Ahh, spring! Can I go outside now?

Well, I live in New Jersey where spring weather is a bit iffy—75 and sunny one day, a blizzard the next. Best to keep my nose buried in the books a while longer.

Thankfully, a gorgeous book just arrived! Meet APPLE AND MAGNOLIA by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Patricia Metola.

What a sweet cover! And it earned THREE starred reviews! Thankfully, Laura Gehl agreed to an interview!

Laura, you know this blog is all about story ideas…so how did this idea germinate?

The seed for this idea came from research I read several years ago about how trees communicate with one another. That research is more widely known now, but at the time it was completely new to me. The fact that trees can send one another nutrients, and can warn one another of danger, struck me as something extraordinary and amazing. APPLE AND MAGNOLIA grew out of my desire to write about this real, special relationship between trees.

But this story isn’t just about trees, is it? Tell us how Nana’s character came into play.

You’re right, the story isn’t just about trees. The story is also about Britta’s unwavering belief in the face of doubters. Britta is convinced Apple can help when Magnolia falls ill, and she doesn’t let Dad and her older sister Bronwyn dissuade her. But I wanted Britta to have a supporter in addition to the doubters…because I hope all kids can find a supportive adult in their lives, whether a relative or a teacher or a coach. That’s where Nana comes in.

How did the story grow from early drafts to the final?

Britta’s attempts to help the two trees feel closer to one another (the scarf, the string telephone, the lights) changed over time…I remember my critique partners helping brainstorm ideas for that! As I got closer to the final draft, I added in tree language, like “Britta felt a seed of hope start to grow” and “Britta’s hope blossomed too.” Also, my initial title was TWO TREES, which of course grew into APPLE AND MAGNOLIA.

Why did you choose those two trees, an apple and a magnolia?

Choosing two trees was hard. I wanted trees with beautiful spring blossoms, I wanted one to be a fruit tree, and I wanted trees with names that sounded somewhat like human names (sorry, Brazil nut tree!). I liked that apple trees and magnolia trees can both have pink flowers but that the two types of blossoms don’t look similar in shape or size. Also, I have a magnolia tree in my yard, which I love!

What do you hope readers will take away after reading APPLE AND MAGNOLIA?

I hope kids take away from this book that trees are connected to one another, that we are connected to trees, and really that all living things in our world are connected. I also hope young readers leave this story with the realization that when they face doubters in their lives…even bigger, older doubters…they don’t have to listen. When kids disagree with adults, sometimes kids are the ones who know what they’re talking about!

Amen to that! Kids can be so much more intuitive than adults.

Laura, thank you for sharing this beautiful book with us. I understand there’s also a discussion guide and activity resource at flyawaybooks.com/book/apple-and-magnolia

And blog readers, you can win a signed copy of APPLE AND MAGNOLIA! Just leave one comment below.

A random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck!

Thanks, Tara, for inviting New Books for Kids back to your blog. We were here last year at the start of our debut journey together talking about what else?—debut groups!

For this visit, Tara asked us to consider how we approach the craft of writing.  From inspiration to polished manuscript, what is our process? You wondered, “Do we start with a theme when we write? A character? A structure? How do we revise?” Here are some answers from New Books for Kids.

Adria Karlsson (MY SISTER DAISY, illustrated by Linus Curci):

Almost always my books start out as ideas jotted down in a notebook, on a sticky note, or in my phone. I love novel information and when I hear something that makes me go, “Wait. What?!” – that’s usually a good indication I’m going to have to investigate further. Sometimes the ideas come from within my own thoughts when I’m tackling a problem of my own, helping a kiddo get through a tough moment, or celebrating someone’s accomplishment. It’s a long way from there to a proper story and sometimes I never do figure out how to move it out of “concept” and into “story.” Despite that, I like my collection of dysfunctional ideas and come back to them often to see if any of them have germinated. The evolution into a story often occurs when I figure out the theme that will carry the concept.

About Adria: Once upon a time, Adria Karlsson could have been found teaching people, training cats and dogs, or tutoring dyslexic kids, but now they spend their time writing and parenting. They set off on a new adventure every day to discover fresh alchemies of words and ideas that will build a good story. Visit her online at adriakarlsson.com or on Twitter: @adriakarlsson.

Alex Katona (DINNER ON DOMINGOS, illustrated by Claudia Navarro):

When I have an idea, I just start writing. I don’t think too much about an arc, but I try to have a theme in mind. My first draft is MESSY—I try not to be too critical and just get my ideas down. After the initial thoughts are on paper, I leave it for a few days to figure out where to go next. When I come back to it, I break it apart and dissect it. I think about character development and pacing and page turns, but I continue to think about the theme. I even write the word or phrase on a post-it note and stick it near my laptop so I’m constantly reminded of it.

About Alex: Alex has been writing stories since she was young. When she’s not writing, you can find her surfing, exploring the outdoors, or reading. She lives with her husband, son, and dogs in Southern California and believes in the connective power of food. Dinner on Domingos is based on her own childhood. You can visit her at alexandrakatona.com or on Twitter @Alex_KatonaC.

Benjamin Giroux (I AM ODD I AM NEW, illustrated by Roz MacLean):

Our youngest member finds inspiration for writing from his everyday life. He wrote the poem that became his debut book I AM ODD I AM NEW as a school assignment in which he expressed his experience living as a person with autism in a neurotypical world. The book series he’s currently working on also channels his everyday moments and was inspired by Monty, his pet snake. What in your own life inspires you?

About Benjamin: Benjamin, whose book was given the prestigious Kirkus Reviews Star, has been featured on many websites, in the Huffington Post, and on the Today Show and Good Morning America. He was named Poet Laureate of Plattsburgh, New York, and has also been the face of the National Autism Association’s antibullying campaign. His poem has been translated into several languages. He is now an award-winning songwriter. Visit him at benjamingiroux.com.

Katie Williams (POET, PILGRIM, REBEL: The Story of Anne Bradstreet, America’s First Poet, illustrated by Tania Rex):

While the ‘craft’ of writing involves many different phases and elements, I think my favorite one is the brainstorming phase. To me, this is one of the most important parts since it determines the subject of your story. Setting, POV, main character, those all come later, but first you need your subject. There are so many ways to brainstorm ideas and none of them are wrong. Some people enjoy perusing the news looking for interesting people or events. Others might sit and meditate, seeing what comes to them naturally. For me, I love to look around and attempt to see the world with new eyes. How would my children see that clump of trees? As a hideout? A scary forest? A home to an animal? With nonfiction, it can mean looking at a historical figure with a fresh take on it. Sure, that person grew up to be famous, but what were they like as a child? What were their dreams/hopes/fears? When you look at the world in a fresh, new way, you’ll literally find story ideas everywhere!

About Katie: Katie is a Public Health Nurse, Lactation Consultant, and Author. She has always been an avid reader and was once so engrossed in reading Black Beauty that she missed her school bus home. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA with her husband and two children, where they enjoy digging for sand crabs and attempting to bring the entire beach home with them in their pants. Visit her online at katiemundaywilliams.com or on Twitter: @KatieWills79.

Leah Rose Kessler (RAT FAIR, illustrated by Cleonique Hilsaca):

What happens when you’ve tried everything, and your story still doesn’t feel right? As counterintuitive as it sounds, my craft tip for you is to let it go. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your manuscript is set it aside. Even if it’s the story of your heart, the one you’re certain you’re destined to publish, stop working on it. Drop it like a handful of lava. Put it out of your mind.

Create a folder labeled “To Come Back To Later” and plop it in. Then walk away. Have a piece of toast. Repaint your bathroom. Learn how to ski. After enough time has passed (I’m talking months, not days), one of two things is likely to happen. Either you’ll find that you’re immersed in another manuscript and don’t feel the need to visit that folder, or you’ll go back and take a peek and realize your brain has been working on it in the background all along; all the mentor texts you’ve read, the movies you’ve watched, the life you’ve lived, will have added up into a big swirl of insight and inspiration while you weren’t even looking. You’ll be able to take your story forward in a direction you never would have been capable of if you’d kept on picking and poking at it all those months ago.

About Leah: Leah spent much of her childhood up a tree with a stack of books. These days, when she’s not reading or writing, she’s an on-again, off-again elementary school teacher and a lifelong biologist. She lives in Michigan with two humans and two cats and has a soft spot for scurrying creatures of all shapes and sizes. Her work has appeared in Cricket Media’s Babybug and Spider magazines. Leah is represented by Natascha Morris at The Tobias Literary Agency. Visit her online at leahrosekessler.com or on Twitter: @leahrosekessler.

Morissa Rubin (DOT, DOT, POLKA DOT, forthcoming from POW! Kids Books):

As an author/illustrator my creative process is messy, intertwined, and not at all linear. Sometimes I start with words and other times it is an image or visual idea that gets me started. I am very interested in the interplay of word and image, and I usually work in one realm for a bit and then switch to the other to see if I can let both sides develop together. I want to make sure that both sides of the equation (words and art) speak to me equally, each offering a different window into the work that is emerging. As a graphic designer and long-time publication designer, I think a lot about how a concept is reflected in its visual structure. How is the sequencing, pacing, and “chunking out” of the work reflected in both the words and phrasing, and how can it also be expressed with color, texture, pattern, and composition. But at some point, I do separate passes, focusing on just the words and language one time and then doing a visual edit at another time. I keep inching along, back and forth, back and forth.

About Morissa: Morissa is a graphic designer who thinks polka dots, paisleys and plaid are better together. She received her BFA from RISD and her MS from MIT’s Visible Language Workshop. Morissa lives in Sacramento where she teaches typography and other design courses at UC Davis and Sac State. Visit her website at morissarubindesign.com/books or on Twitter: @MorissaRubin and Instagram: @morissa.s.childrensbooks.

Rochelle Melander (MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing, illustrated by Melina Ontiveros):

The idea for MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD came from teaching writing to young people. I wanted to create a resource that would tell the stories of people who wrote to share big ideas, fight for equal rights, and heal the environment. When I researched and wrote each chapter, I started with the question: How did they use writing to change themselves and the world? These hooks guided my writing—and I used them to tell the story. When I revised, I read my words aloud, listening for juicy words and interesting twists and turns that would hook the readers. This process works well for writing and revising picture books, too. I start with the theme or question, using that to research, brainstorm, or write the story. When I revise, I listen with the imagination of a child. How will this story unfold for them? What words will appeal to them? Where will they get hooked? And where will they get lost? That helps me to find my way forward.

About Rochelle: Rochelle wrote her first book at seven and has published 11 books for adults. Mightier Than the Sword won the 2021 Cybils Award for Middle Grade nonfiction. She’s an ADHD coach, an artist educator, and the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop for young people. She blogs at writenowcoach.com and rochellemelander.com. Find her on Twitter and Instagram: @writenowcoach.

Stephanie Wildman (BRAVE IN THE WATER, illustrated by Jenni Feidler-Aguilar and translated into Spanish as VALIENTE EN EL AGUA by Cecilia Populus-Eudave):

Like several of my colleagues, I also find inspiration in the day to day. My forthcoming picture book Treasure Hunt combines two activities I do with my grandchildren. But how does one go from inspiration to polish? My most important craft tip (as a non-illustrator) is putting the manuscript (after rewrites and those ever so valuable critiques) into a picture book dummy format. That allows me to focus on page turns – will the reader want to turn to the next page? What can be pictured with this text? Are too many pages taking place in the same scene? I can better answer these questions once the manuscript is formatted like a book. And of course, read it out loud.


About Stephanie: Stephanie became a Professor Emerita after serving as the John A. and Elizabeth H. Sutro Chair at Santa Clara Law. In that role she authored books, law review articles, and journalistic pieces. She is a grandmother, mother, spouse, friend, good listener, and she can sit “criss-cross apple sauce” thanks to her yoga practice. Lawley Publishing will release her second children’s book Treasure Hunt (illustrated by Estefania Razo) in November 2022. Find her at stephaniewildman.com or on Twitter: @SWildmanSF.

Thank you for sharing your craft tips, authors!

Blog readers, do you have a craft or process tip that works especially well for you? Please share in the comments!

Finally, here they are. The Grand Prize Winners of Storystorm!

These stormers registered, completed the challenge, and were randomly selected with the help of Urania Smith of Kidlit Nation.

Each winner has been paired with a kidlit literary agent to receive feedback on their best 5 story ideas, helping them decide which ideas to pursue as manuscripts. I also added one additional prize of an idea consult with yours truly.

If you didn’t win a Grand Prize, please hold on tight. Winners of the individual daily prizes will be announced soon!

Steve Jankousky → Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency

Elizabeth W Saba → Tara Gonzalez of Erin Murphy Literary Agency

Jess Burbank → Sean McCarthy of Sean McCarthy Literary Agency

Alison Ferguson → Kelly Sonnack of Andrea Brown Literary Agency

Cristina Ergunay → Charlotte Wenger of Prospect Agency

Midge Smith → Lisa Fleissig &  Ginger Harris-Dontzin of Liza Royce Agency

Jen Anyong → Maeve MacLysaght of Copps Literary Services

Zoraida Rivera → Susan Hawk of Upstart Crow Literary

Candace Spizzirri → Tara Lazar of This Here Blog

These winners should start polishing their ideas and fleshing them out into concise pitches. I’ll be emailing you shortly with details!

Congratulations to all!

This is a sketch drawn by my friend Paula Cohen during a virtual critique group meeting.

Paula’s top left and then there’s (clockwise) Karen Rostoker-Gruber (with an animal mask on the wall behind her), Margery Cuyler, me (with tea), Laurie Wallmark, and Rachelle Burk. It was a lovely meeting full of laughter and sharp writing feedback, plus it was the highlight of everyone’s month since we’ve not been together during the pandemic. In the “before times” we would gather for breakfast at Panera and inevitably stay for lunch, too! But since March 2020, it’s been Zoom-a-zoom-a-zoom-a-zoom.

We were all eagerly anticipating Paula’s debut picture book as author-illustrator (originally titled SHIRLEY’S STORE, then SHIRLEY’S BIG IDEA) because we had been together through the many revisions she made, through agent queries, through publisher submissions, and finally through the offer with Levine Querido. We all rode that rollercoaster with Paula (screaming, laughing, crying and holding tight with sweaty palms).

Finally, TODAY IS THE DAY! Happy book birthday, Shirley and BIG DREAMS, SMALL FISH!

Let me tell you about Shirley 1.0! Shirley is really Paula’s mom, “working” at the family grocery store in Albany, NY. I remember we joked with Paula about how the first Shirley looked a little too matronly to be a young kid.

One of Paula’s original Shirley sketches.

And Uncle Morris appeared a little too senior for his wife to be having a baby in the story.

Oh, how we laughed with Paula! She took the criticism well, with humor. Of course, Shirley and Uncle Morris went through some transitions…they both got more hair…

I remember Paula being particularly proud of this spread in BIG DREAMS, SMALL FISH—where the neighborhood customers are trying Shirley’s store delicacy from the comfort of their homes.

The original page didn’t show the true depth of Shirley’s effect on the neighborhood (but we loved it all the same).

The change was her art director’s suggestion, and it was brilliant. The new scene shows the diverse immigrant community. There’s the glow of the lights from within the apartments and plenty of smiles. It radiates warmth—just like Paula’s original sketch, but on a neighborhood scale.

And just like the real Shirley, who embodied warmth and shared the importance of family in her community, too. BIG DREAMS, SMALL FISH is Paula’s homage to her mother.

And this blog post is my homage to Paula. She passed away suddenly on Thursday.

Visiting Paula’s summer camp on “Fractured Fairy Tale Day”. She made that Goldilocks wig!

I’m in a state of shock and disbelief. Paula was one of those vibrant, upbeat, joyous people you loved to be around because she made you feel good. She gave great big hugs in a tiny 4’10” frame. Her art was always a delight. In fact, I met Paula at a NJ-SCBWI conference because of her art. She had displayed a playful image of a polar bear and a girl swimming underwater. I sought her out to compliment her.

Here’s a sketch of that polar bear and girl, who became characters in a friendship story that she hoped to sell soon.

And Paula’s polar bear even got to be a star with the Coney Island Polar Bear Club!

Well, this was supposed to be a post about BIG DREAMS, SMALL FISH but it’s about Paula instead. You can see the joy she brought to others through her art, and my own dream is that Paula’s work will have a ripple effect, touching everyone who comes across it. It was her dream to be an author, and she did it. Mazel Tov, Paula!

So please, check out Paula’s book. Share it, request it at your library, do what you can to spread the warmth.

Thank you!

Paula and her beloved pooch, Joxter the Schnauzer.

Author Janet Sumner Johnson is here today with a cover reveal of her new picture book, BRAVER THAN BRAVE!

Before the big reveal, I asked Janet about the genesis of the story.

Once upon a time, my son wanted to ride the big roller coaster at the amusement park. Though he was scared, we waited in line as he built up his courage. When we got to the front, he still wasn’t sure he could do it, but there was a big sign over the way out: CHICKEN EXIT.

He didn’t want to go through that exit, and he wasn’t sure he was ready for the roller coaster. He had a tough choice to make!

Fast forward many years. My daughter was complaining that all the kids at school wanted her to do a thing that she didn’t want to do. She said, “I’m just tired of everyone telling me to be brave!”

I remembered my son’s experience, and those two ideas collided. They had me questioning the concept of Brave. What does it really mean to be Brave? How do kids show their Brave? What if Brave is different than we think?

From the thrilling roller coaster ride in the background, to the determination on Wanda’s face, Eunji Jung’s art really captures the heart of the story. I can’t wait until BRAVER THAN BRAVE hits the bookshelves! 

Thanks, Janet. And here’s the cover with art by Eunji Jung…

Wanda desperately wants to be brave like her big brother, Zane, but it’s not easy. When the Coaster of Doom opens at the amusement park, Wanda is determined to conquer it. But up close, it’s scarier than she thought! With all eyes on her, she must find the confidence to be her own kind of brave.  

Janet is giving away a copy of BRAVER THAN BRAVE once it’s released on August 1, 2022 from Capstone.

Comment once below with your brave moment!

A random winner will be selected this summer.

Good luck!

Janet Sumner Johnson lives in northern Utah with her husband, three kids, and a dog. As a kid, she loved riding roller coasters, but refused to enter Haunted Houses (she still won’t!). When she’s not writing or planning her next book, Janet loves eating cookies, laughing, and going on long walks. Sometimes she even does all three at once! She is the author of the middle grade novel The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society, and the picture book Help Wanted: Must Love Books. You can learn more about her at janetsumnerjohnson.com.

by Ana Siqueira

IF YOUR BABYSITTER IS A BRUJA…you must learn some new tricks to escape from her spells.

¡Cuidado! You might regret it.

This book is based on my experience being a Mom witch for some long minutes. Yes, for the longest three-block walk ever, my three-year-old daughter decided to shout: “You’re not my real mom. You’re a witch!” Imagine my situation. And all because I told her, “No, you can’t dive for the last 100th time.”

This story that marinated in my head for over 20 years, is finally a book. But I changed Mom to a babysitter.

And here is the premise:

On the night before Halloween, a new babysitter might be more than she appears. If she wears a black sombrero and cackles like a crow, she might just be a bruja! One little girl is determined not to fall victim to this witch or her cats. Is bath time a bruja’s way of putting her in a boiling cauldron? Can she keep la bruja at bay with a magic potion? Can she get the bruja trapped in the enchanted tower or maybe make her disappear forever?

With boundless imagination and plenty of tricks up her sleeve, the young protagonist may just have the best night ever!

To celebrate the creation of this book illustrated by the fabulosa Irena Freitas, I’m promoting a pre-order giveaway.

If you pre-order this book and send the receipt through my website contact form, I will either:

  • critique your first page or a query letter
  • send a signed bookplate
  • visit your classroom (virtually-15 minutes)

These offers are valid from February 15th to March 15th.

Also, leave a comment below with any question about writing picture books and I’ll reply!

IF YOUR BABYSITTER IS A BRUJA also comes in Spanish—CUANDO TU NIÑERA ES UNA BRUJA—Illustrated by Irena Freitas, edited by Alyza Liu (Simon and Schuster, August 23rd, 2022).

Check out some spreads below and even a book trailer with an original song. (Be careful. Cuidado! It’s too catchy. Hahaha) by my seven-year-old grandson, Luka.)


Irena Freitas is an author & illustrator currently based in Manaus, Brazil, working for clients internationally. She has an MFA in Illustration from Savannah College of Arts and Design and loves illustrating people, funny situations that happen in our daily life, and whimsical stories. When she is not reading and illustrating books she likes to travel and visit new places.

Visit her at irenafreitas.com.

Ana Siqueira is an award-winning author from Brazil who cackles but doesn’t wear hats. When not flying with brujas, she teaches Spanish to adorable little ones, where she casts a learning spell that nobody can resist. Ana has published IF YOUR BABYSITTER IS A BRUJA, BELLA’S RECIPE FOR SUCCESS (Beaming Books), and EL PATO QUIERE UVAS (Educational Market- Teacher’s Discovery). More books coming in 2023 and 2024. She loves being an abuela and a vovó to her Cuban-Brazilian-American grandkids. She lives in Florida with her husband, who just might be a wizard. Visit her at anafiction.com and you can get signed copies of her book at Tombolo Books.

Dear Picture Book Writers, you may know that I serve on the Rutgers University Council of Children’s Literature and help organize our annual conference. Back in 2017, we selected a newly-published author, Kate Dopirak, to be our “Success Story Speaker,” as she had been a mentee at our conference. We also knew her to be a warm, enthusiastic and engaging presenter.

Sadly, Kate passed away the following year. But several of her closest writing friends got together with SCBWI to offer a scholarship in her name. I asked author Trisha Speed Shaskan to tell us about SCBWI’s Kate Dopirak Craft & Community Award.

Trisha, tell us, who was Kate Dopirak?

Kate Dopirak was the author of several picture books. The last book she wrote, HURRY UP! A BOOK ABOUT SLOWING DOWN, which is an ode to being present, illustrates one of Kate’s best qualities: She was ever-present as a wife, mom, friend, author, and community member.

Ten years ago, when I met Kate at the SCBWI annual conference in L.A., her smile radiated warmth and welcoming. Each year afterwards, I looked forward to seeing Kate at that conference where we discussed writing, or as fellow educators shared stories, such as the wonder of witnessing a child string together letters into a word for the first time. Inevitably, Kate lit up while discussing her husband Josh and sons Joey and Bobby who often inspired her stories. She used her role as an assistant R.A. to connect people to each other. In Kate’s presence, a party of three quickly became a party of ten.

Although she lived in Pennsylvania and I live in Minnesota, Kate and I kept in touch. Knowing the ups and downs of the children’s book business, Kate was an UP. When the picture book I wrote PUNK SKUNKS was published, Kate bought it, posted about it, and congratulated me—always the cheerleader.

In 2018, Kate passed away too soon from sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Kate is greatly missed by her family, friends, and the children’s book community who have created the Kate Dopirak Craft & Community Award in her honor.

What kind of manuscripts does the Award committee hope to receive?

The committee is hoping to receive a picture book manuscript that stands out for the writing, idea, concept, subject or a combination or those qualities. The committee is also looking for a writer who creates and builds a sense of community.

How can picture book writers apply?

SCBWI members can apply for the award. The winner will receive tuition to the SCBWI Summer Conference and 20-minute consultations with a picture book editor and a literary agent. The deadline is February 18, 2022. (That’s soon! Hurry up!)

For more information, go to KateDopirakAward.com.

Today I’d like to welcome KidLit Caravan to the blog. They’re a troupe of authors and author/illustrators with debut picture books headed your way in 2022! They found each other on social media and have become fast friends. Their debut picture books may be “gnu” in 2022, but there are already more stories coming down the pike for 2023 and beyond…

I asked them to tell us a little about their books and what inspired them, considering we’re right on the heels of Storystorm! These delightful books will soon be on the shelves and are available for pre-order. Plus, read to the end because there’s something the Caravanners (is that a word?) want to give you, too!

Levine Querido, March 2022

Paula Cohen

After my mother passed away I realized I’d never asked her about what it was like to live above her family’s grocery market. I realized that, as a writer, I could imagine it! Using her spitfire character and a handful of pictures of the original store, I created the story of a little girl growing up in an immigrant neighborhood, sharing her family traditions with the customers.

Feiwel & Friends, July 2022

Margaret Aitken

As a family doctor in Scotland, I was saddened by the loneliness many of the community’s older members were experiencing. Then, many years later, my son’s preschool attended a local care home. The interaction between the children and the seniors was so touching and it got me thinking–if only there were more multigenerational groups! OLD FRIENDS is a fun story about found family that reinforces the idea that friends can be of any age.

Little Bee Books, September 2022

Melissa Coffey

I was gobsmacked to learn we waste up to 40% of all food in the US! Food is the number one thing dumped in landfills, yet we don’t automatically equate food waste with pollution and climate change. I wrote FRIDGE-OPOLIS to entertain, engage and empower kids to become planet-saving superheroes through their everyday choices and habits. I can’t wait for readers to meet Mayor Mayonnaise and the other hilarious characters trying to save their city from rancid ruin!

Page Street Kids, August 2022

Donna Cangelosi

As a child psychologist, I use play, art, and music to help kids express and manage uncomfortable feelings. Several years ago, I read an article describing how Fred Rogers used music to deal with his own childhood illness and bullying. Knowing how he helped children in the same way on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, I wrote this picture book biography–a celebration of the extraordinary gift of music that Fred Rogers gave to all children.

Flamingo Books, April 2022

Carrie Tillotson

My son did his usual starfish float during swim lessons, and one day the instructor counted “One-two-three, four-five-six, seven-eight-nine, BANANAS!” Hysterics ensued. When the instructor said “Don’t you love my counting to bananas?”—I knew a picture book title was born.

Albert Whitman & Co., March 1, 2022

Harshita Jerath

I was making laddoos (luh-DOOS), a round shaped Indian dessert, for my son’s birthday. And while shaping the laddoo it slipped from my hand onto the floor. This reminded me of the Gingerbread Man story and I promptly noted the idea. THE LEAPING LADDOO is a fun, fast-paced cultural take on this classic tale.

Page Street Kids, April 5, 2022

Kimberly Wilson

During Storystorm 2019, I looked at the coin jug on my kitchen counter and saw something more––a plucky penny on a mission to prove she’s cent-sational! Through Penny’s journey, I realized I had the opportunity not only to make readers laugh with countless puns and introduce them to money math, but to show them something priceless––the importance of self-worth.

Christy Ottaviano Books, June 7, 2022

Robyn McGrath

Dolly Parton’s passion and drive have always fascinated me, where did it come from? When I began my research I learned that Dolly set to dreaming at a young age, even when the odds were stacked against her. Knowing what an inspiration she is to so many, myself included, I knew Dolly’s story had to be told… for our youngest readers and biggest dreamers!

Kids Can Press, May 3, 2022

Debbie Zapata

When I had my first child, the doctors told me my baby had Down syndrome. From the start, my son’s open-hearted and infectious smile was on a mission to brighten people’s days. My dad would say, “Up and at ‘em, Adam!” When Hurricane Sandy struck New York City, I was reminded of how resilient New Yorkers are in times of need. In the story, Adam and his dog, Up, help their neighbors in the aftermath of a storm, lifting spirits as they go.

Sleeping Bear Press, July 2022 (cover art TK)

Rebecca Gardyn Levington

One rainy day, much like the MC in my book BRAINSTORM!, I had a terrible case of writer’s block. My brain felt like the weather—cloudy, gloomy and gray. To avoid staring at the blank page, I turned my attention to the brewing storm outside my window when—kerplink!—I felt the tiniest drop of an idea. What if ideas poured down from the sky? Like a rainstorm?…No, wait! Like a BRAINstorm! I immediately began writing a poem, which later became the first draft of BRAINSTORM! I hope this rhyming concept picture book inspires kids to play in the puddles of their own creativity.

Cameron Kids, October 2022 (cover art TK)

Angela H. Dale

While passing by a new bus stop in my neighborhood, I was completely captivated by the swarm of kids gathered there. It took me right back to my own childhood, waiting at a similar intersection, playing games with siblings and friends until the school bus arrived … or, rarely, (spoiler alert) hearing someone call out that the bus wasn’t coming. I had so much fun naming (26!) characters from amongst my children’s friends and classmates. Can’t wait for them to see their names on the page.

Candlewick Press, October 2022

Suma Subramaniam

I spent my childhood years in India in a tiny apartment with a large family and a secular community from all backgrounds and Indian ethnicities. As a child, I bonded with my neighbors and friends when we embraced and celebrated our differences. I wanted to capture that experience by breaking down the well-known word, Namaste, into smaller, “easy-to-understand and apply” pieces.

Beaming Books, August 2022

Lisa Gerin

As a children’s librarian, I was always looking for new biographies for kids. I decided to write my own featuring unsung heroes and heroines of history and science. When I noticed there were no kid bios about Jewish scientist Rosalind Franklin, I was inspired to tell her story of discovering the shape of DNA’s double helix. During researching, I discovered she also contributed to helping doctors find a vaccine for the polio virus in the 1950s, so relevant to today’s world!

You can follow the whole of Kidlit Caravan online at KidLitCaravan.com, on Twitter @kidlitcaravan and Instagram @kidlitcaravan.

Comment below and you could win one of two picture book manuscript critiques—any format! Prose, rhyme, non-fiction, fiction… 

Two random winners will be selected in March.

Good luck!

by Diana Murray, who picks the freshest ideas

Congratulations! You made it through Storystorm. Instead of simply waiting for ideas to come to you, you went out there and actively churned them up, sought them out, and grabbed them! An idea may just be a word or short phrase. It may not seem like much, but really, it’s the beginning of everything! An overwhelming thought. Which idea do you choose? How do you proceed?

First, Marinate!
I urge you to proceed slowly and let your ideas fully develop. While you’re going about your usual business of walking the dog, running errands, or even sleeping, your brain is actually hard at work, with creative juices flowing. Feel free to jot a few notes down to keep track of things, but don’t rush into committing to a story. This marination phase has already been happening all through Storystorm and there’s no need to stop the process quite yet. For example, my book “Unicorn Day” sprouted from the idea of dolphins having a party in the ocean. I got the seed of the idea while observing dolphins down in Florida. But I didn’t start writing as soon as I had the idea. I let the idea sit around in my mind for a few weeks. I kept thinking about how majestic dolphins seemed, as if they were unicorns of the sea. Eventually, “Dolphin Party” evolved into “Unicorn Day”. If I had started writing the story immediately, I may have never made that mental leap.

What’s fresh?
If you had to choose between limp, out-of-season asparagus and crisp zucchini fresh from the farm, which would you choose? Probably the latter. If there have been a million books about a particular idea lately (especially bestsellers), and it seems the topic has been done to death, maybe now is not the time. Maybe you put that idea aside, at least temporarily, and work on a “fresher” one instead. Aside from what other books are out there, it’s also a matter of what feels fresh to YOU. For example, when I was brainstorming “Goodnight” books, I had many ideas that seemed like they had been done quite often, but when I wrote “Goodnight, Veggies” on my list of options, it made me chuckle a bit to myself. I thought it sounded a little odd and unexpected. That’s why it stood out to me. It should be noted that “Goodnight” books in general have been done a million times. So I’m not saying you should rule out everything that’s already been done. I mean, chefs aren’t going to stop making spaghetti with tomato sauce. There’s a reason people like that dish. But chefs who want to get noticed will put a unique twist on this old favorite. And most importantly, choosing something that feels fresh to YOU will help keep YOU interested and having fun. When the writer is having fun, it comes across on the page.

What are you in the mood for?
How do you decide what to make for dinner? Often, it’s just about what you’re in the mood for. Perhaps you’ve been craving tacos all day long. Why fight it? It’s the same with ideas. There is often one idea that is constantly calling to you. If it’s constantly popping in your head, no matter how hard you try to wait or to think about another idea on your list, then that’s it. That’s the one you should go with. Tacos it is! And that’s another good reason to try to wait and marinate in the beginning. It makes it easier to notice which idea is screaming for your attention more than all the others. This also comes down to personal preferences and experiences. No matter how fresh it is, you probably aren’t going to cook with zucchini if zucchini just isn’t your thing. On the other hand…

Try something new
If you’ve been eating nothing but tacos day after day, maybe it’s time to expand your horizons. On cooking shows, the judges always praise the contestants who reach past their comfort zone. And I can see why. Even the best chefs are always growing and learning and trying new things, even if that means they’re taking more risks. Trying something new is another way to keep things fresh and fun for yourself. Do you have a non-fiction idea but that’s not what you usually write? Give it a shot. Never wrote a concept book? Maybe now’s the time. When I wrote HELP MOM WORK FROM HOME!, I specifically wrote it in second person because I had never tried that before and I thought it would be fun. So when you’re choosing an idea from your list, maybe you try something different. Zucchini pizza, anyone?

Once you’ve chosen your well-marinated main ingredient, the idea, it’s time to start cooking! Don’t forget to taste often, add spices as needed, and have some other tasters (i.e., critique partners) on hand, too. Enjoy!

I also want to take a moment to thank Tara. I have been a huge fan of Storystorm since it first began and I’m so grateful for the feast of inspiration!

Diana Murray is the author of over twenty books for children (board books, early readers, and picture books), both published and forthcoming. Her books include the National IndieBound Bestseller UNICORN DAY and its sequels, UNICORN NIGHT and UNICORN CHRISTMAS, as well as HELP MOM WORK FROM HOME!, GOODNIGHT VEGGIES, GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE, and PIZZA PIG. Diana’s poems have appeared in many children’s magazines and anthologies. She grew up in New York City and still lives nearby with her firefighter husband, two children, and a dancing dog. To learn more, you can visit her website at dianamurray.com or follow her on Facebook, Instagram: @dianamurrayauthor, or Twitter: @DianaMWrites.

The 2022 Storystorm Pledge is now closed.

If you’ve been participating in Storystorm all month, you’ve been generating oodles of ideas!

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

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

  • Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
  • Tara Gonzalez, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
  • Sean McCarthy, Sean McCarthy Literary Agency
  • Kelly Sonnack, Andrea Brown Literary Agency
  • Charlotte Wenger, Prospect Agency
  • Lisa Fleissig & Ginger Harris-Dontzin, Liza Royce Agency
  • Maeve MacLysaght, Copps Literary Services
  • Susan Hawk, Upstart Crow Literary
  • and a special consult from me!

In order to qualify for a Grand Prize, your name must be on the registration post AND the pledge below.

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

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

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

You have until February 7th at 11:59:59PM EST to sign the pledge by leaving a comment on this post.


The name you left on the registration post and the name you leave on this winner’s pledge SHOULD MATCH. However, when you comment, WordPress also logs info that allows me to recognize you, so don’t worry if they’re not exact.

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

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

Before you sign, you can also pick up your Winner’s Badge!

There are winner’s mugs and T-shirts you can purchase at cafepress.com/storystorm. All proceeds ($4 per item, if you enter via the link) go to Blessings in a Backpack. If there’s other SWAG you want, I can add it to the shop…just ask!

Now…are you ready to sign?

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

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illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
April 26, 2022

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