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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 bonnieadamson.com.


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 Bonnie Adamson (from 2010)

Those of us you who were children once upon a time will surely remember how frustrating it was suddenly to have been plunked down in a world where everyone knew more than you did—about everything. Children spend a great deal of time trying to figure things out: where does snow come from? Why can’t dogs talk? What happens next? Or, as we say in our family: “Who ordered the veal cutlet?”*

Kids develop their own little GPS-like subroutines, constantly recalculating to keep themselves on track—but sometimes, inevitably, they get it wrong. Misperceptions and missed information lead to misunderstandings . . . and—I won’t sugar-coat this—little misunderstandings often lead to:

Major Disappointment!

Total Humiliation!

Nightmares!

(Yeah, I was grown before I figured that one out.)

Thank goodness for picture books!

In a picture book, you can check out your own real-live dinosaur any time from the Storybook Lending Zoo.

You can have the queen invite the golfer with the highest score to the palace for tea, and meet the prince, who is even worse at Goony Golf than you are.

You can become a super-hero in training, and rid the world of evil, baby-eating furniture.

How cool is that? As children’s book writers and illustrators, we get to do this all the time. So, having aired three of my own neuroses . . . er, picture book ideas . . . here is a tip for today: think back to those times in your childhood when things were not quite what you expected them to be—and imagine what it would take to discover a new, old friend . . . or have the last laugh . . . or fly to the rescue.

And then, for the love of heaven, explain to the little person in your life that dinosaurs are really extinct; that, as silly as it sounds, low score wins at Goony Golf; and that, yes, if necessary, a very tiny baby can sleep safely in a dresser drawer . . . but only if you take the drawer OUT of the dresser first!

*A line from Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie . . . um, maybe you had to be there.

Bonnie is the illustrator of Rutabaga Boo! by Sudipta Bardhan-Qualllen, Bedtime Monster by Heather Ayris Brunell, and the “I Wish I Was” series from Raven Tree Press. She is represented by Marietta Zacker of the Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency.

Visit her at bonnieadamson.com or follow her on Twitter @BonnieAdamson.

—> Bonnie then, practicing her skeptical glare; and now—an older and wiser children’s book illustrator.

At the conclusion of Storystorm, prize packs will be given away (books, swag, writing tools). Comment once on this blog post to enter into the prize pack drawing.

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

Good luck!

 

by Bonnie Adamson

Those of us you who were children once upon a time will surely remember how frustrating it was suddenly to have been plunked down in a world where everyone knew more than you did—about everything. Children spend a great deal of time trying to figure things out: where does snow come from? Why can’t dogs talk? What happens next? Or, as we say in our family: “Who ordered the veal cutlet?”*

Kids develop their own little GPS-like subroutines, constantly recalculating to keep themselves on track—but sometimes, inevitably, they get it wrong. Misperceptions and missed information lead to misunderstandings . . . and—I won’t sugar-coat this—little misunderstandings often lead to:

Major Disappointment!

Total Humiliation!

Nightmares!

(Yeah, I was grown before I figured that one out.)

Thank goodness for picture books!

In a picture book, you can check out your own real-live dinosaur any time from the Storybook Lending Zoo.

You can have the queen invite the golfer with the highest score to the palace for tea, and meet the prince, who is even worse at Goony Golf than you are.

You can become a super-hero in training, and rid the world of evil, baby-eating furniture.

How cool is that? As children’s book writers and illustrators, we get to do this all the time. So, having aired three of my own neuroses . . . er, picture book ideas . . . here is a tip for today: think back to those times in your childhood when things were not quite what you expected them to be—and imagine what it would take to discover a new, old friend . . . or have the last laugh . . . or fly to the rescue.

And then, for the love of heaven, explain to the little person in your life that dinosaurs are really extinct; that, as silly as it sounds, low score wins at Goony Golf; and that, yes, if necessary, a very tiny baby can sleep safely in a dresser drawer . . . but only if you take the drawer OUT of the dresser first!

*A line from Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie . . . um, maybe you had to be there.

Bonnie Adamson’s latest illustration project is BEDTIME MONSTER (¡A dormir, pequeño monstruo!) by Heather Ayris Burnell, released in September by Raven Tree Press.

Visit Bonnie’s soon-to-be-completely-overhauled website at www.bonnieadamson.net, or hang out with her on Twitter, where she co-hosts #kidlitchat on Tuesday nights and #kidlitart (for children’s book illustrators and friends) every Thursday.

Bonnie then, practicing her skeptical glare; and now—-an older and wiser children’s book illustrator.

Prize Alert! Leave a comment to enter. One randomly-selected winner will choose one of the three picture-book-inspired sketches above for Bonnie to paint in watercolor (Dinosaur, Royalty, Superhero). One entry per person! Winner will be selected one week from today. Good luck!

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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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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
January 7, 2020

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
August 2020

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