The Storystorm 2020 Pledge is now closed! Thanks for participating!

If you’ve been here all month, you’ve been generating tons of ideas!

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

When you have 30 ideas, you can qualify to win one of 10 AMAZING Storystorm Grand Prizes—feedback on your best 5 ideas from one of these kidlit agents!

  • Erin Murphy
  • Ammi-Joan Paquette
  • Holly McGhee
  • Kat Rushall
  • Jennifer March Soloway
  • Lori Kilkelly
  • Lisa Royce Agency
  • Stephan Fraser
  • John Cusick
  • Alyssa Eisner Henkin

(More on this tomorrow!)

In order to qualify for a Grand Prize, your name must be on the registration post AND the pledge below. (The daily prizes only required registration.)

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-30-days 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 5th at 11:59:59PM EST to sign the pledge by leaving a comment on this post.


The name or email you left on the registration post and the name or email you leave on this winner’s pledge SHOULD MATCH. However, when you comment, WordPress also logs information that allows me to recognize you, so don’t worry.

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.)

Are you ready to sign?

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

I bet you thought I was going to post the Storystorm Pledge today! (So did I!)

Instead, take an extra day to get to your goal of 30 new story ideas. Then relax and watch this TED Talk by author Lidia Yuknavitch about being a beautiful misfit. (You are!)

See you back here tomorrow for the Pledge!

by Tannie Smith, Becky Porter, Julia Mann and Kristin Wauson, “The Big Dillustrators”

Hi everyone! We are a critique group of four female illustrators in Austin, Texas. The best thing about having a critique group with specific goals and purpose, is the power and support we give each other to generate and grow new ideas. When we met to discuss what we wanted to share with you all, we discovered each one of us comes up with ideas in completely unique ways, so we thought we would share with you, not just one, but four different tools to inspire your storytelling all year. Enjoy!


Tannie Smith

Each of us is amazingly unique, not just in how we look, but also how we process information. I’m a visual person by nature. Taking endless notes or listening to lengthy explanations has never clicked with me. Just ask my husband anytime he tries to teach me a new game! Show me, don’t tell me. For ideas to flow, I need to see and do. That’s why I rely heavily on what is called the creative bank account. Your creative bank account is that place in your mind where you store all the little tidbits throughout the day. That moment you stopped and observed the way light shines through trees, or that cute thing you heard a kid say, or a color you felt particularly drawn to in a museum.  All those little moments get stored away and allow your brain to start making connections in the background.

In order to keep my bank full, I have to be sure I’m getting out there and experiencing life! I love to look at “Art of” books, or read a book I wouldn’t normally read. I walk a lot and take the time to stop and notice little things. If I see a cool acorn, or leaf or even a small bird skeleton, I bring it home and put it in my curiosities cabinet. When I go out to eat, I look at the people interacting around me. What is their story? Why are they there? One of these actions alone might not generate an idea. But all of them together do! “But Tannie, it sounds like you just do normal things and then … ta-da … an idea …” Yes, its kind of like that, but really it has a lot to do with shifting your mindset. For example, I could go to the grocery story, buy my list, and come home. I would have filled my pantry, but not my creative bank. Instead, I go to the grocery store, and while buying my list, observe the way they display cereals boxes by texture. I take the time to notice the interesting pattern of the concrete floor. I tune-in to conversations around me. It’s all about putting my mind in a place to receive information. Then later, as I draw, my mind starts feeding it all back to me. It’s all about letting your creativity as an artist/writer seep into the rest of your life. You can hear more about this type of idea generating in a great podcast called Cultivating Creativity by 3 Point Perspective.

My challenge to you is to go on an ordinary errand. Maybe to the grocery store, or the gym, or a doctors visit—something you normally consider routine and boring. While doing this errand, I want you to observe three things you never noticed before. Was your doctor’s office always that yellow? Go to a flower shop or park and literally stop and smell the roses! What is the texture of the petals? What kind of bugs are hanging out there? Taste a new fruit you’ve never seen or tasted before. Take time to soak in your environment and see what inspires you. Perhaps you’ll see a face peeking out in the patterns of a wood floor. Why haven’t you seen that little person before? What is their story? What if there’s a whole world living between the grains of wood on that floor? Before you know it, you’ve got the beginnings of a story!


Becky Porter

I listened to a podcast a few years ago in which two great minds discussed what they thought makes an idea interesting. One argued that something is interesting when it defies our expectations. The other argued that a thing becomes increasingly interesting with increased specificity. I have thought back to that podcast often because it directly influenced my process for generating visual and textual narratives.

I have learned to never stop on the first iteration of an idea. My best ideas are usually buried under a boring one. I pick something that speaks to me in that moment (no matter how cliche or hum-drum) and start digging. For example, a few years ago, I created an illustration of a little girl walking into her vacation home to find bears inside. It was dull and lifeless, but I liked the bears and wanted to try to salvage it. How could I make it more interesting? An obvious response to finding bears in your house would be surprise or fear. Cross those off the list. Obvious = boring. What response would defy expectation? Delight? Maybe the bears are trying on her costume jewelry and makeup, and she knows she’s just found big, cuddly kindred spirits. How about aggravation? Maybe they’re watching TV and eating her beloved Cool Ranch Tortitos…for the third time this week. I liked that idea, so I kept digging. How might the bears respond? Growl and attack? Roll their eyes and change the channel? Blush and hide? Try to look innocent and blame the other? Next, my attention turned to their environment. It was nondescript and didn’t help tell the story. It needed specificity. It was a vacation home, but which vacation home? A swanky ski lodge? Memaw’s musty Appalachian lean-to? A cozy lake house cabin? You get the idea. By the time I was done with this illustration, it had a much more interesting visual narrative and I had some fun ideas for a story, as well as some great jumping off points for other narratives—visual and textual.

The next time you’re scraping the bottom of the idea barrel, crack open one of your old Storystorm notebooks, pick an idea that you wrote off as cliche, and start mining. Defy the obvious! Laugh in the face of your first 5 iterations! Go straight-up berserk with specificity! You might be surprised at the gems you dig up.


Julia Mann

Ideas for my illustrations come from so many places. In order for me to generate ideas, my creative bank account must also be full. I love being in nature, going hiking, observing wildlife and the colors in nature. I listen to podcasts, look at “Art of” books, watch favorite movies, and go to the zoo or museums. I also spend time looking through photos online and on Pinterest which is what sparked the idea for my sweater cat illustration.


When looking for ideas, think about what comes easiest to you. What do you naturally love to draw or write about? Animals? People? Trucks, robots or aliens? I love drawing animals, and animals in silly situations—especially cats. So I began looking through pictures of animals I had saved and came across a photo of a cat in a sweater that made me laugh. It sparked my imagination and the idea for the illustration. I started asking myself all kinds of questions: Why is he in that sweater? Does his owner do this to him often? Does he like dressing up? Surely, he can’t be happy in that thing. What is he thinking? “Ugh, I can’t believe I have to sit here for another picture in this dumb, ugly, itchy sweater.”

Then, I asked myself more questions: What could be going on behind the scenes that we don’t see? What is hidden? What else could be making him mad? Maybe the mouse has seen him and is laughing at him too. And that was it! From there, I can start sketching out thumbnails to create the illustration.

So next time you see a photo that inspires you or grabs your attention, notice what ideas it sparks. Figure out what could be going on behind the scenes. It could be the beginning of an idea for an illustration or story!


Kristin Wauson

Illustrators who write say it’s hard to switch off their “drawing brain” and turn on their “writing brain.” But what if we actually didn’t need to flip any switches? At the end of the day, we’re all just storytellers who want to make our audiences feel something.

Since 2017 I have been approaching Storystorm with my “writing brain” using lists and words, because that’s what writers do. There’s nothing wrong with this approach. In fact, an idea from my 2018 list is now out on submission. But, orderly lists don’t always encourage me to expand on my ideas, and unintentionally I’ve been switching off my drawing brain, which is more visual. What if I used both sides together to develop my Storystorm ideas the same way I develop illustration ideas—with visualization and mind maps?

Start with a place. Imagine a place that makes you feel something—a place you love, that inspires you. Maybe it feels nostalgic, or evokes sadness, or scares you. It can be a place you remember from childhood, or one you’ve visited as an adult, or one you’ve only dreamed up. Think of places where something funny or embarrassing happened (like the children’s museum where I laughed until I peed all over the floor. That’s one of the made up ones. Sort of.)

Write it down. Then start branching off to explore the scene. Who is there and what do they look like? What are they doing and why? What are they feeling? What do they want? What is the time period or the time of day? What happened in the moment before or after?

Fill in details until you have explored every nook and cranny of your idea.

Even if you are not an illustrator, consider things that might seem purely visual because these can inform the mood. Consider: color palettes, lighting, objects in the scene, perspectives.

And you don’t even have to start with a place. Maybe you just have a character, or a feeling and you go from there. An idea can grow out of anything, so go forth and get those two brains working together!

Thank you so much for joining us and we hope you’ll use these tips long after Storystorm is over. The Big Dillustrators wish you a prolific 2020!

Tannie M. Smith is an illustrator and author by day, and a Jedi by Knight. Her mission is to defeat the dark side by creating stories and art that are a force of light in the galaxy. She loves to collaborate on picture books, middle grade projects, and editorial illustrations. Tannie has a BFA from Texas State University in Communication Design. She currently lives in Lago Vista, Texas, where she fervently fosters her love for Star Wars, Korean dramas, yoga and tacos. But the thing she loves most is spending time with her ultra-running husband, 2 entrepreneurial teenage boys, 1 energetic pupper, and 2 cats that fiercely work to support whatever stereotype you may have about cats.

Visit her at and on Instagram @createdby_tanniesmith.

Becky Porter is an illustrator living in Round Rock, TX. She’s been drawing, painting, and writing for as long as she can remember. It’s the only ambition she’s ever had besides being a mom–and singing and dancing on broadway (a dream unrealized due to an inability to sing or dance.) When she’s not drawing or writing, Becky spends her time running, reading, book-clubbing, and retiring early to the Nerdery with her husband and three nerdlings for games or movie night. She loves anything that makes her laugh hard, think hard, or both. Anything else puts her to sleep, which is something else she loves to do and is, therefore, a net gain. 

You’ll find her at and on Instagram @beckyporterillustrates.

Julia Mann’s favorite thing about being an illustrator is getting to inspire others with her art.  She loves colored pencils, and the challenge to keep improving as an artist.  Since moving to Austin in 2014, she spends most nights drawing after her kids go to bed.  When not drawing, she is either homeschooling her two boys, going to the gym, hiking, listening to an art podcast, or exploring the Texas hill country with her family.  Julia has a B.A. in studio art with a biology minor from Virginia Tech.

Visit her at and on Instagram @juliamannart.

Kristin Wauson is a children’s book author/illustrator from Austin, Texas. She has a degree in Advertising from The University of Texas at Austin and for 10 years worked as a graphic designer and yoga instructor. Today she is a stay at home mom and a proud member of several amazing kidlit groups, including the Puddle Jump Collective, and The Big Dillustrators. When she’s not drawing, painting, dreaming up story ideas, or taking an online class, you’ll find her perfecting her handstand, helping with her family’s home building business, trying new recipes, and spending time with her husband, their boys and their big brown ‘Hank the Cowdog.’ She is represented by Adria Goetz of Martin Literary Management.

You’ll find her at and at Instagram @kristinwauson.

The Big Dillustrators are giving away a Pickle Pack to one lucky winner! This is a collection of four 5×7 prints. These prints are made using high end archival ink and top quality paper stock to ensure they will stand the test of time. Each artist will chose one of her favorite illustrations to donate.

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

Good luck!


by Jill Esbaum

One little story idea per day. That’s all Storystorm asks.

Yet, in past years, I’ve petered out about January 18th-19th. Oh, I didn’t lack enthusiasm. I lacked discipline. Sooner or later my mind wanted to spin one of those sparkly new ideas into a story, and I let it. Then I got the teensiest bit obsessed, to the exclusion of everything else. My good intentions to make it to the 31st? Kaput. Sorry, Storystorm.

THIS YEAR, I made it. This year, I approached Storystorm not as a hopeful writer looking for a great new idea, but purely as playtime. Farting around. Romping through my brain’s weirder recesses.

Are the ideas I jotted far-fetched? Absurd? Impossibly lame? Yeah, baby. And woo-hoo! Because nobody cares. Nobody. For me, Storystorm is a way of knocking the rust from my receptor antennae so ideas can keep pinging in long beyond January 31st—while I’m reading, watching TV, hanging with friends, babysitting, on family outings, etc. If one of those pings becomes a story later on, great. If not, that’s fine, too.

A few recent pings that led to publication:

While babysitting…

I was watching my 2-month-old granddaughter. She was a little fussy, so I was walking her around, bouncing her a bit, and whispering sweet nothings, like Grammys do. Without thinking, I said, “Oh, sweetie. Don’t cry. We love babies… yes, we doooo…” Instantly, that old cheer popped into my head:  “We got spirit, yes, we do! We got spirit, how ‘bout you?!” That led to the just-published WE LOVE BABIES, a rhyming cheer declaring everything we love about baby animals.

While observing kids…

At the county fair, there was a kiddo who you never saw without his beloved red rubber boots. That turned into FROG BOOTS (releasing March 3, 2020), about a kindergartener, Dylan, who falls hard for a pair of rain boots covered in multi-colored poison dart frogs—his favorite animal. But when he proudly wears them to school, another kid announces that, because they’re purple, they’re girl boots, and Dylan has to decide whether to abandon them forever…or not.

While reading the newspaper…

I saw an article about a long-distance trucker who lost his tiny dog at an interstate rest area, but he didn’t realize the dog had jumped from the cab until he was hours away. He couldn’t turn around immediately without losing his job. ANGST. Long story, short:  The little dog, believing his buddy would come back for him, WAITED at the rest stop for two entire days. (Yes, there was a happy ending.) I couldn’t help but jump into the mind and heart of that lost-and-loyal doggy, which became WHERE’D MY JO GO? (releasing April 15, 2020).


So our challenge, here at the end of the month, is to KEEP those antennae up, now that we’ve got ‘em greased and upright. Then, no matter what we’re doing in our “real lives,” we’ll be open and aware and (like Hotel California) programmed to receive.

The piano teacher was right:  Practice really does make perfect. And Storystorm provides the perfect opportunity for focused practice. (Thank you, Tara!)

Jill Esbaum lives on a family farm in eastern Iowa, where she writes picture books and nonfiction. Her latest picture book is WE LOVE BABIES (National Geographic). Several of her books have been nominated for state awards, and her I AM COW, HEAR ME MOO! won a SCBWI Crystal Kite.

Learn more about Jill and her books at and Find her on Facebook at Author Jill Esbaum and on Twitter at @JEsbaum.

Jill is giving away two prizes to two lucky winners—a picture book critique and a copy of her new book WE LOVE BABIES!

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

Good luck!


by Josh Funk

The most common question I (and probably most authors) get asked by children (and adults) is: “Where do you get your ideas?” I tell them that I get ideas from silly autocorrects and typos, things I’d like to see illustrated, or things that would make terrible picture books and see if I can make them work (all of which I’ve talked about in previous Storystorms).

I also tell students that another place I turn to for inspiration is reading. Many amazing books are published every year—and I try to read as many (picture) books as I can (I don’t read anything with kissing—ew). It’s not only great for market research and a good way to learn from talented creators, but reading published books can be incredibly inspiring—which gets my own creative juices flowing.

Speaking of creative juices, my creative juice is iced coffee. I sometimes joke that I spy on people at the coffee shop to get ideas, but the truth is I’ve never gotten a good one by doing that. Most people just talk about their families or gossip about their neighbors or tell their children to stay away from the creepy, lurking guy with the iced coffee listening to everyone’s conversations.

But it turns out that snooping can help spark ideas. And my favorite people to spy on are artists on Instagram. There is soooo much talent out there, it’s mind-boggling—just head over to Instagram and scan through hash tag #kidlitart.

Note: I am in no way suggesting that you can take someone else’s picture and write a story about it—that would be wrong so DO NOT DO THIS.

I am suggesting that you scan through all of the images as a buffet of what’s possible—just as you would when you read published books as research.

You might find a hungry dragon by Doreen Buchinski …

… or some fan art from NaShantá Fletcher …

… or a self-portrait of Renée Kurilla …

… or a warm nap from Angela C. Hawkins.

Maybe one will spark an idea for a character. Or a feeling or emotion you want to write about. Or maybe you’ll even write a story with a style of art in mind.

Then follow those artists. And look up your favorite artists and follow them. And follow the artists Instagram suggests you follow to find even more. Soon your feed will be filled with more inspiration than your scrolling thumb can handle.

And if your local coffee shop has good WiFi, then do it there—and like me, you’ll be searching for ideas while spying on people in a coffee shop.

Josh Funk is a software engineer and the author of books like the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series, the ​It’s Not a Fairy Tale series, the How to Code with Pearl and Pascal series, the A Story of Patience & Fortitude series, Dear Dragon, Pirasaurs!, Albie Newton, and more.

Josh has written a comprehensive “Guide to Writing Picture Books” that’s available for free on his website’s Resources for Writers section.

For more information about Josh Funk, visit him at, on Twitter at @joshfunkbooks, and of course, on Instagram at @joshfunkbooks. (Photo credit: Carter Hasegawa.)

Josh is giving away one of the following books each to five lucky winners!

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

Good luck!

Special announcement!

Josh will be teaching at our premiere Storystorm Retreat at Highlights Foundation, March 5-8, 2020.

Learn more about our fun and intensive picture book retreat here!

This event will fill up quickly. Sign up today!

Hope to see you there!

Photos from the Highlights campus by Melissa Sheperd.


by Traci Sorell

As other creators this month have noted, ideas for stories come to us in various ways. I can be inspired by almost anything—a walk outside, a passing remark, a memory or simply reading another book. It’s in this last one—reading someone else’s work—that I’ve found a couple of my own stories to tell. I fell in love with the forms and structures used in those books and wanted to challenge myself to replicate those in entirely different stories.

I SAY SHEHECHIYANU, written by Joanne Rocklin and illustrated by Monika Filipina, prompted WE ARE GRATEFUL: OTSALIHELIGA, my debut nonfiction picture book.


I loved Rocklin’s fictional story of a young Jewish girl expressing gratitude by saying “Shehechiyanu” for experiencing many “firsts” over the course of the year. It sparked my thinking about how in Cherokee culture we’re taught to be grateful for not just wonderful things that happen to us, but also the struggles. That ties to other teachings about balance, resilience, and interdependence. After a helpful critique from award-winning author Suzanne Slade, I made my story completely nonfiction from the perspective of Cherokee people as a collective.

Similarly, AT THE MOUNTAIN’S BASE, my debut fiction picture book illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre, came to me after I typed out the text of IN A VILLAGE BY THE SEA.


Written by Muon Van and illustrated by April Chu, this circular story follows a family waiting for a fisherman dad to come home and includes some fun magic with a cricket too. I began to think about Cherokee and other Native families who wait for their loved ones serving in the armed forces to come home. I intentionally made the pilot female because the service of women, especially Native women, is often overlooked in depictions of servicemembers in books for children.

Beyond just the previous examples, there are other elements of form and structure that I like to play with as I’m writing a story. Most of us have been told repeatedly about the “rule of threes”—three events, three characters, etc. This concept derives from a Latin or European way of thinking and may not serve the story you are crafting at all. In Cherokee culture, the numbers four and seven have greater meaning. So don’t feel compelled to follow that “rule” as it’s really not a rule at all. Likewise, stories can end rather abruptly as they do in many Cherokee ones I heard as a child. I loved seeing this in a picture book released last year, JOHNNY’S PHEASANT, written by Cheryl Minnema and illustrated by Julie Flett, which just won the 2020 Charlotte Zolotow Award for outstanding writing in a picture book. I also see many picture books published outside the United States employing this same method with endings that aren’t drawn out or others not wrapping up neatly as we’re often advised to do in craft workshops and webinars. We live lives full of abrupt endings, question marks and ambiguities—children know and live this too. It can be refreshing to see reality reflected in picture books.

So I invite you to play with form, try different points of view, experiment with different structures, and see where it takes you.  My hope is that you’ll enjoy the journey.

Here are some of my go-to sources of inspiration for finding books:

Cherokee Nation citizen and award-winning author Traci Sorell writes fiction and nonfiction books as well as poems for children. A former federal Indian law attorney and advocate, Traci lives with her family in northeastern Oklahoma where her tribe is located.

Find out more about her work online at or via Twitter @tracisorell and Instagram @tracisorell.

Traci is giving away a signed poster and a copy of AT THE MOUNTAIN’S BASE.

Enter one comment below to enter.

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

Good luck!


by Laurie Wallmark

When I talk to kids, I tell them books have origin stories just like superheroes do. Nothing like mentioning Wonder Woman or Black Panther to get kids excited. Once I have their attention, and now that I have yours, I talk about four methods of coming up with ideas for a story. Most of the time, my story ideas come from a combination of these approaches.

My first method is follow your passion. As many of you know, I write picture book biographies of [dead] women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). Just to be clear, the dead part isn’t my passion, just my preference in choosing a subject. I do, though, love science and math. It’s also important to me that children know that no matter their sex, race, ethnicity, gender identity etc., anyone can enter these fields. I choose to highlight the accomplishments of women, an underrepresented minority in STEM professions.

STEM not your thing? That’s okay. Although if truth be told, it’s beyond me how anyone couldn’t love science and math.

Anyway, moving on. How do you like sports? Music or dance? Working with your hands? Animals? Books? (Of course you like books—what am I saying?!) Following your passion leads to a treasure trove of ideas.

Still nothing? Okay, let’s move on to method two—gathering ideas. Here are some ways and places to find them…

The easiest method is to keep your eyes and ears open. You never know when you’ll see a picture or overhear something that will produce a kernel of an idea. Another way is to try thinking silly.

Kids love silly. What’s the craziest thing you can think of? Family stories are always a goldmine of ideas. You can reach back to your childhood or think about things that your children did. These humorous anecdotes can definitely form the basis of a story.

How about travels? Have you visited any unusual places that might be of interest to kids? Even a museum visit can spark an idea. It did for me.

Current events, whether tragic or triumphant, often translate into great books. Kids want to understand the world we’re living in today, and you can help them. On the other hand, you can look back in time to historical people and eras. Understanding the past will also help kids understand today’s world.

One final idea for method two—mashups. Take two or more seemingly unrelated ideas, say dinos and a dance party. Put them together and who knows what will happen. (Actually, I do. MY DINO PAJAMA PARTY picture book is coming out next year.)

Neither of the above methods work for you? Don’t worry. I have two more. Method three involves starting with a story part. Maybe you’ve thought of a great character, full of life and spunk. From there, brainstorm situations she might find herself in. Or you might only have a title. I sat on the perfect title for years before figuring out the story that matched it. Another idea is start with a setting. Maybe you can use one from one of your travels above?

My fourth method was already mentioned by Kate Garchinsky in an earlier Storystorm post—I wonder. Here’s how I like to use this method. If this happens, then what? If someone does something, then what happens? And then? And then? And then?

So there you have it—four different methods. Mix and match them to come up with your next story idea.

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark’s most recent book, NUMBERS IN MOTION: SOPHIE KOWALEVSKI, QUEEN OF MATHEMATICS, releases March 3, 2020. Her previous picture book biographies of women in STEM (ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE, GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE, and HEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFE) have earned multiple starred trade reviews and national awards. She has an MFA from VCFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Find her online at, Facebook, Twitter @lauriewallmark and Pinterest.


Enter one comment below to enter.

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

Good luck!


by Bonnie Adamson

Hello, Storystormers! Care to jump into the Way-Back Machine with me? As someone who has participated in every Storystorm/PiBoIdMo challenge since the very first one in 2009, I thought it might be fun to share some Pearls of Wisdom gathered along the way.

In 2009, I had just signed an illustration contract for my fifth book with Raven Tree Press, I was exploring a new(ish) social media platform called “Twitter” where I met the wonderful Tara Lazar, who was already busy making the world a happier place for picture book writer and illustrators. Author/poet Greg Pincus and I had founded #kidlitchat on Twitter over the summer, and I was soooo ready for this picture book idea thing. At the close of the 2009 challenge, I went through each day’s ideas, expanding them into two or three sentence synopses, and developed four of what I judged the best. One helped introduce me to my agent.

Two were probably too quiet for the market and one turned into a chapter book manuscript. A fifth idea never made it to the manuscript stage, but formed the basis of a PiBoIdMo post in 2010. One idea finally found its way into a 2019 project, another was tweaked and re-upped for Storystorm 2020, because the subject was suddenly in the news, in a sad, ecological-disaster way.

Most of my ideas in 2009 were plot-heavy and hard to fit into 500 words or less. The robot cowboy’s story (the one that caught the attention of my agent) is a case in point. It really doesn’t fit the picture book format, but I still have faith in it, and haven’t given up on finding a way to make it work. That’s the thing: a good idea has a way of hanging out in your head until you’re ready for it, or until your skills catch up.

Which brings me to my first Pearl of Wisdom:

Embrace the ideas that haunt you.

Think of them as creative sidekicks. You get to know them really well; they talk smack to you whenever you’re in danger of getting ahead of yourself; and they make excellent sounding boards. Every time you learn a new trick or flash on some insight about how your creative machine operates, you can try it out on your old pal first.

P.S. I have another picture book idea that predates the cowboy! The original concept was kicking around in my head *before* 2009. Is it possible to spend over a decade on one project? Why, yes . . . yes it is.

Witness the evolution of the character I refer to affectionately as “Croc”:

The second Pearl of Wisdom is for other Storystorm veterans:

Revisit your Storystorm stash often.

Sift through the older ones with a new perspective, more confidence in your ability to tell a certain story, or through the lens of changing times. (I have to say, one idea from 2009 and is looking pretty good to me ten years later. ‘Scuse me while I go make some notes . . .)

You’re not the same person you were five or six years ago—I’m not the same illustrator I was even a year ago.

Which leads to the third Pearl of Wisdom:

Don’t be afraid to shake things up.

I thought I was a writer first and an illustrator second, but it seems I had it backwards. Over the years I had settled into a routine: write the story, polish; sketch characters; thumbnail; dummy the page turns; create full-size layouts; complete a couple of pieces of final art; query. This sequence made sense to me, but a deadly fatigue was setting in by the time I got to creating the art. I couldn’t tell if the idea had been wrong for me as an illustrator, or whether I had simply used up all my problem-solving energy too early. So, immediately following Storystorm 2019, I challenged myself to turn each idea into a sketch FIRST, one a day during the month of February. Here are a couple that worked for me (you can see all the 2019 sketches on my website):

For this year’s Storystorm, I’m trying not to get my wordy brain involved at all until I have an interesting or fun image. Here’s Day 9:

(Whoops—it’s Baby Yoda! I dunno . . . maybe if I lose the blanket?)

Fourth (and final) Pearl of Wisdom—this one is the most important. Let’s call it a Diamond of Wisdom:

It’s not all about the ideas.

There have been personal highs over the past ten years: signing with my agent; a chance to illustrate for my dream publisher and a Kirkus starred review that spoke kindly of my art; the opportunity to create the logo for PiBoIdMo 2011 (thanks, Tara!).


But there was also a work-for-hire job that I cringe to think of, and more than one protracted dry spell—marked by the conviction that I’d forgotten how to draw and other forms of temporary insanity.

There have been changes in the industry, too—mostly good (although that darned word count for picture books keeps getting SMALLER and SMALLER).

One thing that hasn’t changed is my love for this challenge: it’s a deceptively simple exercise, but (as I’m sure you’ve realized by day 25), an extremely  effective way of getting into the story zone. It’s about self-discovery, about learning to listen to and trust your creative voice. After ten years, I’m still excited to see what pops into the picture book region of my brain (there definitely is a lobe dedicated to picture books by now).  I’m still inspired by the daily posts, and still grateful for this community.

So hang in there! That’s really what it’s about: the tenacity to put yourself back in the arena over and over.

Here’s wishing each of you success and decade-spanning journeys of your own.

Bonnie Adamson is a graphic designer turned illustrator who is trying, finally, to make the words match the pictures rather than the other way around.

You can wish her luck on Twitter @BonnieAdamson, where she hangs out when she should be doing something else. Also visit her website and blog at

Bonnie is giving away a signed copy of RUTABAGA BOO! by the inimitable Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen,  a definite high point of the last ten years.

Enter one comment below to enter.

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

Good luck!


by Hope Lim

When I go outside, I often discover something inspiring, unusual, or humorous. It may be a new sprout, fresh and hopeful, a lonely leaf on a bed of grass, or a child begging for a stick stuck in a mud.

Some ideas stay with me long after I find them, demanding a dedicated space in my mind and on paper. This is the beginning of a long journey of writing a story. I have learned that my best ideas come from real life experiences and evolve over time and through countless revisions. The first idea is often a gateway from which I am guided into a place of discovery, aided by observation and reflection.

The idea for I AM A BIRD, my debut picture book with Candlewick, began when I encountered a stranger in a park. I thought her strange at first glance, but immediately recognized my perception was unfair and started to reflect on our innate fears and biases toward each other. Right then and there, I knew I had to write a story of exploring fear of the unknown or the unfamiliar.

In the beginning, my draft had heavy undertones, but over time, I AM A BIRD became a story about celebrating a kindred spirit that is found unexpectedly, all told from a child’s perspective. My daughter and her soaring spirit became an inspiration for the narrator of the story. Borrowing her voice and sticking to it ­definitely helped me step away from an adult’s voice and stay within a child’s frame of mind. Here is a photo of my daughter going to school, pretending she is a bird. She was 7 years old.

MY TREE, to be released in summer 2021 by Neal Porter Books, is my second book. It began as a reflection on an old tree in our backyard and its glorious changes through the four seasons. As I spent more time with it, however, the story became one about a Korean boy’s connection to an old tree in America that reminded him of his home. I drew inspiration from my personal experience as an immigrant, who has a strong sense of nostalgia and holds dear the memories of things past. But the journey with MY TREE wasn’t done until I realized it needed an uplifting element, which I added later by overhauling the ending completely. Despite the numerous edits and rewrites, the journey was worthwhile for I finally arrived at the story I hoped to tell.

The above is a screen shot of my computer. At first, MY TREE had a different working title.

This one shows MY TREE in its final stages and even after this, the story went through more revisions. Don’t let the reality that your stories must go through many, many revisions scare you. This is one of the surest ways for you to discover new ideas and experiment with many different possibilities for your story.

Finding an idea and turning it into a story can be a long, arduous journey, full of unexpected developments, challenges, and emotions. However, when you spend time with an idea, you are ushered into a place of discovery about yourself and your life. It may take years to find the right idea or inspiration to make your story work. But take your time and enjoy the process, extracting ideas from your unique life experiences until those ideas mature into special stories. In the end, you are rewarded with a story that ONLY you can write. Most of all, you have grown as a writer and a person.

Hope Lim is a children’s book author from South Korea and now lives in San Francisco with her family. She runs daily and uses this time to meditate on many things, including her story ideas.

Hope’s debut picture book, I AM A BIRD, will be published by Candlewick Press in January 2021, followed by MY TREE by Neal Porter Books/Holiday House in summer 2021, and MOMMY’S HOMETOWN by Candlewick in fall 2022. You can find Hope on Instagram @hopelim_sf, Twitter @hope_lim or

Hope is giving away a picture book critique.

Enter one comment below to enter.

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

Good luck!


by Courtney Pippin-Mathur

You must play if you want to create.

HI, I’m an illustrator.

An illustrator that loves to draw.

An illustrator that loves to draw and paint with watercolors.

An illustrator that loves to draw and paint with watercolors and create stories.

An illustrator that loves to draw and paint with watercolors and create stories who doesn’t like to sketch.


It’s the truth.

The doodles I do create are abstract pattern designs taken during PTA meetings, where I dream of being home in my PJs. (No offense to PTA meetings, I just have a love affair with sweatpants and PJs and it starts at 6pm sharp every night.)

But I was running low on ideas. I had written and illustrated two picture books and I needed more. More ideas, more stories, more art.

But when I sat down to write, nothing happened. When I tried to sketch ideas, nothing happened. The graphite ran dry. I hated everything I made and grew frustrated with each attempt. The burden of creation had stifled my brain. Because I felt as though I HAD to come up with more ideas, I could not come up with ANY ideas.

So, I decided to just play.

Instead of making myself sketch in order to get a story, I sketched because I love to draw. And I drew what I loved.

My niece who loves to act like a dinosaur.

My daughter who was so shy in big family gatherings with her father’s family.





And I played with my first love, watercolor.

I started to combine my abstract watercolors with my drawings and felt the magic come back. The magic of inspiration and story.

Sometimes the story comes to me right away.

And sometimes I let it sit and the story comes to me through stages.

If I just play and put no pressure on myself that every drawing or painting has to become a story, the stories come. Some shamble in like half dead zombies, some strike like lightening but if I move my pencil or my brush and just PLAY, the ideas arrive.

Even if you’re not a visual artist, you can play. Play with watercolor, play with oil pastels, play with colored pencils, crayons or markers. Just play. Allow yourself to do something creative that isn’t tied into words and see what happens.

Courtney Pippin-Mathur grew up in East Texas and passed the hot summer days reading, drawing, watching She-Ra and exploring her grandma’s farm. She doodled constantly through elementary, middle and high school but didn’t think about art as a career until a fateful art history class at The University of Texas at Austin. After transferring from Government to Studio Art, she moved to the east coast, and started pursing a career in children’s books where she could combine all my favorite things.

She now lives in Northern VA now with her husband and three kids. Her picture books include MAYA WAS GRUMPY, DRAGONS RULE PRINCESSES DROOL and the upcoming HAPPY DIWALI with her sister-in-law, Sanyukta Mathur. Visit her online at, Twitter @pippinmathur and Instagram @pippinmathur.

Special announcement! Courtney will be teaching at our premiere Storystorm Retreat at Highlights Foundation, March 5-8, 2020. We’ll be playing with watercolor!

You do not have to be a Storystorm 2020 participant to attend the retreat! It’s open to anyone serious about developing a picture book and a writing career.

Learn more about our fun and intensive picture book retreat here!

This event will fill up quickly! Sign up today!

Hope to see you there!


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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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