brainstorming, creativity, imagination, Kathleen Doherty, picture book author, picture book ideas, picture books, story starters, Storystorm, Tara Lazar

The Eye of Storystorm!

It’s the mid-way point of Storystorm 2023! And so far, so good, I’ve been keeping up with this month long picture book brainstorming challenge created by Tara Lazar.

image of a blue insect holding a light bulb symbolizing an idea and standing under a mushroom in order to get out of a rainstorm.

To me, brainstorming is like like taking a journey with a somewhat vague destination in mind, but no set directions for getting there. Since I’m a big LOTR nerd, that idea connects me immediately to Bilbo Baggins’ warning to Frodo about embarking on a journey, “If you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”

Storystorm, in order to encourage participants creativity, provides daily blog posts written by a multitude of picture book creators.

One of the posts that captured my attention, this Storystorm, was written by Kathleen Doherty. Her post was about intertextuality. Though I had never heard it called by that title before, I was familiar with its theory which says that whatever you create is influenced by something you’ve heard, seen or read before.

Kathleen wrote about borrowing ideas from another piece of literature and morphing it’s shape into a new and different text. As I’m in the middle of a manuscript in which I’m trying to do something similar, I found her post inspiring. Click here to read her post

Kathleen embraced intertextuality in each of her picture books. Her first, Don’t Feed the Bear, came from her memories of watching Yogi Bear and Ranger Smith’s cartoon high jinx.

Image of the Cover of Don't Feed the Bear along side a picture of Yogi Bear wearing a green hat and running from Ranger Smith. The cover of Don't Feed the Bear shows a grumpy bear with a fork and a short Ranger holding up the sign that reads don't feed the bear.

It’s a super fun read that demonstrates the power of written communication and it definitely tickles the funny bone.

Kathleen described her second picture book, THE THiNGiTY-JiG, as a reworked version of The Little Red Hen with a dash of creative BFG word-play added to the mix. I think it’s so much more!

Image of the cover of The Thingity-Jig. On it is a little bear standing in candle light among a bunch of broken bits of furniture and discarded junk. Alongside it is an image of the little red hen picture book which has a hen in a yellow hat and coat holding a shovel
A cover image of the book The BFG. It shows a giant holding a little girl in his palm.

The THiNGiTY-JiG has a pleasant repetitive refrain that gets the story going and keeps its transitions flowing. The prose is active, full of onomatopoeia. Each attempt of the main character to achieve what he has set out to do, cleverly builds upon the one before it. Lastly, it has a very satisfying ending. I’d recommend this book to children, as well as to picture book writers in search of mentor books.

There is more Storystorming left to do in the remaining weeks of January, and I’m up for the challenge. I’ll let you know how my efforts pan out at the start of February.

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An Author’s Insights

On this the first week of 2023, I’m excited to share with you my interview with debut picture book author, Emma Pearl.

The questions I posed Emma, to a one, revolved around the kindling of the imaginative spark. I felt this focus was just the thing to accompany the sense of possibility and new opportunities that the new year brings.

Interview Q&A with author Emma Pearl

Emma, after finishing a project do you ever feel lost as to what project you’ll do next?

No, I don’t really find this a problem. I write for all ages and have far more ideas/projects/WIPs on the go than I could ever hope to complete in a lifetime! I’m usually drawn to the next one naturally when I finish something, but if I’m ever in doubt I just read through my endless files, lists and notes until something shouts ‘WRITE ME!’

I currently have a YA novel about to go out on submission in the new year so I’ve just finished final revisions on that. I’ve also just finished the first draft of my next novel – a YA with similar themes/synergy – so will be tidying that up before sending it to my agent. And I have a sequel for that one planned too, which may or may not be the next one I write. I’d like to get an MG novel out on submission next year too – I have one completed that needs a rewrite and several more that I’m keen to work on – I’ll be discussing with my agent which one to focus on.

I have quite a lot of picture book texts ready to submit and am waiting on my agent to look at them all (I intend to keep her quite busy next year!). I love writing PBs because they require such a different skill set to novels and completion can be achieved in a relatively short space of time, so I often work on them in between novels or when I get stuck in the middle of a novel.

It sounds like you are super busy!

Do you have any brainstorming techniques to get your ideas flowing?

I’ve gathered so many ideas over the years that I don’t actively need to look for them any more. But I do make sure to write them down when I get them – ideas usually come from reading other books, watching movies or conversations. There will be a nugget of something that I find fascinating and then ideas will spin off from that. Also, I constantly mine my childhood memories – what were the things that made me feel the biggest emotions? Even the most ordinary events, habits or people can be turned into amazing stories if you can identify and connect the emotions associated with them.

I also highly recommend taking part in Tara Lazar’s Storystorm in January ( – it’s really great for generating not only ideas for stories but also ideas for where to find inspiration. This post from author Brian Gehrlein has some brilliant brainstorming techniques too:

I agree, Storystorm is a great way to kick off the year with ideas and inspiration!

Emma, Do you have any routines that encourage your writing process?  

Not really. I write as often and as much as I can, which is most days, but there’s not a strict routine (life tends to get in the way of that!), and there’s a lot of time spent on things that are essential to my writing career (which is still very much fledgling) that are not writing per se – admin, marketing and promotion, networking, learning, mentoring, critiquing… etc. I am most productive in the mornings from about 9 to 12 so try to maximize writing time then whenever possible.

What have you found to be the best writing advice you ever received?

I’m not sure which one of these is the best, but all of the following have been invaluable:

– avoid filtering language, i.e. words that draw attention to any of the five senses. This is a quick and concise guide

Abie Longstaff’s picture book 101 free course covers all the basics thoroughly and efficiently. I often find myself referring back to it.

– first drafts are supposed to be rubbish! I spent many years not getting anywhere with my writing because I was scared of writing rubbish. But a very important lesson was learning to write anyway. You can improve a badly written story but a blank page is worth nothing.

– there is no set of rules, no one way of doing anything, no set path to follow. There are a huge number of amazing resources available, and many of them are free. Find whatever works for you and don’t be distracted by anyone else… but also:

connect with other writers whenever possible, they will be your greatest comfort/support/cheerleaders/learning… etc.

Thank you Emma, for sharing your excellent suggestions and links to helpful resources!

There was one last question I asked Emma. It was in regards to her great uncle, Roald Dahl. 

Emma, I read that Roald Dahl dedicated The Twits to you and I wondered if it was your favorite book of his, or was there a different one that was your favorite?

Great question on the Roald Dahl books! Of course I loved The Twits. It was so very exciting to have a book dedicated to me – I was a real bookworm as a kid and it was just about the best thing ever. It’s a wonderful story of oppression, courage and just desserts, and I’ve loved monkeys ever since! But in all honesty, I think I loved reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory more. I read that countless times, over and over from a very young age (well before The Twits was published). I also loved Fantastic Mr Fox and Danny (I used to play in the gypsy caravan that inspired the story). But my favorite now, as an adult, is Matilda. I think I was 13 or 14 when that came out so it wasn’t part of my childhood as such. But I have a suspicion (that might be completely ill-founded) that there is the tiniest part of Matilda that was in some small way inspired by me. Roald was very close to all three of his sisters, one of whom was my grandmother, and I was the first grandchild to be born to any of them, so I was a little bit spoiled and doted on by them all! I was a huge bookworm and reading long before I started school (not War and Peace, mind you!). Also, a little later on I had a very scary teacher who bore a striking resemblance to Miss Trunchbull (my teacher was also an ex-Olympian shot-putter!). So even if just a tenuous link, I’ve always felt a connection with the character of Matilda, who is one of my favorite females in all of children’s literature and always fills me (and countless others) with inspiration.

I’ve attached a link to 10 year old Emma’s (she’s the little girl at the center of the photo) interview of Roald Dahl. It brought a smile to my face and I hope it does the same for you.


Emma Pearl writes fiction for all ages and is represented by Sera Rivers at Speilburg Literary. Mending the Moon is her debut picture book, and Saving the Sun will be published by Page Street Kids in September 2023. Emma is a picture book mentor for WriteMentor (2021/22) and a freelance editorial consultant for picture books. She lives with her family in New Zealand.

Twitter/IG: @emmspearl

Purchase links to Mending the Moon, Emma’s debut picture book:

Barnes and Noble US


Amazon US

Waterstones UK

Amazon UK

amwriting, Chris Van Allsburg, creativity, imagination, NaNoWriMo, new project, story starters, THE CHRONICLES OF HARRIS BURDICK, THE MYSTERIES OF HARRIS BURDICK, work in progress, writing journey

A Picture’s Worth . . .

Last week I posted about Chris Van Allsburg’s picture book, THE MYSTERIES OF HARRIS BURDICK and its companion book of short stories written by well-known authors, THE CHRONICLES OF HARRIS BURDICK. The images within the picture book are fantastic story starters, and on this first day of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) its possible you may want to take a look at the images for inspiration. A picture’s worth a thousand words or so it’s said, but in order to reach the goal of a 50,000 word novel by the end of November you need to write approximately 1,667 words per day. The images are worth a look as they might get be what gets you started.

:Donna of recommended the two books and responded to my request for readers to share what they’ve written after viewing one of the images. Below is her take on an image from the picture book. She wrote the piece a few years ago when Kathy Temean of was doing picture prompt first page submissions. Enjoy the read!


As he’d done every evening for years, Harold Greeley sat in his straight-back chair, sipped tea from his porcelain cup and gazed out the window of his sitting room. He was very good at sitting, admiring his well-kept garden and pondering his satisfactory lifestyle. For as long as he could remember it was his intent to live this existence he preferred—quiet and quite alone. Harold never needed companionship; not even a pet, furry or otherwise. Too much mess. Too much bother.

Beyond his sturdy, wrought iron fence, his neighbors ran to and fro, day after day—pets and children running amuck, trash cans overturning, hole upon hole with bones buried in yards. In his opinion, it all came down to poor planning—pure and simple. He wondered why, seeing as he lived in their midst, they hadn’t learned from his example. After all, his life was the epitome of order, the idyllic model: well-thought-out, organized and peaceful, that which results from the best-laid plans.

While removing a piece of lint from his pressed trousers, from behind him an unusual sound reached Harold’s ears, as if the carpet was being scratched and shifted. How odd! He twisted ‘round, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Turning back, he sipped his last sip and placed the cup on its saucer which sat on a well-appointed napkin which lay perfectly perpendicular to the corner of the side table.

Harold was admiring the soft sheen of the white china (he having picked the perfect bulb wattage for optimum lighting), when the cup rattled in its saucer. Then a thud at the base of the table caused it to tremor, too! This was more than odd. What on earth was going on?  He peered under the table and saw what looked like a large bulge in the carpet, thinking it must be a shadow cast from the lamp, until—it lurched back, then lunged forward, slamming the table leg! The cup and saucer soared across the room, the lamp and table rocked, threatening to topple, and Harold leapt to his feet. Uncharacteristically, rather than reach to save the lamp from a nosedive, he swiftly lifted the chair above his head, ready to thwack the intruder, only to stop momentarily. He contemplated which repulsed him more: the unwanted, possibly beady-eyed mystery guest—or a bloodstain on his pristine carpet.

If you’re starting NaNoWriMo today, may your words flow effortlessly.

All my best,


children's books, Chris Van Allsburg, creativity, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, illustration, imagination, picture book illustrators, story starters

Images for Inspiration

After reading my post about creativity and my mention of The Imaginaries-Little Scraps of Larger Stories by Emily Winfield Martin, :Donna@ recommended the picture book THE MYSTERIES OF HARRIS BURDICK by Chris Van Allsburg, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1984 and a book of short stories THE CHRONICLES OF HARRIS BURDICK, again published by Houghton Mifflin, this time in 2011.

The picture book came about from 14 images each with titles and captions, which Mr. Harris Burdick had given to Mr. Peter Wenders to consider for publication.

A Strange Day In July- He threw with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back.

Mr. Wenders liked the artwork and was interested in reading Mr. Burdick’s stories. Mr. Burdick was to return with the stories the following day, but he never returned.

Years later, Chris Van Allsburg told Mr. Wenders that it was difficult to look at the images without making up a story at which point Mr. Wenders brought out a cardboard box containing dozens of stories inspired by the images, which had been written by Mr. Wenders children and their friends.

The book of short stories was written by 14 well known writers: Sherman Alexie, Linda Sue Park, Stephen King and Gregory Maguire to name a few, and the tales tell the stories those authors thought of after viewing the pictures.

The House on Maple Street-It was a perfect lift-off.

I hadn’t looked at the book of short stories until after I tried my hand at a timed story starter writing exercise (ten minutes) afterwards I read what Jules Feiffer wrote after looking at the same image. It was a fun exercise to try and equally enjoyable to read Mr. Feiffer’s full story. Below is what I wrote within my ten minute practice exercise after looking at this image and reading its title and caption.

Uninvited Guests-His heart was pounding. He was sure he had seen the doorknob turn.

Malcolm was sure he heard laughter. But how could he have? No one was home and they wouldn’t be for hours. It was just he and Mrs. Murphy, his grandmother’s cat who was sound asleep on the back of the couch. There it was again. Malcolm moved slowly, quietly to see if he could pinpoint where the giggles were coming from. As he passed the basement door he heard a soft shushing. He opened the door a crack and peeked. He didn’t like the basement. It was full of forgotten things. Things that had once been useful, but now were left to gather dust. He flicked on the light, swallowed hard and took a step down. Right foot, left, right foot, left, he was more than halfway down when he noticed a small wooden door painted yellow. It came barely above his ankle. Why was there door there-and so small? Had it always been there?

The timer rang, and that’s where I stopped. It was a fun exercise, and I’d recommend trying it. I’d suggest getting both the picture book and the short stories and having a go at a timed practice. See what you come up with and read what short stories were created from the images. If you try it, please share what you created. I’d love to read and post your tales.

Thank you :Donna for the great recommendations!