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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.

Several months ago, during the STORYSTORM event, Annie Lynn was inspired to begin writing a song based on Megan and Jorge Lacera’s book, ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES! Megan and Jorge loved this idea and knew that Annie was the perfect musician for this project. And so they began to collaborate….

Which brings us to TODAY.

The launch of the ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES! theme song!

Before you listen to the song, I asked Annie Lynn and the Laceras to give us the story behind the music. (Oh, I feel like VH-1!)

Annie: So let’s start with the book the song is based on. Why did you write ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES!? Is it based on anything or just a funny idea you had?

Megan: Our son is a huge inspiration…he loves “the scaries” and has always gravitated towards monsters, creatures, and spooky stories. He is also a very picky eater and simply wouldn’t touch vegetables for a long time. It wasn’t until we started to explore veggies in a more fun way…gardening, looking at seeds, talking about colors, types, smells and textures that he began to open up to giving veggies a go. We thought it would be fun to turn the whole thing on its head…what if the kid was begging the parent to try vegetables? What if he were a zombie, living in a zombie culture, who actually wasn’t allowed to eat carrots, turnips, and tomatoes? The idea grew from there.

Jorge: We also very much wanted to create a book that centered a multicultural family in a unique way. As someone who was born in Colombia, but grew a native Spanish speaker in Miami, I rarely saw picture books that appealed to me as a kid. There is more now, but we still had a hard time finding books for our son that featured families like ours.

Annie: What were your goals with this book?

Megan: Our goal was to create a book together that was “us.” A story that we loved, that tapped into our quirky, slightly dark sense of humor, that featured a family that loves each other wholeheartedly, even though each member is imperfect, sometimes stubborn, often making mistakes. Our hope was that by being true to ourselves, we could create a story that resonated with kids and families in a genuine way.

Jorge: And we wanted it to be published and be read all over the world!

Annie: I feel the same way about my songs!

Jorge: Yes! Hey Annie, it feels like you really love music and creating songs for kids. Can you share how/why it sets your heart on fire?

Annie:  I took every skill and schooling I had and used them 14 yrs. ago, to open AnnieBirdd Music, LLC, my music publishing company, and now full service recording studio. Since then, I’ve relied on all of my diverse experiences… as a B.S.Ed. and classroom teacher, a litigation paralegal, studio recording singer, Mom, and musician…to create meaningful musical experiences. I am betting most of us who ended up in kidlit, did so organically, using all our past jobs and experiences.

I started writing kids songs (leaving a country-bluegrass radio career) when my son Alex was about 10. At first they were silly radio songs. Then my school ran out of money to license more songs the rest of the year, so I wrote a bunch based on professional development workshops we were sent to.  Some were Social and Emotional Learning based, others Social and Environmental Justice, and we used them that year and they still do. 

That was also when I realized what a great tool music is for learning educational content—and soon found that my self-discovery was supported by research and data. I put my songs on Youtube, and teachers internationally began asking me to use them in their classrooms. I love knowing my songs are being used in other countries. It makes the world seem a little smaller. 

My heart is set on fire hearing kids singing my songs, in the studio and in schools, and I treasure the videos I’m sent of performances. That’s where I can see how they connect with our songs, and sometimes how they affect them. They get really mad and passionate singing STOP THAT!, our bullying-prevention song.

Megan: I love that. Connecting with kids is one of the most powerful things in the world. We treasure every message, photo, and video from kids.

Jorge: Annie, we love creating as a family…and we’re excited to learn that you also work with your family. How are your husband and son involved in your music creation? What is your process together like? How has is it gotten easier or harder?

Annie:  The three of us, my husband/writing partner, Walt, son Alex, and I each seem to have a skill the other two don’t, and we are learning to defer to each other’s opinions and areas of expertise. We went from a lifetime of people and businesses licensing what we wrote for ourselves (low pressure, usually no deadline) to working on a deadline and custom crafting songs for books and kidlit occasions. That took some getting used to. Now it is simply exciting & we KNOW we can connect and deliver.

It also helps that we have a neutral party in our sound engineer/musician/co-producer/co-writer Chris Arms. When we’re all trying to come to an agreement, he usually has the right answer.

Megan: Speaking of process…you told us that STORYSTORM played such a huge role in the birth of the ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES! theme song. How so?

Annie:  STORYSTORM allowed me to create…with no judgement, as all the illustrators and authors kept reassuring us on Tara’s blog. I liked that it was ok to “suck.” That freedom got me wading into the dozens of kidlit books I have on display in the recording studio. I used both Fiction and Non-Fiction picture books. Some were educational, historical or scientific, others were just plain fun, with a great message and magical illustrations.

I ended up taking two commissions based on approximately 20 ideas generated from picture books.  I chose to work for 30 days, but not sweat the 30 ideas part. STORYSTORM allowed me to create for free…kind of like a consultation. To be forthcoming though, I had spoken for many months with both you and Jorge, about a song for ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES!, as well as Author/Podcast Host/Publisher Michele McAvoy her book COOKIE AND MILK with illustrator Jessica Gibson. We all felt it would happen, just the timing had to be right.  These two books had a tractor beam pull on me.

Megan: It’s really cool how there are similarities between writing music and writing books…and how STORYSTORM inspires both. What was it about Zombies that “pulled” on you?

Annie: When you first messaged me the name of your book, your song’s chorus flew into my head. I probably wrote back right away saying something like “Woman…..that title screams to be a song.” It really does. And once I read the book, the song kept running through my head. Kidlit knows how I am by now! Everything’s a SONG!

Megan: The ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES! theme song doesn’t sound like any of your other songs. How do you push yourself artistically in new directions?

Annie: For kidlit, I instinctively recognize that every new song will have to fit the time period & location the book is set in, as well as the cultural style. During STORYSTORM, I learned about comps and back matter, and recognized excitedly that what I am doing musically, you guys are doing in kidlit. So much of the kidlit advice offered by the community also pertains to songwriting, and I’m grateful to be learning. Thank you everyone, seriously.

Because ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES! is a mix of English and Spanish, I knew the song should reflect a Latin music feel. I knew Jorge was born in Colombia, and that you both wanted a song that matched the tone and feeling of the book so I spent time immersed in the music of the country. I found a style I liked, and Megan confirmed that the musical artist (Carlos Vives) I picked out as a “comp” was one of their favorites. From there, I studied what he did, what instruments were used and how and when. I sent Jorge a drum track after he requested to try rapping in Spanish, and he nailed it, upping the appeal of the song. 

I’m now working on a reggae tune, another stretch out of my comfort zone. I’m loving the education. The puppets are grooving to it too!

Megan and Jorge, I’m curious…from your point of view as book creators, how do you think a song might be useful? 

Megan: Having worked in entertainment for years, we know the power of a song to make a story, concept, or idea stick with you. Look at Disney…think about how many kids (and adults) can belt out LET IT GO! at the drop of hat and there you have it…songs stick.

Jorge: To get really specific, here are some ways we’ve all talked about how a ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES! theme song can be used:

  • In classrooms, with lesson plans to help reinforce learning and engage students in new ways.
  • For our author visits, at schools, conferences, festivals
  • During Library story times and events
  • To add movement, dance to activities with kids (so many kids learn/retain more when they’re able to move)
  • At home; families can read together then sing and dance together
  • Children’s radio and podcasts

Annie: Hey, did you think you’d be writing the lyrics? (I did🤣!)

Megan: Well, you are the musical maven, so we wanted to follow your lead. And we knew you had the chorus already! But when you suggested that I write the lyrics, I was excited. I’ve written lyrics for other projects—start-ups, brands, marketing videos—but it was a whole new level of fun (and pressure!) to work on a song for my own book.

Jorge: I love the lyrics and the way Annie sings them—everything feels so seamless. We can’t stop singing it at our house.

Annie: Thank you, that makes my heart full of joy. We set out to create an earworm…a song that runs through your mind repeatedly, and usually, enjoyably.

So without further ado, here is the world premiere of the ZOMBIES DON’T EAT VEGGIES! theme song! It is definitely a fun earworm! Click the book cover and be transported to SoundCloud!

For blog readers, Megan and Jorge Lacera have a signed copy of the book, and Annie Lynn will give away the MP3 files of her album No Time for Hate…and Other Songs for Schools (for personal use only).

Leave one comment below to enter and two winners will be randomly selected, one for each prize!

Good luck!


Annie Lynn is President and Chief Composer at AnnieBirdd Music, LLC. Visit her at AnnieLynn.net and follow her on Twitter at @AnnieLynn215. Listen to more her toe-tappy, kidlit-happy music at SoundCloud/Annie-Lynn-6

The dynamic husband-wife creative team of Megan & Jorge Lacera are online at studiolacera.com and Twitter @MeganLacera & @StudioLacera. Seven-year old Kai Lacera serves as Studio Lacera’s Chief of Research and Story Development. 

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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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