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by Lauren H. Kerstein

You’ve made it to Day 23 in 2023. That has to be lucky, right?

First, a confession: I look forward to Storystorm every December. After all, Tara Lazar is one of my all-time favorite funny kidlit writers and an all-around generous soul. When the new year begins, I know I can expect 31 insightful and inspiring posts from phenomenal creators.


on January 1st, I ALWAYS find myself derailed from my excellent intentions. Day after day, posts pop into my inbox and remain unread. And then, miraculously, somewhere during week two, I recalibrate, regroup, and read them. And they never disappoint! Someone told me yesterday that the first week of January doesn’t count toward good intentions. I’m going with that! (Or maybe the first few weeks of January don’t count.) So if it has taken you until today to start reading these posts, that is fine! You’re here now and that’s what counts!

Let’s talk about email. I have a love/loathe relationship with email. On the one hand, my inbox helps me stay organized (I use it like a “to do” list). On the other hand, my emails seem to birth emails, and before I can say “I need WAY more tea,” my inbox becomes a growing, growling beast.

But here’s the thing—

The “love” part of my email relationship is that my inbox isn’t all bad. In fact, emails are where I find at least 60% of my new ideas. Yup, you heard me right. Email is full of KIDLIT ideas! Let me explain.

Warning: didactic moment ahead.

Today’s post is all about generating ideas (and clearing out emails) using task bundling and temptation bundling.

A quick lesson digression:

  • Task bundling is the process of making similar tasks more manageable. It is often used in project management.
  • Temptation bundling (coined by Katherine Milkman, assistant professor at Wharton University) is a way to use things you enjoy as rewards for less enjoyable tasks. For example, I LOVE listening to steamy romance novels while cleaning the house. It sure makes cleaning WAY more fun.

Okay, now bundle, bundle, bundle! Clean out all of those pesky…I mean, important emails…AND find hidden idea gems. At the same time!

Let’s go through my inbox together in real time. (Terrifying, I know.)

First up, an email from Bed, Bath, and Beyond: “Up to $80 off top Ninja appliances that help you eat healthier…”

Action step: tempting, but…delete (one less email in my inbox)

Ideas: can I write a book about a ninja family who is trying to eat healthier? Or ninjas who host a cooking show? Or a ninja character who wants to be in a cooking show/contest, but has an intense and distracting desire to karate chop the vegetables and…UGH…other contestants during the auditions?

I can just see it now! I need to write this story!

Next: Sage Publishing: “Welcome to the Social & Behavioral Science Monthly Roundup”

Action step: DELETE! No way I’m getting sucked down that rabbit hole right now.

Ideas: Nada!


Next: Amazon smile donation notice

Action step: quick-glance and delete.

Ideas: what if a child saved up their pennies for a donation, but had trouble deciding (from the gazillions of options) to whom to donate the money? Is this a PB? A MG? Does it have a Jewish layer? Can it incorporate concepts like, tzedakah, mitzvah, tikkun olam?


Ooooh, I like this one too! It actually dovetails into a NF PB idea I already had.


Next: Wayfair: wall art we found for you

Action step: delete. Talk about a two-hour side excursion! Note: I often mine tons of ideas from looking at art on websites like Wayfair and Society 6, but that is another post and activity for different day.

Ideas: none.


Next: (YIKES: they are coming in faster than I can type!) A “call for help” from the Animal Rescue of the Rockies.

Action step: hesitantly delete. We currently have our hands full with the puppy we fostered for them and then adopted (in record time).

Ideas: picture book about a dog’s life before she ends up in a shelter or foster home, that highlights the original family, the foster family, and then the new/forever family. Or a picture book about the other dog we adopted, a tripod dog. Maybe the picture book shows what happened to the pup before he ended up in a foster home (after surgery to amputate), and then the resilience and strength of the dog as he finds his way to a three-legged life.

Hooray! I have five fewer emails in my inbox. And I have a few new story ideas that I’m excited to write!  I even wrote this post as well. That was some serious task and temptation bundling!

Although none of my “on shelves now and coming soon” books came from this strategy—

I have many manuscripts out on submission and awaiting attention that did.

I challenge you to look your emails in the eye, find idea gems, and then delete, delete, delete. Your task and temptation bundling will pay off as you clean out your inbox each day and unearth shiny kidlit treasures that you can’t wait to craft.

As I always say in my Quick-Read Crafty Tips blog posts—

Feel. Write. Risk.

And remember, you are a creative superhero!


Lauren H. Kerstein is an author and psychotherapist. She is a Jersey girl at heart who lives in Colorado with her husband, daughters, and rescue dogs. Lauren is the author of the RIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE picture book series (Illustrated by Nate Wragg/Two Lions) and HOME FOR A WHILE (Illustrated by Natalia Moore/Magination Press). REMEMBERING SUNDAYS WITH GRANDPA (Illustrated by Nanette Regan/Beaming Books) is expected November 7, 2023, and another soon-to-be announced picture book will gallop to bookshelves in 2024. Lauren also writes books in her field. Lauren’s books include themes of courage, flexible thinking, friendship, social emotional learning, foster care, seeing your strengths, sensory issues, and emotion regulation. Lauren is represented by Deborah Warren with East/West Literary Agency. Her writing goals are simple. Read voraciously. Embrace feedback. Grow each day. Work hard. Be passionate. Write courageously. Touch children’s hearts. You can visit her at, and connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @LaurenKerstein, and on FB

Lauren is giving away a 30-minute video-call consultation.

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.

by Lauren Kerstein

As we ponder new ideas this month, I thought it might be helpful to think about the books we loved as children, as well as imagine the books we wished we’d had. Ideas are lurking in those musings. I just know it!

What books did you love most as a child?

  • Think about the books that changed your life.
  • The stories that resonated with you.
  • The characters who still live in your mind and heart.

Whether you were an avid reader or not, I bet you can remember a book that really mattered to you.

I vividly remember a few books that enriched my childhood life. I remember my third-grade teacher reading The Giving Tree (by Shel Silverstein) and crying. I realized in that moment that books have power.

I also remember the impact Pippi Longstocking had on me as a child. Pippi lived life on her own terms. I wanted to live my life like Pippi.

Write the book that will live in children’s hearts the way your favorite book lives in yours.

Second, think about what books you wish you had as a child? Picture your childhood self. What made you laugh? What made you cry? What books would’ve supported you through tough times? What books would’ve made celebrations even richer?

Write the book you would’ve loved as a child.

As you think about your childhood, and books that would’ve helped you, jot down your memories, feelings, and wishes in a word bank. Here’s an example of the beginnings of a word bank about some of my childhood memories.


Teacher crying

Baby pools at preschool that were filled with grass (yuck)

Giving away our dog when my sister was born

Singing outside our house in front of my favorite tree

Collecting tree sheddings and pretending they were seahorses

New Jersey

New York

Bird bones in our backyard

Favorite babysitter, Liz

Skunk spraying dog

Tomato soup bath


Are there any story ideas lurking around in your word bank?

Remember, ideas are flashes of brilliance that sneak into our minds, saying, “peek-a-boo—try to catch me.”

Catch those ideas. Write them down (WITHOUT judgment). Then write down the emotion, themes, dreams, desires, dislikes, and thoughts that live in each idea. Make your idea 3-D so that the manuscript you write will reflect all of the richness of that first flash.

I use a template when I write down new StoryStorm ideas so that I can capture as much of the initial resonance as possible. You can find the template on my website at

Finally, as you write down your ideas, remember all ideas are works in progress until they’re not. Perhaps thinking of an idea as a work in progress will quiet your inner critic for a moment. The idea for ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE MAKE WAVES (Illustrated by Nate Wragg) came from my work as a child therapist, my experience as a mom, and my understanding that children want power and control. Who am I kidding? We all want power and control, just like Pippi.

Rosie and Charlie began as a how-to book (How to Put Your Mommy to Bed). Although the manuscript morphed and changed a LOT, the original spark and heart remained. The idea was a work in progress. The heart was not. Ironically, the original flash of the idea (How to Put Your Mommy to Bed) is the basis for the second Rosie and Charlie book that is due out this Fall (ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE SAY GOOD NIGHT).

So, reach into your childhood. Remember your favorite books. Mine your memories and think about books you wish you had. Then, catch those flashes of brilliant ideas. Those ideas just may become books children will remember…


Lauren Kerstein is an author and psychotherapist. She is a Jersey girl at heart who currently lives in Colorado with her husband, Josh, their two dragons…er, daughters, Sarah and Danielle, and her rescue dogs, Hudson and Duke. She is represented by Deborah Warren with East West Literary Agency. Lauren’s debut: ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE MAKE WAVES splashed to bookshelves in June 2019. The companion volume, ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE SAY GOOD NIGHT, is expected Fall 2020. Lauren also has another soon-to-be announced book upcoming in 2020. Lauren is one of the founders of #ReVISIONweek, a judge with Rate Your Story, runs a critique business, and is a long-time member of 12×12. Visit her at, on Twitter @LaurenKerstein, Instagram @LaurenKerstein, or Facebook.

Lauren is giving away a picture book critique.

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

Good luck!

authorphoto_anika_deniseby Anika Denise

Tis the Season!

What’s in the secret sauce of a successful seasonal title? Anika Denise, author of Monster Trucks, a high-octane Halloween tale of vroom and doom, divulges tips on crafting seasonal stories that SELL!

First, what’s a seasonal title? (It may seem obvious, but indulge me a moment, kidlit peeps.) A seasonal title is any book that relates to a season or holiday, be it Halloween, Hanukah, Easter, Earth Day, Back-to-School or Black History Month. (Think table displays in bookstores and libraries.)

So, why am I singling them out? I mean, shouldn’t we all just write good stories, and if they happen to have a holiday hook, all the better?

Yes! But this might get your attention: At a recent SCBWI retreat, Christian Trimmer, Executive Editor at Simon & Schuster, revealed seven factors that help get a picture book acquired. Number one was: “Be a Celebrity!” (Unless you’re Kelly Clarkson, read on.) Number two: “Get that Promotion!” In other words, books with potential for holiday placement are more likely to catch an editor’s eye.

Excellent! So how do you write a seasonal story that sells?


My editor on MONSTER TRUCKS, Nancy Inteli, pointed out that while she frequently acquires seasonal titles, she especially seeks books that aren’t so narrowly holiday focused that their shelf life is limited. “Monster Trucks has a clear Halloween hook,” she explained. “But it also appeals to the truck-loving crowd, which makes it a perennial.”


That’s not to say you should abandon that Arbor Day book you’re writing, just keep in mind that a broader seasonal story might have a better shot at finding a home.

Another great example of a not-so-specific seasonal book: Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown. Although Creepy Carrots is quite likely on every Halloween book display table in America, it’s not strictly a Halloween book. Quirky and funny, it and can be read and shared all year round.

And speaking of quirky and funny…


It’s always key. But when traversing well-trodden territory like “Back to School,” you better come packing a twist. Take School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson, for example. It explores first day jitters from the SCHOOL BUILDING’s perspective. Genius! And delightfully original.


One happy outcome of writing a seasonal title is, booksellers, librarians, teachers and parents are going to want to incorporate your book into story times. It helps to keep this in mind as you polish your manuscript. Humor, action, poetic techniques, evocative language and relatable characters will ramp up your read aloud appeal.


In BAKING DAY AT GRANDMA’S, bouncy rhymes, rhythmic refrains, and descriptions of sweet scents filling the air (hopefully) engage and entertain the read-aloud crowd. And although the new board book edition is being marketed for Christmas—at its heart—BAKING DAY AT GRANDMA’S is a cozy wintertime tale about spending time with family.

So if you’ve got an idea for a seasonal story simmering on the back burner, fire it up and submit! Tis the season!

Thank you for the useful information on selling a seasonal book, Anika. As the first stop in Anika’s MONSTER TRUCKS blog tour, we are giving away a copy to a random commenter. One comment per person, US addresses only, please. Good luck!


Anika Denise is the author of several critically acclaimed books for young readers including three illustrated by her husband Christopher Denise: Baking Day at Grandma’s, Bella and Stella Come Home, and Pigs Love Potatoes. Publishers Weekly hailed her latest picture book Monster Trucks, illustrated by Nate Wragg, “a mash-up made in heaven” in a recent starred review. When not writing tales of vroom and doom, Anika can be found zipping around her hometown of Barrington, Rhode Island in her monster minivan, or reading not-so-scary stories with her husband and three kids. Visit her online at, or on Twitter @AnikaDenise.

Let me take you back to the first year of PiBoIdMo—2009. (For those unindoctrinated, that’s Picture Book Idea Month. Wait, can a picture book writer even use a highfalutin word like unindoctrinated? Or highfalutin?)

Well, it’s 2009 and my good friend Corey Rosen Schwartz is having trouble meeting the 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge. She despises her ideas. Corey takes her frustration out on Facebook, where all passive-aggressive complaints go to get their wings. She shares several titles on her idea list which feature the precocious blondie:

  • Goldifox and the Three Hares
  • Tawnylocks, Goldi’s Little Known Twin
  • Goldi-Rocks and The Three Bear Band

She posts these same titles on her blog under the caption “Goldi on the Brain” (a serious affliction for fractured fairytale writers). And you know what? Everyone on Facebook and the blog LOVES the third idea. (Remember the Rule of Threes?) One person, Beth Coulton, even offers to collaborate. They write it together and it gets bought by Putnam in 2010.

And so, a book is born. Isn’t it adorable? Don’t you just wanna pinch its cheeks?


The concept is clever—the Three Bears form a band but they can’t find a lead singer who can hit the high notes.


They hold Idol-like auditions and the fairytale characters just don’t cut it. Sorry, Little Red, you’re not going to Hollywood. No golden ticket for you.


(I wonder if Papa Bear is supposed to be Simon? But Simon wouldn’t dare don a bandana, right? V-neck tees are much more his style. Maybe Papa is Keith Urban.)

Meanwhile, Goldi wreaks havoc in their studio.


She even drools on their keyboard!


What are the Bears to do? They have to get rid of the golden-haired menace!

Or do they?

Well, you can find out right here. Because I’m giving away a signed copy of GOLDI ROCKS AND THE THREE BEARS to one lucky winner! Just leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected in one week. Good luck, music fans!

And congratulations to Corey, Beth and Nate on the release of their new book!

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