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by Jennifer Buchet and Little Medusa

A few Novembers ago, I was inspired to write a picture book story about snakes. Snakes are—

Little Medusa: Beautiful! Amazing! And very cuddly.

Actually, I was about to say that snakes rattle lots of people. They’re squeamish because…well…

The hissing. The slithering. The fork-tongues.

LM: Awww, how cute!

Not to everyone! But that’s the thing, Li’l Medusa. After attending a reptile show with my daughter at our local library, I…

LM: Best. Show. Ever!

…I wanted people to know that snakes are really fascinating. Did you know that snakes smell with their tongues?

LM: Of course! Snake are sssssuper sssmellers!

I drafted a story about pet snakes, but it needed more sparkle and less fang. Around the same time, I discovered PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) was reformatting to Storystorm, and that come January, there’d be a whole new set of inspirational writing tips and tricks. Definitely something to look forward to because the holidays were knocking impatiently at the door. Instead of drafting stories, I was juggling magazine deadlines and planning the annual holiday party menu.

LM: Yummy! Did you serve buggy burritos?

Not quite (this party is rather swanky). I desperately wanted to vamp up the menu. Yes, tempura shrimp is delish, but having it at every special occasion “because it’s a tradition!” was constricting my appetite. With editors to please and taste buds to appease, I turned to mundane housework to alleviate the stress. Whilst sorting socks and sweaters, a real live mini-Medusa skipped into the laundry room.

LM: She didn’t turn you to stone, did she?

No, but she did scare me! This mini-Medusa was actually my daughter with a headful of tangled, knotted, serpentine-looking hair.

LM: Mama said I’d get used to traditional Gorgon hair but I don’t like Addie on my head.

Well in that moment, several events converged at once and I knew I had a tale about a Gorgon girl challenged by eons of family tradition.

LM: Oh, that’s me!! Just like you didn’t want shrimp, I didn’t want snakes in my hair!

Exactly. But I wasn’t sure how to morph this meatball of an idea into a grand bolognaise sauce. How would I make one of the most villainous figures in Greek mythology kid-friendly? I turned to Storystorm for tips on humorous writing and how to find the funny.

LM: My great-times-eight Granny Medusa is not funny. She was scary and mean. I don’t want to turn things to stone with a stare.

Nor do you like having Addie slither through your hair.

LM: Nope! Stony stares and slithering hair are not my kind of tradition. They’re more like pythonic problems!

Every day, I read the guest post and partook in the Storystorm exercise; you never know what new idea might happen, from a jazzy sentence or title, to a brand new story  idea! By the end of January, not only did I have a bunch of new ideas, I also knew exactly where I was taking Little Medusa’s tale. I’m not sure where I’d be without Storystorm!

LM: Not having Storystorm? Now that’s a pythonic problem for you!

Absolutely! And the rest they say is hissss-story! Thanks to this wonderful, supportive and wise kidlit community, LITTLE MEDUSA’S HAIR DO-LEMMA is now on shelves, and in the hands and hearts of littles.

LM: Can we play Snakes ‘n Ladders now?

Sure!

LM: Hissy kissies, everyone!

P.S. The menu did include Tempura Shrimp—with Blood Orange Sauce!


Some days Jennifer Buchet rocks her own tangled Gorgon ‘do, but hopefully you won’t find a snake sliding through her hair! She’s an award-winning author, pre-kindergarten educator and self-proclaimed foodie. Her kidlit career officially started in 2011, writing for Cricket Media. Today, she’s a feature contributor for Faces magazine while also creating new picture books, chapter books and yummy recipes.

Her debut picture book, LITTLE MEDUSA’S HAIR DO-LEMMA (Clear Fork Publishing, May 2021) illustrated by Cassie Chancy, is on shelves now.

You can swap tales & recipes with Jennifer at buchetbooks.wixsite.com/mysite or on Twitter @Yangmommy.

You can easily support authors by leaving book reviews, asking libraries to carry their books and of course, purchasing their stories.

by Annie Bailey

This is me on June 24, 2019, in the Tetons, mountain biking with my husband. Afterwards, we had lunch at a charming café situated next to the runway of the town’s small airport where we could watch the propeller planes land and take off.

It was a perfect day, and our ride on the mountain trails had given me a lot of time to think. On the drive home, I turned to my husband and said something I never thought I’d say.

“It’s okay if I never get published.”

I’d been pouring my heart into my writing for years—starting just after my first son was born in 2003. In 2016, I signed with my agent. Since then, we’d worked together for THREE YEARS and hadn’t sold a thing. Two weeks before that day in the mountains, my agent and I had a very honest conversation about how things were going. We were both frustrated. But at the end of the discussion, I told her, “If you’re still all in, I am too.” And we both were.

But as I told my husband on the car ride home, it was time to let go of things I couldn’t control. Getting published was one of those things. I could write a story to the best of my ability, but I couldn’t control if an editor would want to publish it. I couldn’t control the state of the economy and how it influenced acquisitions, or the political climate, or if an editor had too much of this or that on her list. I would still write, of course. But I was no longer going to put pressure on myself to achieve results that I had no say in. I felt a lot of relief and peace when I came to that conclusion.

We had only been home a short while when my phone rang.

“You have an offer,” my agent said. For not just one book, but two. A series.

I’m so pleased to share the cover of my very first book in that series, an idea from my 2013 PiBoIdMo (now Storystorm) list.

10 LITTLE TRACTORS releases November 2nd, 2021 from Doubleday Books for Young Readers and is now available for pre-order.

The second title, 10 LITTLE EXCAVATORS, releases February 2nd, 2022.

Boy has it been a crazy year. But I’m still all in, doing my best to focus on what I can control in my writing journey. I hope you are still all in, too.

Thanks for sharing your success story, Annie! What incredible timing!

Blog readers, you can win a copy of 10 LITTLE TRACTORS, which you’ll receive after publication in November.

Comment once to enter. A random winner will be selected soon!

Good luck!


Annie Bailey is a children’s author, songwriter, and mom to four boys. She loves laughing, reading, playing the piano, soccer, biking and baking. Doubleday Books for Young Readers will release Annie’s first board books, 10 LITTLE TRACTORS and 10 LITTLE EXCAVATORS, in Fall 2021 and Spring 2022. Abrams Appleseed will release her first picture book, MUD!, in Spring 2022. She has also released a children’s album titled THERE IS JOY. Annie served on the 2015 and 2016 Best in Rhyme Award committee and currently enjoys serving as the Regional Advisor for the SCBWI Utah/Southern Idaho region. Annie lives in rural Idaho in a renovated farmhouse complete with her very own train car. (Which, of course, has time traveling capabilities.) Visit Annie at anniebailey.com or on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram @byanniebailey.

by Susan Macartney

Tara, thank you! I’m so happy to share my success story. Spoiler alert: It’s never too late to embark on this journey!

“Winding” doesn’t quite do justice to my meandering, zigg-zagging road to publication as an author-illustrator. I’ve always been drawn to both the arts and the sciences. So maybe I could have saved some time if I’d made a beeline for narrative nonfiction! Didn’t happen… First I studied zoology and anthropology and then ended up working in graphic design for 20 years. No question—a convoluted, interesting path, and along the way I continued to tinker with writing and illustrating children’s stories.

I joined SCBWI in 2012, was full of enthusiam about joining a writing “community”… and then my partner and I moved overseas. Temporary hold on my writing while all of “life’s dust” settled… Fast-forward to 2015, my desire to write and illustrate was still strong and I reached out again to the wide world of kidlit.

To give you an idea of how far I had to reach: I’m Canadian. I was living in Sweden. And Tara’s picture book webinar was being hosted by SCBWI… out of France! The host gave us the link to Tara’s blog and told us we should really try the November PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) challenge—and the rest is Storystorm history.

Well, not quite… I moved again! But now the Storystorm challenge with all its amazing writing and illustrating advice was waiting for me wherever I landed. On January 5, 2018, I looked at my blank Storystorm entry page, armed only with the goal of gently exploring the theme of self-awareness. And oh yes, I knew I wanted an animal main character and for envirornmental issues to figure in the subplot. I first learned about the Galapagos Islands when I was seven. And it wasn’t long before the engaging Blue-footed booby waddled into my mind as a potential candidate—what’s not to love?

Two years later after many drafts, CP reviews and edits my debut picture book, BENJAMIN’S BLUE FEET: Pajama Press, was published.

Yay Storystorm! The discipline of a defined daily challenge enhanced by professional advice for ONE creative month, worked for me on so many levels.  I’m goal-oriented and an early riser and embraced the habit of piggybacking my Storystorm entry with my morning coffee. Take note! Having that pen and dedicated notebook within easy reach also helped to minimize all the usual self-inflicted roadblocks to being creative.

Now my story ideas weren’t loose bits of inspiration scrawled on scraps of paper anymore, or worse, those “best” ideas that never even got recorded.  They’re all there in black and white – no excuses, no delusions (about how great that idea actually was) – just lots of ideas to return to, mull over and mine!

It is never too late to set forth on this journey. Remember that there is a WIDE world of like-minded people out there – learn to reach out, relish the small joys along the way and PERSEVERE!

Blog readers, Sue is giving away a signed copy of BENJAMIN’S BLUE FEET!

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected soon!

Good luck!


Sue has taught art to children around the world and currently works as a nature sketch artist at The Bateman Foundation in Victoria, BC. You can find Sue online at suemacartney.com and on Twitter @suesumac and Instagram @suemacartney.

by Laura K. Zimmermann

First I want to thank Tara for inviting me to share my story, which begins with a new writer staring at her computer trying to decide whether or not to sign up for Storystorm (PiBoldMo at the time). I very nearly didn’t. I remember thinking that there was no way I could come up with 30 ideas in thirty days—that was more picture books ideas than I’d had all year. But there was nothing to lose, so I decided to try.

I began my hunt for ideas. I’m a nonfiction writer so I created a private list on Twitter where I collected organizations and people who tweeted about topics that interest me. Each day I poured over my list. I would also look through science report emails, conduct google searches, and started to look, really look, at the things around me. One day I came across a tweet about a graveyard. On the list of people buried there was someone called “The Blind Traveler” who was in no way associated with mushrooms, but did pull me into the world of picture book biographies.

Jump forward to the next Storystorm. With my new focus on picture book biographies I was searching for female scientists. I had uncovered several for my idea list, when I stumbled across a story about Beatrix Potter’s research with mushrooms. I had to learn more so I researched everything I could find. I read her journal and looked at pictures of her paintings, some of which I had seen in a museum many years earlier. The idea could work. So, I wrote the biography, and revised and revised and revised. But no one at the time seemed to be interested.

image by Beatrix Potter

I should probably mention at this point, that prior to the Beatrix Potter biography I had never seen mushrooms as anything other than things you buy in a grocery store to put in soups, spaghetti sauce, and on pizza. But to Beatrix they were beautiful and challenging—from their curving caps and bladelike gills, to their varied textures and colors that ranged from the reddest reds to the softest creams and everything in between. She spent years scrutinizing and painting them again and again, training her brush strokes to capture every detail. Over time she developed questions for which she could find no answers and so began her own research. And as I worked to understand her mycological studies and read about masses of crisp yellow cups nestled in moss and troops with foxy-brown caps surrounded by black firs, I began to see mushrooms in a new way.

Then one day, I came across an article about mushrooms creating rain—a mushroom rain. There was a book there I just knew it. So I did more research, wrote and revised, and revised, and revised. But again, no one seemed interested. Enter my agent, Kaitlyn Sanchez. I sent her Mushroom Rain hoping she might see what my critique partners and I saw. I didn’t have to wait long. Later that day I had a list of suggested revision in my inbox. She loved it too and with a bit more revision she started to shop it. There were still a lot of no’s, of course, but you only need one yes, which we got from Barb McNally at Sleeping Bear, who loved it exactly as it was. It is now in the hands of an amazing, mushroom-loving artist, Jamie Green, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out. Beatrix Potter once said, “There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.” For me they led to a weird and wonderful world that, like an idea, springs up without warning and must be gathered before it disappears.


Although Laura has seen and eaten many mushrooms, she knew very little about them until she discovered them in Beatrix Potter’s paintings and journal. A mushroom hunter, artist, and researcher, it was Beatrix’s passion that led Laura to learn more about their weird and wonderful world. Laura K. Zimmermann is a college professor by day and children’s writer by night. She has published numerous academic articles as well as nonfiction stories in children’s magazines. Mushroom Rain is her first picture book. When she’s not writing, Laura can be found teaching and conducting research at Shenandoah University or wandering through nature with her Goldendoodle, Tivy. You can find Laura online at laurakzimmermann.com and on Twitter @LauraK_PBwriter and Instagram @LauraK_PBwriter.

by Amanda Davis

Hello fellow Storystormers! It’s Day 29, and we’re nearing the end of the challenge-a sad but wondrous thing. Give yourself a pat on the back for making it this far. Hurrah! I hope your well is brimming with at least 28 new ideas from the fabulous posts we’ve read and that you’re raring to go with your writing. So much inspiration! I’m excited to be here as a guest blogger and to help us close out the final days of the challenge. Storystorm holds a special place in my heart as it helped me focus in on developing the manuscript that later became my debut picture book, 30,000 STITCHES. Thanks, Tara!

Now, onto my post!

I’m a very action-oriented person and love when I find new writing or drawing challenges that I can apply to my practice to help me churn out new ideas or work. This is one of the many reasons I love participating in Storystorm each year! For this post, I wanted to share one of my own challenges that I created called, Haiku From Two. I crafted this challenge last year to help me get through the pandemic and needed something to keep me feeling inspired to create, read, and connect. I hope that you find it useful in your own creative practice as well!

WHAT IS HAIKU FROM TWO?

Haiku from Two started out as a 30-Day Challenge on social media.

The premise is:

  • Randomly select two words from the current book you’re reading.
  • Write a haiku* using those two words.
  • Post your haiku on social media with the #HaikuFromTwo.

* a haiku is a three-line poem- five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third (5-7-5).

HIGHLIGHTS FROM MY HAIKU FROM TWO EXPERIENCE:

READING: I don’t know about you, but I tend to have a large stack of ‘to be read’ books hanging around the house. I stare at them, feeling guilty that I haven’t made the time to dive in. When the pandemic hit, I figured that was a great time to whittle down the pile. I hoped the challenge of completing a haiku from each book would push me to keep reading, and it did just that!

WRITING: If you’re looking for a simple activity that can keep you writing, I found this was the trick for me! Some days were challenging, but it forced me to keep those creative juices flowing, which in turn helped me when I shifted gears to my picture book manuscripts, too!

CONNECTION: From authors, to editors, to cover artists, down to the book designers, whenever I would finish my Haiku From Two, I would photograph it and post on Instagram and Twitter, tagging all those involved in making the book. It was a great way to connect with others in the industry. Through the challenge, I’ve made some new online friends, and even e-chatted with authors such as, Ruth Behar. As I would search for the right people to tag in each post, it reminded me that it takes a village to bring our book babies into the world!

INSPIRATION: The reason we are all here, inspiration! These small haikus have the potential to turn into BIG ideas! I now have the option to develop these haikus further and use them as inspiration for new characters, settings, and themes. More on that below.

ALTERNATIVES:  Let’s face it, writing/art challenges can be hard to commit to, so here are some ways you can alter the Haiku From Two activity to best suit your mood and needs.

In-between books? Don’t fret! Instead, use an old book from the shelf or maybe an article you read online. You can even use two words from your favorite song. A magazine or even a dictionary will do. Basically, anything that has words can work!

If you’re not into poetry, no worries! Scratch the syllables and make up a random sentence instead. Perhaps that sentence then becomes the first line of your new picture book manuscript or gives you an idea for some new characters in your story. For example, I’ve been playing around with developing the idea of “Flashlight Ghosts”.

These two words came from the haiku I developed from ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia. I’m not sure what or where yet but Flashlight Ghosts sure sound like interesting characters 🙂 Not to mention I had Rita herself playing along for this one, too!

If you consider yourself an artist as well, after you develop your haiku, you can illustrate it, too! I enjoyed this approach with the haiku I created for COME ON, RAIN, a picture book by Karen Hesse and John J. Muth. My two words were Hot and Air, which made me think of flying high in a hot air balloon.

Now, a new story about a hot air balloon adventure is waiting to be explored!

SIDE NOTE: Don’t put pressure on yourself to create every day! I initially began this challenge in March of 2020 with Lynda Mullaley Hunt’s FISH IN A TREE and intended to do a Haiku From Two each day for 30 consecutive days, but then…life happened…amidst a pandemic nonetheless.

Six months later, I finally reached my Day 30 in September with ALL BOYS AREN’T BLUE.

It took longer than I’d expected, but in the end, I read twelve new amazing books and now have a jar full of potential new story ideas and inspiration!

Even though I reached my 30 days, I’m continuing to partake in the Haiku From Two challenge. I hope you will join me! If you decide to take on the challenge in 2021, see below for the official rules. And remember, no pressure to complete the 30 days. Instead, think of this as another tool in your creative arsenal ready and waiting for the next time you’re in need of a muse.

So, as I close us out of Day 29, I challenge you to a Haiku From Two! Grab a book, randomly choose two words, and form a haiku! Voilá! Your next story idea awaits!  Be sure to tag me on Instagram @amandadavis_art or Twitter @amandadavisart, and use #haikufromtwo to play along!

In case you’re interested, here is my Haiku From Two reading list:

FISH IN A TREE by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia
THE BFG by Roald Dahl (I was in a throwback mood)
THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY by Gabrielle Zevin
A DOG’S WAY HOME by W. Bruce Cameron
LUCKY BROKEN GIRL by Ruth Behar
THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR by Nicola Yoon
AMAL UNBOUND by Aisha Saeed
THE POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo
THERE, THERE by Tommy Orange
ALL BOYS AREN’T BLUE by George M. Johnson
BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson

One last note: today is also Multicultural Children’s Book Day! Follow along at #ReadYourWorld to help celebrate and raise awareness around kid’s books that celebrate diversity and help these books get into more classroom and libraries!

Happy haikuing y’all!

Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. After losing her father at the age of twelve, Amanda turned to art and writing as an outlet. It became her voice. A way to cope. A way to escape. And a way to tell her story. She was thus inspired to teach art and pursue her passion for writing and illustrating children’s books. Through her work, Amanda empowers younger generations to tell their own stories and offers children and adults an entryway into a world of discovery. A world that can help them make sense of themselves, others, and the community around them. A world where they can navigate, imagine, and feel inspired—over and over again. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her partner and rescue pup, Cora.

Her debut creative nonfiction picture book, 30,000 STITCHES, hits stores May 4, 2021 with WorthyKids/Hachette Book Group, and her poetry and illustrations can be found in the Writers’ Loft new anthology, FRIENDS & ANEMONES: OCEAN POEMS FOR CHILDREN (November, 2020). Amanda is represented by Jennifer Unter of The Unter Agency.

To connect with Amanda and learn more about her work, visit her online at amandadavisart.com, Twitter @amandadavisart Instagram @amandadavis_art and Facebook.

Amanda is offering a 30-minute Zoom meeting to chat about a specific story or anything else kid-lit related OR for our educator and librarian friends, Amanda would like to offer a FREE 20-minute virtual classroom visit.

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

by Sita Singh

Hello, Storystormers! It’s my honor to be your guest blogger today.

I first participated in PiBoIdMo (now known as Storystorm) soon after I started to write, and quickly realized that all my ideas come from real life experiences. I was born and raised in India and moved to the United States in 1999. My ideas are inspired either from my own childhood or from my experience of mothering three, first-generation Indian-American children.

BIRDS OF A FEATHER, my debut picture book began with an idea listed in my notebook as “peacocks.” It was inspired from my childhood memories of watching peacocks. But it isn’t enough to say, okay, I’m going to write about peacocks. I needed a story. I needed to craft a character readers would care about. I needed a problem. I needed tension. I needed a lot. I tried several ways to tell my story, but none felt good enough or satisfying. At that same time, I was working on another story idea inspired from my daughter’s experiences; listed in my notebook as “standing out and feeling different.” This too wasn’t coming together to my satisfaction.

Then one day, it clicked. Like pieces of a puzzle. The thought of combining the two ideas (peacocks + standing out and feeling different) got my heart pounding and my imagination soaring. Right away, I knew what I wanted my story to be about.

For me, it took an amalgamation of ideas to spark a story!

Sometimes, connecting unexpected ideas, people, places, and objects, can result in stories that are fresh and unique. January is almost over, and if you’re anything like me, at least twenty-eight ideas must have come to you in form of words, phrases, titles, sketches, and some random thoughts, as well. If you ever get inspired to amalgamate any of these ideas, recognizing the ones that could come together to write a story only you can tell is exciting and rewarding. Here’s to recognizing those ideas!

When Tara asked me to write a guest post, I was curious to see who else has combined ideas to tell their story. Being a member of an incredible group of picture book writers and illustrators, Picture Book Scribblers, I didn’t have to go too far to find out. I was pleasantly surprised to see a generous number of stories come about from an amalgamation of ideas. Check out these ideas and look out for the fresh and unique stories coming to you in 2021!

HOME FOR A WHILE (February 2, 2021)

is an amalgamation of three ideas. 1) I wanted to write a story to honor the children with whom I’d worked when I ran a day treatment preschool. 2) I wanted to write about emotion regulation. 3) I wanted to write about seeing your strengths rather than just focusing on perceived challenges.

-Lauren Kerstein

THE BIG BEACH CLEANUP (March 1st, 2021)

is an amalgamation of three ideas 1) I passionately believe that if enough hands join together we can change the world. I wanted to write about little hands joining together to make big change. 2) I wanted to write a story that showed that you don’t have to be a superhero to make a difference. 3) I wanted to write a story that highlighted the growing plastic pollution problem and the steps that we can all take in our daily lives to make a difference.

-Charlotte Offsay

DON’T CALL ME FUZZYBUTT! (March 3rd, 2021)

I was inspired by both my son’s use of bad words and by our former president’s name calling. When my son was younger, he thought he was so grown up and cool when he used a word that he wasn’t supposed to say. I’d catch him saying it, and then he would come up with some variant of the word. “Mom, I said mitt. It’s not the word you think I said.” During this time, President Trump was also pretty much calling anyone a name who disagreed with him or his policies, and I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of impact are his actions having on our children.

-Robin Newman

A FLOOD OF KINDNESS (April 13, 2021)

1. I wanted to write about a child navigating through a disaster and 2) I wanted to write about how kindness can heal.

-Ellen Leventhal

PRINCESSES CAN FIX IT! (May 4, 2021)

I was specifically interested in writing a fractured fairy tale, and the Twelve Dancing Princesses is one of my favorites, 2.) I wanted to add an empowering, STEM twist and 3.) I was thinking about how rigid gender roles can be detrimental to both girls and boys.

-Tracy Marchini

FLY (Fall 2021)

is an amalgamation of Black Girl Magic and the childhood sport of double Dutch. As a kid I could jump rope, but double Dutch baffled me. I was always mesmerized by people who jump with two ropes. As a kid I didn’t tap into my potential as often as I could have, if only I had known my “magic”. My character, Africa, realizes her ability to double Dutch has and will always be part of her. Black girls are talented on their own.

-Brittany Thurman

BETWEEN TWO WORLDS: The Art & Life of Amrita Sher-Gil (Fall 2021):

1) wanted to showcase a South Asian female artist/painter AND 2) wanted to explore emotions around living across two cultures inspired by my own life experiences

-Meera Sriram

EVERYBODY IN THE RED BRICK BUILDING (Fall 2021)

When I wrote this story, I was raising my children in an apartment. I noticed that there were plenty of books about families in houses, and not as many about families in apartments. So my first idea was to write a book set in an apartment building. My second idea was to write a cumulative story. I loved The House that Jack Built when I was a kid. The logic of the structure was very comforting for me. Those two ideas combined – an apartment story and a cumulative tale – gave me Everybody in the Red Brick Building.

-Anne Wynter

BATTLE OF THE BUTTS (September 28, 2021)

is an amalgamation of two ideas. 1) After I saw a meme on Twitter about manatees controlling their buoyancy through farting, I went down an internet rabbit hole learning about animals that do weird things with their butts. 2) I used to watch way too many competitive reality shows (American Idol, Survivor, Amazing Race), often the more ridiculous the better. As I learned about these talented tushies, I imagined them competing against each other in front of judges, and I knew I had to write about it. I tried to come up with a title that riffed off one of these reality show names (Butts Got Talent! American Butt! Butt Idol!), but they sounded a bit awkward. So as an alliteration junkie, I decided to go with a homage to the old school battle of the bands to end up with BATTLE OF THE BUTTS.

-Jocelyn Rish

MY BORDERTOWN (Fall 2021)

is an amalgamation of two different cultures that have a lot of similarities. The story is in English and in Spanish and says the exact same thing in both languages, but the illustrations show very different cultures. Ultimately I wanted kids to know that even though people on both sides of the border have differences, they are ultimately the same.

-Nicolas Solis

BENNY’S TRUE COLORS (November 17, 2020)

is an amalgamation of these two ideas: 1) I wanted to write about a small brown bat who every night roosted in our brick entryway instead of flying around eating bugs like all the other bats , and 2) I wanted to write about assumptions and judgements made about people based on their outward appearance.

-Norene Paulson

Sita Singh was born and raised in India, and moved to the United States in 1999. She currently lives in South Florida with her husband, three children, and an immensely cute and curious dog. An architect in the past, Sita now enjoys writing heartwarming picture books with a South Asian backdrop. When Sita isn’t reading or writing, she can be found trying new recipes in the kitchen, experimenting with food photography, walking with the dog, or movie marathoning with the family. Her debut picture book, Birds Of A Feather, illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman, will be published on March 2nd, 2021 by Philomel Books. Find out more about Sita on singhsita.com and connect with her on Instagram and Twitter @sitawrites.


Sita is giving away a copy of BIRDS OF A FEATHER.

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

by Amanda Davis

Hi Tara! Thank you so much for hosting me on your blog. I’m super excited to be here and can’t wait to share my Storystorm Success Story with everyone.

In case you’re not familiar with me or my work, I’m an author, artist, and high school art educator who uses my art and writing to light up the world with kindness. After losing my father at the age of twelve, I turned to art and writing as an outlet. It became my voice. A way to cope. A way to escape. And a way to tell my story. Because of this, I was inspired to teach art and pursue my passion for writing and illustrating children’s books. Through my work, I hope to empower younger generations to tell their own stories and offer children and adults an entryway into a world of discovery. A world that can help them make sense of themselves, others, and the community around them. A world where they can navigate, imagine, and feel inspired—over and over again.

As you can see, art and writing have been a part of my life ever since I was little, but let’s fast forward to September 2011. The new school year was upon me, and I was searching for a lesson I could do with my high school art classes to teach them about the tenth remembrance of September 11, 2001. Each year, I touch upon 9/11 in my curriculum. We learn about the events and do an art project in remembrance. This year, while browsing through some magazines, I came across a little blurb about an American flag that flew over Ground Zero in the days after 9/11. The flag became torn and tattered and was taken down and stored away. Seven years later, the flag emerged from storage and was brought down to a small town in Kansas, to be retired. But instead, the flag was patched back together and later traveled to all all fifty states to be fully restored; returning to New York on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 as a symbol of hope and unity.

“Wow! This was it!” I thought. I’d found my lesson. So, that year, students learned about the National 9/11 flag, and we created our own patchwork flag that was inspired by the story of the National 9/11/ Flag. It was a beautiful project and a beautiful story that stuck with me long after the lesson was complete.

Fast forward again to January 2018. It was a new year, and I was reflecting on my writing and illustrating goals. Was I doing enough? How can I improve? What new resources are out there? Etc., etc.,. This is when I came across Tara’s Storystorm challenge—30 ideas in 30 days. This was the perfect way to commit to my creativity at the start of the new year. I was in!

Each day I collected my ideas in my special A.A. Milner Winnie the Pooh journal. On Day 5, there was a post from Corey Rosen Schwartz titled Begs, Borrows, & Steals. The post was all about borrowing ideas from YOURSELF. She talked about re-examining past ideas, pondering over them, and picking them apart. She suggested going back into your files, notebooks, and sketchbooks to see what was lingering. AHA! How brilliant! This led me back to the flag.  The story always lingered in the back of my mind, but Corey’s suggestions brought it to the forefront again. I got to thinking, “Why not make this a kid’s book?” So, I noted this in my trusty journal, scribbled an idea for a pitch, and continued with my Storystorm journey.

Lo and behold, I ended up being a Storystorm Grand Prize Winner and now had the chance to pitch five of my Storystorm ideas to agent Jennifer March Soloway. I was blown away and super stoked! I polished up my pitches (the story of the flag being one of them… then called ONE STITCH AT A TIME) and sent them off to Jennifer. In her response, she encouraged me to focus on the flag story, calling it “a marvelous idea with great potential.” Hooray! With Jennifer’s insights in mind, I now had the confidence to forge ahead with my story idea, begin my research, and later query agents and editors with the story.

Now, ten years since I first conducted my high school art lesson on the National 9/11 Flag, two years after Storystorm’s inspiration, and many, many, many drafts later, 30,000 STITCHES is the story that landed me my first agent and is set to be published with WorthyKids/Hachette Book Group on May 4, 2021.

It will enter the world twenty years after the tragic events of 9/11. The beautiful spread that is pictured here, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport, shows the flag coming to its last stop in Joplin, Missouri before returning to New York. The image showcases the people and places the flag touched throughout its 120,000 mile journey across the United States—criss-crossing borders and cross stitching lives. With today being Election Day, I think this image perfectly captures the power of the people when we come out and come together.  At the core of this story, are seeds of hope, seeds of unity, and seeds of strength. It’s about the power of working together to overcome hard things. It’s about kindness, compassion, and service to others. I hope that anyone who reads 30,000 STITCHES will be reminded that we are connected through our shared stories. Our stories are stitched together. Our stories are the fabric of America.

Thanks so much to Storystorm and to you, Tara, for giving writer’s opportunities to get inspired and share their work. Storystorm comes around again in January 2021!

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for a chance to win one of ten signed copies of 30,000 STITCHES! Sign up here!

Oh yes, one more thing, GO VOTE!

You can check out some of the 9/11 remembrance projects I’ve done with students here: 9/11 Remembrance Projects and stay tuned on my website for classroom activity guides for 30,000 STITCHES.


Amanda Davis is a teacher, artist, writer, and innovator who uses her words and pictures to light up the world with kindness. After losing her father at the age of twelve, Amanda turned to art and writing as an outlet. It became her voice. A way to cope. A way to escape. And a way to tell her story. She was thus inspired to teach art and pursue her passion for writing and illustrating children’s books. Through her work, Amanda empowers younger generations to tell their own stories and offers children and adults an entryway into a world of discovery. A world that can help them make sense of themselves, others, and the community around them. A world where they can navigate, imagine, and feel inspired—over and over again. When she’s not busy creating, you can find her sipping tea, petting dogs, and exploring the natural wonders of The Bay State with her partner and rescue pup, Cora. Visit her online at amandadavisart.com, on Twitter @amandadavisart, Instagram @amandadavis_art and Facebook.

by Jaime Zollars

I am thrilled to share my Storystorm success story here!

For those who don’t know me, my name is Jaime Zollars. I’m an illustrator who has been drawing pictures for young readers since 2003. I have illustrated many books for other authors, most notably, Kate Milford’s wonderful GREENGLASS HOUSE series and Claire Legrand’s enchanting FOXHEART.

After years of illustrating the writings of others, my first solo picture book, THE TRUTH ABOUT DRAGONS, will be published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on September 15, 2020! This is very exciting to me because I told myself way back in 2003 that I was going to make my own book, and it took (WAY) longer than expected to make that happen.

WHY did it take so long to happen? Well, I keep an optimistic list of tasks for myself daily and only a fraction of them get done. Those remaining list items are carried over to the next day, and this series of events repeats daily. For 15 years. Turns out that nothing that isn’t at the very pressing top of my list will ever get done, unless: it is suddenly on fire, is very enjoyable, only takes a few minutes, or is decidedly easy. Writing a picture book (for me, at least) is not particularly enjoyable, takes more than a few minutes, and is not easy. Writing is an unpredictable creative process that takes energy and time and focus. Writing a picture book is simply a list item doesn’t get neatly checked off.

Enter the challenge to come up with one idea for a picture book a day. This is a task that is decidedly checkmark-able.

I resolved to give PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month, now Storystorm) a whirl back in 2014 with a friend and fellow-illustrator, Wilson Swain. (He is talented and you should check out his work at wilsonswain.com.) We kept each other accountable by checking in weekly and sharing our ideas. NOW, some of these ideas were not good. Truly, 90 percent of these ideas were terrible. BUT occasionally, something would trigger more thought. One of my ideas in particular, was just a title. “The Truth About Dragons” sat on my list for some time. It was all I could come up with on that particular day when I had to come up with something. But this title intrigued me enough to consider it well after the month was through.

About a year later, I was driving alone in my car and thinking about this title again. I asked myself pointedly: “What IS the truth about dragons?” (I often talk to myself when my kids are not in the car.) My brain struggled as usual with this query, but then surprised me by proclaiming that dragons LOVE mint chocolate chip ice cream, they are actually very afraid of kittens, AND they love their little sisters even if they pretend that they don’t. None of these examples actually made it into the book, but the concept stuck. Dragons are just like us! Over the next few days, this idea grew into the concept that sometimes things look different when we’re afraid, and if we can see past our fears, perhaps we’ll uncover the truth. I thought about how the illustrations could take the lead in this title and invite readers to figure out the visual puzzle for themselves (the dragons turn to kids one-by-one as the protagonist learns more about them). And THAT was when the task of making my own book went from just another checklist item that would be indefinitely carried over, to a checklist item on fire.

The rest of my PiBoIdMo ideas also helped me to feel confident soliciting an agent. I had several kernels of ideas ready to share as soon as I had agent interest, and I signed with the infectiously enthusiastic Stephen Barr at Writer’s House in 2015. He looked over my book ideas and The Truth About Dragons was his pick as well. He was invaluable as we started working with this story in the background of my other deadlines and sold the book at auction to the amazing Deirdre Jones at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in 2017!

I’m honestly not sure I would have ever found the idea for this first solo book if it were not for Storystorm. I think we are mistaken if we assume (as I once did) that good ideas will come to us without some forced consideration. Waiting for inspiration to visit is a nice thought, but now I’m pretty sure that we can (and should) actively cultivate it. Storystorm, for me, was a low-pressure invitation to see things a little bit differently—if just for a month. Having to write something down, anything down, was a gift that trained my mind to actively pursue story alongside going about my days.

THE TRUTH ABOUT DRAGONS will be published on September 15, 2020. Kirkus even gave it a star (!) and calls it “A beautifully rendered, comforting, gentle lesson in overcoming fears.” I hope that it finds its way to the right parents, teachers, librarians, and readers as we all face a little bit of the unknown this fall.

Blog readers, Little Brown is giving away a copy of THE TRUTH ABOUT DRAGONS!

Leave one comment to enter.

A random winner will be chosen in a few weeks.

Good luck!

 


You can see more of Jaime’s art at jaimezollars.com, learn more about her art and writing process by following her on Instagram @jaimezollarsart, and preorder the Truth About Dragons here: https://bookshop.org/books/the-truth-about-dragons/9780316481489. Because there is just no way to do traditional book events at this time, send me a copy of a pre-order receipt from anywhere books are sold, along with your address, and I’ll even send you a signed mini-print to celebrate!

*Extra note for those interested: I also have a curriculum guide for this book for those who can use it—including parents who are doing some of the teaching in these strange times. I’m happy to send that out to anyone who e-mails me at jaime @ jaimezollars.com.

by Alexandra Alessandri

I’ve always loved the brainstorming part of the writing process. Endless possibilities! Bright, shiny story ideas! Hearts, unicorns, and rainbows! Imagine my excitement, then, when I discovered Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo, later re-envisioned into Storystorm. A whole month devoted to brainstorming? Yes, please!

Storystorm has become such an important part of my journey as a writer. Many of the posts shared by fellow kidlit authors have served as inspiration diving boards for my stories. I’ve filled notebooks with countless ideas. Some are only a few words or a title. Some have more fleshed-out plots. Others, though, explode into fully developed stories.

In fact, both of my upcoming picture books, FELIZ NEW YEAR, AVA GABRIELA! (Albert Whitman) and ISABEL AND HER COLORES GO TO SCHOOL (Sleeping Bear Press) were conceived during Storystorm.

In Storystorm 2018, Debbi Michiko Florence (Day 4) explored Culture and Family Tradition, and boy did her post resonate with me! I discovered that my Colombian heritage and memories provided a fountain of ideas. All of the foods, traditions, and family sayings came pouring out, and a few kept poking me to write them: the Colombian Andes and farms of my youth, the Año Viejo and our New Year’s Eve traditions, the energy of holiday get-togethers with my large extended family. But while I knew I wanted to include these elements in a story, I had no idea who or what the story was about, nor did I have a vision yet for its “about about.”

Then, on New Year’s Eve 2018, a week before Storystorm 2019 started, I watched as a friend’s young daughter shifted from hiding-behind-Mom-shy (just like I was at her age) to bouncing and squealing with excitement as the fireworks swished above us. I remember telling her, “Ava, you found your voice!” And thus my debut FELIZ NEW YEAR, AVA GABRIELA! (illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda), which releases this October 2020, was born. It was the perfect mashup of memory, culture, and observation, and many of the details that came from Debbi’s post made it into the final draft.

That wasn’t my first experience with Storystorm, though. My very first was in 2015, back when it was PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month). That year, Jessixa Bagley (Day 7) activated her muse and urged us to search [our] memories. Carter Higgins (Day 15) rewound things and guided us through finding a story’s “about about.” Both of these posts helped me develop a budding tale about a little girl who didn’t speak English and who was scared to make friends because of the language barrier—a story that blossomed from my memories of being a kindergartener in New York, coming from a Spanish-only home. I wrote and revised and revised some more (rinse and repeat) until it was ready. ISABEL AND HER COLORES GO TO SCHOOL releases Fall 2021.

I swear magic really exists. All you have to do is read through the posts of Storystorm and PiBoIdMo past to see it. Of course, you need more than a great idea to publish a book. You need perseverance, hard work, and heaps of patience. You need willingness to revise your words over and over (and over) again.

But it all starts with a seedling of possibility that Tara Lazar makes possible through Storystorm. I will always be grateful to her for creating magic. Thank you, Tara!

You’re welcome, Alexandra! And thank you for sharing your successes. I hope everyone will join us for Storystorm 2021 in January!


Alexandra Alessandri is a Colombian American poet, children’s author, and Associate Professor of English at Broward College. Her poetry has appeared in The Acentos Review, Rio Grande Review, Atlanta Review, and YARN. Her debut Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! releases October 1, 2020 from Albert Whitman & Company, followed by Isabel and Her Colores Go to School in fall 2021 from Sleeping Bear Press. Alexandra lives in Florida with her husband and son. Visit her at alexandraalessandri.com.

OPENING THE ROAD is the true story behind the Green Book guide Black Americans used to travel safely during legal segregation…and the mail carrier who wrote it.

Today author Keila Dawson is here to talk about how the 2017 Storystorm challenge inspired this story. Congratulations and take it away, Keila!

After reading a 2017 Storystorm post by Brenda Reeves Sturgis, Social Media Inspires Social Awareness, I heard an interesting story about the Green Book travel guides on a different type of media—the radio. The broadcast was an interview with the creator of a BBC documentary on the Green Book. I learned it was written and published in the 1930s during a time when finding places to eat, sleep, or get gas on road trips wasn’t easy or safe for Black Americans. I had always wanted to write a narrative nonfiction story and thought there was an audience for this story about the man and the book that changed lives for so many people.

Keila, how did your initial idea grow and change?

I followed the links provided by the broadcast host to learn more about the guide and fell down a research rabbit hole!

From a quick search, I found one other title published about the topic, a fiction picture book, and gave myself permission to dedicate the time to dig deeper. Filling in the gaps of my own personal knowledge of the history during that period made me even more determined to write this story.

My first draft read like a Wikipedia page with lots of dates and facts. There was very little public information available on Victor Green, the mail carrier who published the guides, but they were in the public domain. I read the introductions he wrote and articles he published in every guide. I learned he got the idea from the Jewish press.

I connected with experts such as a Jewish historian and museum curator, a photojournalist searching for Green Book sites once listed in the guides, a former mail carrier who is now a college professor that studies the history of postal workers activism, and a story arc emerged. After the movie “Green Book” released, I already had the bones of the story, but it sparked a lot of discussion about the guide and I had access to even more information.

What did your illustrator bring to the project?

When the publisher started looking for an illustrator, my editor told me they reached out to Alleanna Harris but not to get my hopes up because she was in such high demand. It was clear from other nonfiction books Alleanna illustrated that she would do the research and add so much more to the story, so I crossed my fingers and toes. Knowing she signed on the project assured me it was in talented hands. Literally!

The cover…which I will reveal now…

…and interior spread show exactly what I wanted readers to take away from this book: yes, legal segregation made travel and life difficult for Black citizens. Yes, there was unfairness, and protests, but there was also room for joy. And Victor Green found a solution that worked at that time. It felt like he led and won a battle in the war against racism. And Black families, their communities and allies helped create the change they wanted, together.

Although the story and art in OPENING THE ROAD: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book take you back in time, kids will connect things that happened then to today’s events and see what has and hasn’t changed over the last 80 years.

Thank you, Keila, for introducing us to your book.

Keila will be giving away a copy of OPENING THE ROAD to one lucky blog reader.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck!


Keila V. Dawson worked as a community organizer, teacher, school administrator, educational consultant, and advocate for children with special needs before she became a children’s book author. She is co-editor of No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, along with Lindsay H. Metcalf and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Bradley (Charlesbridge, September 22, 2020), the author of The King Cake Baby, and  the forthcoming Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book, illustrated by Alleanna Harris (Beaming Books, January 26, 2021). Dawson is a New Orleans native and has lived and worked in the Philippines, Japan, and Egypt. Visit her at keiladawson.com, on Twitter @keila_dawson, on Instagram @keilavdawson, and on Pinterest @keiladawson.

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April 2022

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