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  • Jackie Azúa Kramer, interviewed by Jonah Kramer

How did MANOLO AND THE UNICORN come to be?

Ah, peeling the onion of inspiration isn’t always straightforward. I believe I was reading mentor texts about odd friendship stories and bouncing around ideas like what if a koala and a kangaroo met. When Jonah shared that as a young boy he was teased for coloring with a purple crayon. I never knew this. It upset me to think that at such a young age, he navigated questions of his identity. I remembered that Jonah, as a child loved mythology, especially unicorns. Keeping in mind the idea of the odd friendship, we started talking about a boy who loved unicorns but was teased about it. And what if, the boy actually encountered a unicorn. In that moment, we envisioned the whole story. Then the hard work began.

What was it like to collaborate for the first time with another writer?

Covid had just hit and Jonah, an actor, was now home from touring. So, our collaboration was a nice distraction from reality. It was an interesting time for imagination and allowing seeds of ideas to grow and bloom. I thought the mother-son relationship might affect our work together. But writing can be a lonely business, so it was fun having someone to help develop and discuss the story. I would write a section and email it to Jonah. Then Jonah would revise and send his revision back to me. And vice versa, he’d write a section, and I’d revise. Under one roof it was easy to work together. For example, I remember us working late into the night, and it felt perfectly normal sitting around in our pajamas.

MANOLO AND THE UNICORN touches upon a child’s sense of self and identity. Can you speak to that?

In the story, Manolo believes the world is a magical place. He loves exploring in the natural world and loves unicorns most of all. Manolo is truly and authentically himself until someone tells him otherwise. Jonah and I learned from our research that unicorns only appear to those pure of heart. That element strengthened and weaved well into our theme of identity. Identity encompasses the memories, experiences, relationships, and values that shape one’s sense of self. One’s identity is made up of big and small things – everything from one’s hair, who one prays to, who one loves, the food one eats, to the families and neighborhoods one grows  up in.

What do you hope will be the takeaway for young readers?

The more a child feels seen, the more they feel valued; the less a child feels seen, the less they feel that they matter. We hope the book lifts children up and supports their positive identity.

 

  • Jonah Kramer, interviewed by Jackie Azúa Kramer

What was it like to write a book for the first time? And what was it like to work with your mom?

Ever since I was a kid we would read children’s books together and we would each take turns giving the characters different voices. I never imagined that one day I would be writing a children’s book with my mom instead of just reading them. The challenge as a first time writer was finding a way to channel and refine my ideas into a story. Many times, one of us would have an idea and we would riff off each other talking about all the different ways we could take the story. Working with my mom I got to see the craftsmanship that goes into writing a children’s book. She knows how to take a concept and think about it both as a writer and through the eyes of a child, which I think is an invaluable skill.

 How did negative childhood experiences impact your identity?

For our yearbook, I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. Without hesitation, I said, “a Disney princess.” When the yearbook came out it said “actor” and not “Disney princess”, which ironically set me on my path to becoming an actor. But it was not my honest answer and taught me that there are certain things that our culture was not willing to let me express about myself. As I was writing the story, it hit me how damaging it was to have that experience at such a formative age.

How has your work as an actor effected how you write?

When writing I would often imagine the text in my head as if someone was performing it. It would help me to act out parts of the book as in a script. For example, my mom and I, spent time going over the details of Manolo’s first sighting of the Unicorn and I remember acting out for her what that greeting might look like. My three act play depicting this interaction didn’t entirely make it into the final story, lol. I think part of the reason we worked well together is that we both have theatre backgrounds.

We decided to stick very closely to the mythology about unicorns. How did that become an important theme in the book and how did that shape the characters of both the Unicorn and Manolo?

I would lose myself for hours imagining that I had magical powers, that I had a team of Pokémon, or that I was exploring the distant planets in Star Wars and its creatures. I would even draw my own characters with names and their own magical mythology. So the magical thinking of children was important in the story. However, everything was still rooted in realism. Manolo is a boy with a family that goes to school and has all the experiences that come with that. The sadness and aloneness Manolo feels when he’s teased by classmates for liking and believing in unicorns. Unicorn mythology often describes them as creatures who only show themselves to those who are pure of heart. Manolo sees the magic in everything, and he can find the extraordinary in the ordinary, which makes for the perfect friendship between these two characters.

What do you hope the takeaway for young readers will be?

I wish that I had a book like Manolo and the Unicorn when I was a kid. It might have changed the way I thought about myself and given me reassurance that I can use that purple marker, that I can be a Disney princess if I wanted to. Still waiting for the offer from Disney. There aren’t enough books for kids like me to see themselves reflected in. I hope that all creators in all mediums continue to write more stories for kids that reinforce the idea that all parts of us are beautiful.


Jackie Azúa Kramer is an award-winning and internationally translated children’s book author. Her picture books include THE GREEN UMBRELLA, 2017 Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year; IF YOU WANT TO FALL ASLEEP; a 2021 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award winner, THE BOY AND THE GORILLA; I WISH YOU KNEW, Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books 2021 and 2021. Parents’ Magazine Raising the Future Book Club Pick; MILES WON’T SMILE and Junior Library Guild Gold Selection, DOROTHY AND HERBERT: AN ORDINARY COUPLE AND THEIR EXTRAORDINARY COLLECTION OF ART. Her upcoming picture books releasing in 2023 are WE ARE ONE, EMPANADAS FOR EVERYONE and BOOGIE IN THE BRONX. Visit her online at Jackieazuakramer.com, on Twitter @jackiekramer422 and Instagram @jackie_azua_kramer.

Jonah Kramer is a New York City-based actor, singer, dancer, and now children’s book author. He has traveled as a performer both nationally and internationally. He is delighted to coauthor his first book with his amazing mom. Find him online at JonahKramer.com and follow him on Instagram @jonahekramer.

 

Jackie and Jonah are giving away two copies of MANOLO AND THE UNICORN (when it releases on April 18), one copy each to two winners.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by M.O. Yuksel

I love using writing exercises to generate story ideas. One exercise I find especially useful is trying out different points of view (POV). For example, when I started writing my new picture book RAMADAN KAREEM, about the Muslim holy month of fasting, I wrote it from the fast-breaking meal, iftar’s POV. A story from a meal’s perspective? At first, it seemed crazy. But I went with it anyway. I was trusting the process of creating and giving myself permission to play.

This exercise allowed me to put my creative hat on and think about all kinds of fun possibilities like how iftar might react to a child dreaming about their favorite foods, or how it might respond to a child being impatient waiting for iftar to arrive. After many revisions, I eventually changed the POV of the final story, but the initial kernel was sprinkled throughout the book, RAMADAN KAREEM, coming out in 2024.

I also used this POV exercise when I was stuck while working on my picture book biography, ONE WISH: Fatima al-Fihri and the World’s Oldest University. I couldn’t figure out how to structure this story about this inspiring, trail blazing woman who built the world’s oldest, continually operating university in Fez, Morocco in the 9th century. I was determined to figure it out, but I was stuck and frustrated!

So, I decided to open myself up to play and try writing the story from different perspectives. I wrote the story from the university’s perspective. What? Yes, the university. I thought, what might a university hear, see, smell, taste, touch, if it could? The final version of ONE WISH isn’t written from the school’s perspective, but this exercise did help me come up with a few sensory details including this refrain:

“Fatima imagined her school—feet shuffling from class to class, scholars lecturing at every corner of the building, students debating in various dialects…She could almost touch each brick and stone.”

Writing from multiple POV also came in handy when I was drafting my picture book, IN MY MOSQUE.

I first wrote it from the community perspective—what, where, why of a place of worship. But it wasn’t very kid relatable. So, I included a second perspective, that of the child. Each spread begins with the community perspective and ends with the child’s, incorporating their feelings and senses.

Now, it’s your turn. Try writing in different POVs. You might try it on a draft you’re working on, or an idea percolating in your head, or if you don’t have an idea, maybe look at the first thing you see and write it from its POV, then write it from other POVs, and see what happens! Most importantly, put your internal editor and critic away, trust the process, and give yourself permission to play!

 


M.O. Yuksel is author of the picture books, IN MY MOSQUE, illustrated by Hatem Aly (HarperCollins 2021), and ONE WISH: Fatima al-Fihri and the World’s Oldest University, illustrated by Mariam Quraishi (HarperCollins 2022). Her forthcoming books include RAMADAN KAREEM, illustrated by Hatem Aly (HarperCollins 2024), SAMI’S SPECIAL GIFT: An Eid Al-Adha Story, illustrated by Huseyin Sonmezay (Charlesbridge 2024), and PRINCE OF STARS: The Story of Ulugh Beg, illustrated by Zelma Firdauzia (HarperCollins, 2024). Before becoming a full-time writer, she worked in the education field for over twenty years as an administrator, manager, teacher, and yoga instructor. She lives in New Jersey with her three kids, two cats, and one husband. Visit her online at: MOYuksel.com.

M.O. Yuksel is giving away a copy of her book, ONE WISH: Fatima al-Fihri and the World’s Oldest University.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Jill Davis

I am an editor. I acquire projects from writers and help them shape and mold and yes, snip, their words and art into picture books. I like to work on books in the 32- to 80-page range and I adore every part of the process. Sometimes it’s fun and easy and other times it can feel puzzling and painful and wake me up at 3am—but the good news is that I think I know how to do it now.

A focus in the books I find the most interesting to work on is voice. What is voice? Hard to describe, I know. And why should a voice feel unique or special? I remember asking a writing mentor how to go about exploring the idea of voice in writing. I knew voice was the thing that makes some writing feel close or funny or poignant or difficult. I knew the seductive voice of Death in The Book Thief. The detached, sarcastic voice in the poem, Girl by Jamaica Kincaid. In picture books, I was fanatic about James Marshall and William Steig. When I heard Steig was nearing the end, I wrote him a letter thanking him for teaching me how to write. I don’t even know if he ever saw it.

Writers with strong voices are distinctive and dependable and they make us feel confident that their stories are worth our time. Most important, they make us want to read. When Dr. DeSoto’s wife says, “Let’s risk it!” and they enter the fox’s mouth, I remember feeling like this gal was a real doctor’s wife with a point of view and a history. She probably had kids, too. And a mortgage, too! Of course, she was a mouse.

Or how about this famous first line: “The Pushcart War started on the afternoon of March 15, 2026, when a truck ran down a pushcart belonging to a flower peddler. Daffodils were scattered all over the street. The pushcart was flattened, and the owner of the pushcart was pitched headfirst into a pickle barrel.”

I’d love the opportunity to talk about that sentence with a group of fourth graders and see how they feel when they read that opening. Wouldn’t you?

For new writers, voice is not always easy to pin down or to sustain. It can be easy to find in one piece you’re writing and then impossible in the next. So, when I feel stuck, I try and remember that words are always there to help.

I mention words because just yesterday I was editing a picture book, bulldozing someone else’s text to make it sound like I wanted it to sound, when I found myself at the end of a spread that needed something. In the story, a kid is coming home to see her mom after a long eventful day. When she arrives home, it seemed it would be best if the kid didn’t tell her mom what had just happened at school and how she felt. I think I had suggested finishing the page with: “she didn’t tell her mom about her day.” I thought I was very clever for suggesting that, not realizing that a) it’s pretty boring and 2) that I was stealing the idea directly from another book I had worked on. There is a last scene in a book called On a Magical Do-Nothing Day where a boy comes home from a huge adventure at the end of the day, sits down for hot chocolate with his mom, and doesn’t say anything. They just share the moment. Very pretty, truly.

But the characters in this book are monsters! Having a quiet hot chocolate would be far too calm. So I added another line to my comment: “Or what if they snort milk out their noses?” I cracked up remembering that line from the book One, Day Two Dragons. The line about the dragons snorting milk out their noses is one of so many lines I loved. I remember thinking that if I could ever work on such a funny book, that would mean something.

The point I’m not making very well here is that there is a better chance of having your own terrific voice if you have own terrific words. And that’s where the word LEXICON comes in! A craft book I like a lot about Lexicon (the title escapes me! Sorry!) was helpful to me when I was writing a middle-grade novel about a girl who loves fashion design. The more fashion related words I collected; the more ideas emerged. It just happens!

So here’s my advice: find words, write them down, say them out loud, practice using them. But most of all, find some humdingers, and put them in your books. Listen to how people speak. What are the words that they use that others wouldn’t? Write those words down! Start a lexicon of your own—like Pinterest!

I will leave you with a thought. Picture book writing is different because not only does it require great words, it also requires sounds, rhythm, and hopefully a bit of rhyme. It requires the use of rhetorical devices—perhaps alliteration and many others you might like to discover.

There are always new types of words to learn—and that’s the fun part. Finding a voice is much more fun if you have a big book of words you adore!

 


Jill Davis is the Editorial Director of Hippo Park Books, a new imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers. She started the imprint in 2021 and the first list debuted in Fall, 2022. Since jumping into the world of children’s book in 1992, Jill has held editorial positions at Random House, Penguin, Bloomsbury, FSG, and HarperCollins. She took a break from publishing from 2009 until 2013 and did the MFA in Writing for Children and Teens at Hamline University in St. Paul. She is the author of three published picture books and completed a novel during her MFA (which she loved writing but believes no one should ever have to see). She adores funny, poignant picture books, quirky non-fiction, graphic novels and illustrated chapter books. She lives in NYC and Long Island, has two adult sons, two ridiculous dogs, and one lovely husband. Learn more at AstraPublishingHouse.com/imprints/hippo-park and follow them on Instagram @HippoParkBooks.  

 

Speaking of words, Tara is giving away a signed copy of ABSURD WORDS.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

KidLit in Color is a group of traditionally published BIPOC creatives who write picture books, early readers, chapter books, and middle grade novels. We nurture, amplify diverse voices, and advocate for equitable representation in the publishing industry. Some of our members have  decided to share the ideas and inspiration that sparked their stories, featuring BIPOC characters. Whether you’re writing about BIPOC characters or not, you’ll gain new story ideas to add to your Storystorm list.

 

Valerie Bolling: Focus on Family

RAINBOW DAYS: THE GRAY DAY, illustrated by Kai Robinson (Scholastic, May 2, 2023), was inspired by my nieces. The main character’s name is Zoya, which is a combination of my nieces’ names, Zorah and Anyah. Zorah loves to read and write, and Anyah loves art. Zoya is a character who loves to create art with her dog, Coco. I channel Anyah when I think about the art projects that Zoya would enjoy delving into with Coco by her side. Anyah paints beautifully, so in THE GRAY DAY, the first book in this early reader series, readers will get to see Zoya exhibit her painting skills. And similar to Anyah, Zoya loves sparkles, so glitter is a complement to much of her art!

  • Storystorm Idea:
    Who in your family might provide inspiration for a story? Is it a nephew who always makes you laugh? Is it a quirky aunt who gives gifts that no one really wants? Is it a grandfather who’s so warm and loving that all of the kids want to sit next to him on the couch? Is it a cousin who has a unique hobby that you’d like to know more about? Is there another family you know that has some interesting characters you could write about? Exaggerating is welcome and encouraged!

 

Alyssa Reynoso-Morris: Family, Food and Love

PLATANOS ARE LOVE, illustrated by Mariyah Rahman (Atheneum Books under S&S, April 11, 2023), was inspired by my childhood experiences cooking with my grandmother. It is a delicious picture book about the ways plantains shape Latinx culture, community, and family, told through a young girl’s experiences in the kitchen with her abuela. The main character, Esme, was named after one of my grandmother’s Esmeralda. I also chose this name for her because Esme means love and LOVE is the main theme of this book. Esme learns about her ancestors and how platanos (plantains) are more than just food.

  • Storystorm Idea:
    Think of the storytellers in your life. Think of fun things you do together. Think about the stories they shared with you. Think of the stories you made up together. For me—my Abuela—is my inspiration. Everyone knew her for her stories and the animated way in which she retold them. As I got older I would often join her in retelling her tales. When she passed away, writing down our stories was my way of keeping her memory alive. When I need inspiration I often think of her and the stories we used to share together.

My grandmother grew up in an impoverished town in the Dominican Republic. She had a second grade education because in her generation girls were meant to be married off and not invested in. She taught herself to read and write by memorizing the Bible. She was not a “writer” in the traditional sense but she was the best storyteller because she could make you laugh and cry and feel so many emotions all at once. She was captivating and to know that two generations later I get to publish my version of our stories brings me immeasurable joy.

 

Kaitlyn Wells: Mine Your Emotions

I wrote my first picture book as an exploration of my painful childhood experiences growing up Black biracial in Texas—but from the perspective of my dog. A FAMILY LOOKS LIKE LOVE, illustrated by Sawyer Cloud (Penguin Random House/Flamingo Books, May 2022) also highlights the joy of knowing you’re loved no matter what you look like. To make that connection more accessible to young readers, I remembered that my own dog Sutton looks completely different from her own family, too. She’s also a dog who sees the best in everyone. Telling a difficult story with my pup as the conduit fit perfectly with the premise, and also made the story a bit easier to write.

  • Storystorm Idea:
    Mine your childhood emotions for the rawest experience you can remember. To help bring those difficult feelings to the forefront, grab a token to root yourself in yesteryear. It can be craft dough, a Ring Pop, a favorite song from the second grade, or anything that’ll help those memories reappear. Sit in the emotions as you draw a mental memory map of what situations, people and places sparked them. Then you can start to build out scenes around them until you have the framework of a story. I like using this “heart mapping method” because it gives my writing a certain level of authenticity that I couldn’t achieve otherwise. It’s not easy to do because our emotions can physically and mentally drain us. But with some practice you’ll learn to welcome the experience rather than run from it.

 

Natasha Khan Kazi: A Needed Character

When my children entered preschool, I asked their teachers if we could share Ramadan in the classroom. My then four-year-old wanted to share old and new traditions, and I couldn’t find a book that encompassed everything we were looking for. That’s how MOON’S RAMADAN (Versify / HarperCollins 2023) was first drafted. It began as a first-person POV poem, essentially a love letter to Ramadan. I let the draft sit for weeks as I contemplated what was missing. The answer was holiday magic, what I needed as a Muslim child and what my kids need now. Ramadan doesn’t have the imaginative characters of Christmas or Easter. The story needed to be told from the POV of Moon, my magical main character, as she visited diverse families all over the world.

  • Storystorm Idea:
    Brainstorm the characters and stories you needed as a child or the children in your life might need now. Don’t forget to mine your memories for the magic you needed, too. Let those real world events plus imaginative elements simmer and see what you cook up!

 

Aya Khalil: Favorite Family Traditions

My inspiration for my characters are my grandmothers and mom. In this intergenerational story, Zain, a young boy and his grandma bake Eid cookies, ka’ak. I have memories baking with my grandmother when she used to visit us from Egypt. It wasn’t perfect and it was messy, but there was always love and fun involved. Zain reminds me a lot of my own seven year old son because of his love for his grandma and lack of patience!

  • Storystorm Idea:
    What are some of your favorite traditions with your families? Especially holiday traditions, are there special treats you baked together with your family and shared with others? How did those traditions make you feel? Try to remember all of the senses involved: smell, texture, sounds around you in the kitchen and home during those moments.

 

Alliah L. Agostini: Mix Memories with Wonder

The protagonist of BIG TUNE: Rise of the Dancehall Prince, illustrated by Shamar Knight-Justice (FSG, March 2023) was partially inspired by my Jamaican-American husband. I was working on another dance/music-focused manuscript that just wasn’t gelling when a friend/critique partner asked “What if one of the kids was too shy to dance?”. That made me think of my husband, the best dancer I know. But he’d always recollect being too shy to dance at family parties in 80’s/90’s Brooklyn, so his goal-oriented, math-loving side redirected him to lay low and collect cans and bottles to return and earn his own money, instead. This gave birth to BIG TUNE, a story that celebrates quiet yet tenacious kids, while also reflecting our Caribbean heritage.

  • Storystorm Idea:
    Ask What If?. If you’re working on a fiction manuscript with an essence that you love, but something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to take a variable of the story and start considering other options. Perhaps it’s the setting or the time period, the central conflict, or even an attribute about the main character. Inevitably other parts of the story will have to evolve in order to support this shift, but have fun! Note: if it’s non-fiction, you can do the same. Although facts are facts, there are a number of different approaches to the same story. Asking those ‘what-if’ questions might uncover fascinating, unexpected under shared truths!

 

Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow: Write the Story That Heals You

I write for kids but I write for me too.

Whether it’s reclaiming names, undoing harmful single stories about Muslims, or working through Black pain to assert Black joy, I write to heal and that has often produced my most resonant stories.

Two weeks after my father’s death, I sat down to write SALAT IN SECRET (illustrated by Hatem Aly, Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster, June 2023). It also happened to be two weeks before my youngest child’s seventh birthday, a religiously significant year when Muslim children are encouraged to commit to salat or praying five times a day. I thought of my deeply religious Muslim father who performed salat everywhere even on the street as a chauffeur, cab driver, and ice cream man and how excited he would have been for his grandson. My balm was writing Muhammad who is determined to pray all five prayers when his unapologetic Muslim father gifts him a salat rug on his seventh birthday. However, too shy to ask for a place at school, Muhammad tries to find a secret place as many Muslim kids and adults like me do–another wound I needed to heal.

  • Storystorm Idea:
    What are your wounds? Don’t be afraid to list out your pain. Children experience painful moments and need stories that speak to those too. Lay it out on paper, then write the story your inner child needs to heal.

 


Visit the entire KidLit in Color group online at KidLitinColor.com and follow along on Twitter @KidLitinColor.

KidLit in Color is offering the following prizes (one winner for each):

  • Valerie Bolling will offer a 15-minute AMA.
  • Kaitlyn Wells will offer a 15-minute AMA or picture book manuscript critique.
  • Alyssa Reynoso-Morris will offer a 30-minute AMA or a picture book manuscript critique.
  • Natasha Khan Kazi will offer a 15-minute AMA or a PB non-rhyming fiction manuscript critique.
  • Aya Khalil will offer a 15-minute AMA or a PB non-rhyming fiction manuscript critique.
  • Alliah L. Agostini will offer a 15-minute AMA or a copy of Big Tune or The Juneteenth Story.
  • Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow will offer a 15-minute AMA.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Jessica Shaw

Hello Storystormers!

I’m honored to be a guest blogger this year! My debut picture book, THE GREAT COOKIE KERFUFFLE, released on August 9th, 2022 from Amicus Publishing. It’s beautifully, whimsically, and adorably illustrated by Pauline Gregory.

Let’s get to it! We’re all here because we love writing and we love good advice and we love inspirational lists, yes?

But a list like this…

  1. Be patient
  2. Be persistent
  3. Do your research
  4. Write, write, write
  5. Read, read, read

…is not super helpful.

Yes, yes, okayyyyyyy. These things are important.

But plenty of writers have been doing all these things for a long, long time and they still haven’t signed a contract. Am I right?

I want to share a better list. One that’s a bit more specific and concrete.

These are things that have helped me advance my writing career. I hope they help you, too!

  1. I frequently submitted poems and short stories to children’s magazines. I (eventually) wound up with numerous published pieces…and, yes, a few dollars in my pocket!
  2. I sought out calls for nonfiction material and work-for-hire books for educational publishers. I wound up with numerous NF book contracts and (more) dollars in my pocket! (This was way out of my comfort zone, but gave me a much-needed boost in confidence.)
  3. I participated in critique groups and exchanged manuscripts with individual critique partners as well. It’s helpful to get feedback at different stages from different people. If you only share our work with one group of writers, try shaking things up! Make some new connections and get some fresh eyes on your story!
  4. I spend time around kids. (Full disclosure—I teach Pre-K, so this isn’t something I had to go out of my way to do.) If you don’t interact with children in your normal day-to-day, try volunteering at a library, elementary school, or church nursery.
  5. I joined Twitter and followed other kidlit people: authors, illustrators, publishers, editors, and agents.  For a while it seemed I was just tweeting into a void, but over time I grew my follows/followers. Twitter is a great platform for staying abreast of current events in the industry, learning about individual agents’/editors’ personalities and preferences, and supporting other creators. Be yourself, be kind, be approachable, but be professional.
  6. I participate in Storystorm! Like many of you, I return to Storystorm year after year. Keep your idea lists handy. When I’m stuck, I look back through those lists until something sparks. I re-read old Storystorm blog posts, too! Inspiration at your fingertips!
  7. I keep evergreen themes in mind. Evergreen books are numerous, but their appeal is broad and timeless. Don’t be afraid to write a tried-and-true story, just be sure to give yours a fresh spin. Take a look at your Storystorm idea list. Would any of your ideas fit with an evergreen topic?
  8. I analyze picture books. If I love a book, I make a note of the book title and the reason(s) for its appeal. Zany humor? Flawless rhyme? Lovable characters? Clever wordplay? Likewise, when you read a book that falls short of your expectations, ask yourself why.
  9. I consider adding an educational element. I tend to write the story first…because story should always come first…but if I’m happy with the story and it lends itself to an educational element, I’ll try to work that in. The Great Cookie Kerfuffle is, at its heart, a book about the importance of friends (hello, evergreen topic), but it’s also a counting book (hello, educational element), and that broadens its appeal.
  10. I storyboard. Page turns are everything. Even if your “illustrations” are stick figures and smiley faces, laying out the pages of a story will show you if the amount of text is balanced throughout the book, and if the text on each page spread lends itself to an exciting page turn. Did I mention page turns are everything?
  11. I put away stories I love (when necessary). This one took me years to master. I tended to get hung up on that *one*, special manuscript for a loooong time because, come on, how could this thing NOT sell? I mean, if THIS story doesn’t get published should I even be wasting my time writing?! I wanted validation. I wasted precious writing time. I’ve learned to give my manuscripts a reasonable shot out there and then…put them in the drawer. It’s not a “bad story” drawer or a “retirement” drawer. It’s a “wait-here-while-I write-my-next-great-story” drawer.
  12. I invest in myself. Attending conferences and writing workshops (and paying for the occasional professional critique) elevated my writing, inspired me, opened up submission opportunities, and put me in the company of kind, talented kidlit creators who became friends and critique partners. I only wish I had invested in myself sooner!

Happy New Year and Happy Writing!


Jessica Shaw is the author of THE GREAT COOKIE KERFUFFLE (Amicus Publishing, 2022). Her work has appeared in Highlights for Children, Highlights High Five, Ladybug, and Hopscotch for Girls magazines. She is the author of numerous non-fiction titles for Rosen Publishing. Jessica teaches Pre-K and lives in the Texas Hill Country with her family.

Visit her at AuthorJessicaShaw.com or on Twitter at @_Jessica_Shaw.

Jessica is giving away two signed copies of THE GREAT COOKIE KERFUFFLE, one each to two winners.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Patricia Tanumihardja

Write what you know—I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase before. What exactly does it mean? To put it simply, you take something from your life—experiences, relationships, where you live, people you know, even your job!—and use it to build a story.

My debut picture book RAMEN FOR EVERYONE (Atheneum Books, March, 2023), illustrated by Shiho Pate, is a great example of how I applied this mantra to my writing process.

 

Brainstorming Ideas

In my other life, I’m a food writer and cookbook author. Surprise, surprise, that many of my story ideas involve food, eating, and/or cooking!

Over my years of PiBoIdMo-ing and Storystorming, I’ve come up with dozens of story ideas that fit the bill. This is what my list of ideas looked like one year:

  • Monster family owns a bakery
  • Caveboy learns table manners
  • Crazy mashup menu: clam chowder ice cream, spaghetti and meatball sundaes, pickles and cream cheesecake
  • Girl wants to be a sushi chef even though it’s against tradition
  • Boy loves noodles

In the same vein, you can write what you know regardless of what you do.

If you’re an engineer or science teacher, your brainstorm list could include:

  • Girl builds a rocket/see-saw contraption to fly to Mars

If you work in fashion,

  • Boy incorporates found objects into his wardrobe to create statement fashion clothing

What about banking?

  • Boy picks up pennies he finds to save for …

 

Big Picture Themes

Of course, an idea is just an idea. The next step is tying your idea to a central theme or thread that will be the unifying element of your story.

If you read several books written by the same author, you’ll notice a pattern. Kelly DiPucchio often writes about friendship (OONA, POE WON’T GO), Ame Dyckman likes writing stories about family (DANDY, WOLFIE THE BUNNY), Pat Zietlow Miller’s books empower children to be their best and truest selves (BE KIND, WHEREVER YOU GO).

Family and culture are two themes that are very close to my heart, so I often brainstorm themes along these lines:

  • Boy connects with grandmother while cooking Lunar New Year favorites
  • Girl stands up for little sister even though she’s annoying
  • Cousins from opposite sides of the globe learn to play together despite their differences
  • Boy wants to grow up to be just like his dad

Do you see a trend?

 

Choosing Which Ideas to Pursue

So you’ve come up with 30 (or more!) ideas, now what do you do? How do you decide which story idea to pursue? Again, think about writing what you know.

In 2014, I was developing recipes for an upcoming cookbook. One of those recipes was ramen. My son, who was 4 years-old at the time, loved to eat noodles. And he was in awe of his dad and wanted to do everything his dad did. I put two and two together and came up with this storyline: Boy loves ramen and wants to cook the perfect bowl of ramen just like his dad.

Of course, you should also factor in other things, especially that you will be spending a lot of time on your manuscript (it took me 7 years of writing and revising before I finally sold mine!). You must be passionate about your idea.

 

Conflict  

Every story needs a conflict. Conflict gives your characters obstacles they have to overcome before they can reach their goals.

So I wasn’t done yet.

To come up with a situation that kids could relate to, I did some time traveling back to my childhood. One incident stuck out: I loved (and still do!) “Hello Kitty” and other Sanrio characters. I wanted to draw these characters perfectly but I was never satisfied. There were times when I would get so frustrated and rip up my drawing paper. One day, a friend saw one of my drawings and asked if she could keep it. I was thrilled and realized that just because it wasn’t perfect doesn’t mean it couldn’t be appreciated.

Finally, I plugged everything I had into this matrix:

MC wants___ but can’t because of CONFLICT/OBSTACLE. Finally, he discovers___and achieves___.

Hiro loves ramen and wants to cook the perfect bowl of ramen just like his dad. But nothing goes according to plan and dinner is ruined. Finally, he discovers he can use his ingenuity and succeeds in preparing a meal that his family loves.

These were the guideposts I used to write RAMEN FOR EVERYONE which launches March 14, 2023!

It’s your turn now. Go ahead, mine your life and experiences and go forth and write what you know. I’m cheering for you!


Patricia Tanumihardja was born in Jakarta to Indonesian Chinese parents and raised in Singapore. As an immigrant twice-over, she’s brimming with stories to tell, and hopes that children of every color and creed will see themselves reflected in books, whether hers or other #ownvoices authors. Pat has two more picture books coming out this year: THE SUGAR PLUM BAKERS: AND THE 12 HOLIDAY TREATS (Disney-Hyperion, Fall 2023) and a picture book biography about Malaysian-born shoe designer Jimmy Choo. In addition to being a children’s book author, Pat also writes cookbooks and loves to weave food centric themes into her stories for young people. Don’t be shy to hit her up for some favorite recipes! Pat lives in the Washington D.C. Metro region with her husband and son where she enjoys bubble tea, dumpling-making, yoga and hiking. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @ediblewords and online at EdibleWords.com.

Patricia is giving away copy of RAMEN FOR EVERYONE (Atheneum Books, when it releases on March 14th)!

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Karen Henry Clark

No one is more surprised than I am to be a second-time guest for this month of inspiration.

I appeared in 2014 for PiBoIdMo. When Tara scheduled me back then, my debut SWEET MOON BABY: An Adoption Tale was soaring. By the time my blog turn arrived, things had changed.

It was out of print.

My agent was gone.

I faced an avalanche of rejections.

Panicked, I asked writing friends about my PiBoIdMo assignment. “Be positive,” they urged. I wrote a peppy post about the power of SCBWI and critique groups. The easy boosterism made me feel guilty.

Then I remembered an education professor who explained inspiration was not magic dust to sprinkle around the classroom. He said, “Share what you know and show who you are. Some kids won’t care, but for some it will ignite the sparks to inspire themselves.”

I deleted my 2014 draft post and started over, referring to The Little Engine That Could, the story my mother read to me repeatedly. Having reached the mountaintop, I wrote:

My engine flew over the edge, crashed at the bottom of the canyon, and someone spray-painted LOSER on my caboose. But you can write down there, too. I am.

500+ followers commented. They appreciated my honesty and felt encouraged for themselves and for me.

Success. I inspired folks.

But I quit, instead of following my own advice.

Eventually, though, I re-read those kind comments and decided they might be right. I started revising a manuscript about Nancy Pearl, respected as a librarian’s librarian. In the 1980s we’d worked in a Tulsa bookstore and become friends. After moving to Seattle, Nancy’s career blossomed as a library sensation, author, critic, and TV host.

Successful though she was, we both knew her childhood had been shaken by challenges. The story had universal appeal for any child who felt different.

On a self-imposed dare, I applied to Jane Yolen’s Picture Book Boot Camp, certain I wouldn’t be accepted.

Shoot; I was.

In 2015, our group gathered in Jane’s living room. I chatted with the day’s speaker, a librarian, and asked if she knew my friend Nancy Pearl. She did. “I’m writing a picture book about her,” I said.

Suddenly Jane, who had overheard me, asked, “Why don’t I know about this? That will sell.”

No one, absolutely no one, wants to disappoint Jane Yolen. I returned home and interviewed Nancy repeatedly. Years of drafts flew by like time-lapsed calendar pages. I could not make it work. I wasn’t writing a story; I was building a word wall and banging my head against it.

But I couldn’t quit this time.

Nancy was waiting.

Jane was waiting.

500+ followers were waiting.

Down in that canyon, instead of quitting, I realized I needed a sabbatical from words.

Because the 1950s are the setting for Nancy’s childhood, I went to a fabric store and pretended to design her bedroom and clothes.

Assorted retro fabrics, like a horse print, beige/rust plaid, blue with daisies, ditsy flowers in pink, and a pink raised-dot chenille. Notions like white pom-poms, green ric rac, white daisies, gold tassels, and old buttons.

Horse-print throw pillow.

Chenille bedspread.

Plaid and floral shirtwaist dresses.

Trims and buttons.

The story unfolded in my heart like yards of gingham. I saw it. I felt it. I tried again.

LIBRARY GIRL sold.

Library Girl cover: young girl with dark hair, pigtails and glasses, sitting cross-legged reading a book, piles of books and horse figurines surrounding her.

Back cover text: "Books saved me. Frances Whitehead at Detroit's Parkman Branch Library showed me, a miserably unhappy child, that books are places where you can find yourself and lose yourself. I became a librarian, so I could help other children then way she helped me. LIBRARY GIRL is more than my story. It's the story of how librarians change lives with the magic inside books." ~Nancy Pearl. Image of young Nancy riding her bike with glowing outlines of three horses and one bird racing along with her.

Never quit. Go on sabbatical from feeling stuck in your manuscript. Maybe a fabric store won’t work, but discover a place to wander, without the frustration of words, beside your characters.

The story, seemingly out of nowhere, will unroll itself before your eyes.

Karen and Nancy sharing a look and a signature on LIBRARY GIRL.

 


Karen Henry Clark decided to become a writer when she was aged four years, quickly learning the living room wall was not the best medium for an author. She worked as a bookstore clerk, teacher, college administrator, and copywriter but never forgot her childhood ambition. Her first book, Sweet Moon Baby, was about adopting her daughter from China. Library Girl, her second, was inspired by her friend and legendary librarian Nancy Pearl. In “Margin Notes,” Karen blogs about the magic in everyday life’s small moments at KarenHenryClark.com or Facebook.

Karen is giving away a copy of LIBRARY GIRL plus a Nancy Pearl librarian action figure to one winner.

Nancy Pearl action figure with red shirt and cape!

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Rebecca Gardyn Levington

When people ask what I do for a fun, I tend to be brutally honest:

I have playdates with words!”

Sure, I get some strange looks (I get a lot of those anyway), but it’s the truth! Playing with words is my favorite way to spend the day.

I love the sound and rhythm of words and how they can come together in new ways to create a specific mood or emotion. I enjoy puns, idioms, lyrical language and trying on different points of view. I love writing in rhyme because, to me, a rhyming poem or picture book is one big puzzle. When, after hours of tinkering, I’m able to uncover the perfect word that exactly encapsulates the meaning and feeling I’m after AND perfectly slides into my meter, I get SUCH a high! (Anyone else?!)

And when I stop to think about it (as I did to write this blog post) I realize that most of my picture book manuscripts began as poems, and most of those poems were created during a playdate with a single word.

Take my debut picture book, BRAINSTORM! (illustrated by Kate Kronreif), for example…

There I was, Butt In Chair, waiting for my Muse to arrive (she is, like me, usually running late) when I began brainstorming about how weird the word “brainstorm” sounds. (You know how the more you think about a word, the weirder it sounds?)

And then it began raining outside and I thought: “So now, I’m brainstorming about ‘brainstorm’ in a rainstorm!” (It was very meta). And that led me to wonder what a “brain-storm” might look like? Brains falling from the sky?….um, eww… Or maybe…. IDEAS falling from the sky?!”

KER-PLINK!

 Suddenly all these images of a child playing outside in a literal storm of ideas, pictures, story titles, themes, nouns, verbs, characters, beginnings, middles, endings, etc. completely flooded my mind (pun absolutely intended).

Before I could grab my umbrella, I had a picture book on my hands!

The idea for my upcoming picture book, WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW (illustrated by Mariona Cabassa), was similarly sparked during a word playdate.

For the last three years, I’ve participated in a Poem-A-Week Challenge with three of my amazing critique partners. And in late November 2019, our weekly prompt word was: “Surprise!”

I began my playdate by thinking about all the unexpected surprises we experience in life and how we never know what tomorrow might bring.

I jotted down this stanza:

Tomorrow may bring thunderstorms,

or snow or sunny skies.

Tomorrow may bring visitors.

A gift. A big surprise!

The poem started out as a simple list of musings about all the random surprises life throws at us. But pretty quickly (by drafts two and three) I found my thoughts going much deeper.

I thought about how I personally dislike ANY surprises (and did so even as a child). And when I considered why, I realized that my dislike of surprises is very much connected to my struggles with anxiety and fears of the unknown.

And thus, WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW (after many, many drafts) turned into a poem picture book about managing all those worried feelings. It is essentially a mantra written to myself and to other kids (and adults) like me, a reminder that we have faced and overcome many hard things in the past, and we will continue to do so in the future. Whatever comes tomorrow, we will find a way through. We will journey on.

The word “surprise,” by the way, was cut in later drafts, but if it wasn’t for that initial word playdate, I would never have written what will soon be my second published book!

So, now it’s YOUR turn to plan a playdate with a word! Here’s your assignment:

Step 1: Pick a Word, ANY Word!

 Don’t think too hard! If you have trouble, open a dictionary at random and point with your eyes closed, or use a word generator like this one: https://randomwordgenerator.com/.

Step 2: Try One of These Exercises…

  • Set a timer for 2 minutes. Without lifting your pencil, write down everything your word reminds you of. After the timer goes off, search your list for any seeds of ideas!
  • Plug your chosen word into Rhymezone.com and write down on a piece of paper all the words that rhyme with it. Often rhyme pairs spark associations that lead me to unusual or interesting stories.
  • See if there is an idiom, pun, or saying that contains or is related to your chosen word. I get many ideas this way. I love this search tool for finding idioms: https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/cheer
  • Determine what part of speech your word is, then randomly pick two additional words from two other parts of speech. Ex: if your word is a noun, pick a verb and an adjective. (You can use the word generator above for this). Now, brainstorm a story around those three words.

Okay Storystormers, I’ve just one last word for you… THANKFUL! This is my 7th year participating and I am so thankful to be here on this journey with you all.

Wishing you a HUGE DOWNPOUR of ideas this month (and all year long!)

 


Rebecca Gardyn Levington is a children’s book author, poet, and journalist with a particular penchant for penning both playful and poignant picture books and poems – primarily in rhyme. Her debut picture book BRAINSTORM! (Sleeping Bear Press, 2022) hit bookstores last summer. She has six more rhyming picture books being published in the next two years, including WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW (Barefoot Books, March 7, 2023), AFIKOMAN, WHERE’D YOU GO? A Passover Hide-and-Seek Adventure (Penguin Random House/Rocky Pond Books, 2024), and I WILL ALWAYS BE… (HarperCollins, 2024). Rebecca’s award-winning poems and articles have appeared in numerous anthologies, newspapers, and magazines. She lives in the suburban jungles of New Jersey with her husband and two boisterous boys. Find out more about Rebecca at RebeccaGardynLevington.com. Follow Rebecca on Twitter @WriterRebeccaGL and Instagram @RebeccaGardynLevington.

Rebecca is giving away THREE prizes: a copy of BRAINSTORM! (US), a copy of WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW (US, when it releases on March 7th), and a 30-minute Ask-Me-Anything Zoom Session!

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Hillary Homzie

Hello, Storystormers. Can you believe we’re almost at the halfway mark? By now, you’ve accumulated dozens of ideas, possibilities, and nuggets of inspiration. I wanted to walk you through a germ of an idea and show you how it became my informational picture book, IF YOU WERE A PRINCESS: TRUE STORIES OF BRAVE LEADERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD, which came out October 18, 2022, from Simon & Schuster, Aladdin Books.

Let’s go back to Storystorm 2018 where I had a long list of glorious half-baked ideas.

I decided to pick one idea and start to develop it.

Usually, I like to begin with a title, often something high concept. That basically means from the title alone (or a quick one sentence pitch), you understand the premise. For example, the film Snakes on a Plane. You get it, right?

You probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear that my middle grade Queen of Likes is about a middle schooler who is too obsessed with the number of likes she gets on her social media account.

Or that Pumpkin Spice Secrets revolves around an incident in a coffee shop that leads to keeping a secret from a best friend.

However, nothing with a cool resonant title was materializing. Instead, when I gazed at my list of Storystorm ideas, I zeroed in on a general concept: princesses.

Ugh! Weren’t there already a million princess books out there? Did the world really need another one?

So then I started to ask myself why? Why do princesses interest you, Hillary?

Well, as a kid I loved fairy tales. According to Bruno Bettelheim in Uses of Enchantment, fairy tales help children symbolically navigate anxieties and dilemmas.

Okay. Dig deeper. Go back to your childhood. Kick up some memories.

When I was six, we moved to Sussex, England where the ruins of the Lewes Castle loomed over our street. Princesses felt very real, and I became enamored with Princess Anne.

Now, ask again why. Why were you so fascinated by Princess Anne?

Because at my new school I was bullied for having a funny American accent and didn’t know how to stand up for myself. Princess Anne was a fearless Olympic-level athlete who notoriously stood up to a would-be-attacker.

Tip #1:
Ask yourself why a subject matter interests you and keep on digging. Continue asking why until you truly understand what motivates your interest in a subject.

In my case, I was attracted to a strong female role model to help me navigate a difficult and lonely time in my childhood.

Tip #2:
Write down a list of 5 or 6 role models (they can be famous or from your personal life). Next to the person’s name list three of their positive qualities. Now see if you can find some commonalities and circle them. For me, it would be bravery–someone who stands up for themselves and others.

If you’re writing nonfiction, try to find someone who embodies a dominant quality you are seeing in your role model. If you’re writing fiction, think about how you can create a primary character who embodies this quality.

My next step was to dig into some research to see if I could find other princesses who embodied qualities that I admired.

Oh my. Eureka! There are so many cool princesses.

A princess from Iraq with an MD/PhD who did cancer research at Harvard and founded the United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science. A princess from Korea who loved astronomy and established one of the oldest astronomy towers in the world. A princess from Uganda who was the ambassador to the United States. The list went on and on. Honestly, I could easily write two more books on this same subject. The hardest thing was leaving women out. After all, so much of women’s history has been neglected. In fact, I discovered that no book existed documenting the accomplishments of real princesses, now and in the past, from diverse lands. (This gave me even more motivation to push forward.)

Now that I had so many treasures, I tried to stuff all my newly found facts into my draft. But the feedback I kept on getting from my critique partners—your manuscript needs to be trimmed.

At first, I balked.

And then I discovered a little trick.

I crafted a simple narrative that a child as young as 3 or 4 could follow and used those nifty facts as supplementary material for sidebars and a 5-page appendix. Not only was the researcher in me thrilled, but, suddenly, as a bonus, I had a book that was appropriate for preschoolers as well older elementary school students.

Tip #3:
Consider how you can write a book that might appeal to different age groups by writing side bars and appendices that younger kids might skip but might appeal to older children.

This isn’t something that you must reserve only for nonfiction. You can also use supplementary material in fiction as well. In the KATE THE CHEMIST middle grade series, Author Kate Biberdorf and I included a chemistry definition at the start of each chapter.

My final piece of advice is not to get mired in judgement at this point in the Storystorm process. Simply allow yourself to be delighted and have a royally good time!

 


Hillary Homzie is the author of eighteen books, including the picture book, IF YOU WERE A PRINCESS: TRUE STORIES OF BRAVE LEADERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD and the ELLIE MAY as well as the ALIEN CLONES FROM OUTER SPACE chapter series, which was in development as an animated television show for ABC Australia. Her middle grade QUEEN OF LIKES was optioned by Priority Pictures and is a PJ Our Way selection. She teaches at Sonoma State University, the Summer Graduate Program in Children’s Writing, Literature and Illustration at Hollins University and for the Children’s Book Academy. Hillary especially loves coaching others to find their voice. The Los Angeles Times called her teaching: “very attentive and appreciative and encouraging.”

Visit Hillary online at HillaryHomzie.com and follower her on Twitter @HillaryHomzie and Instagram @hillary_homzie.

Hillary is happy to give away a free signed copy of her new book IF YOU WERE A PRINCESS: TRUE STORIES OF BRAVE LEADERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD, illustrated by Udayana (prize available to US).

She is also happy to give away a 30-minute Zoom critique of your picture book manuscript or the first five pages of your novel.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Diana Murray

My 13-year-old daughter must be an imposter. That’s the only explanation for her neatness and love of cleaning. How could she possibly be my offspring?

I sure wish I had some of her tidying tendencies. But even though I’m very messy (GRIMELDA THE VERY MESSY WITCH is basically my autobiography), I do like to keep things in categories. Categories are important. Categories keep the chaos contained. My messy piles of papers are sorted by categories.

And my bookshelf is organized in categories like this:

  1. Humorous picture books
  2. Lyrical picture books
  3. Non-fiction picture books
  4. Early readers
  5. Chapter books
  6. Board books
  7. Novelty, game and joke books
  8. Signed books (can’t mix these treasures in with everything else!)

So you might imagine my horror, when my well-meaning, impressively talented and patient daughter began to rearrange my bookshelf…by color! *gasp*

Yes, it looked beautiful and Instagram-worthy. But I could not find anything! After all, I would never think to myself, Hmmm, I could really go for a “blue” book right about now.

Anyway, the point is, I like categories. One reason I like writing in rhyming metrical verse is that there is a lot of built-in structure. I find it comforting when compared to the cavernous open spaces of free verse and prose.

I sometimes feel the same way about inspiration. Although inspiration can come from many places, starting with something as simple as a title, at least for me, is a little less overwhelming than “sky’s the limit”. When I wrote SOMEDAY, MAYBE (illustrated by Jessica Gibson, Holt/Macmillan, March 2023), I began with the title. While stirring up ideas one day, I gave myself the task of coming up with a phrase that would begin a sentence. I imagined it would be a phrase that would repeat throughout the book. I mucked around with a list of different options and didn’t really love anything. But I kept coming back to that file anytime I was looking for inspiration for a new project. About a year or two later, something struck me about “Someday, maybe…”. I guess I just had to be in the right mood to be “feeling” it. I began to write “Someday, maybe cars will fly.” Finally, I liked the direction it was going in! I’ve always been a sci-fi fan so the rest of the manuscript sort of rolled out after that.

Back to categories. Have you ever noticed that there are different kinds of titles? I recently saw a fun post on Twitter called “Title Tryouts” (by Nancy Sanders, via @BrittanyPomales, via @jencowanwriter). I started thinking more about titles and decided to try to nail some down. You will notice that some of the categories overlap. Also, it’s important to remember that even though the title can be a starting point for inspiration, that doesn’t mean that you’re forcing it up. You just write down the title and then you see if it sparks something. The passion will come from a memory or an association. The title is just the jumping off point.

Remember how I mentioned the “novelty, jokes and games” section on my bookshelf? Well, sitting on that shelf is a small collection of Mad Libs. I used to love doing those as a kid and I continue to enjoy them. All you have to do is fill in the blanks, and voila! You can surprise yourself with your own unique story. The following exercise is a bit like a titles-only Mad Libs. For added inspiration, I’m also including examples of published books from me, Tara, and others.

Types of Titles
[fill in the blanks to make your own]

The Meta title:

a. The [_______] Book
b. This Book is [______]

Published Examples: I Thought This Was a Bear Book (by Tara); The Book of Rules; The Quiet Book; The Monster at the End of This Book; Don’t Push the Button; This Book Just Ate My Dog!; What Would You Do in a Book About You?; Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book)

 The Negation Title:

a. Don’t [_____]!
b. Never [verb] a [noun]!
c. No More [plural noun]!

Published Examples: Nope!; No, David!; You Don’t Want a Unicorn; It’s Not Hansel and Gretel; If You Ever Want To Bring a Piano to the Beach, DON’T!; I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato; I Don’t Want to Be a Frog!; I Dare You Not to Yawn; Hey, You’re Not Santa!; I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More!; No Nibbling!; Not a Box

The Celebratory Title:

a. “Hooray for [_____]!”
b. “[______] Party!”
c. “Let’s go [____]!”

Published Examples: Unicorn Day and Mermaid Day (by me); Rah, Rah, Radishes!; Hooray for Hat!; The Great Big Poop Party; Where’s the Party?; Go, Girls, Go!

The One Word Title (often with an exclamation point):

a. [plural noun]!
b. [action verb]!
c. [adjective]!
d. [quiet word]

Published Examples: Bloop (by Tara); Nope!; Ducks!; Dude!; Square; Brave! Found; Stuck; Kaleidoscope

The Lyrical Musing Title (which often repeats throughout the book):

a. When You [verb]
b. Tomorrow is [____]
c. Once Upon a [____]
d. On a [adjective] Day
e. If I Had a [noun]

Published Examples: Someday, Maybe (by me); I Wish You More; This Could Be You!;  Wherever You Go; The Wonderful Things You Will Be; On The Night You Were Born; Once Upon Another Time; My Love For You; Whatever Comes Tomorrow

The Question or Instruction Title

a. How to [verb] a [noun]
b. Where’s My [noun]?
c. Can You [verb] a [noun]?
d. Who Do You [verb]?

Published Examples: Help Mom Work From Home! (by me); What Do You Do With an Idea?; Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus; How to Catch a Unicorn; How to Meet a Mermaid; Where’s the Party? Where’s My Butt?; Where is My Balloon?; How to Babysit a Grandma

The Popular Song or Fairytale with a Twist Title

a. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little [noun]
b. Hush Little [noun]
c. Rock-a-bye [noun]
d. Old MacDonald had a [noun]
e. The Three Little [plural noun]

Published Examples: Little Red Gliding Hood (by Tara); Mary Had a Little Glam; Cock-a-doodle-OOPS!; There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight; Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Car; Moldylocks and the Three Scares; It’s Not the Three Little Pigs; The Three Ninja Pigs; Hush, Little Monster; It’s Raining Bats and Frogs

The Unexpected or Opposite Word Pairing Title

a. [adjective], [opposite adjective]!
b. I Love [unpleasant plural noun]!

Published Examples: Love Stinks! (by me); Yummy Yucky; Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend!; Duck, Duck, Moose; Z Is for Moose; P is for Pterodactyl; Digestion the Musical; Good Night Baddies; Creepy Carrots; Mushroom Rain; Bad Apple’s Perfect Day; The Obstinate Pen; The Crab Ballet; I Got a Chicken for my Birthday; Animals in Pants; Vegetables in Underwear; Goodnight, Veggies (by me)

The Rhyming Title

a. [noun] in a [noun]!
b. [adjective] [noun that rhymes]

Published Examples: Doris the Bookasaurus (by me); Don’t Be Silly Miss Millie!; Sheep in a Jeep; The Cat in the Hat; Fancy Nancy; Here’s What you Do When You Can’t Find Your Shoe; How To Train Your Pet Brain; Wordy Birdy; Green as a Bean

The Alliterative Title

a. [adjective] [noun beginning with same letter]
b. [any holiday][noun beginning with same letter]

Published Examples: Sleepy Snuggles (by me); Creepy Carrots; Horton Hears a Who; Bee-Bim Bop!; Penguin and Pinecone; Battle of the Butts; The Bold, Brave Bunny; Sam’s Super Seats; Jabari Jumps; Larry’s Latkes; Normal Norman (by Tara)

The Onomatopoeia Title

a. [sound], [sound], [sound]!
b. [sound]!
c. [sound]?
d. The [sound adjective] [noun]

Published Examples: Boo! Hiss!; Bump in the Night!; Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type; Eek, You Reek!; Splish, Splash, Splat!

The Silly, Nonsense or Made-up Word Title

a. [made up word]
b. [silly/unique proper name]

Published Examples: The Thingity-Jig; Hogwash!; Nerp!; Du Iz Tak? Best Frints in the Whole Universe; My Name is Wakawakaloch; The Red Ear Blows Its Nose

The Character Title

a. [character name] the [adjective] [noun]
b. [adjective][rhyming name]

Published Examples: Bloop (by Tara); Ned the Knitting Pirate (by me); Grimelda the Very Messy Witch (by me); Doris the Bookasaurus (by me); Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast; Tiny T-Rex and the Impossible Hug; Henny; Fancy Nancy; Crankenstein; Stellaluna; The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend; Oona; Warren and Dragon; A History of Underwear with Professor Chicken; Groggle’s Monster Valentine (by me)

The Counting or Quantifying Title

a. One [adjective] [noun]
b. Too Many [plural noun]!
c. Ten Little [plural noun]
d. Too [adjective]!

Published Examples: Double the Dinosaurs (by me); One Snowy Day (by me); Five Fuzzy Chicks (by me); Dozens of Doughnuts; Millions of Cats; Counting Kisses; One Hundred Shoes; One Big Pair of Underwear

The Clever Wordplay or Pun Title

a. [literally any pun]

Published Examples: 7 Ate 9 (by Tara); The Monstore (by Tara), Happy Llamakkah!: A Hanukkah Story; Wondering Around; Pirasaurs; Hey, Hey, Hay!; The Friend Ship; Nerdycorn; Not Yeti; Kung Pow Chicken; Un-BEE-lievables; Shampoodle; Mice Skating; Brainstorm!

This is far from an exhaustive list. And as I mentioned, there is A LOT of crossover between the groups. Why not a #6 (question) #8 (unexpected) and #9 (rhyming) combo, for example: “How Do You Hug a Bug?” Or perhaps you’re tempted to get in touch with your inner 8-year-old and fill in “butt” or “burp” for all the blanks. Well guess what? I didn’t add it here, but there could honestly be a whole category just for titles that feature butts, burps, poop, underwear and farts! So go right ahead.

Are there any other categories you would add? Have I missed any of your favorite books? I’m sure I’ve left out some of my own and I’ll be kicking myself later. But hopefully, filling in these blanks and perusing the other existing titles will give your inspiration a jolt! Have fun! And feel free to use this as an excuse to procrastinate on your cleaning chores. I know I will!


Diana Murray is the author of over twenty books for children, including the bestselling UNICORN DAY series, an ILA/CBC Children’s Choice Book, a 2019 Goodreads Choice Finalist, and 2022 Amazon Best Book of the Year (UNICORN NIGHT board book edition). Some of her recent and forthcoming titles include LOVE STINKS! (Step-into-Reading/Random House), SOMEDAY, MAYBE (Holt/Macmillan), FIREHOUSE RAINBOW (Little Golden Books), and MERMAID DAY (Sourcebooks). She grew up in New York City and still lives nearby with her husband, two children, and a dancing dog. Visit her at DianaMurray.com and follow her on Twitter @DianaMWrites.

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