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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.

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