StoryStorm-ing via Tara Lazar’s StoryStorm Challenge

I’m really not blogging this year because I halted my series, A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt, to free up more writing time (and for a couple of other reasons). But I had to do a post out of the pure excitement that’s been building all day.

Each year, Tara Lazar does an idea generating challenge for those of us who write for children. It’s inspiring and has been a necessary part of my journey as a writer. For years the name of the challenge was PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month), but last year she changed it to StoryStorm. PiBoIdMo took place in November, but StoryStorm takes place in January. It’s a great way to start off a new year of writing.

I have a ton of ideas written down and most of them have come to me during Tara Lazar’s challenge. I actually have over 300 ideas written down. About 56 of those have made it to a first draft or beyond. You may be thinking I don’t need to add to such a long list. That’s where you’d be wrong. I have to generate a TON of ideas to come up with some really good ones. Today’s market is so competitive that a writer must have a story that stands out…that is super unique. So although I have over 300 ideas, there are many that aren’t that great. But some that aren’t that great have evolved or been combined with another to end up as an idea worth writing into a draft. I keep my list handy so I can review it and add to it. My list includes images that inspired an idea, lists, links to articles, and books that would be considered a mentor text for an idea. So it’s an active list that doesn’t just sit when the challenge ends.

So why am I still so excited when I’ve been doing this for years? Since 2011 to be exact. Well, a couple of reasons. Some people in the private Facebook group asked about and idea generating spinner. I happened to know of one and posted it there. I knew of it because I’d used it in the past as a tool during the challenge. A couple of others posted idea spinners I hadn’t seen before and I wanted to add them to my list of ways to generate ideas for StoryStorm. I was pondering how to keep all my idea generating tools in one spot and I decided if I blogged about it that I could always use it as a reference. And I could share it with others who would like some tools and maybe they’d share some of their tools with me in the comments below my post.

So here goes!

I posted this from Scholastic. I picked 2nd grade, but they have choices. Click on image to visit website.

Here’s another one by Scholastic that Shelley Kinder shared. Again, you can pick an age group.

Michele Blood posted this spinner. Click HERE is another story starter site.

Images often spark an idea for me. So I keep this site as a tab that opens every day I use my browser. It’s a children’s illustrators site. Click HERE for that.

Speaking of children’s illustrators…pick some of your favorites and visit their websites. They post all sorts of art that helps to spark ideas. In fact, I came up with a poem for the first episode in my blog series when visiting Ben Mantle’s website. He is the illustrator of both of my books. My nephew Landon came up with his own illustration for our collaboration. Check it out HERE. If you want to check out other collaborations in the series, you can find them HERE. There are a lot of guest collaborations along with the collaborations from Landon and me. Something you see or read might spark an idea.

Our own Tara Lazar has compiled some lists that I refer to several times a year…not just during the challenge. Sometimes a word will spark an idea. Other times I challenge myself to combine several words/things to come up with an idea. There are all sorts of ways to use her lists. The first list is 500+ Things That Kids Like. Next is 100+ Things Kids Don’t Like. And then there’s 500+ Fun, Cool and Interesting Words.

Other things I do to generate ideas.

  • I go on walks and let my mind wander as I look around.
  • I read a lot of picture books to inspire ideas.
  • I browse Pinterest. Seriously, just type in a search term as simple as “Kids” and go wild.

Since this challenge has been going on a while, there are years of inspirational blog posts from authors, illustrators, agents, editors, and industry professionals. You can find many of them with links right HERE. I’ve read EACH and EVERY one of these posts but I go back and read them to help generate more ideas. These posts are also a huge source of information about writing for children in general.

Besides getting a ton of new ideas, there are valuable prizes. I love that she has prizes but we all win when we come up with new ideas!

A nice thing about this challenge is that there’s no pressure. Tara expects us to be on the honor system. We don’t share our ideas. We don’t have to have proof (for anyone but ourselves) that we came up with these ideas. If I had to share my ideas it would suck all of the fun out of the challenge. I would feel intimidated by writers who have outlined their complete story each day when all I have is a sentence or two, or a name, or a title. And besides my ideas are treasures. I generated each one and I want to them all to myself. I’ll share them when they become published books 😀

So what are you waiting for? If you aren’t already registered head over to Tara’s blog and sign up. The first post went up today. If you want her blog posts delivered right to you Inbox, look in left sidebar of her blog. Right under her photo click “Follow Tara’s Blog.” Tara blogs all year and I read every post. She’s generous to the KidLit community.

Here is the link to StoryStorm Registration. If you want a few more details about how it works click HERE.

If you’re a seasoned StoryStorm-er, please comment below and share tools you use to generate ideas.

Happy StoryStorm-ing!

Tools added in comments.

Mindy Alyse Weiss: One thing I like to do is list things that mean a lot to me–both good and bad–currently as well as through the eyes of my younger self or inner child. I’ve noticed that some of the most powerful ones are things that have made me sad. Then I figure out how to make them kid-friendly for the current market.

A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt: Landon and Penny’s Final Episode

poetry friday buttonThanks to my friend Buffy at Buffy’s Blog for hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup today. If you’d like to know more about Poetry Friday, click HERE for an explanation by Renee LaTulippe.

Ants may rule the hill, but they don’t rule here! Art by Landon

Hello loyal followers and friends. Did you notice the words “Final Episode” in the title of the post? I imagine some of you thought I meant final episode of 2017. But I actually meant final as in last. So putting together this post is bittersweet. You know the feeling you get when you make a tough decision? A decision that you think is for the best, but it’s still hard to make? I have that feeling to a big degree right now. In fact, I’m a little teary as I write this. Final sounds so…well…final.

I made this decision for a couple of reasons.

First, I feel that this series has had a great run so I decided…why not stop before it gets tired. Or before I get tired. 😀 Or before Landon gets tired. 😀 Or before our followers get tired. 😀 May as well stop while we all still love it, right?

Second, I devote a lot of time to the series. Besides the collaboration that Landon and I do one Friday of each month, I have guest collaborators the other Fridays. That means finding guests, scheduling the guests, and putting the posts together. I could certainly use more time for my writing and this will give me quite a bit more time. And Landon (believe it or not!!!) will be in high school next fall. We all know that means Busy with a capital B.

I made the decision and we’re moving forward. So enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! And if you miss the poetry and art collaborations, you can always “replay” any episode by clicking HERE. Between our collaborations and guest collaborations, there are 112 episodes for your reading and viewing pleasure!

And if Landon and I miss collaborating there could always be a sequel or special episode 😀

And for anyone who just happened to stop by for their first time today, let me tell you a little about A Great Nephew and A Great Aunt. My great nephew, Landon (now an eighth-grader) and I (his great aunt) collaborate. I write a poem which he illustrates. We started this collaboration in the fall of 2014 and had so much fun with it that I decided to invite others along. Landon and I collaborate one Friday of each month. The other Fridays I have guests sharing poetry and art in beautiful collaborations. I have created a page on my website to view all the episodes of A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt. Click HERE to visit the page and enjoy past episodes.

And now

. . . drum roll . . .

The Final Episode of A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt

Penny’s Poem

Before you take a look at Landon’s art, I wanted to make a few comments about it. Landon wanted to do something special for our last episode. He wanted to draw AND animate his illustration! He spent hours (and I mean hours!) getting the art just right for 3-D animation. It’s so wonderful and amazing that I don’t even have words. As usual he added his special creative touch by having Santa tip his hat to reveal a surprise. Not only that … he also included the special object that he’s hidden in his drawings throughout our series. After all, his art wouldn’t be the same without his trusty pencil…right?

Let’s have another

. . . drum roll . . .

Landon’s Art

So there you have it! The final episode of A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt. Thank you so much for following our series.  I’ve looked forward to hearing from our follower-friends every Friday. It wouldn’t have been the same without your interaction in the comments. ❤

Have a wonderful holiday season with family and friends!

Frankenbunny by Jill Esbaum + a GIVEAWAY!!!

Today I’m excited to have Jill Esbaum on my blog. Jill has written a slew of amazing picture books and Frankenbunny is her latest release. It is a delightful book that I have read many, many times since it arrived in the mail.

Jill has agreed to have a conversation about Frankenbunny. But first, the synopsis:

“You know monsters aren’t real, right?”
Brave is easy in the sunshine. Brave is easy near Papa. But can Spencer the Bunny learn to be brave ALL the time—even when his big brothers try their best to scare him?
Spencer the Bunny’s big brothers ALWAYS frighten him with scary monster stories. And the most terrifying beast of all is Frankenbunny, with his crusty fangs, flashing red eyes, and ginormous paws. But when Spencer discovers that his brothers made the whole thing up, he hatches a plan to turn the tables on them and conquer his own fears . . . forever.
Any child who has ever worried about a monster in the closet or felt scared in the dark will love this humorous story about learning to be brave.

And this nice snippet from Kirkus Reviews:

“A good choice for younger sibs terrorized by older ones or for kids who need a reminder that monsters aren’t real.”

Now for the inside scoop from Jill 😀

Penny: I’m impressed at how expertly you captured the universal childhood fear of monsters. Even though as children, we’re told they aren’t real, and logically we don’t “think” they are real…all it takes is a sibling (or a kid in the neighborhood or a kid at school) to raise doubts. I have three sisters and I can tell you that there were plenty monster stories creeping around our house. So I can relate.

Jill: Oh, man. Me, too! My older brother was soooo good at making me rethink truths … like the fact that I KNEW there was nothing in our basement at night that wasn’t also there during the daylight hours. But ask me to go down there alone after dark? No way! Not after the time he sent me down there for something, then flipped off the light, slammed the stairtop door, and called a spooky, “Wooooooo…” to freak me out. Forever after, I was afraid something would grab me down there, even in the daytime. When I HAD to go to the basement, I’d get whatever I needed (quickly) and be halfway back up the steps, congratulating myself for surviving, when it would occur to me that somebody/something could still reach BETWEEN THE STEPS to grab one of my ankles. My feet could not carry me up fast enough! I went around with skinned shins more often than not.

Penny: Frankenbunny is a genius title. When I think of bunnies, I think “cute and cuddly,” which is the exact opposite of monsters.  Because of that, the thought of a monster bunny seems unconventional and funny. It’s a title that drew me in and made me want to read the book and find out more. So how/why did you decide that the big, bad, crusty-fanged, ginormous-pawed, red-eyed monster would be a bunny?

Jill: Thanks, Penny. I’ve wanted to write a “scary” story for a long time. But every time I tried to write one with human kiddos, it got TOO scary. Finally, I decided to try one with the most harmless creatures I could imagine – sweet little bunnies. That’s when the title came to me. A bunny-monster, I hoped, would be terrifying to bunnies, but not so scary to kids.

Penny: One of the hardest things about writing for children is making the story relatable. These lines are some of my favorite lines in the book!

“Brave is easy in the sunshine.”
“Brave is easy around Papa.”
“Brave is hard in the dark!”

They’re perfectly placed in the story and are seriously relatable. Also they bring so much “heart” to the story. I’m curious. Did these lines come to you in early drafts, or did you find your way to them as you revised?

Jill: Thanks, Penny. Those lines didn’t come to me until many, many revisions into the story, when I realized it needed a framework, and yes, more heart. Honestly, I worked on this one for a couple of years before I got to a manuscript that felt right. Older versions were submitted and rejected. Rejection: the great revision motivator.

Penny: Along the same lines … “heart” is the thing that brings readers back to a picture book for multiple readings. It’s the elusive element that every writer strives for. Do you have a way of assessing your manuscripts for the “heart” factor? Or any tips for those writers who struggle with bringing “heart” to their stories?

Jill: Yikes, good question! Heart is a tough story element. It isn’t something you can just stick it in somewhere. It needs to be infused throughout the story. The best way to find a story’s heart is to really put yourself into your main character’s head. You have to feel the emotions s/he’s experiencing. Get your protagonist’s false belief/fear/yearning in line, and heart will arise organically.

Penny: The illustrations in this book by Alice Brereton couldn’t be more perfect. They’re incredible and fit the tone of the text to a tee. Most of the time the editor at the publishing house picks the illustrator. Was that the case with Frankenbunny? Did you see early sketches or did you see the art later in the process? What was your reaction when you saw the art?

Jill: Yes, my editor picked Alice to illustrate this story. When I saw her early sketches I was overjoyed – and, of course, trying to picture them in color. I could do that, sort of, by looking at Alice’s work on her website. She has an uncanny ability to capture whimsy and darkness simultaneously. Exactly what FRANKENBUNNY needed.

Penny: Now that you’ve all heard about Frankenbunny I’ll be you are thinking what I’m thinking . . . Frankenbunny would make a great Christmas gift for a child!! And speaking of books for children, one thing I’ve noticed since I’ve been immersed in the world of children’s books is that many people aren’t familiar with newer titles. I have friends that are constantly asking me for picture book suggestions for their children or grandchildren. In the spirit of the season, I thought it would be fun for you to spread some cheer by recommending current books by other authors that could be wrapped up and put under the tree … along with Frankenbunny, of course 😀
I know there are a bunch of great ones, so how about giving us five recommendations?

Jill: My current favorite is Creepy Pair of Underwear. For other favorites, just read back through my posts on my group blog, Picture Book Builders. 

Penny: Wow! If you read through Jill’s blog posts over at Picture Book Builders you will find plenty of book recommendations.
Thanks for coming by and telling us more about Frankenbunny, Jill.

Jill: Thanks, Penny. I always love visiting with you!

GIVEAWAY! Lucky readers! You can win a copy of Frankenbunny. All you have to do to be in the drawing is leave a comment below by midnight December 21st. (CST)
Those who enter must have a US address.

You can learn more about Jill Esbaum and her wonderful books on her website. http://www.jillesbaum.com/

A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt Guests: Janee Trasler and Miles

Ants may rule the hill, but they don’t rule here! Art by Landon

Thanks to Diane at Random Noodling for hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup today. If you’d like to know more about Poetry Friday, click HERE for an explanation by Renee LaTulippe.

Hello Friends! Just In case you haven’t visited before, let me tell you a little about A Great Nephew and A Great Aunt. My great nephew, Landon (now an eighth-grader) and I (his great aunt) collaborate. I write a poem which he illustrates. We started this collaboration in the fall of 2014 and had so much fun with it that we decided to invite others along. Landon and I will continue to have a new episode on one Friday of each month. The other Fridays are filling up quickly with guests sharing poetry and art in beautiful collaborations. I have created a page on my website to view all the episodes of A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt. Click HERE to visit the page and enjoy past episodes.

Today it’s my pleasure to share a creative collaboration from . . .

Fake-Aunt Janee Trasler and Her Fake-Nephew Miles

From Janee: Miles is the son of my friend (and super children’s librarian) Leigh. Miles is four years old. He calls me Andy Janee, which is his adorable version of Auntie Janee. My poem was inspired by a piece of art that Miles created at school.

Miles’s Art

Andy Janee’s Poem

The Collaborators

Miles Creating More Art

Miles reading…er…shaking one of Andy Janee’s books.

Many thanks to Miles and Andy Janee for sharing their talents with us today. They are a delightful pair!


Meet Janee: Janee is a children’s book author and illustrator. Her recent most books include the CHICKIES board book series from Harper Collins and two MIMI AND BEAR picture books from FSG. Janee is also a puppeteer and a singer in a trio. She lives in Grapevine, Texas with her imported husband, her domestic puppies, and her squeaky little guinea pig Nibbles. In addition to every coffee shop in town, Janee works at The Birdhouse, her studio in Covington, Texas, where once a month, you can also find her and her friends singing and playing music.

Website: http://www.trasler.com
Birdhouse: http://thebirdhouse-covingtontx.blogspot.com/

A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt: Liam and Penny

poetry friday buttonThanks to Lisa at Steps and Staircases for hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup today. If you’d like to know more about Poetry Friday, click HERE for an explanation by Renee LaTulippe.

Ants may rule the hill, but they don’t rule here! Art by Landon

Hello Friends! Just In case you haven’t visited before, let me tell you a little about A Great Nephew and A Great Aunt. My great nephew, Landon (now an eighth-grader) and I (his great aunt) collaborate. I write a poem which he illustrates. We started this collaboration in the fall of 2014 and had so much fun with it that we decided to invite others along. Landon and I will continue to have a new episode on one Friday of each month. The other Fridays are filling up quickly with guests sharing poetry and art in beautiful collaborations. I have created a page on my website to view all the episodes of A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt. Click HERE to visit the page and enjoy past episodes.

Today Landon’s younger brother, Liam, is collaborating with me. This is the first time for Liam and I to collaborate. Liam sent me a special request…via snail mail! As you can imagine, I was very impressed and excited when I received his letter expressing his interest in illustrating a poem. Liam did join in on a post that included all of my great nieces and nephews in October...thus the reference to the pumpkin pie/jack-o-lantern. But he’d never been the “feature” artist. When I received his letter, the November post had already been solidified and so I moved on to December. I’d already written a poem. In reading Liam’s request, I decided that he could interpret my poem without any trouble. Just the mention of cartoons and a funny twist seemed to imply that Liam would read my words and come up with a creative spin. And he did just that! I’m super impressed with his interpretation and his artwork! He did an amazing job! And the funny twist had me giggling!

Enjoy our collaboration!

Penny’s Poem

Liam’s Art

100% Cotton Candy Underpants! Ho! Ho! Ho! Very funny! And how I love that Santa wears polka dots! It was delightful to get a peek at his wardrobe.

Thanks to all of you for joining us today. I appreciate you coming by to read A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt! Come back next week when I’ll have guest collaborators.

A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt Guests: Tammi Sauer and Her Niece, Adalie

Ants may rule the hill, but they don’t rule here! Art by Landon

Thanks to Mary Lee at A Year of Reading for hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup today. If you’d like to know more about Poetry Friday, click HERE for an explanation by Renee LaTulippe.

Hello Friends! Just In case you haven’t visited before, let me tell you a little about A Great Nephew and A Great Aunt. My great nephew, Landon (now an eighth-grader) and I (his great aunt) collaborate. I write a poem which he illustrates. We started this collaboration in the fall of 2014 and had so much fun with it that we decided to invite others along. Landon and I will continue to have a new episode on one Friday of each month. The other Fridays are filling up quickly with guests sharing poetry and art in beautiful collaborations. I have created a page on my website to view all the episodes of A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt. Click HERE to visit the page and enjoy past episodes.

Today it’s my pleasure to share a creative collaboration from . . .

Tammi Sauer and Her Niece, Adalie

From Tammi: For this collaboration, I wanted Adalie to draw a picture to inspire my poem rather than the other way around. Seeing Adalie’s fun and festive picture of Bolt filled me with the Christmas spirit. Fa-la-la-la-la-!

Adalie’s Art

In case you were wondering, Bolt is a real tortoise. See?

Tammi’s Poem

Many thanks to Adalie and Tammi for sharing their talents with us today. What a merry and bright way to start December!


 

 

Meet Adalie: Adalie is eight and a half years old and is a full time third grader. She lives in Kansas with her dad, mom, little brother, two dogs, and, of course, Bolt.


Meet Tammi: Tammi Sauer is a full time children’s book author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. In addition to winning awards, Tammi’s books have gone on to do great things. CHICKEN DANCE has been made into a musical and is currently on a national tour, NUGGET & FANG was a featured book at the 2015 Scholastic Book Fair, and YOUR ALIEN, an NPR Best Book of the Year, was recently released in Italian, Spanish, Korean, and French which makes her feel extra fancy. Tammi’s latest books are CARING FOR YOUR LION and TRUCK, TRUCK, GOOSE!

Website:  tammisauer.com
Twitter:  @SauerTammi
Blog:  picturebookbuilders.com

A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt Guests: Patricia Toht and a Class of First Graders + Giveaway!

poetry friday buttonThanks to Jane at Raincity Librarian for hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup today. If you’d like to know more about Poetry Friday, click HERE for an explanation by Renee LaTulippe.

Ants may rule the hill, but they don’t rule here! Art by Landon

Ants may rule the hill, but they don’t rule here! Art by Landon

Hello Friends! Just In case you haven’t visited before, let me tell you a little about A Great Nephew and A Great Aunt. My great nephew, Landon (now an eighth-grader) and I (his great aunt) collaborate. I write a poem which he illustrates. We started this collaboration in the fall of 2014 and had so much fun with it that we decided to invite others along. Landon and I will continue to have a new episode on one Friday of each month. The other Fridays are filling up quickly with guests sharing poetry and art in beautiful collaborations. I have created a page on my website to view all the episodes of A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt. Click HERE to visit the page and enjoy past episodes.

**GIVEAWAY! Before you view today’s collaboration I wanted to let you know that Patricia has generously offered a signed copy of Pick a PIne Tree. Today’s collaboration is based on an excerpt from this beautiful book and I have a feeling you’re going to want get your hands on it! I already have my hands on a copy and I’m in love with it! Hug! Hug!
**All you have to do is leave a comment below by December 1st at midnight CST. A winner will be randomly selected. Those who enter must have a US address.

About the Story: Part of the magic of the Christmas season stems from the traditions that families and friends take part in every year: hanging up stockings; putting lights in the windows; and, one of the most important of all, picking out and taking home the Christmas tree. With style and warmth, debut author Patricia Toht and Jarvis, the author-illustrator of Alan’s Big, Scary Teeth, evoke all the rituals of decorating the tree — digging out boxes jam-packed with ornaments and tree trimmings, stringing tinsel, and, at long last, turning on those twinkling lights. Joyously drawn and rhythmically written, this celebration of family, friends, and the holiday season is as merry as the tradition it depicts.


Look What Reviewers Have to Say! (Notice the starred review from Kirkus 😀 )

“Pick this delightful story for a Christmas storytime, for library collections, or for family reading around the Christmas tree.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Holiday spirit crackles in Toht’s warm, step-by-step recounting of how humble stately pines transform into shimmering Christmas trees.”
Publishers Weekly

And now it’s my pleasure to share a creative collaboration from . . .

Patricia Toht and a First Grade Class

From Patricia: When Penny invited me to do a post for “A Great Nephew and a Great Aunt,” I hoped to be able to nab some young relatives to collaborate with me. But our family is spread around the country, and we wouldn’t be gathering together until after the holidays.

Then came an invitation from the American Writers Museum in Chicago to host a story time featuring my new book, Pick a PIne Tree. How exciting! I asked Penny if students might work instead of relatives, and she agreed.

Ms. Jackson’s class from Ogden International School arrived in high spirits. Pick a PIne Tree tells the story of a family turning a pine tree into a Christmas tree, so we brainstormed about decorations. The kids had loads of ideas for ornaments, and I told them about my original text:

“My editor in England didn’t like one of the ornaments,” I said. “Which one do you think it was?”
The students made their guesses before I revealed the answer: the cookie boy.
“What?” they said. “Why?”
“She wanted me to use gingerbread man,” I said.
But gingerbread man had too many beats and ruined the rhyme, I explained. I sent a note back to the editor.
“The readers will see in the illustrations that cookie boy is a gingerbread man,” I insisted.
“No cookie boy,” the answer remained.
I was grumpy about it until it finally dawned on me what the crux of the problem was – Brits don’t use the word cookie; they say biscuit!
“How about biscuit boy?” I suggested.

I then read this passage from the finished book:

“What’s missing?” I asked.
“The cookie boy!” the kids called out.
In the end, I explained that I left out gingerbread man/cookie boy completely, and the book is really no worse for it!

Following story time, the students made their own Christmas trees. They used markers to decorate foam cutouts and tied on a gold ribbon for hanging. Little bags of jewels went home with them to apply later (so they wouldn’t fall off in transit).

The trees were super cute. And, in the end, it tickled me pink that nearly every student included a cookie boy on their tree!

The Students’ Artwork Inspired by Patricia’s Book

Many thanks for Patricia and the students for this heartwarming collaboration!


 

Meet Patricia: Patricia Toht once owned a children’s bookshop called Never Never Land before turning a love of books into a love of writing. She is the author of All Aboard the London Bus and Pick a Pine Tree, as well as numerous poems in children’s magazines. She lives with her family outside of Chicago and very soon will be setting out with them to find the perfect Christmas tree.