Much conspired to prevent me from spending much time on this this week…. including continuing problems with the website where this blog lives. So instead of a-day-by-day breakdown, I’ll share a few approaches I’ve used to coming up with ideas.
1. Keeping my eyes peeled – both at work (I’m fortunate to work in a library, and often pull shifts in the children’s department) and out in the world. Interactions between parents and children often give me ideas for stories, and watching children play with each other or independently provides lots of fodder for story ideas. Which is where I got the idea for A PACK OF PICKY EATERS about animals in the zoo who find a way to vary their diet that satisfies everyone’s particular mealtime foibles.
2. Reading the news… not just the big stories, but the ones that get bumped to the inside pages or lower down on the news station’s website. One idea started brewing after I heard about the pond that disappeared into a sink hole in Latvia (THE POND THAT SAILED AWAY)… a fantasy of a little boy fishing alone on a lake when he and his boat are pulled into the underworld. Another WITH LOVE FROM CHINA after reading the story of the socialite Ruth Harkness who imported the first Panda into North America.
3. High days and holidays. Seasonal books are always popular with kids… although it can be a challenge to come up with novel stories with unique twists on old themes. So one day I sat down and brainstormed everything I could think of that connected in any way with Hallowe’en. I came with 27 crumbs ( hardly big enough to be called ‘germs’). As always, the ones farthest down the list proved to be more interesting than the first obvious ones that occurred during the brainstorming session.
4. Thinking of kids in my life. On his first visit to his grandparents’ in Palm Springs, my grandson Cooper got to sit on his grandfather’s lap to drive the golf cart around their condo development. For months afterwards when he came home, he’d try to clamber into the front seat of the car at every outing, announcing glibly, “I’ll drive!” Thinking about this led to a page of notes for a story with that title.
Also, when he was in hospital in the spring for minor surgery, his dad bought him a bunch of flowers. Now, Coop loves cars and books, which I’m sure he would also have received that day. But it’s rare that a child gets flowers – from his father… and Coop was thrilled to bits. There’s a story that might work, I thought when I heard about it.
5. Random connections. Tara Lazar’s list of 500 Things Kids Love (and 100 Things They Hate) make great story starters (http://taralazar.com/2007/11/04/199-things-that-kids-like/). One particularly uninspired day I randomly selected three items, I came up with a story about a mouse called Picollo whose goal in life is to play in a big orchestra (the promt words were Flute, Backpack and Mouse). This actually turned out to be an echo of another story on a similar topic I had made notes about a couple of years ago, THE MOUSE, THE MAESTRO AND HIS MISSUS.
6. Books on my desk. There’s not much room on my desk, but the three I keep there are THE LORE AND LANGUAGE OF SCHOOL CHILDREN by Iona and Peter Opie, THE MERRIAM WEBSTER RHYMING DICTIONARY and BREWER’S DICTIONARY OF PHRASE AND FABLE. Browsing through these kick-started several ideas that might not have occurred to me without seeing what jumped out at me from their pages.
7. Eavesdropping. This from Cooper, again. He was reciting ‘You get what you get, so don’t get upset’, to himself one day recently, which he told me is something they say at preschool. So I have a title, YOU GET WHAT YOU GET which could get interpreted a number of different ways. Sometimes all I start with is a title. Then later comes the work of mining it for all its connections and possibilities.
With two days to go, I have already reached my goal of 30 story ideas. I’m curious to find out if I get any more by the end of the month. In my final Picture Book Ideas Month post in a few days, I’ll outline where I plan to go from here with the germs, and look back on what I came up with last year, and how far I got with some of them.