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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 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.

Remember when you were a kid and your parents didn’t have to force you to play outside? You just went, because that was where the fun and friends were waiting! That [fantastic] feeling is captured in Valerie Bolling and Sabrena Khadija’s new picture book:

Cover of Ride, Roll, Run: Time for Fun. City street scene with buildings in background and kids on street in foreground, one riding bike, one bouncing basketball, one rolling in wheelchair, and two kids running with arms uplifted.

Valerie, everyone who reads this blog loves to hear origination stories. Where did your idea for RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN! come from?

The idea for RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN! came from a similar place as that of my previous books, LET’S DANCE! and TOGETHER WE RIDE. I notice what children enjoy doing and write about those things. Children love to move, play, and have fun. They enjoy being with other children.

The first version of the story took place on a playground, the next was set at an amusement park; and then—at the suggestion of a friend—I decided to make it about children being able to play right in their neighborhood. They can walk outside—grabbing a ball, jump rope, or chalk—and start to have fun with their friends!

I love that—immediate fun! 

Why is it important to show kids in their own neighborhood?

It’s important to show kids in their own neighborhood because that’s where play often happens and where community is built. It can be fun to travel outside of one’s neighborhood, too, but it’s not necessary to have fun. Children can enjoy themselves right outside their home.

Yes! That’s how we did it back in the day…outside until the sun went down!

scene of basketball court and SWOOSH! A player shooting a free throw, plus kids all over the court cheering, jumping, running, rolling (in a wheelchair) and having a fun time

Besides “play-is-where-you-are,” what other messages do you hope to impart with this story?

I would add “play-is-who-you’re-with,” and “play-is-whatever-your-mind-can-imagine.” I want children to understand from an early age that they can play with anyone in their wonderful community. (Be inclusive.) I also want them to know that there are no limits to what they can play. They can make up games and the rules. (Be imaginative.) Exercising our creative minds is as important as exercising our bodies when we play.

You touched on a little of why play is so important to developing minds; care to delve further? 

I’m sure a doctor could provide a much more in-depth and research-based response, but I’ll share my thoughts. When children play with others, they have to communicate, collaborate, and cooperate. This requires children to exercise their minds and use negotiation and problem-solving skills. When students use their imaginations to play games, they expand their mind muscles.  In addition, physical play develops healthy bodies, which, in turn, leads to healthy minds.

As someone who is disabled, I was interested to see you had a character in a wheelchair on the cover of your book. Is that something you had planned or was that an editorial or illustrator choice? 

It was my goal to have the children in this book represent a variety of backgrounds, but I’m not sure I explicitly mentioned creating a character in a wheelchair. I’m so glad that character is in the book though and am not sure if the credit goes to the illustrator or editor. I can tell you that when I submitted the manuscript, I included a note that said, “The illustrator should utilize her/his/their creativity, but my goal for this book is to convey a sense of community with children from diverse backgrounds,” so perhaps that provided the inspiration. In my book, LET’S DANCE!, I made a specific request that there be a child in a wheelchair because I’d been at a wedding where a young man in a wheelchair was “getting down” on the dance floor. Out of my three currently published books, two have characters who are in wheelchairs, and they are just as active and having as much fun as their peers.

Three children (one black girl in wheelchair) in front of open fire hydrant. Text reads"Splish, splash. Drenched fast. Cold spray. Hooray!"

What’s next for you, Valerie?

In 2023 readers can look forward to the sequel to RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN!, the second book in this “Fun in the City” series, which is about a musical block party, titled BING, BOP, BAM: TIME TO JAM!. In addition, 2023 will welcome TOGETHER WE SWIM (check out 2022’s TOGETHER WE RIDE, if you haven’t done so yet), and my Scholastic Acorn early reader series, RAINBOW DAYS, about a girl and her dog who love to create art. So far, I have one title to share for 2024, I SEE COLOR, which I co-authored with Kailei Pew.

Congratulations, Valerie! Thanks for sharing your newest title with us.

Blog readers, we are giving away a copy of RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN!

Leave one comment below about what you loved to play outside as a kid. (Me? Kick the can, frisbee golf and Chinese jumprope.)

A random winner will be selected at the end of the month.

Good luck!

Valerie Bolling is the author of the 2021 SCBWI Crystal Kite award-winning and CT Book Award finalist LET’S DANCE! Valerie has been an educator for almost 30 years. Immersed in the writing community, Valerie is on the faculty at Westport Writers’ Workshop and a member of SCBWI, the Authors Guild, NCTE, and ILA. She is also a 2020 WNDB Mentee and a 2022 WNDB Mentor as well as a member of Black Creators HeadQuarters, The Brown Bookshelf and Highlights Foundation’s Amplify Black Stories, and 12X12 Picture Book Challenge. In addition, Valerie is a member of three co-marketing groups—Kid Lit in Color, Soaring 20s PBs, and PB Crew 22—and three picture book critique groups. Valerie and her husband live in Connecticut. Get all her links and connect with her here:

by Valerie Bolling

As adults, we sometimes forget what it’s like to be a kid. Being a kid is fun. You can be carefree, silly, and curious. You get to engage in a plethora of experiences for the first time.

Speaking of the first time, think of your first-time experiences.  Like learning how to ride a bike. This is such an important milestone for children and the topic of my next book, TOGETHER WE RIDE, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita (Chronicle, April 2022), which features a girl learning how to ride a bike with the support of her father. When was the first time you rode a bike? What about the time you learned how to read, played with a new friend, traveled to a new place, or tried a new food?

The first time I tried chitterlings (pronounced chitlins by most), considered a delicacy by some, my grandmother and aunts eagerly watched for my reaction. I still remember the awful taste as I declared, “It tastes like what it smells like, and you know what it smells like.” I wonder if there might be a story hiding in this memory?

I didn’t enjoy those chitlins, but there were many things I did enjoy. What about you? What did you enjoy as a child? Did you enjoy dancing, birthday parties, holiday celebrations, building snowmen, or spending a day at the beach?

My best times were spent playing with my cousins and neighborhood friends. We did everything together – rode bikes, played school and house, and all sorts of games with a ball (catch, dodgeball, and kickball). We loved playing our games. We would play in the middle of my narrow one-way street, and I made up a chant to signal an oncoming car: “A car, a car, a C-A-R (spelled out).” That was our clue to move to the sidewalk until the car passed. My book, RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN, illustrated by Sabrena Khadija (Abrams, September 2022), was inspired by games I loved to play outdoors as a child. What were your favorite childhood games? Who did you play them with? What songs did you sing or create?

Creating things is so much fun as a child. Whether it’s making cakes in a sandbox, finger painting on a big piece of paper, or constructing a make-believe animal out of papier mâché (I made an elephant). Art is always fun for kids. That’s why the main character in my early reader series, ZOYA GLITTERS!, illustrated by Kai Robinson (Scholastic, May/July/November 2023), is a girl who loves to create art.

Letting one’s imagination run wild is the best. My favorite fantasy as a child was turning our large vegetable garden into a pool for the summertime and then having it magically transform into an ice skating rink in the winter, since swimming and skating were two of my favorite activities. What did you dream of or fantasize about as a child? I bet there’s a story somewhere.

Other story ideas:

  • What’s something you learned as a child or wished you could’ve learned? Were there certain lessons you wanted to take, but your parents said no? What else did your parents say no to that you did anyway? A naughty story is always fun!
  • What was funny to you as a kid? What’s funny to your kids? What gets them to belly-laugh? Chances are if it makes a kid laugh, it’ll be a winning story!
  • What are questions you wanted answers to as a kid? What’s a funny question a kid has asked you? What if you provided a made-up answer to the question? That could make a funny story.

Channel your inner kid. All sorts of story ideas will emerge. You may even stumble on some memories that you’d forgotten. Memories that can become fodder for wonderful stories—stories that kids will want to read. What’s buried in your memories that could become a wonderful story for a young reader?

May you write stories that children, as well as the inner child in each of us, will enjoy. And, like a child, may you have fun doing it!

For further inspiration, read this post by Tara.

Valerie Bolling is the author of the 2021 SCBWI Crystal Kite award-winning and CT Book Award finalist LET’S DANCE! Valerie has been an educator for almost 30 years. Since her book was released a week before the pandemic shutdown, she has been engaged in numerous virtual storytimes and author panels. Immersed in the writing community, Valerie is on the faculty at Westport Writers’ Workshop and a member of SCBWI, the Authors Guild, NCTE, and ILA. She is also a 2020 WNDB Mentee and a 2022 WNDB Mentor as well as a member of Black Creators HeadQuarters, The Brown Bookshelf and Highlights Foundation’s Amplify Black Stories, and 12X12 Picture Book Challenge. In addition, Valerie is a member of three co-marketing groups—Kid Lit in Color, Soaring 20s PBs, and PB Crew 22—and three picture book critique groups. Valerie has two books scheduled for release in 2022 (TOGETHER WE RIDE and RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN), five more slated for 2023 (TOGETHER WE SWIM, NEIGHBORHOOD JAM, and ZOYA GLITTERS!, a Scholastic early reader series), and one for 2024. Valerie and her husband live in Connecticut. Get all her links:

Valerie is giving away a query critique, goal-setting meeting, or 20-minute phone chat—winner’s choice!

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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