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Anna Staniszewskiby Anna Staniszewski

I’m sure you don’t have this problem, but I’m not exactly smooth in social situations. Not too long ago, for example, I complimented a friend by telling her that her hair looked like a tornado. For some reason she wasn’t terribly flattered. I’m certainly better on paper than I am in person–that might be the definition of being a writer, right?–but sometimes my tendency to say strange things is actually useful. In fact, two of my picture books came about that way.

Way back in 2010, Tara was nice enough to let me share the story of how I got the inspiration for my first picture book. The short version: I was getting ready to take the dog for our morning jaunt. (The word “walk” can no longer be uttered in our house.) As she whimpered in impatience, I told her, “Hold on, Dogosaurus Rex! We’re going!” During our stroll, my brain started churning. What would a Dogosaurus Rex be? A dino/dog hybrid? A dog that acts like a dinosaur? A dinosaur that acts like a dog? Whatever it was, I knew I had to write about it. And thus Dogosaurus Rex, my forthcoming picture book with Henry Holt, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, was born.

Fast forward a couple years. This time, as I was going to sleep, I turned to my husband and said in my best robot voice, “Dream sequence initiated.” My husband, who’s used to the oddities of being married to a writer, gave me a “yes, dear” look and started snoring. But my brain was churning again. Was there a Goodnight Moon about robots? When I looked it up, the type of story I was imagining didn’t exist. I knew I had to write it, and this past March, Power Down, Little Robot, illustrated by Tim Zeltner, was published by Henry Holt.

Power Down Robot final cover small

I have a theory about those moments when we do/say things that other people think are odd. I suspect our imaginations are to blame. While we’re trying to go along in our everyday lives, pretending that we’re just like everyone else, our imaginations don’t shut off. And sometimes the things that our imaginations concoct can’t help but burst out of our mouths. When this happens, you might wind up offending a friend when you’re trying to pay her a compliment, but it might also mean stumbling upon the kernel of a story idea.

So don’t be embarrassed next time you do or say something that makes others scratch their heads. Grab a pencil and write it down! You never know where that bit of strangeness will lead you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to brainstorm a story about a girl whose hair turns into a tornado. And if it ever gets published, I know exactly which friend I’ll dedicate it to.

Anna Staniszewski is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series, the Dirt Diary series, and the Switched at First Kiss series, as well as the picture books Power Down, Little Robot and the forthcoming Dogosaurus Rex. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time teaching, reading, and eating far too much chocolate. Visit her at

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Anna is giving away a copy of Power Down, Little Robot.

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Anna Staniszewskiby Anna Staniszewski

As an author who’s slowly been transitioning from novels to picture books (my first picture book will be out in March 2015), I’ve realized that picture book techniques have started influencing my novel-writing process. Here are a few examples.

1. Brevity and Word Choice
This is probably the most obvious connection. When you’re used to working with 500 words, you tend to get a little pickier about the words you use in longer projects. Even when I have 50k words to work with, for example, I still find myself making sure to cut out unnecessary phrases (particularly unneeded dialogue tags) and using strong verbs and interesting nouns to make each sentence count.

2. Tying the End to the Beginning
This is my favorite picture book technique. In picture books, the ending almost always echoes the beginning of the tale. I love using this approach in novels, reflecting something from the opening chapter in the closing chapter in a different context. This technique shows us that the character has grown and changed, and it also makes the story feel cohesive and satisfying.

3. Repeating for Emphasis
Repetition can be great in picture books, but in novels it can feel like telegraphing. A strong repeated image, however, especially one whose meaning deepens over the course of the story, can work well if it’s revisited throughout the novel. It can help show how the meaning of that image or experience has changed for the character over time.

4. Using the Senses
In picture books, we have to be mindful of not focusing too much on the visual details so that we don’t step on the illustrator’s toes. That means we have to use other senses to give the story depth. I try to use a similar multi-sensory approach in my novels, so I’m not simply describing how things look to the characters, but I’m also thinking about the smells, sounds, and textures around them. I’ve also found myself using a lot of onomatopoeic words—kapow!

For those of you who write in longer and shorter formats, how do you find the two influencing each other? What’s your favorite picture book technique to use in novel-writing? Please comment below and join the conversation!


prank list cover 2Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest novel, The Prank List, released on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at

by Anna Staniszewski

I don’t know about you, but I’m a little weird. I like to make up words and twist them around, and call things and people by funny names. Sometimes this amuses other people, and it always amuses me. That’s one of the keys to storytelling: having fun with words and concepts, and not being afraid to put in your own little bit of wackiness.

Now, I love picture books, but when it comes to writing I tend to be a novel person. I write long. So I was a bit surprised when an idea for a picture book popped into my head and demanded to be written. It was inspired by my dog Emma. (Isn’t she cute?)

Ever since my husband and I adopted Emma over the summer, it’s become a hobby of mine to come up with silly names for her. Miss Emma Dog. The Furry One. Emmakin Skywalker. She doesn’t seem to mind.

Emma gets very excited when she thinks she’s going for a walk. One morning, when she was trying to speed up the process by whimpering, I told her: “Hold on, Dogosaurus. We’re going.”

As we were on our walk, that word kept bouncing around in my head. Dogosaurus. And when I glanced over at Emma’s shadow, with its long snout and sharp teeth, it didn’t seem that far-fetched that a dog could turn into a dinosaur. And wow, what a whole lot of chaos that would be! Thus the idea was born.

At this point, the manuscript is still in its infancy. It’s gone through some major revisions, and I’m sure it’ll go through several more before it’s anywhere near done. But the initial idea, the initial weirdness, keeps me inspired to continue working on the story.

So as you’re thinking of ideas this month, why not try embracing your weirdness? Maybe there are things you do or say that people roll their eyes at? Use them! Maybe there’s a joke you made up that makes you laugh every single time you tell it? Mine it! The idea might be strange and silly, and it might entertain only you, but you never know where your inner weirdness can take you.

Anna Staniszewski lives near Boston with her husband and their adorably insane black Lab. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Anna’s debut novel, MY UN-FAIRY TALE LIFE, will be published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in September 2011. You can visit her at

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