By Maggie Lauren Brown
Many hilarious picture books feature unexpected combinations. So, instead of trying to craft a perfectly-thought-out story idea, use this exercise to help your ideas fly and work together in unexpected ways.
Start by writing a list of 10 (or more) things that kids love. Bonus points if these are things you like as well. The list can include people/animals/creatures, activities, places, foods, etc. It’s okay if your list is totally random. Actually, it’s better if it is!
Here is my list:
1. Roller Coasters
3. Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches
4. Hula Hooping
8. Staying Up Late
9. Snowball Fights
After you’ve written your list, write each thing on a separate scrap of paper. Throw the scraps in a hat. Mix them up, then pull out three.
Next, use these three elements to write a pitch for a story idea. It might take some serious creativity to force the ideas to work together. That’s the point! Don’t think too hard about it—if the story idea seems silly or outrageous or unbelievable…well it just might be a winner.
I drew Zombies/Snowball Fights/Sandcastles. Here is what I came up with:
Zeke the zombie dreams of one thing: winter. But life at the beach with his zombie family means sunshine and sandcastles. Zeke is desperate for a wintry relocation before he sweats what’s left of his face off. His only hope is to prove to his family how awesome winter is—with the help of THE SANDIEST SNOWBALL.
It’s a stretch but it’s definitely fun!
I hope this exercise brings some fun to your creative process as well. Happy writing!
I hope this exercise brings some fun to your creative process as well. Happy writing!
As soon as I could talk, I began telling stories. I "wrote" my first story at age 2, dictating it to my mom, complete with a (pretty exciting!) plot line. These days, I aim to spark little imaginations with a sense of wonder and delight through picture books and middle grade novels. After studying Creative Writing and Political Science at The University of Minnesota, I logically chose beluga whales as coworkers and became a professional synchronized swimmer. I performed for 10 years in cirque shows—Le Reve at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas and Azul at SeaWorld in San Antonio—and worked as a mermaid-for-hire. From there, I began a new sort of performance career--as a teacher. I taught high school English and elementary Language Arts, and I credit my students for teaching me exactly what makes kids fall in love with books. My current starring role of “Mama” is perhaps the most important of all. You can find me telling stories to my son, husband, and hairless cat in The Woodlands, Texas. I am a member of SCBWI and 12X12 Picture Book Challenge, a Children's Book Academy Graduate, and am represented by Adria Goetz of Martin Literary Management.
Splashes of Color and Verse
by: Sarah Momo Romero
It’s the new year and for many of us, it’s the start of new projects or adventures! This time around, it was a bit of a struggle for me to return to the swing of things after the holidays. It was so nice and comforting to settle into spending time with family and friends, it’s taken a bit of a push to get myself back into creativity. And this post was a great start! This month, I’m highlighting books that sparked a new excitement for me, with words, poetry and illustrations that are completely different from ones I’ve written about before. Here I have The Stuff of Stars and Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, both coincidentally illustrated by the amazing Ekua Holmes.
The Stuff of Stars is written by award-winning author, Marion Dane Bauer and illustrated by artist Ekua Holmes. This picture book beautifully blends the mystery and ethereal quality of the universe, the formation of the stars and all beings on Earth through words and artwork that starts of dark and quiet, and explodes off the page with a great life force and energy.
As a long-time lover of handmade paper, the cover for this picture book mesmerized me and drew me right in with its swirls of color and bursts of energy. Holmes created the illustrations with hand-marbled paper and collage and assembled it digitally, crafting images to compliment Bauer’s vivid words perfectly. The textural quality of the artwork across each page captures movement in an abstract way that invites the reader to look closer and really take in each moment on every page.
Readers of all ages will enjoy reading Bauer’s lyrical telling of the creation of our world, as well as looking deeper into each illustration for the hidden images within.
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets written by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, also illustrated by Ekua Holmes, pays tribute to twenty well-known poets from around the world and across centuries with original poems by the authors.
Out of Wonder is a great introduction for readers of all ages to the many different poets and their styles through the eyes of the authors of the book. Poems honoring and in the styles of Emily Dickenson, e.e. Cummings, Pablo Neruda, just to name a few, come alive and dance through Holmes’ eclectic style for each poem, illustrations created in collage on paper.
I hope you all have had a great start to the new year, and are on a roll with your creative projects! And if you’re like me, and need a little extra push, hopefully checking out these distinctive picture books will spark a little creativity for you as well!
Sarah Momo Romero is a Japanese Peruvian American artist, a graphic designer by day and children's book author and illustrator by night. She’s loved drawing and painting since she was a chiquita and now crafts stories of adventure and wondrous creatures. Sarah is an active SCBWI member who draws inspiration from her life in sunny Los Angeles with her husband/creative partner and dog/infamous escape artist, Peanut. Her debut picture book, "Wake Up, Little Bat!" is out now through Clear Fork Publishing!
You can find more of Sarah's musings and drawings here: www.sarahmomoromero.com
Facebook: Sarah Momo Romero + Instagram: @sarahmomoromero + Twitter: @sarahmomoromero
Some reading suggestions for this month, as the country attempts to heal.
This has been quite a month. As the tide turns, and America (and Americans) begin to face the past, teachers and parents are looking for reading recommendations to help understand how racism has affected Blacks in this country. Lists of Black books are popping up all over the internet.
I believe, as writers who create stories for children, we have a significant responsibility to those who read our books and fall in love with our characters. Below, I’ve listed some of my favorite books (both non-fiction and fiction) that I think are important reading for everyone. I’ve mentioned many of these in previous posts but wanted to consolidate them here.
You’ll notice, not all of these books feature Black protagonists facing down racism. I think it’s important that readers also see Black characters just being people. It’s one important way that books can help us see that we’re not so different from one another after all.
THE BEAUTITUDES – FROM SLAVERY TO CIVIL RIGHTS
written by Carole Boston Weatherford
illustrated by Tim Ladwig
THIS IS IT
written and illustrated by Daria Peoples-Riley
WE SHALL OVERCOME: THE STORY OF A SONG
written by Debbie Levy
illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
WE ARE THE SHIP: THE STORY OF NEGRO LEAGUE BASEBALL
written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
written and illustrated by Oge Mora
Middle Grade Books
MARCH, BOOK 1,2,&3
by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
by Nikki Grimes
THE PARKER INHERITANCE
by Varian Johnson
by Jerry Craft
CLAYTON BYRD GOES UNDERGROUND
by Rita Williams-Garcia
One last thought: I fell in love with both magic and books at an early age, mainly because of their ability to transport me to worlds I never thought possible. These are trying times, but I truly believe that what readers read and, therefore, what writers write, will make a difference in the weeks, months, and years ahead.
Happy writing and have a magical month.
by Melissa Stoller
If you are concerned about maintaining your motivation and keeping your creativity in these stressful and uncertain times, read on for some tips that will hopefully be helpful:
1) FIND ONE IDEA:
-Observe everything. What’s right outside your window – nature, buildings, people? Write about what you see.
-Take a look at old family photos. Jot down details about the people and places you see.
-Interview family members and write a story about their experiences.
2) RESEARCH ONE TOPIC:
-Try researching one topic you encounter today.
-What do you wonder about?
-What are you curious about?
-What are you reading, watching, or listening to?
3) REVISE ONE DRAFT:
-Pull out one old manuscript draft and find one place to revise.
-Or critique one critique partner’s manuscript.
4) READ ONE BOOK:
-Whether it’s an adult book or a children’s book, start to read something today.
5) HELP ONE WRITER OR ILLUSTRATOR IN ONE WAY:
-Add one book to your “to read” list on Goodreads.
-Write one review on Goodreads or Amazon.
-Request that your local library purchase one book.
-Follow one creative on social media.
-Promote one creative on social media.
I hope that these manageable steps will help propel you forward with your writing pursuits. Happy creating! Let me know how it’s going in the comments.
Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection - Book One: Return to Coney Island and Book Two: The Liberty Bell Train Ride (Clear Fork Publishing, 2017 and 2021); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork, 2018). Upcoming picture books include Sadie’s Shabbat Stories and Return of the Magic Paintbrush (Clear Fork, 2020 and 2021). Melissa is an Assistant and Blogger for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, a Moderator for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, and a volunteer with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators/MetroNY. In other chapters of her life, Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. Melissa lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy. When not writing, she enjoys museums, theatre, and long beach walks.
Meet the Clyde the Hippo Series by Keith and Larissa Marantz and Learning about Writing a Series ~ by Mira Reisberg
Last week I received 8 children’s books made by beautiful former students, which made me crazy happy.
So I decided to celebrate CBA student’s successes by featuring them each month with my Blogfish reviews. To begin, let’s take a peek at 2 books from the Clyde the Hippo series. I love children’s books that have underlying themes that I can personally relate to. And I also love it when an author and illustrator create a powerful world in a children’s book that sucks me right in and makes me really care about the characters and believe that world. Creating a believable world is called world building even when the main character, Clyde, is a purple hippopotamus and reduced down to his most basic shapes I believe this world and want to spend time in it – and that plus the adorable characters make a compelling series. So much so, that I was sad when I finished reading the 2nd one. Perhaps it helps that Keith and Larissa Marantz are a longtime married couple in creating this beautiful Clyde the Hippo series. I don’t know. But I’m in love.
In the two books that Larissa sent me, Clyde Goes to School and Clyde Likes to Slide, Clyde is a young hippopotamus who struggles with anxiety, making doing anything new a challenge. Luckily, Clyde has his adorable lovey side kick, Orson, a super cute plush dog to help him in a totally passive way and he makes a gang of friends when he starts kindergarten, who also help, along with his ever patient’s mom. I’ve fallen in love with these characters as I’m sure many children will and pretty much devoured them chuckling along while reading them.
The writing is seemingly simple as befits 3-5 year-old children, but absolutely adorable with wonderful rhythm occasional rhymes, and puns and insider jokes for both kids and parents. Have a listen and look see in the video below.
But before we go there I want to talk a little about writing a series. My Chapter Book and Middle Grade co-teacher (Starting June 15th 2020 right here along with a magical 3rd co-teacher from Penguin/Random House/Dial Rosie Ahmed)) Hillary Homzie just wrote a fabulous blog post on this very topic right here called The Four Principles of Series Writing.
I'm also excited to say that Hillary, Rosie and I are also doing a fab free e-class on The Essential Guide to Writing Memorable Marketable Chapter Books and Middle Grade Novels. It's all happening June 6th and will be quite spectacular. Just click here to register for that where besides learning these fabulous essentials, you can also ask any of us any questions you like as we show you how doable writing chapter Books or Middle Grade Novels can be!!
So after that wee public service announcement, let's get back to this adorable series for really young ones. xoxo
We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome new bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with Clear Fork/Spork editor/art director, former agent and former kidlit professor Mira Reisberg PhD who is also the Director of the Children's Book Academy.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays feature funny Aussie author Sharon Giltrow sharing awesome Aussie books.
And 5th Mondays will feature Libyan American author Koloud Tarapolsi sharing wonderful diverse books.