From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Monday, January 22, 2018

5 Places to Rake In Picture Book Ideas

1. Hidden History

Ever heard of Grace Hopper? Jean Jennings? I hadn't until very recently. Did you know they were instrumental in the development of the modern computer, coding and programming in particular? Our history is full of characters, women especially, who made insanely awesome contributions to our world that we don't know about. And picture book biographies are the bomb! Find the hidden stories and bring them to light. Keep asking questions and keep researching. Who was the first African-American woman in space? Who was the empress who smuggled silkworms out of China?

2. Old Diaries and Photo Albums

Your life has hidden gems too. Nobody grew up quite exactly the way you did. Maybe you were an only child who lived in a high-rise in New York. Maybe you grew up on a farm in Idaho. Maybe your parents immigrated to Canada from Syria when you were 4 years old. Maybe your brother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Whatever it is, find the richness and uniqueness from your own life and bring it to the page. Best of all you get to call it "fiction" so nobody can make fun of you for that purple underwear you wore every day of third grade. We know that was you.

3. Dreams and Nightmares

I once had a dream about sword-fighting a wolf in my old school's gym. There's something ethereal, childlike and whimsical about dreams, even scary ones, that might be a perfect match for the ethereal, childlike, and whimsical experience we want readers to have in our picture books. Its a good idea to have a notebook with you wherever you go, but for sure keep one by your bed and jot down the craziness that happens inside your brain while you're asleep.

4. Mythology and Folklore

I recently watched Myths and Monsters on Netflix and it was really fun! I learned a lot about western European mythology that I hadn't known before. It's a classic but excellent place to go digging for story ideas, especially if you look through areas that maybe haven't really been explored before. I'd be excited by some picture books featuring Ghanaian folk tales. I'd spend my grubby, hard-earned dollars on picture books about heroes from Korean mythology.

5. Other Picture Books

There aren't really very many "shoulds" when it comes to writing. Yeah there are wise suggestions that most likely it's a good idea to follow, but really we are free to blaze our own path. But one really solid "should", at least in my mind, is the idea that if you want to write something, you've got to read that something. I mean come on. Freddie Mercury only happened because the Beatles happened. We've gotta know what conversation we're joining otherwise we might get stuck playing in our own mess, thinking we're creating something new. So if you wanna write picture books, then read picture books. Let the ideas you love inspire you. Let the pictures you love best spark something in your own mind. And you'll have ideas coming out your ears as thick as Grandpa Norbert's wiry grey ear-hair.

Write on, everyone!

Sarah Allen


  1. Stuck playing in our own mess - that's a clever way to word it!

  2. Such great sources. I rely on farm memories, teaching experiences, crazy things we did. All are awesome. Myths and mythology. Hmm. Have to search for those.


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