spent a lot of time walking around the amazing neighborhoods where I grew up. I found myself in memory lane. The olive trees brought back memories of climbing on the trees, gathering olives and playing imaginary games, the cypress trees were my favorites because I used to gather their pinecones & throw on my “enemies,” even the shelters reminded me how the neighborhood’s kids found these very convenient when playing hide & seek. In the old, narrow streets I discovered tiny bookstores that still stocked some of the books I read as a child. Suddenly, something happened…

I felt this urge to connect with my childhood and attempt to write children’s picture books. Since I’m an artist, I also decided to take a chance on illustrating my stories.

The first book I wrote and illustrated was PURIM GOODIES (Gefen Publishing.) It was an adaptation of a “Sholom Aliechem” tale that I read as a child.

Shortly after, I wrote THE KLEZMER BUNCH (Gefen Publishing) because Klezmer music was most popular in every Bar Mitzvah or wedding I attended and I just can’t listen to it and not jump up and dance. Then, I created DREIDEL DAY (Kar-Ben), remembering all these winter Hanukkah days when we played the dreidel games (I mostly lost and my older sister mostly won).

I went on to writing & illustrating books in different genres and also non- Jewish- themed books, but whatever I write, somehow I always discover that connection and ties to my childhood. I believe that once adult, each writer has this treasure box with jewels that might have been dormant for years, but now have popped out and are ready to be polished. By saying that, I don’t necessarily mean that children’s book authors write about their memories, but rather, that our own memories trigger stories because of the child in us.

In my book, MY MONSTERPIECE (Yeehoo Press, March 1st 2021), the protagonist is a child who tries to scare his family and friends by creating monsters; but doesn’t succeed.  I remembered a competition I entered in a children’s magazine to draw a scary witch. Mine obviously wasn’t scary enough because I didn’t win.

I also remembered tearing my artworks in frustration, so I actually included a spread of the protagonist’s torn art.

In my most recent picture book, MASHA MUNCHING (Yeehoo Press, March 1st, 2022), I drew from my memories of spending summers in the country where we laughed as the goats tried to nibble on our cloths and shoes.

The book is illustrated with paper cuts, similar to a technique that I used as a child for making greeting cards.

As children, my sisters and I created a puppet theater. We made the puppets from a mix of shredded newspapers and flour that mom cooked over the stove.

Now, I keep creating puppets that look like the protagonists in my books to engage children during my presentations.

Amalia grew up in Jerusalem, Israel. Her first drawing was black crayon smeared over the entire page. Her mom asked what it was and she said, “a chicken coop.”

“Where are the chickens?” her mother asked.

Amalia answered, “They are all asleep and it’s dark.”

Since then she has been drawing, painting, sculpting and cutting paper constructions. After graduating from Pratt Institute and NYU, she began showing my artwork in galleries and museums. Gene Moore, display director for Tiffany & Co., loved her paper constructions and invited Amalia to create displays for all his windows in New York.

Writing and illustrating children’s books is a window into a child’s fantasy and imagination. It’s also a wonderful way for Amalia to connect with her own childhood and early memories like the chicken coop drawing.

For more on her books, awards, accolades and storytelling, please visit amaliahoffman.com.

Amalia is giving away a copy of one of her books and a 30-minute Zoom. These are two separate prizes!

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

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Shirin Shamsi

It may at times appear to writers that their journey is one endless tunnel that leads to nowhere. And it is disheartening, to say the least. Sometimes you wonder if you will ever be published. I know. I have been there. I have keenly felt the disappointments of rejection after rejection. I have felt the downward pull of imposter syndrome. They say that the only writers who succeed are the ones who do not give up. I am living proof.

My picture book, ZAHRA’S BLESSING: A Ramadan Story (Barefoot Books, March 2022) is really a testament to perseverance. It was rejected in 2002. Yes, twenty years later this book is ready for the world. The idea for this story first came to me when my children were in elementary school. They are now in their thirties. This publishing story may well be one for the records! And yet I would not change any part of the journey. However unbelievable this may sounds, I feel my story needed those long years for me to grow, and for it to bloom.

Zahra's Blessing cover,

It all began with a teddy bear. Looking back, he was a little like the bear Corduroy. There still is a teddy bear in ZAHRA’S BLESSING. But the bear in ZAHRA’S BLESSING does not speak. He is just a cute toy. In the original story, the teddy bear was the anthropomorphic protagonist and Zahra was the minor character. The story has changed completely from its original form. I still have my rejection letter from 2002, which states that a story with a bear who can speak is really not what the publisher is looking for.

I write very slowly. My stories form over months and years, like layers of rock over eons. That is my writing style. I can’t force myself to write any other way. And I am so grateful to be on this journey. I do love it when STORYSTORM comes around. A new year, with new ideas, and the community of writers gathering in the process of layering, marinating, simmering their ideas in this month of communal creativity.

My writing tip comes from the deepest recesses of my childhood memories. As the middle of seven siblings, we entertained ourselves. My eldest sister often created games for us. I recall one game which originated in the “Katy Did” series, so I call it “What Katy Did”. You will need at least a group of three or four people:

1: Take a blank piece of paper and write a question. Fold the paper over to hide the question and pass it onto a writing partner on your right.

2: Write a word and fold the paper over the word. Again, pass it to the person on your right.

3: You will receive a paper from the person on your left. Now open the paper and write a poem to answer the question, using the word.

I think it’s a simple exercise that frees creativity. Have fun with it. Creativity happens most when we are at play, or relaxed. Take time and embrace your creativity. Whatever your writing style is,  know that it is uniquely yours —and that the world is waiting for your story, for no one else can write it but you.

Shirin was born and raised in the UK. Having lived on three continents, she views herself as a global citizen and now spends her time sharing stories with children of the world. Shirin and her husband have raised six children —three human and three feline—and reside in the suburbs of Chicago. Her debut middle grade novel, Laila and the Sands of Time was published in 2019. She has co-written PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: Peace, Salaam, Shalom (Clear Fork Publishing, 2021) and has two upcoming picture books: ZAHRA’S BLESSING: A Ramadan Story (Barefoot Books, March 2022) and THE MOON FROM DEHRADUN: A Story of Partition (Atheneum, Fall 2022). Visit her at ShirinShamsi.comShirinsBooks.com and follow her on Twitter @ShirinsBooks.

Shirin is giving away a copy of PLANTING FRIENDSHIP.

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

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Danielle Joseph

I Want to Ride the Tap Tap Cover, colorful Haitian bus, harbor in background

When I started thinking about writing this blog post, I realized that I’ve been gathering ideas for most of my life. Thoughts took me back to my bedroom with the blue carpet outside of Boston, where I’d sit with my sister or a friend and try to figure out what to play. We’d individually come up with a bunch of ideas, write them on little scraps of paper, ball them up, and then stick them in a clay bowl that I’d made in art class. Some top ideas: play house, camping, act out tv commercials and school. Sometimes, when we’d finally decided what to play, a friend’s mom would arrive to pick her up or my mom would yell, “Come set the table!” That was the worst!

pinchpot ceramic bowl, white and yellow

The actual bowl I used to generate ideas as a kid.

When I got older, I continued to collect ideas. In sixth grade, a friend and I threw all sorts of ideas into the bowl on where we should sleep that night for our sleepover because beds would be too boring. The bathtub was the winning idea, but my mom quickly vetoed that, and we ended up with choice number two, my closet. It was cramped, so eventually the beds won out. But it was a lot of fun imagining what it would be like to sleep in some of the odd places that had made the list.

It took me a long time to realize that the gathering of ideas was a game in itself! Then fast-forward to when I taught middle school for a few years after college. I’d come up with a whole bunch of story ideas, throw them into a bowl and tell the students to pick out two ideas and incorporate them into their stories. We always had a blast with this, and the students were so creative.

For my own work writing novels, I keep different files of ideas on my computer, but when I began writing picture books, I found that lists were really helpful too. Since I love to procrastinate, I start with a pre-brainstorm list. It helps to get the ideas flowing and bonus, you don’t have to commit to anything just yet. You can answer any types of questions when you create your pre-brainstorm lists, but here are some suggestions. And you should keep it as a running list, so you can always refer back to it.

Pre-Brainstorm (Create an idea list), jot down:

  • Things you like
  • Specifics that relate to you
  • Hobbies
  • Your culture
  • Upbringing
  • Family life
  • Character traits
  • Major life events
  • Minor events that stick with you

Once you’re done with the list, you are ready to start brainstorming! I call this the hook-up phase and from here you pick two topic ideas from your pre-brainstorm list that you want to further explore, hook-up. When I wrote my picture book, I WANT TO RIDE THE TAP TAP about a boy in Haiti who dreams of riding the Tap Tap bus, I chose location (I love to travel and have lived in a few different cities) and transportation (I’ve collected a few types of toy cars over the years, starting with a handmade wooden one that was given to me as a baby by my dad’s friend).

The Hook-Up (Unification of Ideas)

LOCATION…TRANSPORTATION

Cape Town…Cable Car
Florida…Bicycle
Haiti…Tap Tap bus
London…Double-decker bus
Boston…Subway

Once you pick an item from column one that corresponds with column two, you are ready to brainstorm!

Brainstorm

Again, this can be done in a list format. Just write down anything you think could possibly happen in your story from the mundane to the wacky! And if some of the items don’t make it to this story, add them back to your main idea list and you may use them another time.

Story Grab Bag

Keep all these ideas as a running list. They will go into your story grab bag. You just never know when you might need a new story idea or an idea for a plot thread and when you do, you can look through your lists or your bag or bowl and see where your next match comes form. Sometimes you have a good idea going, but your plot is too thin, so you can pull an idea from your Pre-Brainstorm List.

I hope this gets you generating even more ideas this month and beyond! Happy Brainstorming!

Danielle Joseph is the author of the newly released middle-grade novel Sydney A. Frankel’s Summer Mix-Up and the 2021 CBC Notable Social Studies picture book; I WANT TO RIDE THE TAP TAP. She also has written three young adult novels Shrinking Violet, Indigo Blues, and Pure Red. Shrinking Violet was adapted into the 2012 Disney Channel movie, Radio Rebel. Danielle has a BFA in Creative Writing and an MA in Marketing Communications and Advertising, both from Emerson College. She’s a former middle school creative writing teacher and has been teaching writing workshops for over fifteen years. Danielle was born in Cape Town, South Africa and currently lives in Maryland. Her picture book biography, RUTH FIRST NEVER BACK DOWN debuts Fall 2023 from Lerner. Visit her at daniellejoseph.com and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @daniellejoseph1.

Danielle giving away one signed copy of I WANT TO RIDE THE TAP TAP and a second prize of a 30-minute consultation where I can answer any writing or industry questions or talk about story ideas. These are two separate prizes!

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

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

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