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KidLit in Color is a group of traditionally published BIPOC creatives who write picture books, early readers, chapter books, and middle grade novels. We nurture, amplify diverse voices, and advocate for equitable representation in the publishing industry. Some of our members have  decided to share the ideas and inspiration that sparked their stories, featuring BIPOC characters. Whether you’re writing about BIPOC characters or not, you’ll gain new story ideas to add to your Storystorm list.

 

Valerie Bolling: Focus on Family

RAINBOW DAYS: THE GRAY DAY, illustrated by Kai Robinson (Scholastic, May 2, 2023), was inspired by my nieces. The main character’s name is Zoya, which is a combination of my nieces’ names, Zorah and Anyah. Zorah loves to read and write, and Anyah loves art. Zoya is a character who loves to create art with her dog, Coco. I channel Anyah when I think about the art projects that Zoya would enjoy delving into with Coco by her side. Anyah paints beautifully, so in THE GRAY DAY, the first book in this early reader series, readers will get to see Zoya exhibit her painting skills. And similar to Anyah, Zoya loves sparkles, so glitter is a complement to much of her art!

  • Storystorm Idea:
    Who in your family might provide inspiration for a story? Is it a nephew who always makes you laugh? Is it a quirky aunt who gives gifts that no one really wants? Is it a grandfather who’s so warm and loving that all of the kids want to sit next to him on the couch? Is it a cousin who has a unique hobby that you’d like to know more about? Is there another family you know that has some interesting characters you could write about? Exaggerating is welcome and encouraged!

 

Alyssa Reynoso-Morris: Family, Food and Love

PLATANOS ARE LOVE, illustrated by Mariyah Rahman (Atheneum Books under S&S, April 11, 2023), was inspired by my childhood experiences cooking with my grandmother. It is a delicious picture book about the ways plantains shape Latinx culture, community, and family, told through a young girl’s experiences in the kitchen with her abuela. The main character, Esme, was named after one of my grandmother’s Esmeralda. I also chose this name for her because Esme means love and LOVE is the main theme of this book. Esme learns about her ancestors and how platanos (plantains) are more than just food.

  • Storystorm Idea:
    Think of the storytellers in your life. Think of fun things you do together. Think about the stories they shared with you. Think of the stories you made up together. For me—my Abuela—is my inspiration. Everyone knew her for her stories and the animated way in which she retold them. As I got older I would often join her in retelling her tales. When she passed away, writing down our stories was my way of keeping her memory alive. When I need inspiration I often think of her and the stories we used to share together.

My grandmother grew up in an impoverished town in the Dominican Republic. She had a second grade education because in her generation girls were meant to be married off and not invested in. She taught herself to read and write by memorizing the Bible. She was not a “writer” in the traditional sense but she was the best storyteller because she could make you laugh and cry and feel so many emotions all at once. She was captivating and to know that two generations later I get to publish my version of our stories brings me immeasurable joy.

 

Kaitlyn Wells: Mine Your Emotions

I wrote my first picture book as an exploration of my painful childhood experiences growing up Black biracial in Texas—but from the perspective of my dog. A FAMILY LOOKS LIKE LOVE, illustrated by Sawyer Cloud (Penguin Random House/Flamingo Books, May 2022) also highlights the joy of knowing you’re loved no matter what you look like. To make that connection more accessible to young readers, I remembered that my own dog Sutton looks completely different from her own family, too. She’s also a dog who sees the best in everyone. Telling a difficult story with my pup as the conduit fit perfectly with the premise, and also made the story a bit easier to write.

  • Storystorm Idea:
    Mine your childhood emotions for the rawest experience you can remember. To help bring those difficult feelings to the forefront, grab a token to root yourself in yesteryear. It can be craft dough, a Ring Pop, a favorite song from the second grade, or anything that’ll help those memories reappear. Sit in the emotions as you draw a mental memory map of what situations, people and places sparked them. Then you can start to build out scenes around them until you have the framework of a story. I like using this “heart mapping method” because it gives my writing a certain level of authenticity that I couldn’t achieve otherwise. It’s not easy to do because our emotions can physically and mentally drain us. But with some practice you’ll learn to welcome the experience rather than run from it.

 

Natasha Khan Kazi: A Needed Character

When my children entered preschool, I asked their teachers if we could share Ramadan in the classroom. My then four-year-old wanted to share old and new traditions, and I couldn’t find a book that encompassed everything we were looking for. That’s how MOON’S RAMADAN (Versify / HarperCollins 2023) was first drafted. It began as a first-person POV poem, essentially a love letter to Ramadan. I let the draft sit for weeks as I contemplated what was missing. The answer was holiday magic, what I needed as a Muslim child and what my kids need now. Ramadan doesn’t have the imaginative characters of Christmas or Easter. The story needed to be told from the POV of Moon, my magical main character, as she visited diverse families all over the world.

  • Storystorm Idea:
    Brainstorm the characters and stories you needed as a child or the children in your life might need now. Don’t forget to mine your memories for the magic you needed, too. Let those real world events plus imaginative elements simmer and see what you cook up!

 

Aya Khalil: Favorite Family Traditions

My inspiration for my characters are my grandmothers and mom. In this intergenerational story, Zain, a young boy and his grandma bake Eid cookies, ka’ak. I have memories baking with my grandmother when she used to visit us from Egypt. It wasn’t perfect and it was messy, but there was always love and fun involved. Zain reminds me a lot of my own seven year old son because of his love for his grandma and lack of patience!

  • Storystorm Idea:
    What are some of your favorite traditions with your families? Especially holiday traditions, are there special treats you baked together with your family and shared with others? How did those traditions make you feel? Try to remember all of the senses involved: smell, texture, sounds around you in the kitchen and home during those moments.

 

Alliah L. Agostini: Mix Memories with Wonder

The protagonist of BIG TUNE: Rise of the Dancehall Prince, illustrated by Shamar Knight-Justice (FSG, March 2023) was partially inspired by my Jamaican-American husband. I was working on another dance/music-focused manuscript that just wasn’t gelling when a friend/critique partner asked “What if one of the kids was too shy to dance?”. That made me think of my husband, the best dancer I know. But he’d always recollect being too shy to dance at family parties in 80’s/90’s Brooklyn, so his goal-oriented, math-loving side redirected him to lay low and collect cans and bottles to return and earn his own money, instead. This gave birth to BIG TUNE, a story that celebrates quiet yet tenacious kids, while also reflecting our Caribbean heritage.

  • Storystorm Idea:
    Ask What If?. If you’re working on a fiction manuscript with an essence that you love, but something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to take a variable of the story and start considering other options. Perhaps it’s the setting or the time period, the central conflict, or even an attribute about the main character. Inevitably other parts of the story will have to evolve in order to support this shift, but have fun! Note: if it’s non-fiction, you can do the same. Although facts are facts, there are a number of different approaches to the same story. Asking those ‘what-if’ questions might uncover fascinating, unexpected under shared truths!

 

Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow: Write the Story That Heals You

I write for kids but I write for me too.

Whether it’s reclaiming names, undoing harmful single stories about Muslims, or working through Black pain to assert Black joy, I write to heal and that has often produced my most resonant stories.

Two weeks after my father’s death, I sat down to write SALAT IN SECRET (illustrated by Hatem Aly, Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster, June 2023). It also happened to be two weeks before my youngest child’s seventh birthday, a religiously significant year when Muslim children are encouraged to commit to salat or praying five times a day. I thought of my deeply religious Muslim father who performed salat everywhere even on the street as a chauffeur, cab driver, and ice cream man and how excited he would have been for his grandson. My balm was writing Muhammad who is determined to pray all five prayers when his unapologetic Muslim father gifts him a salat rug on his seventh birthday. However, too shy to ask for a place at school, Muhammad tries to find a secret place as many Muslim kids and adults like me do–another wound I needed to heal.

  • Storystorm Idea:
    What are your wounds? Don’t be afraid to list out your pain. Children experience painful moments and need stories that speak to those too. Lay it out on paper, then write the story your inner child needs to heal.

 


Visit the entire KidLit in Color group online at KidLitinColor.com and follow along on Twitter @KidLitinColor.

KidLit in Color is offering the following prizes (one winner for each):

  • Valerie Bolling will offer a 15-minute AMA.
  • Kaitlyn Wells will offer a 15-minute AMA or picture book manuscript critique.
  • Alyssa Reynoso-Morris will offer a 30-minute AMA or a picture book manuscript critique.
  • Natasha Khan Kazi will offer a 15-minute AMA or a PB non-rhyming fiction manuscript critique.
  • Aya Khalil will offer a 15-minute AMA or a PB non-rhyming fiction manuscript critique.
  • Alliah L. Agostini will offer a 15-minute AMA or a copy of Big Tune or The Juneteenth Story.
  • Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow will offer a 15-minute AMA.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

Hi Tara! Thank you for having me on your blog today and hosting the cover reveal of ABDUL’S STORY, a picture book written by me and illustrated by Tiffany Rose (with art direction by Tom Daly).

ABDUL’S STORY is about a young boy who has many stories to tell about his community in Philadelphia. However, during writing period in his class each day, he never writes these or any stories because he’s ashamed of how he writes. His handwriting is sloppy. He misspells many words. Sometimes, he even writes some letters backward.

On top of these struggles, he also doesn’t see the stories of his community as being welcome because the stories read in his classroom are about people and communities that are not like the ones he knows.

Mr. Muhammad, a writer who looks like Abdul and tells stories like Abdul’s, visits his class and helps him to change his view. Abdul learns that the story he has to tell is valuable even if he struggles with writing, and even if his story is different.

The Story Behind the Story

The idea for ABDUL’S STORY came out of my work as a writer working in Mighty Writers community centers for kids. My main job was often to help kids see themselves as writers. I once taught a workshop for children, called “Get Published, Kids!” The goal was to help kids write stories for publication in magazines. There, I met a student (I’ll call him H) in this workshop who wrote one sentence in his writer’s notebook and told me he was done.

When I encouraged H to write more, he gestured to the other kids busily writing at his table with full pages in their notebooks and said, “I can’t be a writer like them.” H was only maybe six or seven years old at the time. It troubled me that a child so young could see himself as already incapable of doing something. The more I talked with him about his story, the more I realized that H lacked confidence because he couldn’t write neatly and had trouble spelling words. Still, I pushed him to write much more and to see value in the things he wrote.

At the end of our workshop session, H proudly showed his father the many pages he wrote that day. He did something he thought he was incapable of and was smiling from ear-to-ear. While that was gratifying, I thought a lot about other kids similar to H who don’t have empowering experiences with writing. What is a story that could help them?

Words of Advice for Aspiring PB Authors

My advice for PB authors is the same advice I would give to Abdul in my story and H: Remember that there is value in the story that you have to tell. Mine your experiences for the best material, and don’t dismiss your experiences just because they aren’t represented in books. Often the stories that are missing  are the best stories. Additionally, don’t underestimate yourself just because you need to grow as a writer. Keep trying. Keep doing the work. You never know what you might be capable of.

And now…the cover reveal!

ABDUL’S STORY releases March 29th, 2022 from Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster. Pre-order a copy today online or from your local independent bookstore.

And Jamilah will be giving away a signed copy of ABDUL’S STORY once it releases.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected soon.

Good luck!


Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow is a Philadelphia-based educator and award-winning children’s book author. A curriculum writer and former English teacher, she has educated children and teens in traditional and alternative learning settings for over 15 years. Her picture books and middle-grade fiction center young Black Muslim protagonists and have been recognized as the best in children’s literature by Time Magazine, Read Across America, and NPR. Her books include Mommy’s Khimar and Your Name is a Song, an Irma Black Honor book. Her upcoming books include ABDUL’S  STORY (2022), HOLD THEM CLOSE (2022), and SALAT IN SECRET (2023).

Find Jamilah online at jamilahthewriter.com, on Twitter @jtbigelow, and on Instagram @authorjamilah.

by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

For me, story ideas come from two extremes: when I allow my mind to wander or when I focus it on the small and specific. They are opposite ways of thinking and yet, somehow, both give me great material.

My mental wanderings happen each day during my daydream time. Daydream time sounds like the stuff of unicorns and pixie dust but in practical terms, it’s time I schedule to be bored. Typically, it’s 20-30 minutes on my train commute when I put away my phone and commit to not reading, communicating, or working on something. I simply sit, staring into space. I try not to people-watch or look out a window. Observing people and things can be great inspiration, but I push my mind to feed off nothingness during daydream time.

The trick to this is having no expectations about what my brain should do here. I allow it to do what it wants to. I might think through a stressful interaction I had with a family member. I might remember something that makes me laugh. I might come up with a new, fun program for my youth center. I may reflect on my nervousness around a new venture and mentally speak words of confidence to myself.

Sometimes, I get a story idea.

An idea that comes from boredom is often strange and exciting and the urge to not lose it is strong, but I fight to not take out a phone or notebook to work on that idea during that time. During daydream time, I’m just there to observe the idea. I let the idea move freely without trying to name, define, critique, organize, or develop it. I can do that work later. I let that idea twist itself around in my head and dance around in my thoughts the way it wants to.

My other main source of material is typically a specific word or phrase. Often these come from books. However, a number of my manuscripts come from focusing on something seemingly inconsequential that a young person said but that I can’t forget. I’ll consider these words and ask questions about them and imagine how they might work in a story.

YOUR NAME IS A SONG was inspired by my focusing on the name, Olumide (pronounced O-loo-muh-Day), which a teen I worked with had told me was his middle name. I simply loved the sound of it, the feel of it on my tongue, and decided to take time to reflect on it. I mused, “Olumide is a melody.” That led to many thoughts: That name is a song! What other names are like songs? What if I told someone their name is a song? How would they respond? “Your Name is a Song” would be an intriguing book title. But what would a story with that title be about?

Eventually, I worked out those questions and developed a story about a girl whose name gets repeatedly mispronounced. I also decided to use the narrative to celebrate names from certain cultures that may often be mispronounced by American teachers. “Olumide is a melody” became an actual sentence in the book!

So, today, consider focusing on something—a word or phrase that won’t leave you possibly. Or, don’t focus at all. Let the ideas wander in as they wish!


Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow centers Black and Muslim children in her work. She is the author of critically acclaimed picture book, Mommy’s Khimar. Through her work with Mighty Writers, she also provides free writing programs for Philadelphia youth. This year, she looks forward to the publication of her work in MG anthology, Once Upon an Eid and her picture book, Your Name is a Song.

Find her online at jamilahthewriter.com, Twitter: @jtbigelow, and Instagram: @authorjamilah.


Jamilah is giving away a picture book critique.

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!

 

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