by Ruth Spiro

Two weeks ago, I posted the following question on the Storystorm Facebook group:


I had been brainstorming my own list of ideas to write about, but I think it’s important to do some market research, too. Would my ideas be interesting and helpful to Storystorm readers? I figured that posing this question was a good way of taking their pulse.

Within a day, several members had replied with questions on topics they wanted to read about. Each of these questions also had “Likes,” indicating that others were interested in them, as well. As a result, in addition to my own list I now had nine more possible topics, fresh for the picking.

Looking for inspiration?

Ask for it!

Sometimes we see, hear or read something and BAM, inspiration lands right in our lap. The perfect topic, character or story we can’t wait to explore and write about. Other times, we have to take a more active role in seeking it out. One way I’ve discovered, as I demonstrated above, is to engage with my potential audience and ask them what they want. It’s as simple as that.

Here are a few to try:

Kids (Of course!)
When my daughters were young, it felt like I had idea-machines living in my home providing a never-ending stream of inspiration. If you speak with kids, you can’t help but be amazed by the funny, creative and often surprisingly perceptive things they say. If you’re lucky enough to spend all or part of your day with kids (whether they’re your own or someone else’s!), here’s my advice: Write. Everything. Down.

Get to know the youth services librarians at your public library and the media specialists at your local schools. Sign up to volunteer if the opportunity exists. Ask if there are any requested topics they wish they could find more books about.

When is the best time to get to know your local booksellers? If you’re pre-published, that time is NOW. Pay attention to the books they’re hand-selling, attend author events, and support the store by purchasing a book or two when you visit. As with librarians, ask about the books their customers are requesting. Or, would they like to see companion titles for books they currently stock? Develop (an authentic) relationship now, well before it’s time to ask them to stock your book or host a launch event.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, but I think I’ve made my point. Sometimes, the best way to find new ideas is simply to ask for them.


Now, back to my Facebook query. While I posted the call for topics to demonstrate my point, I also know that group members left their questions in earnest and I don’t want this to feel like a bait-and-switch. So, here are those questions with what I hope are brief, but helpful answers.


“Sometimes I think of a cool character, but then have trouble turning it into a premise. Any tricks on sort of taking an idea and expanding on it?” –Kerrie T. & Angie I.
If you love your character, set her free! Story is what happens when something changes. A door opens. She meets someone new. She loses something. Wants something. Gets into trouble. Give your character a new experience or problem to navigate and capture her unique, but inevitable, reaction.

“Tips for self-editing”–Michele S.
Here’s a technique I share in my school visits and writing workshops: Don’t try to do it all at once. Much like the job of cleaning your room, if you focus on one specific task at a time it won’t seem so overwhelming. Some items to consider for your editing checklist: Does your story have a natural arc, with a beginning, middle and end? Does your main character also have an arc, growing or changing in some way? Is your language as fun, rhythmic and specific as it can be? If you’ve written a picture book, have you provided varied illustration opportunities? Once you’ve taken your story as far as you can on your own, it’s time for a critique group or writing partner to have a look with fresh eyes.

“I feel like many of my great ideas are more of a short story and less of a picture book – can you help writers identify some differences?” –Melanie K. & Nadine P.
There are a few main differences, but I think the best test is to imagine your story with page turns. Do the scenes change? Is there movement? Are there a variety of scenes to illustrate? If so, you probably have a picture book. On the other hand, if your story is longer and contains more description within the text (that would otherwise be illustrated in a picture book) it may be a better fit as a magazine story. There are other differences between the two, but I think the “page turn test” is an excellent indicator.

“Any thoughts to share on endings?”–Jennifer V.
Rob Sanders gives an overview on his blog that’s head and shoulders above anything I could come up with on my own. He describes different kids of endings and gives a few examples of each here.

“Self pub or traditional?”–Matt R.
Matt, I’m just not the right person to answer this for you because I’ve only worked with traditional publishers. I’ve been pleased with this process and have never considered self-publishing. However, I know there are many authors who feel the same way about self-publishing, so I encourage you to fully research both sides.


“How did you get the ideas for your Baby Loves books? (I love them!)–Claire N.
Lovely of you to ask, Claire! Some may recall an article that appeared in the New York Times back in 2010. Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children was a controversial article about parents who were bypassing picture books for their very young children in favor of more sophisticated reading material, such as chapter books. While discussing this with some writer friends I commented, “What do these parents want, quantum physics for babies?” As soon as I said it, I knew I had an idea with potential.

“Suggestions for judging which ideas have most merit.”–Marty B.
An idea on it’s own is just that – an idea. It’s what you do with it that determines its merit. I’m not sure you can adequately judge an idea until you develop it into something and see where it goes. If I had thought too long about the idea of writing science books for babies, I probably would have eventually talked myself out of it! But once I started playing around with the idea, researching and writing and revising, I realized it did have merit and was worth pursuing. I’m glad I did!

RuthSpiroRuth Spiro is the author of Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering and Baby Loves Quarks, published by Charlesbridge. Baby Loves Thermodynamics and Baby Loves Quantum Physics are forthcoming this fall. These adorably illustrated books contain expert-reviewed science, yet are simple enough for little ones! Ruth is also pleased to share that another new picture book series, Made by Maxine, will be published by Dial beginning in 2018. Inspired by her trusty companion and muse, a pet goldfish, Maxine is determined to make the world a better place, one crazy contraption at a time. Visit her online at and Twitter @RuthSpiro. (Ruth wrote this blog while recovering from pneumonia, and apologizes for the grammar and punctuation mistakes she’s sure she missed!) 


Ruth is giving away two BABY LOVES SCIENCE books.

Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


by Rebecca E. Hirsch

Congrats, Storystormers, you are almost done! Tara asked me talk to you about how to get nonfiction ideas.

In fiction, anything is possible. But nonfiction shows the world as it really is, even when reality seems too surprising to be true. Here are some ways to inspire ideas for nonfiction stories.

  • Do some self-reflection. Think about your personal history, your areas of expertise, and what subjects capture your fancy. You don’t have to be an authority on your topic, but you should choose something that will hold your attention. You could be living with your manuscript for months, or even years.
  • Notice your unique perspective on the world. Pay attention to gaps: places where your views differ from the views of most people. Great ideas lurk in the gaps. For example, I am fascinated by plants and all they do, yet I’m aware that many people—including children—see plants as inert and uninteresting, like green statuary. My desire to share my perspective was the driving force behind PLANTS CAN’T SIT STILL, a picture book about the surprising ways plants move.


  • Read about your subject. As a science writer, I read science news religiously, and I’m always on the lookout for intriguing stories. My current work-in-progress is the story of people trying to save a beloved, struggling species. I noticed the story popping up in the news for years. I also noticed that no one was writing about it for children. Last summer, I pitched the story to my editor and landed a book contract.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open. You never know when you’ll stumble across an interesting story idea. A few years ago, I was writing a magazine article about Arctic terns, tiny birds that migrate from the Arctic to Antartica every year. I called up a seabird biologist who had studied these birds. We talked at length about them, then we kept talking. He told me about other work he was involved with, like a big research project to track seabirds in advance of offshore wind farm development off the East Coast. That conversation launched me my book BIRDS VS. BLADES?—Offshore Wind Power and the Race to Protect Seabirds.


Finally, read plenty of children’s nonfiction. Today’s nonfiction writers are telling true stories to children in wonderfully inventive ways. Read a hundred books or articles, then a hundred more. You’ll get exposed to an exciting range of possibilities for how to tell your own nonfiction stories.

Rebecca HirschRebecca Hirsch grew up climbing trees and splashing in streams in western Pennsylvania. She worked as a plant biologist before becoming a writer. Her many nonfiction books for children include BIRDS VS. BLADES?—Offshore Wind Power and the Race to Save Seabirds, a Junior Library Guild selection, and PLANTS CAN’T SIT STILL, a Kirkus best picture book of 2016. Her newest book is DE-EXTINCTION: The Science of Bringing Lost Species Back to Life. When she’s not writing, you might find her baking bread, playing backyard badminton (badly) with her family, hiking with her dog, or growing plants in her garden.

You can learn more about Rebecca’s books at her website You can follow her on Twitter @RebeccaEHirsch.


Rebecca is giving away one of her books, your choice, either BIRDS VS. BLADES or PLANTS CAN’T SIT STILL.

Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


by Jill Esbaum

Ever had a story idea pop into your head while reading someone else’s published book?

chickenofthefamilyI still remember, back in 2008, stumbling onto Mary Amato’s quirky CHICKEN OF THE FAMILY. I was instantly smitten. Boy, did she nail the sibling dynamic. If you don’t know the story, it’s about a little girl whose two older sisters put into motion a fiendish plot to convince her she’s a chicken. It made me laugh out loud then, and it makes me laugh out loud now. Because those sisters—their actions, their dialogue, their emotions—feel REAL to me. Nobody knows how to push a kid’s buttons like a sibling.

Because I loved Mary’s story so much, I was inspired to write something with a similar starting point—older kids carrying out a fiendish plot against their younger, more innocent sibling. Here’s my synopsis: Spencer bunny knows perfectly well that monsters aren’t real, but when his older brothers begin tormenting him with spooky tales of the dreaded Frankenbunny, the little bunny is soon questioning everything he thought he knew.

THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS FRANKENBUNNY was first submitted in 2008. And rejected by four editors, including two with whom I’d already worked. Ouch. On the advice of my then-agent (who was right), we stopped submitting, knowing it was lacking…something. But, what? Ugh. I am sorry to admit that this close-but-no-cigar part of story creation is often a regular part of my process. Sorry, Spencer. Into the metaphorical drawer you go.


One editor did say she just hadn’t connected emotionally, which told me that the story needed more of that elusive quality, heart…

Every six months or so, I clicked back into the story and, after a careful read, rewrote it in a different POV or tense. I rearranged scenes. Discovered and brought forward connections. Pumped up the characterization. Worked on the voice, the heart. Cut mercilessly. Started from scratch repeatedly. In this project’s file folder are no less than 28 drafts with labels like:

  • 1st person Feb rewrite
  • 2nd person Feb rewrite
  • 3rd person, Feb rewrite
  • FINAL DRAFT – 1st person
  • FINAL DRAFT – 3rd person
  • Frankenbunny 2
  • Nov Frankenbunny
  • not this one
  • Nov Frankenbunny, past tense
  • Nov Frankenbunny, 3rd person
  • Frankenbunny, present tense

Looks like I didn’t know my own story, right? But I did. Or…you know, I thought I did. I was pretty sure… What I wasn’t sure of, obviously, was how to present it in its best possible light. Gak. I got to the point where almost wished these characters would let me go already. But they wouldn’t.

I shared the story more than once with my brilliant online critique group (shout out to Andrea Donohoe, Pat Zietlow Miller, Lisa Morlock, and Norene Paulson) and also with author Katy Duffield, who all had insightful comments. And finally this story, originally “finished” at 770 words, was sitting at 550. It had taken SEVEN YEARS of revision, but the entire thing was quicker, leaner. It had more heart (even though I remember whining to my office walls at one point, “Oh, c’mon! How can I add emotion and cut the word count?” Wah, wah, wah.).

Flash forward to late 2015. I had a new agent, Tricia Lawrence, and new hope for some of my old manuscripts. Tricia sent the overhauled FRANKENBUNNY to a few editors and—*cue thud as Jill falls off chair*—it sold to Sterling.

I’ve seen the sketches by illustrator Alice Brereton, and every time I look through them, my pulse flutters—in the best way. I can’t wait to see it finished.

Remember this: Have faith in yourself. Keep learning. Keep practicing. Keep submitting. That’s how you get better at…well, everything.

And when a dear-to-your-heart story gathers too many rejections, put it away for awhile. That isn’t necessarily a failure; it may simply be part of the process for that story. If the characters won’t let you go, start exploring other ways to tell their tale. Revise endlessly. Even if it takes seven years to get it right.

Meanwhile, please watch for FRANKENBUNNY, coming this fall from Sterling Children’s.

Version 4Jill Esbaum’s recent titles include IF A T.REX CRASHES YOUR BIRTHDAY PARTY, TEENY TINY TOADY (starred review, Kirkus), and ELWOOD BIGFOOT—Wanted: Birdie Friends. Several of her books have been nominated for state awards, and her I AM COW, HEAR ME MOO! won SCBWI’s Crystal Kite award.

She has authored more than twenty titles in numerous series for National Geographic Kids, as well as a picture book, ANIMAL GROUPS.

Jill created a group blog of fellow picture book writers and illustrators called Picture Book Builders, teaches writing at conferences around the country, and co-hosts the Whispering Woods Picture Book Writing Workshop each summer. Find more information at her website


Jill is giving away a picture book critique.

Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

I’m assuming that you’re all deep into your brainstorming about story ideas at this point and already have a meaty list after all the inspiring posts you’ve been reading during Storystorm. Good for you!

I sometimes equate this stage of story brainstorming to experimenting with a recipe for a cake. Why cake? Because cake is one of my favorite things in the world. And suppose it’s a recipe entry for a baking contest in which you can submit ONE entry.


After Storystorm, I advise you to browse your list of ideas and choose the one that appeals to you the most. Maybe you’ll be so excited about this particular idea that you won’t be able to wait. Maybe you’ve already started working on expanding the story, plotting an outline and/or doodling rough sketches. Maybe you’ve just expanded the idea a wee bit, perhaps into a paragraph or a few pages of notes.

Excellent! Now put that story away and DON’T LOOK AT IT for a while. “A while” is up to you. For me, it’s at least two weeks but sometimes several months.

In our baking analogy: it means tweaking your cake recipe and then putting that experimental cake in the oven:




Because if you take it out too soon, it’ll look pretty much the same as when you put it in. What you want: to give it enough time to settle, to bake, to reach a state where you can taste it objectively and see whether it’s really THE cake recipe you want to submit to the contest.

Sometimes when you take it out of the oven, it’ll look like this:


Though of course we all hope for this:


But back to when your cake story looks like this:


At this point, you may realize that it’s not worth salvaging, and you may want to just toss it. Sometimes your instinct will be right.


However, there may still be SOMETHING about it that you just can’t let go of:


In that case, try experimenting some more. Maybe combine it with another idea, find a different spin, rework it in a different genre or format. Turn it upside down or reverse it, add an unexpected twist. You never know what will happen. Read this Veronica Bartles Storystorm post about how she substitutes story ingredients to familiar recipes to make them uniquely delicious. (Mmm, plus her Cranberry Sage Cookies With Almonds recipe sounds yummy….)

Then put it in the oven again to let it bake:


As before, no matter how excited you are, force yourself to work on something else and NOT take your new creation out too soon. While you’re waiting, take a look at your other recipe ideas, start experimenting for another recipe.

And so on. Ok, I’ll drop the baking analogy…you get the message, right?

Sometimes I may feel SUPER excited with a new story idea and have the urge to IMMEDIATELY dive into the writing and editing and revision process. Sometimes the first draft of the story pours out onto the paper; I love when this happens. However, I have learned to let an idea or first draft sit for a while before coming back to it. If I’m still excited about it, then I go to the next stage. After another round of writing or sketching or revising, I let it sit again and then re-evaluate.


The danger of letting yourself dive into developing a story idea too soon is that you’ll get so caught up with the “ooo shiny toy” honeymoon phase that you won’t be objective. You’re going to be pouring a lot of time and effort into this project, after all, as well as inevitably getting emotionally invested. It’s in your best interest to take your time before you commit.


So stick with the rest of the Storystorm month! Keep reading Storystorm blog posts and coming up with ideas. By the end of the month, you’ll be able to look at your earlier ideas more objectively.

This is pretty much my story brainstorming process, by the way. I currently keep a notebook where I constantly jot down story ideas, fragments, bits of conversations and synopses for picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels. I used to use a digital notebook but I currently prefer a paper notebook where I can doodle as well as scribble ideas PLUS I like being able to physically browse earlier ideas to see if they still excite me.

Whatever the method you use to keep track of your story ideas, I encourage you to GIVE THEM TIME to develop and before sending them out into the world.

Good luck!

debbieridpathohi-laugh-anniet-v-500x750Debbie Ridpath Ohi is the author and illustrator of Where Are My Books? (Simon & Schuster), a book that began as an idea generated during PiBoIdMo (now known as Storystorm). Her illustrations appear in books by Michael Ian Black and Judy Blume, among others. Upcoming books in 2017 include Debbie’s second solo picture book, Sam & Eva (Simon & Schuster), Sea Monkey & Bob (Simon & Schuster, author Aaron Reynolds), Mitzi Tulane, Preschool Detective in The Secret Ingredient (Random House, author Lauren McLaughlin), and Ruby Rose, Big Bravos (HarperCollins, author Rob Sanders). Debbie posts about reading, writing and illustrating children’s books at Twitter: @inkyelbows.


Debbie is giving away one of her original found object doodles, using a crumpled Lindor wrapper and drawn with a fountain pen. It’s about 5.7″ x 7″, and will be mailed in a protective cellophane wrapper with a cardboard backing.


Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

Back in 2010, Wharton Professor Adam Grant made a financial mistake that he still regrets—failing to invest in billion-dollar eyewear juggernaut Warby Parker when offered a pre-launch opportunity. This tale of optic, myopic oversight begins his book ORIGINALS. Wanting to know if there were signs he missed, details alluding to Warby Parker’s future success, Grant dissects the traits and actions of the company’s founders, his former students.


The results surprise him. He discovers unexpected characteristics associated with highly successful entrepreneurs across all fields, from science to music. Original thinkers aren’t that different from the rest of us. They aren’t fearless risk-takers. They don’t rush to be first to market. They aren’t necessarily members of Mensa.

After reading ORIGINALS, I asked Professor Grant how his research findings could be applied to writing great children’s literature.

originalscoverTL: Every writer in children’s publishing is trying to be the next J.K. Rowling, Jeff Kinney or Mo Willems. We all want to create a book that captivates millions of readers. That’s one reason why I run the annual STORYSTORM challenge, for writers to develop one story idea daily for a month. For every thirty ideas, five might be good, but ONE might be the next big thing—NY Times bestseller, movie deal, merchandise galore. So we’ve got the idea generation part covered; we churn out many ideas to get to the good ones. According to your research, what can we do to identify that one GREAT idea and nurture it to fruition?

AG: I love your focus on developing one idea daily for a month. There’s a wealth of evidence that the most creative writers, musicians, artists, scientists, and inventors don’t have better ideas than their peers on average—they just have more of them. The best way to find a great idea is to generate more ideas. But then we have a challenge: it can be hard to judge our own ideas and we often fall in love with the wrong ones. My former student Justin Berg, now a Stanford professor, has some fascinating new research asking people to rank their ideas from best to worst. He finds that the most creative idea is typically the one we rank not first but second. We’re too easily blinded to the flaws of our pet story, and we have just enough distance from our second pick to improve it—while also still bringing a great deal of passion to it.

TL: I’ve always been a procrastinator. I procrastinated sending you these questions. But procrastination is an essential habit of ORIGINALS. How so?

AG: I’ll tell you later.

Actually, it really irked me to find virtues of procrastination, but I eventually came around. I explained why in my TED talk last year.

TL: I cringe when an aspiring author tells me they quit their day job to tackle writing full time. I’ve been at this nine years and this is the first year I made a decent income—and by decent, I mean about as much as my teenage daughter’s part-time babysitting gig. People assume that focusing just on writing will help achieve their goal of publication faster. But why is it beneficial to keep a day job while pursuing your creative goals?

AG: It turns out that entrepreneurs who keep their day jobs are 33% less likely to fail than those who quit their jobs to start their businesses. I think the same is likely to be true for writers—it worked for Stephen King and T.S. Eliot (who held onto his day job as a bank clerk for decades even after achieving eminence as a poet. Note to self: convince more bank clerks to try their hand at iambic pentameter). Why? One: it provides financial security, making it easier to focus on writing without worrying. Two: as Scott Adams of Dilbert fame can attest, a miserable day job can be a fountain of creative inspiration. And three: it keeps us open to tinkering with new ideas, as opposed to feeling pressure to push forward with our idea that’s most developed or most directly aligned with what our audience seems to want.

TL: There seems to be a hive mind in children’s publishing. Suddenly you see umpteen books about narwhals on the shelves—or Yetis, or armadillos—when just a year ago, there were none. Writers who have been working on that amazing armadillo idea may then just give up. But armadillo aspirations don’t have to die! Your research shows that being first to market doesn’t mean being best. Can you elaborate on that?

AG: Being original isn’t about being first—it’s about being different and better. Creating a market from scratch is a lot harder than entering a market that already exists. Imagine if J.K. Rowling had said, “Well, C.S. Lewis already wrote about kids doing magic.”

©2015 George Lange

©2015 George Lange

Adam Grant is Wharton’s top-rated professor and a leading expert on how we can find motivation and meaning, and live more generous and creative lives. He has been recognized as one of the world’s 25 most influential management thinkers and Fortune’s40 under 40.

Adam earned his Ph.D. in organizational psychology from the University of Michigan, completing it in less than three years, and his B.A. from Harvard University, magna cum laude with highest honors and Phi Beta Kappa honors.

He is the author of two New York Times bestselling books translated into 35 languages.



One Storystormer will win a copy of Adam Grant’s ORIGINALS: HOW NON-CONFORMISTS MOVE THE WORLD.

Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Keith Allen

As a kid, I loved building things out of cardboard, whether it was a spaceship for the very first mission to Saturn or a fortified castle to keep out the fire-breathing dragons. That love stayed with me into adulthood and today I find that same sense of wonder when I’m creating new worlds from a flat sheet of paper.

I work as a Senior Designer, Illustrator and Paper-Engineer at a large greeting card company and also own an independent publishing company that specializes in pop-up books. You may ask, “What exactly is a paper-engineer?” Sounds fancy, right? Well, a paper-engineer is simply a title for someone who loves to build things out of paper. And that’s me!


When I first graduated from Art School, I got a job designing party supplies and was immediately drawn to creating paper centerpieces. I loved the challenge of building something very complex, but simple enough for a consumer to assemble. Wanting to branch out, I began making paper toys and sculptures on my own. An art director noticed my work and asked if I would like to work on pop-ups for an upcoming greeting card line. With a very enthusiastic YES!, I took the job and the rest is history.



I’m not going to lie, building pop-ups can be time-consuming and challenging at times, but when it all come together perfectly, it is exhilarating! My pop-up development process looks like this:

1. Quickly sketch out your ideas on paper first to find a great layout. This does not need to be pretty.


2. Build a rough concept by experimenting with a variety of folds. This step can take a while, but it’s important to get it right in the beginning. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, some of my best folds can from my mis-measurements.


3. When your rough spread is finished, rebuild it over and over and over again. Do this until all the mistakes are corrected and it opens and closes neatly without catching or hanging out of the page.

4. Once it looks good, tear the whole thing apart, but gently. Scan all your pieces into the computer and build your dielines. I like to use Adobe Illustrator for this, but there are many programs that can be used.


5. Illustrate your artwork onto your refined dielines. When your pencil lines are complete, assemble it again and make sure your art is lining up correctly with your folds and attachments.


6. Once your pencil lines are corrected and complete, you can color and finalize your Illustrations. Now you have a finished Pop-Up spread!


If you are interested in learning more about paper-engineering, there are so many great resources out there for beginners and experts. My favorite reference book is THE ELEMENTS OF POP-UP by David Carter, which I refer to almost daily. YouTube has so many wonderful tutorials and videos that go into great detail about particular fold types. I have created a few as well on my YouTube Channel.

Keep on Poppin’!

keithallenKeith Allen is a Senior Product Designer for American Greetings in Cleveland Ohio. He is the co-founder of By the Bay Books and owner of the independent publishing company, 5am Press, LLC.

Keith’s most recent pop-up book, “What a Mess! A Pop-Up Misadventure” was successfully funded on and will be available for sale in the Spring 2017.

Visit him online at, Twitter @5ambook and Instagram @5am_popup.

by S.britt

When Tara initially asked me to be a guest writer for Storystorm, I was flattered. When she then suggested I write about how motorcycles influence my artwork (and vice versa), I was intrigued. I suppose I had never really thought about the connection in great detail before, other than the fact that I rather enjoy riding and restoring vintage British motorcycles and working them into my artwork when I can. In fact, a tiny tiger riding a lil’ Triumph motorcycle can be spotted in the jungle jamboree spread in Tara’s NORMAL NORMAN.



I first began doodling shortly after I was able to grasp my first red Crayola. Not long after that, I remember my father plopping me on the gas tank of his gold Honda CB and taking me on long rides throughout the countryside of Louisiana. It wasn’t until my early adolescence that I first set foot on a motorcycle of my very own, an early 70s baby blue and white Honda Super Cub. I clocked a lot of miles on that little scooter ’til the day a crash rendered it far too expensive to fix and it was sent to the great motorcycle scrapheap in the sky.


After that, I turned my attention to restoring vintage cars, specifically late 60s and early 70s Volkswagens, many of which began appearing as backdrops in my illustrations. However my lifelong passion for old VWs was cut short with a move to Minnesota in late 2012. After witnessing firsthand what ice and salt does to vintage tin, I wasn’t about to see my beloved 1969 VW Fastback (named Jaunty) dissolve before my eyes, so I sold it to a retired teacher in upstate New York. A short time passed and I once again began to feel that familiar itch for something to wrench on, so I headed down to the local dealership and picked up a brand new red and white Triumph Bonneville motorcycle. Thus rekindling my childhood love affair with two-wheeled transportation and I haven’t looked back since (unless a cop is issuing me a speeding ticket!).


At this point, you may be asking yourself “what does any of this vehicular nonsense have to do with children’s books?!?” Well, I’ll tell you.

Before I start any illustration project, I either like to go for a long ride or drive to clear my head and allow new thoughts and ideas to percolate and germinate; to ping-pong inside my empty brain like a giant popcorn popper on wheels. Right after I get home and scrape the bugs out of my teeth, I jot down as many ideas (good and bad) as I can before they disappear back into the ether. There’s just something about careening through bucolic backroads and twisty tarmac at 70 mph that really gets the creative juices flowing! The same can be said for simply taking a break from painting to put down a brush and pick up a socket wrench. To me there’s nothing more satisfying than restoring a rusted-out, dinged-up, long-neglected piece of machinery back to its former showroom glory. Each one of these old metallic souls has a unique personality and a story to tell. It just takes the right person to come along and to coax it out of them. And there’s as much art to that as any children’s book in your library.

I’m currently illustrating my next book for Clarion Books and restoring a 1964 Triumph Cub Trials motorcycle. And to me, both are of equal artistic merit and personal gratification.

self-portraitView S.Britt’s art and find out more about his work at


Tara and S.Britt are giving away a copy of their book NORMAL NORMAN.


Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Corey Rosen Schwartz

Most of my picture book ideas have come from my own children. Unfortunately, they are getting older so I am a little short on material lately. I can no longer rely on them to say things like “Mommy, come quick, Josh is in the oven!” or “Today my class is going to a burrito farm!” (Best I can tell, that was a trip to an arboretum?)

Now that eavesdropping isn’t effective anymore, I need other strategies for generating ideas. One method I frequently employ is titlestorming. I sit down with my writing partner, Becky Gomez, and we try to come up with a list of fun titles.

I am a very language-driven writer (as opposed to plot or character-driven) so very often these titles incorporate wordplay.

There are all sorts of ways to play with words.

Clever Combos

One option is to create a new word by combining two existing words. Tara, the queen of wordplay, did this with her debut title THE MONSTORE. Other fun fusions include ORANGUTANGLED by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, THE Aaron Zenz, and MOOSETACHE by Margie Palatini.

monstorefrontcover orangutangled hiccupotamus1moosetache

Hokey Homonyms

Another way is to replace a word with its homonym. In 2009, I came up with the idea TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS. But I didn’t move quickly enough. Sudipta beat me to it. Other examples of this include Keith Baker’s LMNO PEAS and Tara’s upcoming 7 ATE 9.

tywrecks lmno-peas 7ate9cover

Go for the Rhyme

This, of course, is my favorite technique. In 2010, I came up with GOLDI ROCKS & THE THREE BEARS and TWINDERELLA: A FRACTIONED FAIRY TALE. But it also works with stories that are not fractured fairy tales. Here are just a few that come to mind:


Get Crazy Creative

Then there are all sorts of crazy ways to get creative that defy categorization. Invent words. Experiment with spellings. Play with pronunciations. Take a figure of speech and make it literal.

yeti poultry hogwashpete-pizza

So, give those titles a twist. Let the syllables slip, slap, slide off your tongue and see what sort of fun comes out.

corey-author-photoCorey Rosen Schwartz is the author of several rhyming picture books and fractured fairy tales., HENSEL & GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS, in which two chicken sisters defeat a fox and rescue their parents, is the latest of her punny titles. Corey has no formal ninja training, but she sure can kick-butt in Scrabble. She lives with three Knuckleheads in Warren, NJ. 

Visit her online at and follow her on Twitter @CoreyPBNinja.


Corey is giving away a signed copy of HENSEL & GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS.


Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


by Ross MacDonald

Over the years I’ve been approached by illustration and design students who share an internal struggle: that they have other interests—cosplay, metalwork, bookbinding, writing, prop replication, embroidery, cobbling shoes (I kid)—and they feel the need (often encouraged by their instructors) to set aside these other “hobbies” to focus on their illustration and design skills. As if these things that they love are somehow an impediment, that they need to kill them off or they’ll never get better at the “real” discipline.

I do believe that staying on task and zeroing in on the work at hand is an important skill—maybe the most important one. As an illustrator, I always say “Illustration is easy, you just need to stare at a blank sheet of paper till the blood runs out of your ears.” In other words, don’t get up from your drawing board until you’ve finished the job, even if every fiber of your being is imploring you to leap up and see what’s in the fridge.

But speaking as someone who has always done a jillion different things, I’m a firm believer in doing all the things you love. No matter how seemingly unrelated they are, these passions can cross-pollinate. I see it happen all the time! Working hard at one thing doesn’t take away from other things, it adds to them.

Whatever it is that I’m working on, I’m constantly drawing inspiration from other interests, and getting ideas that I can use in other projects. I have one of those multi-hyphenate careers: I’m a graphic designer/illustrator/author/movie prop designer and fabricator/letterpress printer. I might be researching for a period movie prop job, and get a great idea for an illustration. Or doing an illustration might inspire some poster project, or a written humor piece. I don’t know if I could do just one thing at this point—I worry that I’d run out of ideas.

7ate9coverA good example of this cross-pollination is 7 ATE 9—a picture book written by Tara Lazar that I was lucky enough to illustrate. It’s a hilarious story of a private ‘I’ who is baffled by the age-old mystery of why 6 is afraid of 7 (spoiler alert—it’s because 7 ate 9!!!). When I was reading Tara’s manuscript, a vision popped into my head of 19th century wood type letters and numbers coming alive and sprouting little arms and legs and fedoras and bow ties. Luckily I have a letterpress shop full of 19th century wood type, so I was able to play around with the idea. And whaddaya know—it was just crazy enough to work!




rossmacdonaldRoss MacDonald’s illustrations have appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Harper’s, and Atlantic Monthly, and he is a contributing artist for Vanity Fair. He has written and illustrated several children’s and adult humor books.

His work was the subject of a one man retrospective at the New York Times, and has been honored by American Illustration, 3×3, Print, Communication Arts, the Society of Publication Designers, the AIGA, and the Society of Illustrators, from which he received a gold medal for book illustration in 2011.

He has also worked on many movies and television shows as an illustrator, prop designer and consultant on period design, printing, paper and documents. His work can be seen on 5 seasons of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, on the Cinemax series The Knick, and in the Tarantino movie Hateful Eight.

Born and raised in Canada, he lives in Connecticut with his wife, 2 kids, 2 dogs, 5 cats and a large collection of 19th century type and printing equipment. View his portfolio online at


Ross and Tara are giving away a copy of 7 ATE 9 (upon publication in May).

Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Veronica Bartles

When Tara asked me to write a blog post for Storystorm about Inspiration, I knew this would be my Finest Achievement Ever. I’m so excited to share with you my brilliant, awe-inspiring Process for Picking the Perfect Ideas.

Prepare to be Astounded!



Because I’m about to share a technique so Overwhelmingly Fabulous that it’s sure to leave you completely speechless!

Are you ready for this??

Creating new story ideas is just like baking cookies!


Okay … You’ve caught me …

I’m a total inspiration cheater.

Shh … Don’t tell Tara. She’s expecting me to share some brilliant tips with you, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’m a con-artist.

The truth is, I’ve never had a truly Original Idea. Instead, I spy, snoop, and steal from the things I read and my real-life experiences … Then I twist, combine, substitute, and reconfigure those ideas until I’ve come up with something sweet that I can call my own.

When I’m not writing, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I like to create new and delicious cookie recipes with unexpected flavor combinations to impress my friends and neighbors. But I’ve never created a brand-new cookie recipe entirely from scratch.

Yep. I cheat.

chocolatechipcookieWhen I want a new cookie flavor, I first find a familiar, tried and tested recipe, like this original recipe for Nestle chocolate chip cookies. Then, I start making changes.

I usually put walnuts in my chocolate chip cookies, but what if I only have almonds? What if I’m making cookies for my friend on a gluten-free diet? Or what if I’m out of chocolate chips? Will craisins work? What if I accidentally spill some sage or basil into the batter? What would happen if I threw all of these changes together at once? Suddenly, I have a brand-new cookie recipe that looks totally original. And no one knows that I cheated. (Remember, this is our little secret. If you promise not to tell Tara, I’ll even share my recipe for Cranberry Sage Cookies with Almonds at the end of this post.)

I cheat the same way with my writing.

I’m constantly snooping, sneaking, and spying on my friends, family, and the total strangers I pass on the street. I keep files of my favorite fairy tales, inspirational quotes, and out-of-context bits of conversation.

PrincessAndFrogs c

For my debut picture book THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS (Balzer & Bray, November 15, 2016), I totally cheated.

I started with one of my favorite fairy tales, “The Frog Prince.” In the original story, the princess is rather spoiled and selfish, who only wants to marry the perfect prince and live happily ever after in the lap of luxury. And she nearly misses her Happily Ever After when she resists kissing the frog, who can’t transform into a prince without a proper smooch. But I believe that most people are truly good at heart, so I wanted to rewrite her story.

I remembered tromping through the fields behind my house when I was a little girl, searching for toads to play with. I remember catching dozens of toads, and building little houses for them with my friends. I thought about the little girls I know, who love dressing up in fancy, frilly dresses with sparkly jewels and hair clips or tiaras. Most of these part-time princesses will happily lace up their worn-out sneakers with their fancy dresses, so they can be ready for whatever adventure they may find.

And I couldn’t help but wonder: What if there was a princess who just really, really loved frogs? What if she doesn’t want a prince? What if she’d rather have a frog? But what if she kept kissing them anyway (because she loved them so much, she couldn’t resist a little goodnight smooch), and she ended up with a castle full of princes, all proposing marriage?

Starting with familiar characters and stories is like starting with a familiar recipe in baking. I can bend and twist and substitute ingredients until the story is uniquely delicious, and if it flops (as sometimes happens both in baking and in writing), I can go back to the “reset point” (the original story, recipe, or real-life event) and try again.

Cranberry Sage Cookies with Almonds 


1 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
½ c. sugar
1 ½ tsp. rubbed sage
1 ½ tsp. basil
2 eggs
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
4 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 1/3 c. Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour (or omit the cornstarch and use 2 ½ c. plain all-purpose flour, if gluten isn’t a concern)
1 c. craisins
½ c. sliced almonds (opt.)

  1. Cream together butter and sugars.
  2. Add eggs, baking soda, salt, sage, basil, vanilla extract, and cornstarch. Beat until light and fluffy.
  3. Mix in flour.
  4. Stir in craisins and almonds. Chill dough 1-2 hours.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. Portion dough into 1-inch balls, and place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake 12-15 minutes until lightly browned. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

veronica_1544_square_frogVeronica Bartles, author of THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS (PB), and TWELVE STEPS (YA), has spent most of her life wondering “What If?” She believes there are many sides to every story, and she’s determined to discover every single one of them. Veronica believes every princess deserves a frog, because princes aren’t pets. And she’s an incurable optimist who loves gray, drizzly days because that’s when rainbows come out to play. Visit her online at, her I Am So Grateful BlogFacebook, Twitter @vbartles, Pinterest, and GoodReads.


Veronica is giving away one signed copy of THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS plus a set of 5 custom buttons featuring the original artwork from the book … & a TWELVE STEPS postcard that features the recipe for Giant Brownie Sundaes that Andi and Jarod (aka “Prince Charming”) enjoy.


Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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My Picture Books

illustrated by Rich Wake
Aladdin/Simon & Schuster
April 2017

illustrated by Ross MacDonald
May 2017

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Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Summer/Fall 2018

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