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by Kelly DiPucchio

For many years I did a school visit presentation on voice.  I’d begin by reading a line or two from popular books that I felt had distinct voices and then I’d ask the students to guess the titles. They always got them right!

So how do you create an unforgettable voice for your manuscript? I suppose the process is a little different for every writer but here are a few things I’ve discovered over the years.

1. Let the voice come to you.

I usually let my ideas percolate for several weeks before writing down a single word. During this waiting period the story is being worked out in my head and in the process, it’s forming its own personality. This personality continues to grow until one day it becomes too large to contain and the story (and its unique voice!) is literally told to me, not by me.

2. Never try to copy someone else’s writing voice.

It just doesn’t work and it’s not very honorable. However, you can (and must!) study other voices. Doing this might cause you to feel annoying pangs of envy. I can’t even begin to tell you how often I swoon and sigh and lament that a particularly charming voice in a book is not my own. The envy eventually turns into admiration and I’m inspired to work even harder at improving my craft.

3. Don’t try too hard.

If you try to force an overly clever voice it’s going to come across sounding disingenuous or convoluted and there’s a good chance you’ll end up ruining your story.

4. Less can definitely be more.

Sometimes writing short, punchy lines without a lot of frills can create the loudest, most memorable voices. A minimalist approach gives the illustrations more room to shine and tell the story.

5. Be flexible.

Personally, I don’t have much luck changing the voice in a story after it initially comes to me. I kind of feel like the story is telling me who it is and who am I to disagree? However, if for whatever reason, the manuscript is missing a spark, you may need to consider a new approach. Many stories that initially came to me in rhyme were eventually rewritten in prose. I almost always despise the non-rhyming version at first, but if I push through and give myself some time to adjust, I usually end up liking it better than the original.

I didn’t set out to write a story about telepathy and the value of listening in my new picture book, POE WON’T GO. I thought I was writing a story about a stubborn elephant. But more often than not, I’m just a passenger when it comes to writing the first draft of any new story. I’m not entirely sure where the omniscient voice in my head is going to take me and I learned a long time ago it’s better to just relax and go along for the ride.

I thought it would be fun to ask Zachariah OHora, the illustrator of POE WON’T GO, for his thoughts behind the creation of the art of our new picture book and this is what he had to say:

First off, I’ve been a huge fan of your work, so I was pinching myself that we actually were doing a book together! After the happy delirium wore off a bit and I had time to think about the story. I started thinking about elephants and pink elephants like those from Dumbo. Delirium Tremens. A symbol of hallucination. And it made me think about how some of our problems can be a collective hallucination and that if we talked it out we could solve it.

At the same time I was sketching it out, the White House was trying to ban people coming in from a seemingly random list of countries. All Muslim countries though, and they were obviously stirring up some racial and ethnic hatred. Which gave me the idea that the main character Marigold would wear a hijab and she would hold the solution for solving the town’s collective hallucination/problem.

And the solution is listening, right? 

Speaking someone else’s language, or stepping into their shoes.

Try to understand what they are struggling with or worried about.

The small town of Prickly Valley then became a stand in for the whole world, which is why they are illustrated as impossibly diverse for a town that has only one light and intersection.

Each group of people tried and failed to solve the problem in how they were trained, usually by some form of force.

I had a lot of fun illustrating these constructions, some of which were in the text but there were plenty of others that were left wide open for anything I could think of. I got to illustrate four pages of text that were just:

“Remarkably, that plan failed as well. 

As did this one. 

And that one. 

Nope. Nothing doing.  


What a gift for the illustrator! To have the openness to be surprised by the outcome.

That kind of generosity of spirit and trust which leaves room for real collaboration is the solution!

Marigold would approve!

Thank you, Zach! It’s been a true honor for me to work with you on POE WON’T GO. I couldn’t love it more. And thank you, Tara, for generously giving us both a voice here on your blog!

Thanks, Kelly, for teaching us how to speak elephant. And now, the elephant will sound the trumpet because we are giving away a copy of POE WON’T GO to a lucky blog reader who comments below.

One comment per person, please.

A winner will be randomly selected in a couple weeks.

Good luck!

Kelly DiPucchio is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty-eight picture books for kids including Grace For President, Zombie In Love and Gaston. Visit Kelly at or connect with her on Twitter @kellydipucchio.

Zachariah OHora is an award-winning illustrator and author. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Bloomberg Business Week, and on posters and record covers. He lives and works in Narberth, Pennsylvania, with his wife and sons. Visit him at or connect with him on Twitter @ZachariahOHora.


author pic kelly sonya color

Photo by Sonya Sones

by Kelly DiPucchio

It’s Day 27 of PiBoIdMo and based on all of the incredibly inspiring posts being shared here you must have more ideas than Thanksgiving leftovers. So how do you decide which ideas are keepers? Throw a dinner party!

A few weeks ago with another holiday season looming, I got a sudden and unexpected flash in my mind’s eye of all of my book characters seated together at a long table. I found the image amusing because it’s never occurred to me to put all of them together in the same room. But there they were eating, and drinking, and conversing loudly like they were at a swanky after-Oscar’s party.

Grace Campbell from GRACE FOR PRESIDENT was, of course, talking politics and the upcoming presidential election. Gaston was trying very hard to sip (never slobber!) his French champagne. Alfred Zector was passionately discussing books with Crafty Chloe who was busy rearranging the table center pieces. My beloved zombie, Mortimer, was smiling and secretly holding Mildred’s severed hand under the table. And no surprise, Bacon was seated at the head of the table commanding everyone’s attention with his bad jokes, long-winded stories, and impromptu ukulele solos.

bacon cover

Admittedly, some of my older characters weren’t adding much to the discussions. The dinosaurs from DINOSNORES were rudely asleep at the table, drooling into their salad plates, while the monsters from HOW TO POTTY TRAIN YOUR MONSTER spent the majority of the evening locked in the bathroom unrolling toilet paper and eating soap.

I asked myself if I were to extend my guest list to include other picture book characters, who might I want to invite and why?

sophiessquashI’d be sure to invite Matt De La Pena’s character CJ and his Nana because I know I could count on Nana to find something kind to say about my cooking. I’d send a telepathic invitation to Tammi Sauer’s little green alien because who wouldn’t want to hear what life is like on his planet? No doubt Ame Dyckman’s spunky Dot with her strong opinions and big appetite would be a lot fun to sit next to at a dinner party. I’d definitely invite Drew Daywalt’s crayons for a splash of color and Pat Zietlow Miller’s sweet Sophie just to see which vegetable she might befriend at the dinner table.

Characters don’t necessarily have to be as lovable as Dan Santat’s adorable Beekle but they should be memorable. Judy Schachner’s Skippyjon Jones would certainly be an unforgettable guest as would Elise Parsley’s Magnolia and her show-and-tell alligator. My Bacon might not be the kind of character you’d want to be seated next to at a dinner party because he’s exceedingly arrogant, but you can bet he’d be the kind of guest people would talk about on their drive home. And isn’t that better than being the guy in the beige sweater with kale in his teeth who’s name you can’t remember?

rosieWhen you’re contemplating your new picture book ideas, take a close look at your lead actors. Would they be characters you’d remember meeting the day after a dinner party? What about weeks or years later? Would they be the kind of characters you’d love to have as a friend because they’re thoughtful and kind like Amos McGee or imaginative and smart like Rosie Revere?

The characters we create may be playing out their adventures in two-dimensional worlds on the glossy, flat pages of picture books but something truly magical happens when we create characters that take on a multi-dimensional existence and live on in the hearts and memories of our readers for years to come.



Kelly DiPucchio is the award-winning author of nineteen picture books, including two New York Times bestsellers. Her forthcoming titles include DRAGON WAS TERRIBLE, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli, EVERYONE LOVES CUPCAKE, illustrated by Eric Wight and ONE LITTLE, TWO LITTLE, THREE LITTLE CHILDREN illustrated by Mary Lundquist. Kelly lives in southeastern Michigan with one husband, three children, and two puppies. You can see more of her work at and follow her on Twitter @kellydipucchio.

PrizeDetails (2)

Kelly is giving away a copy of EVERYONE LOVES BACON.

Leave a comment below to enter. One comment per person, please.

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You will be eligible for this prize if:

  • You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  • You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  • You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge.

Good luck, everyone!

People who aren’t directly involved in the publishing industry ask me where I get my ideas from all the time. I’m always tempted to respond with something like, “I steal them from first graders” or “I ask my Ouija board.” I think everyone reading this post knows that ideas come from absolutely everywhere and anything. From the mundane to the downright bizarre, everything is fair game. Consequently, writers are perpetual treasure hunters, the black crows of society.

Most writers I talk to can trace their treasure hunting days back to childhood. Once a seeker, always a seeker. When I was a kid, I had a secret drawer in my dresser where I hid my eclectic collection of treasures. It included things like my favorite Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers, sea glass, a cool cat’s eye marble, miniature Hello Kitty colored pencils, and a tiny box of Worry Dolls. There was no rhyme or reason to what I declared a treasure. They were just random objects that evoked feelings in me that really couldn’t be put into words. And for that reason, they were special.

If we’re really being honest with ourselves we know when our stories are rooted in something deeper than just a good idea. There’s an invisible connection to some intangible variable that we can’t always put our finger on. Love? Passion? Truth? Whatever it is, when it’s there, you know it. And for that reason, those stories are special.

While I believe that treasure hunting out in nature or out in the real world is infinitely more inspiring than virtual treasure hunting on the internet, physical expeditions aren’t always possible. So here’s what you do: Head over to Etsy, eBay, YouTube, Pinterest, Zappos—wherever your web weakness might be—and look for things you really love or really hate. You can pretty much find a story seed in anything that makes you ridiculously happy or sad. How do I know this treasure hunting exercise actually works? Meet French Bulldog Puppy Can’t Roll Over.


Holy cute, right?!

When I watched that video clip about two years ago, I wanted to reach into the computer screen and put that little hunk of sugar in my pocket. I was so punch drunk on puppy love I wrote a story about a French bulldog named Gaston. Just so we’re clear, GASTON isn’t a picture book about a dog that can’t roll over. Thirty-two pages featuring a beached dog may not be as endearing or as entertaining in print as it is on film. However, what YouTube puppy did do was inspire a new character and that character was very eager to tell me his story. The manuscript, which took several weeks to complete, sold to the first editor who read it. Christian Robinson is illustrating. The book will be published by Atheneum/Simon & Schuster next year.

So that’s my advice on Day 12, PiBo people. Go treasure hunting and find the shiny things that make you swoon, swear, sigh, or smile.

If you’re still stuck after that, go talk to a first grader.

Kelly DiPucchio is the award-winning author of fourteen children’s books, including New York Times bestsellers, GRACE FOR PRESIDENT, and THE SANDWICH SWAP, a book co-authored for Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan. Kelly’s books have appeared on The Oprah Show, Good Morning America, and The View. Kelly’s new picture book, CRAFTY CHLOE, illustrated by Heather Ross, (Atheneum) received a starred review in Kirkus and was featured on The Martha Stewart Show. Visit Kelly at, or follow her on Twitter @kellydipucchio.

Hey, crafty writers! Kelly is generously donating a picture book critique to a lucky PiBoIdMo’er who completes the 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge. Leave a comment here…and if you also end the month with 30 ideas and take the PiBo-Pledge (posted for you to sign in early December), you’ll be entered to win. Good luck!

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