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by Ruth Spiro

As we head into a new week of Storystorm, you may (or may not) have a growing list of ideas. But if you’re anything like me, you’re staring at that list and thinking, “Now what?” Because stories almost never come to me fully formed. They usually start with just a glimmer. A thought. An image. A feeling. So, how do I turn an idea into a story?

I ask, “What does this make me think of?”

When someone asks me where my book ideas come from, I basically re-enact a scene from the movie Working Girl. You know, the one where Melanie Griffith is asked how she came up with the idea for investing in a radio station. She pulls out a folder with seemingly random notes and news clippings, then proceeds to connect the dots, showing how each bit of information made her think of something else that eventually led her to the Big Idea.

Here’s an example of how that might work:

Idea:  Apples

What does that make me think of?

Apple-picking with my kids

What does that make me think of?

Apple trees

What does that make me think of?

If this gets tedious, you can switch it up and ask a different question. (Especially helpful if you’re writing nonfiction.)

What does this make me wonder?

What more do I want to know?

Getting back to our apple trees, the thing I wanted to know was “How?” How do apples grow on trees?

If you’re curious too, you’ll find the answer here:

I used the same technique to come up with a story for my newest book, MAXINE AND THE GREATEST GARDEN EVER, the sequel to MADE BY MAXINE.

For those who haven’t read the first Maxine book, she’s a girl who loves to make things, but not in the crafty sense. She’s a true Maker at heart who uses her tinkering and coding skills to build things that solve problems around the house. Her motto is, “If I can dream it, I can build it!”

As I began brainstorming ideas for MAXINE AND THE GREATEST GARDEN EVER, I made a list of locations and things kids like to do.

Idea:  Do stuff in the backyard

What does that make me think of?

Planting a garden

What does that make me think of?

A challenge I experienced in my own garden.

A-Ha! Now I had something to work with.

Like many gardeners, I’ve had my share of frustration when critters nibbled on the fruits of my labor. If my STEM-loving Maxine had this same problem, how would she solve it in a way true to her character? I couldn’t wait to let her show me!

Without revealing too much more, MAXINE AND THE GREATEST GARDEN EVER is about friendship, creativity, persistence, and being kind to one another. Maxine discovers there are often multiple solutions to a problem, and sometimes a problem isn’t really a problem at all, but an opportunity to grow.

I can’t sign off here without acknowledging the importance of today, Marin Luther King Jr. Day. We honor the life, work, and legacy of an important civil rights leader in our country’s history. What does this make me think of?

In 2017 I was invited to present at the LA Times Book Festival and had the opportunity to attend a talk with Representative John Lewis and Andrew Aydin about their recent release, MARCH: BOOK THREE. (From the front row, no less!)

What does this make me think of?

Representative Lewis said, “Find a way to get in the way.”

What does this make YOU think of?

Go write it!

Ruth Spiro is the author of the Baby Loves Science board book series, published by Charlesbridge. There are 21 current and forthcoming titles including Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering, Baby Loves Coding and Baby Loves the Five Senses. She continues her signature style of introducing complex subjects to little listeners with Baby Loves Political Science, a new series perfect for election year and beyond. Democracy and Justice are now available, Congress and The Presidency arrive this April. The Science books are illustrated by Irene Chan and Political Science by Greg Paprocki.

Ruth’s STEM-themed picture book series, Made by Maxine (Dial), is about an inspiring young Maker who knows that with enough effort, imagination and recyclables, it’s possible to invent anything. Made by Maxine sold at auction as a three-book series, Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever comes out on February 16. Maxine is illustrated by Holly Hatam.

A frequent speaker at schools and conferences, Ruth’s previous presentations include the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Chicago Tribune Printer’s Row LitFest, Children’s Festival of Stories, Nerd Camp Michigan, NAEYC and more. Ruth hopes her books inspire kids to observe the world, ask questions, and when it comes to their futures, DREAM BIG!

Ruth’s books are all available from your favorite bookseller. When possible, please support independent bookstores!

Visit Ruth online at Penguin Classroom, ruthspiro.com, Facebook, Twitter @RuthSpiro, and Instagram @ruthspiro.

Ruth is giving away 2 signed copies of MAXINE AND THE GREATEST GARDEN EVER and one of BABY LOVES POLITICAL SCIENCE: DEMOCRACY.

Three separate winners will be randomly chosen.

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

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My Books

Coming soon:


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

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