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by PB Crew 22

When you want a great idea, ask your crew! PB Crew 22 is a group of authors and illustrators with picture books releasing this year. We have been so inspired by Storystorm this month and in years past. That’s why we wanted to give you not one, not two, but 19 ways to come up with your own ideas for your next picture book!

Brittany Thurman: Begin with Poetry

As I wrote a free verse about the power that exists when we recognize our full potential, I thought over my childhood. How many times did I let self-doubt inhibit my goals? Too many. What would have happened if I kept going even when I did not know what the outcome would be? With FLY, illustrated by Anna Cunha, published by Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, I show what it feels like to soar through a childhood dream.

Storystorm Idea:

Begin with poetry. Poetry allows for us to encompass emotions associated with heart. Write a sonnet, create a tanka. While you create, think over a goal you wanted to achieve as a child. Rhyme or no rhyme, through poetry, write about the goal and its associated feeling. Now, turn that poem into a picture book.

Jonathan Hillman: Try an Unconventional Point of View

BIG WIG, illustrated by Levi Hastings (Paula Wiseman Books, February 2022) was inspired by the drag phrase “wig flew,” which is a way of saying you’re blown away or astonished by something. For example, if you see a fierce look or a show stopping dance move, you might say, “girl, my wig flew!” As a first time picture book writer, I knew I wanted to explore LGBTQIA+ identities, and I loved the idea of a wig as an unexpected entry point for that exploration.

Storystorm Idea:

If you have a picture book in progress, try rewriting it from a different point of view. The more unexpected the better! If you don’t yet have an idea, pick an overused picture book character and try shifting the perspective. What aspects of the story can only this viewpoint character draw out?

Elizabeth Brown: Find the Little Known Stories Behind Everyday Things 

For LIKE A DIAMOND IN THE SKY: JANE TAYLOR’S BELOVED POEM OF WONDER AND THE STARS, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander (Bloomsbury, February 2022), I wondered about the origins of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” the lullaby most children sing. I discovered it comes from a poem titled “The Star” by Romantic-era writer, Jane Taylor. Her struggle to become a published poet will inspire young readers and writers everywhere.

Storystorm Idea: 

Look for the magical stories behind everyday things. When you discover that spark, plot, write, and revise (a lot!) to make your story shine!

Eija Sumner: Explore Somewhere New and Gather Up Details

CROCODILE HUNGRY, illustrated by John Martz (Tundra, February 2022) was inspired by a trip to the Zoo with my family and my then-toddler asking, “What do Crocodiles eat?” The flamingo pond was conveniently the next attraction at the zoo and well, it was the beginning of a story.

Storystorm Idea: 

Start with an outing or a place you’ve been, something outside your normal routine. What do you see that’s unique? What kinds of conflicts might naturally develop? Can these details form the beginning of a story?

Viviane Elbee: Read Book Reviews About Other Books

I WANT MY BOOK BACK, illustrated by Nicole Miles (Little Bee Books, March 2022) was inspired by a book review in Goodreads. A librarian reviewer mentioned wishing she could find

a book that celebrates the wonder of libraries without resorting to magical, unrealistic events. After a brainstorming session, I imagined a child who wants to keep “his” library book all to himself but ends up discovering the joy of sharing stories.

Storystorm Idea:

Scan reviews of other books to see if anyone makes a comment that inspires you to brainstorm ideas for a different type of story.

Jorge Lacera: Draw on Your Own Experience

PRUETT AND SOO, written by Nancy Viau (Two Lions, March 2022) is about how changing the rules can change the world. This message resonated with me deeply (challenging the status quo is a fundamental building block to change) and as an illustrator, I loved digging into the ways my character designs, shape language, and color choices could expand on this theme. I drew on my experience as an Art Director in video games to create appealing, modern characters with very different shape languages and a color palette that subtly changes from monochromatic to bursting with full color by the end of the book.

Storystorm Idea: 

Artists, think about the theme of your project. How can you draw on your own unique experience and background to create art that deepens and enriches that theme?

Blythe Russo: Characters Are Key!

In early 2016, I made a quick drawing of a sloth in a unicorn onesie and immediately fell in love with the character. Then, after almost four years and multiple failed plotlines, SLOTH SLEEPS OVER (Viking, April 2022) was born.

Storystorm Idea:

Take 15-30 minutes to draw a character (I’m talking to illustrators AND writers). Just let your brain move your hand around a piece of paper and who knows what (or who) may appear to spark some new ideas.

Ellie Peterson: Use your powers of observation!

How does a hug-junkie write HOW TO HUG A PUFFERFISH (Roaring Brook, May 2022), about a Pufferfish who is anything but? Observation! It’s allowed me to notice kids who cringe when clobbered with hugs and who positively BLOW UP when touched repeatedly without consent. I’ve learned about the issues and feelings kids deal with simply by watching them, and you can too.

Storystorm Idea:

Observe kids in a variety of settings: airports, supermarkets, your public library! (Just don’t be creepy.) Note children’s group dynamics, behavior, and body language. Journal about the problems kids encounter, how they solve them, and the issues that arise from their efforts.

Dianne White: Find Inspiration in the “Extraordinary Ordinary” 

A walk around the block and BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR inspired LOOK and LISTEN, illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford (Holiday House, May 2022). I wanted to write a guessing game that was an ode to the extraordinary, ordinary things a child might see/hear on a walk.

Storystorm Idea:  

Find inspiration in ordinary/ extraordinary concepts that spark your imagination. Make a list. Mix your ideas with a bit of inspiration from your favorite books. What structure will you use? Will you have a refrain? Will your story rhyme? Free write until you discover your unique take on familiar concepts.

Laura Lavoie: Consider Inherent Conflict

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I got the idea for VAMPIRE VACATION, illustrated by Micah Player (Viking, May 2022) from a 2019 Storystorm post by Jen Betton. Jen wrote about creating characters with inherent conflict, and the idea of a little vampire who desperately wants to visit a sunshine-y beach came to mind.

Storystom Idea:

Brainstorm a character with an inherent trait that could conflict with the character’s dreams, goals, or desires.

See Laura’s Day 15 Storystorm post about catchy, clever titles!

Valerie Bolling: Think of Activities You Enjoyed as a Child

TOGETHER WE RIDE, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita (Chronicle, April 2022), and RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN!, illustrated by Sabrena Khajia (Abrams, Sept. 2022), were both inspired by children and the activities they love to do outside. I enjoyed these same activities as a child — riding my bike, jumping rope, and playing hopscotch.

Storystorm Idea:

What do you see kids doing, saying, or dreaming about that could become a story? What are the events, occasions, and milestones that bring children joy? What stories are there in the communities that children inhabit—family, school, neighborhood?

See Valerie’s Day 21 Storystorm post for more ideas!

Cynthia Harmony: Pair Your Memories with Current Events 

MI CIUDAD SINGS illustrated by Teresa Martinez (Penguin Workshop, June 2022) was inspired by my community in Mexico City coming together in the aftermath of the 2017 quake. Paired with my own memories of living through one of the biggest earthquakes as a child and my love for the city, I found the source for a story I needed to tell.

Storystorm Idea:

While scrolling through current global events, catch those that connect with you. Is it something you lived through, that inspires you, that you love? Write from that personal space so the “heart” of your story can resonate with your readers.

Lisa Tolin: Steal from Your Children

My debut, HOW TO BE A ROCK STAR, illustrated by Daniel Duncan (Putnam, August 2022), is inspired by my own little musicians. My son was obsessed with playing guitar the way other kids are into dinosaurs or trucks. A lot of music-themed books use stage fright as a source of conflict, but my son was too young to know there was anything to fear. When I switched to a how-to format and focused on the fun we had at home, the joy came through.

Storystorm idea: 

Start writing from joyful or funny memories: What were your happiest moments with your children, or as a child? Write down the funny things kids and parents do. (Bonus, you can tweet them.)

Lori Alexander: Think Back and Mash-Up

MINI MIGHTY SWEEPS, illustrated by Jeff Harter (Harper, August 2022), is based on memories of my kids and how much they loved to “help” when they were younger, even when their assistance caused bigger messes. I mashed this idea with vehicles to come up with the story of a little street sweeper who creates some bumps in the road when she tries to help the city trucks do their big jobs.

Storystorm Idea: 

Take a fond feeling, event, or emotion from childhood and assign it to a fun inanimate object. What kind of conflict can you create from your mash-ups?

Jyoti Rajan Gopal: Tell Your Story

My debut AMERICAN DESI, illustrated by Supriya Kelkar (LBYR, Summer 2022), was inspired by my daughters’ experiences navigating being Indian and American and my own experiences straddling multiple cultures. I dipped into those feelings because I wanted to remind young children that it does not have to be an either/or choice between your cultures – it could be a both/and – to embrace it all!

Storystorm idea: 

What is something true about your family/childhood/growing up experience that may have been different from other families? How did that make you feel?

Megan Litwin: Look for Lifelong Magic

The spark for TWINKLE, TWINKLE, WINTER NIGHT, illustrated by Nneka Myers (Clarion, October 2022) came on a dark December drive. One of my then-toddler sons was captivated by all the light, from the snow to the moon to houses dressed for the season. He kept calling out things he noticed, repeating “twinkle lights!” over and over. And when I realized I’ve never outgrown that same feeling of wonder over winter’s bright magic, I knew I needed to write about it.

Storystorm Idea:

Are there things you loved as a child that have never lost their shine? Dig into that magic.

Nicole Chen: Get Specific to What’s in Your Heart

I wanted to write a book celebrating the diversity in families, but hadn’t found that perfect hook yet. There was one line in my drafts that represented my personal experience of familial love as a child. So when I rewrote my story to anchor on how love can be expressed through the things we do for each other, HOW WE SAY I LOVE YOU, illustrated by Lenny Wen (Knopf, Fall 2022), was born.

Storystorm Idea:

Ask yourself why the theme you’re writing about speaks to you. Anchor on it and see if you can structure a whole story around it.

Monique James Duncan: Mommy’s Time

I wanted to write a book paying homage to African American stay-at-home-mothers. TIME, illustrated by Ebony Glenn (Candlewick, fall 2022) is a sweet poem, but is really a resistance against a system that does not allow Black mothers to fully enjoy mothering their offspring free of the knowledge that they can be harmed in a system that is racially biased towards them.

Storystorm Idea:

Think from the perspective of the child. What would they see, say, feel? How would they view an issue? How would they talk about it? Take your thoughts back to when you were a child yourself and adults too will identify.

Megan Lacera: Monsters M.I.A.!

My family is obsessed with monsters. Most of these stories focus on the same monsters over and over again. Sure, Drac and Frank are bloody awesome. But there are OTHER amazing monsters. And as a multi-cultural family with multi-cultural friends, we dreamed of a book that was different than what we already saw on the shelves. And so, Jorge Lacera and I set out to create THE WILD ONES (Lee and Low, Fall 2022)–in which Valentina Gomez and her monster-loving best friends must find a way to save their beloved home from being torn down by greedy real estate developers.

Storystorm Idea:

What kinds of stories are you missing from your bookshelf? There are others out there missing them too. Write ‘em!

PB Crew is offering several prizes: copies of Dianne White’s Green on Green and Winter Lullaby (U.S. only) and critiques of a picture book manuscript from Brittany Thurman, Ellie Peterson, Viviane Elbee, Megan Lacera, Jyoti Rajan Gopal, Lori Alexander, or Lisa Tolin.

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

by Laura Lavoie

It’s the halfway point! If you haven’t come up with 14 ideas yet, don’t despair. My goal is for you to leave this post with not one, not two, but three new story ideas.

When I’m brainstorming, I almost always come up with a title first and see if I can spin a solid story from there. There are many methods I use to brainstorm catchy titles, but today I’m going to share three—with an exercise to try for each. Ready?

Title Trick #1: Add a Twist!

I like to make lists of classic titles and/or common phrases and see if I can spin a fun new story by swapping out a word or two. Our fearless Storystorm founder, Tara Lazar, did this with her picture book LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD (illustrated by Troy Cummings). Switch up the word riding for the rhyming gliding and voila! Little Red is now the star of her own figure skating story.

Here are a few more ways you can create a twisted title:

Instead of substituting a rhyming word into a classic title, try a totally wacky, unexpected word like Corey Rosen Schwartz did with THE THREE NINJA PIGS (illustrtated by Dan Santat).

You can also put a twist on a common phrase. See: Tammi Sauer’s BAWK AND ROLL (also illustrated by Dan Santat) or Kelly DiPucchio’s NOT YETI (illustrated by Claire Keane).

Alternatively, put a spin on a popular movie title, like author-illustrator Ethan Long did with FRIGHT CLUB.

Brainstorming Exercise: Grab your notebook. Write down a few classic fairytales, well-known movie titles, and familiar phrases that come to mind. What fun new words could you use to come up with a twisted title?

Title Trick #2: Make it Roll Off the Tongue

Another favorite trick is to utilize rhyme, alliteration, consonance, or assonance… or a combination of two or three of these for bonus points. For my debut picture book, VAMPIRE VACATION, illustrated by Micah Player (coming in May from Viking), I went with an alliterative title.

In this case, I actually didn’t brainstorm the title before I drafted the manuscript. (If you want to know how I came up with the idea for this story, you’ll have to read the PBCrew22 Storystorm post later this month!)

Once I had written a story about a little vampire who dreams of sandcastles, snorkeling, and surfing, I brainstormed a few working titles, including “Vampire Loves the Beach”… but the alliteration in VAMPIRE VACATION sounded so much better, so that one stuck.

Other alliterative titles I love? MEENA’S MINDFUL MOMENT, written by Tina Athaide and illustrated by Asa Gilland, and HARDLY HAUNTED by author-illustrator Jessie Sima.

Here are more examples of ways you can create a title that rolls right off the tongue:

Go for a title that rhymes, like THANK YOU, OMU, written and illustrated by Oge Mora, or NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE, written by Ashley Franklin and illustrated by Ebony Glenn.

Think up a title that goes heavy on assonance and consonance, like Ashley and Ebony’s sequel story, BETTER TOGETHER, CINDERELLA, which features the repetition of the soft ‘e’ (assonance) and the ‘r’ sound (consonance).

Create a fun wordplay mashup like author-illustrator Lucy Ruth Cummins did with VAMPENGUIN.

Brainstorming Exercise: Write some lists of alliterative words, rhyming words, or words that share similar sounds. Any fun title ideas jumping out at you? Any words you can smoosh together to create a clever concept?

Title Trick #3: Get Readers Curious

I love titles that make me wonder, what’s that about? Think about it: you’re browsing shelves in a bookstore and catch a spine out of the corner of your eye. If the title automatically elicits curiosity, you’re likely to take a look, right?

DON’T HUG DOUG, written by Carrie Finison and illustrated by Daniel Wiseman, gets bonus points. Not only does it rhyme, but it makes me wonder, WHY shouldn’t I hug Doug? Of course, we know this is a story about consent, but it *could* be a story about an irritable porcupine or a kid who burps when you squeeze him.

Here are some other recent titles that have made me go Hmm…

  • TOO MUCH SLIME! written by Frances Gilbert and illustrated by Vin Vogel
  • THE NEW KID HAS FLEAS, written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Eda Kaban
  • I DO NOT LIKE YOLANDA, written and illustrated by Zoey Abbott
  • ON ACCOUNT OF THE GUM, written and illustrated by Adam Rex

Brainstorming Exercise: Create a list of problems a character could have. How could you spin that problem into a curious title like the ones above?

My challenge to you today: come up with at least one idea for each of these title tricks. Even if it’s just the title, that counts. Come back to it later and see what kind of magic you can make!

Laura Lavoie writes humorous, pun-filled picture books. She can also tap dance, tell terribly cheesy jokes, and bake a mean chocolate chip cookie. Laura’s debut, VAMPIRE VACATION, (illustrated by Micah Player) will be out from Viking in May 2022. She has more books on the way in 2023 and 2024! You can find Laura on Twitter and Instagram @llavoieauthor.

Laura is donating a picture book critique + a follow-up 30-minute Zoom chat to one participant! Humor and puns are her specialties, but she’s happy to talk about anything writing- or publishing-related during the call.

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

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

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Coming soon:


TIME FLIES
"7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I" BOOK #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
April 26, 2022

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