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.

I thought I had a winner! Wait! I do have a winner!

Winner! Winner! Winner!

bear bookYes! The winner has been determined!

I thought about sending the winner on an around-the-galaxy tour with Prince Zilch! But Prince Zilch has a history of crashing!

I thought about providing the winner with an life-long supply of porridge! But the bears told me that porridge is NOT THAT SPECIAL!

I thought about gifting the winner free enrollment in one of many classes taught by Goldilocks. Classes include:

  • The Art of Breaking and Entering and Bearly Getting Away
  • Porridge-Getting it Just Right
  • The Musical Chairs of Life-How to Avoid a Breakdown
  • Who Needs a Sleep-Number Bed? Three and Counting-So Many Beds, So Little Time!

But none of those prizes would be near as special as . . . . . . .

a signed copy of I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK! And who will be receiving this wonderful prize??? Who was randomly chosen by

Who is the winner??? I thought I told you! I didn’t? Well, it’s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

bear book

Buffy Silverman!! Yes, Buffy! You’re the winner!


And thanks to all of you who commented and celebrated with Tara!


I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK by Tara Lazar AND a giveaway!

I’m so excited to be sharing a book birthday with agency-mate, Tara Lazar. Her latest book, I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK, is out in the world today, too. I’m here with Tara hoping to ask her a few questions but we keep getting interrupted by Prince Zilch and Dragon.

Let’s see what they’re talking about.

Dragon and Prince Zilch
Adorable Graphic by Tara Lazar

Dragon: It’s a good thing you didn’t crash land in my book!

Prince Zilch: Correct, fiery creature. Your unusual land already has a Prince! But I do not see him. Did you swallow him, too?

Dragon: That is only known by the deep depths of my belly. Perhaps you’d like to have a look-see? 

Prince Zilch: No, zank you. But why don’t you ask this yellow-haired, nosy human I know.

Dragon: You know a yellow-haired nosy human? How did you meet said yellow-haired nosy human?

Prince Zilch: She was annoying hairy, brown creatures. Who were annoying me. Did the knight annoy you? Is that why you ate him?

Dragon: I ate the knight because I love a “good” knight. It was the steed that was annoying. I had no choice but to swallow him right down! Would you like me to take care of the hairy, brown creatures? They sound like a “just right” snack.

Prince Zilch: Zep. They are stuffed with blueberry filling.

Well, it seems as if Prince Zilch and Dragon have struck up quite a friendship. I think they could talk all day. So why don’t we leave them to it and get back to the questions I wanted to ask Tara. Oh! I do want you to take special notice of the cute graphic Tara made for the Prince Zilch/Dragon conversation. Adorable!
bear book
Penny: Being that you are the genius behind PiBoIdMo I found you online very quickly when I started writing picture books. But, I don’t think I’ve ever heard what brought you to writing picture books. Can you share that?

Tara: What brought me to writing PBs is that I have always naturally written short. Short stories in college, flash fiction as an adult, and since I always wanted to write for kids (ever since I was one), now picture books!

I have begun and abandoned MG novels because writing more than 1000 words just gets me lost in the wilderness! I can’t keep track of things. (This is the same at home. I am so disorganized, I lose the laundry.)

Penny: I love the idea of a character landing in the wrong book after an unfortunate bookshelf collapse. Did you have a hard time deciding in which book the alien would land? Was there a runner up?

Tara: The alien was always in my mind as the “character who didn’t  belong.” I arrived at the bears by thinking about the complete opposite of a small, green, slimy alien. I decided a large, brown, furry bear was the best prospect. So the book wasn’t originally about the Three Bears, but just BEARS. But as I continued to write it, I kept finding myself writing jokes about Goldilocks and finally figured out what was going on! LOLonce upon

not planet zeroPenny: Benji Davies illustrations are amazing. How excited were when you found out he’d be illustrating your book?

Tara: Honestly, I didn’t really know Benji’s work when he was selected, which was 4 years ago! But I looked at his online portfolio and his books (like BIZZY BEAR! Hello!!!)  and knew that he’d be perfect. Of course, he blew me away!

bear tushThis page alone totally sold me on Tara’s book!

Penny: I know that this isn’t the only book you have coming out this fall. Plus PiBoIdMo is right around the corner. I can’t imagine how busy you must be. Can you give us a glimpse of how you keep all these balls up in the air? Any words of advice? An organizational tip?

Tara: I have no organizational advice because, contrary to popular belief, I am not a naturally organized person. I’m so TYPE B that I’m really TYPE C. I’m very laid back and I tend to try to keep everything straight in my own head. Only recently have I begun to use a daily calendar. (I hate it. LOL). I just know what has to get done and I do it. It’s just the way I operate. If I had to get more organized than I am, I wouldn’t survive! I like flying by the seat of my pants. Being too regimented about anything strips away my creative mojo.

Well I say stay disorganized then, Tara, because I love your books and I don’t want you doing anything that strips away your creative mojo!

I hope you have the happiest of book birthdays!!

Thank you so much for creating the adorable graphic, answering my questions, and sharing a signed copy of your book for the giveaway.

For all you readers out there…make sure you leave a comment because some lucky person is going to win a signed copy of I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK! A winner will be chosen in two weeks.

Tara is well known in the Kidlit community. She has another picture book coming out this fall and several more to follow. If you haven’t met her yet, here’s your chance.tarafall2011picrounded1

Street magic performer. Hog-calling champion. Award-winning ice sculptor. These are all things Tara Lazar has never been. Instead, she writes quirky, humorous picture books featuring magical places that everyone will want to visit. Here are the places you can find Tara.