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by Darshana Khiani and the Soaring20s

It’s the middle of Storystorm, I hope your gears are turning and churning out ideas. If yours are a little rusty like mine, then I suggest starting small by following your curiosity and then letting your imagination take over. From TV shows, doodling, to puppy clothing, ideas are everywhere! Today members from the Soaring20s Picture Book Debut group are here to tell you where they got some of their ideas. Enjoy!

While struggling with a story about an otter, I doodled a secondary character—a sea lion who was roaring while flying a plane. Suddenly the idea to play with sounds that could be made by both animals AND vehicles took over. And before I knew it, I had a shiny new book dummy called ANIMALS GO VROOM!, which will be published by Viking in 2021!

Abi Cushman, author-illustrator of SOAKED! (Viking, July 2020) 

I had an idea for a story while picking up my son at daycare one day. When I arrived, he was playing outside. He started running in my direction as soon as he saw me, but there was a group of kids in his way. Instead of going around, he roared and waved his “claws” at them, like a T-Rex. It worked, but I don’t know what was funniest, his strategy or the disapproving looks he got from the other three year olds.

Joana Pastro, author of LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS, illus. Jhon Ortiz (BM&K, September 2020), and BISA’S CARNAVAL, illus. Carolina Coroa (Scholastic, Spring 2020)

I once read that when Edward White completed America’s first spacewalk in 1965, he was reluctant to return to his ship and when he finally did, he said, “This is the saddest moment of my life.” Immediately, I thought, “Wow! Kids can really relate to that feeling.”  I knew White’s story needed to be shared with young readers so I wrote it.  The Stars Beckoned comes out from Philomel in early 2021.

Candy Wellins, author of SATURDAYS ARE FOR STELLA, illus. Charlie Eve Ryan (Page Street Kids, August 2020)

I’m currently working on a draft inspired by an episode of the non-kid-friendly show, “Drunk History” (Comedy Central). Each episode is a goldmine for highlighting overlooked histories of underrepresented groups, including women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community. Try working THAT point of inspiration into a picture book author’s note.

Kirsten Larson, author of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, illus. Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek, 2020) and FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars are Made Of, illus. Katherine Roy (Chronicle, 2021)

Ideas often come to me as I walk in nature. I think the quiet—wherever I am—opens up my mind and heart and allows me to be more receptive to sights and sounds and ideas! Just the other day I came across some scat—whose? With a lot of fur in it—whose? I am not sure what I will do with that but the discovery sure nurtures curiosity and questions. And who knows where that takes me.

Mary Wagley Copp, author of WHEREVER I GO, illus. Munir Mohammed (Atheneum, April 2020)

I’ve gotten a story idea from watching my kids have a huge fight.

Sam Wedelich, author-illustrator of CHICKEN LITTLE: THE REAL AND TOTALLY TRUE TALE (Scholastic Press, May 2020)

My dad sent me pictures from a local event called Prairie Plowing Days, a demonstration of steam tractors and gang plows to show how farming was done in the early 1900s. The event featured other antique farming equipment, such this tractor. Kansas to Washington, DC, in a tractor?! Research uncovered the American Agriculture Movement’s 1979 cross-country “tractorcades,” which led to the farmers occupying the National Mall for weeks, which led to more protests, which led to Farm Aid, which led to me writing FARMERS UNITE! Planting a Protest for Fair Prices.

Lindsay H. Metcalf, author of BEATRIX POTTER, SCIENTIST, illus. by Junyi Wu (Albert Whitman, September 2020), co-editor with Keila V. Dawson and Jeanette Bradley of NO VOICE TOO SMALL: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, illus. by Jeanette Bradley (Charlesbridge, September 2020), and author of FARMERS UNITE! PLANTING A PROTEST FOR FAIR PRICES (Calkins Creek, November 2020).

When I was a teenager, a song I loved came on the radio. I squealed, “Turn it up! This is the best song ever.” My friend’s Dad scoffed and replied, “Really? This is the best song ever?” That exchange stuck with me and became the kernel that launched the interaction between young Mason and his Grandpa in How Long Is Forever? Mine those long ago memories and you may find your next idea!

Kelly Carey, author of HOW LONG IS FOREVER?, illus. Qing Zhuang (Charlesbridge, April 2020)

I was taking care of my cousin’s puppy who was wearing a onesie (who knew there were dog onesies??) to keep her from licking her stitches. I took the puppy outside to pee and forgot to undo the onesie snaps. You can guess what happened next. That incident spawned a title and a story which I’m working on now!

Melanie Ellsworth, author of CLARINET AND TRUMPET, illus. John Herzog (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, August 2020)

When a book editor read my article for the New York Times about what Julia, an autistic Muppet, means to my family, she asked me if I could write a picture book about an autistic girl with sensory issues. My daughter and I both live with autism and sensory issues, so I thought about what bothers us the most. I settled on sticky hands and created scenes with pancakes and syrup for breakfast and slime day at school.

Jen Malia, author of TOO STICKY! SENSORY ISSUES WITH AUTISM, illus. by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (Albert Whitman, April 2020)

I’m not an illustrator, but sometimes ideas come to me in the form of images. I was at a writing conference with friends, and I suddenly pictured a sari where the border color was interspersed into the body of the sari, and the sari color was interspersed into the border. I sketched it, and realized it was a metaphor for a girl’s experience traveling to India to visit her grandmother, and the grandmother’s experience traveling to the U.S. to visit the girl. I’LL GO AND COME BACK will be illustrated by Sara Palacios and published by Candlewick Press in 2022.

Rajani LaRocca, author of SEVEN GOLDEN RINGS, illus. Archana Sreenivasan (Lee & Low, July 2020), BRACELETS FOR BROTHERS, illus. Chaaya Prabhat (Charlesbridge, 2021), WHERE THREE OCEANS MEET, illus. Archana Sreenivasan (Abrams, 2022)

I usually get my best ideas from brainstorming. Like with my book THE ELEPHANTS’ GUIDE TO HIDE-AND-SEEK (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky April 1, 2020), I started with the idea of a parody guidebook of some kind, then I brainstormed activities kids like that don’t really have guidebooks (and wouldn’t). Then I brainstormed angles for ways the guidebook could be ridiculous. Soon I had an idea that was much more interesting than the original small seed.

Kjersten Hayes, author of THE ELEPHANTS’ GUIDE TO HIDE-AND-SEEK, illus. by Gladys Jose (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, April 2020)

A lot of my stories come from the “What If?” game. What if a spunky, creative girl who dances to the beat of her own drum decides to start ballet classes? What if instead, it was an Indian classical dance? These questions led me to write a story about a Indian-American girl trying to find an Indian dance class that suits her. This story is on submission now!

Darshana Khiani, author of HOW TO WEAR A SARI, illus. Joanne-Lew Vriethoff (Versify, Spring 2021)

Soaring20s is a diverse group of authors and illustrators with picture book debuts soaring onto shelves in 2020 and beyond. Visit for behind-the-scenes posts, resources, and giveaways!

You can also follow them on Twitter @Soaring20sPB and Instagram @Soaring20sPB.

Soaring20s is giving away the choice of a picture book manuscript critique or a picture book dummy critique to two different 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!


darshanaby Darshana Khiani

Memories are those things sitting in the back of your mind collecting dust … until something in the present triggers them forward. Some of the best books act as that trigger; they awaken those memories that represent “universal truths”. These truths are what you want to capture in your writing.

So where do you find these universal truths?

They are happening all around you every day! They can be a little tricky to spot especially when you are rushing to pick-up the kids, rushing to meet a deadline, rushing to cook dinner, etc. But if you stop to listen to the singing child at the check-out stand or observe the toddler watching the mall Santa from behind his parent’s legs, you will see the universal truth standing there naked in front of you.

How do you know what experience is worth capturing?

Look for the emotional clues in any situation.

Search for the unusual in the usual. Is a child practicing their handwriting interesting? Probably not, but what if there was a rip in the paper from being erased upon so many times (frustration) or a drawing of a rainbow unicorn in the margins (boredom). These little details can be the key to something bigger.


Notice repetitive behaviors. Lately, whenever anything goes wrong for my 6-year-old daughter—stumbles, makes a mistake on her drawing, breaks something, stubs her toe—she blames it on me. I also noticed my daughter spends a lot of time on her penmanship (determination). Or that she worries about not getting a 100% on a test (nervousness). By noting down these observations, I realized that my daughter is a perfectionist who can’t handle making mistakes. Now I have the seeds for developing a strong character. And because I wrote down those incidents, I have a springboard upon which to generate other zany challenges/obstacles for my character.

How best to save the memories?


For the past few years, I have kept a journal where I store my observation of kids. I have a terrible memory, and my biggest fear is that once my kids are older I will forget what picture-book aged kids are like. So I write down any tidbit that is interesting, odd, funny, or sad so I can refer to it later. These observations will help make my characters feel alive.

Here are some examples:

  • 5-year-old dances in front of mirrored closets, at the dinner table, in-line at the grocery store, teaches her classroom teacher, etc.
  • 3-year-old told me to whisper since her Minnie baby doll was sleeping.
  • Both girls cried the day the ducks at school left for the farm. The 6-year-old said “I will miss the ducks” while the 4-year-old said “The ducks will miss me.”

Video Clips
With the prevalence of smart camera phones, it’s easy to take a video anytime, anywhere. My husband took a ton of movies when our girls were babies and toddlers. One of my favorite videos, from their pre-school era, is a two-minute rant of “I Want Pizza” for dinner.

Once in a while, I still eavesdrop on my school-aged girls’ conversations with my smartphone or journal. Fodder in case I ever decide to write a chapter book. (Note: Do not take videos of kids other than your own without permission from their parents.)

Don’t have kids? No problem.
If you don’t have kids, no problem! There are plenty around – storytime at the library, afternoons at the playground, babysit for a neighbor. Just observe them.

Also, in this day of the Internet, there is soooo much on-line. You can get ideas from other friends’ Facebook posts, websites such as the Honest Toddler, and YouTube, which has a plethora of silly, quirky, and inspiring videos.

Here is video that went viral. It’s just full of awesomeness.

Hope you find these tips helpful of how to look for ideas, save them, and find the universal truths within. Have a wonderful PiBoIdMo!


Darshana Khiani is constantly journaling about her silly, adorable daughters and the world from her home in California. You can find her on-line at and on Twitter @darshanakhiani. She is represented by Jodell Sadler of Sadler Children’s Literary.


Darshana is generously giving away a picture book critique! Leave one comment to enter. A random winner will be selected at the conclusion of Pre-PiBo!

Good luck!

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