Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

Picture Book Ideas and Other Random Thoughts

We finally got around to watching the movie Capote yesterday. (Better late than never?) Somehow, it had escaped my notice for all these years that Harper Lee worked with and was a good friend to Truman Capote. Had I known this, I would surely have watched the film a long time ago. Despite the fact that Capote was working on In Cold Blood during the timeline, the film was more a character study of the author than anything. While I still find it odd that To Kill a Mockingbird and In Cold Blood had a sort of shared history, I do recommend the film. Now I may get around to actually reading In Cold Blood.

Now, for some picture book musing.

Sun. Nov. 18 – Obscure artists who had major influences are always fascinating. Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, and Sidney Bechet to begin with. And this is just for the beginnings of jazz. Considering how many early jazz artists go their starts, though, I may have to figure out how to write about a brothel in a picture book.

Mon. Nov 19 – Determined not to hit the wall. There was an article about the difference between hallucinations and imagination. About a third grader who imagines ordinary objects to be ordinary and who talks to bugs and other animals.

Tues. Nov. 20 – Jazz-playing zebra meets an opera-singing elephant. The possibilities are awesome.

Wed. Nov. 21 – Turkey Eve. Loved the PiBoIdMo blog entry today by guest blogger Debbie Ridpath Ohi. She asked people to complete a conversation bubble in response to a person who was going to write a picture book. Because they’re so easy. The responses she received are priceless.

My idea for today involves a turkey who is passed over at Thanksgiving. He feels lucky and unappreciated at the same time.

Thurs. Nov. 22 – Today, I’m jotting down some outrageous thoughts that seem to be forming themselves into a poem. Things like cheetahs in wheelchairs.

Fri. Nov. 23 – Even though I feel myself progressively losing steam on my 30 ideas month, I keep prodding myself to get it done. For one thing, the best ideas may be yet to come.  So I took a quick tour of a news website. Took approximately 3 seconds to come up with today’s kernel on the dangers of overreaction, such as shootings during Black Friday because someone cut in line. Remembering that “The sky is falling” has been done, this may take a bit more thought to get to a workable idea. But I really love the kernel.

Sat. Nov. 24 – I was reminded in a blog post today by Deb Lund that we can give ourselves permission to be as silly as we want. We can, in effect, go galumphing. Those who know me well know that I tend toward dry humor and often come up with the absurd. For these reasons, I was reminded of a completely absurd idea I had many, many years ago. What if batteries aren’t really pushing along electrons? What if there is a tiny, tiny mouse inside on a bicycle making your flashlight come to life? Taking it further, what if your bread machine houses a tiny fireplace, stoked by a chipmunk? I think my oddball brain can come up with a lot more. Maybe the electrons really are submicroscopic animals.

Only six days of this challenge left. I don’t know about you, but I’m having a ball.

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Even More Picture Book Ideas

Another productive week on the idea front. Of course, I’ve been doing a lot to keep it going. Tara Lazar’s ( wonderful guest bloggers have all been just that – wonderful. And inspiring.  The level of sharing and inspiration on the Facebook page has been nothing short of spectacular.  If you haven’t had a chance to check out all the challenges out there, you’re really missing something. So much going on.  Stop here if you don’t want the details.

Sun. Nov. 11 – As this is the traditional Veterans’ Day, or Armistice Day, or (as I like to call it) the REAL Veterans’ Day, I wanted a somewhat military theme. What about armies in the wild? Obviously, army ants. Social structure in wolf packs. Geese flying in formation. I have more, but I don’t like to give out all my ideas.

Mon. Nov. 12 – What might happen if a square peg insisted on fitting into a round hole? Might keep trying until it finds the right hole.

Tues. Nov. 13 – Feeling completely overwhelmed by the amount of information I’ve been receiving recently, I’m reminded that children are often overwhelmed as well. What about a kid who drags around a 50-pound bookbag, never finishes homework until midnight, has soccer practice, plays an instrument, and babysits. I’d go on strike if I were him.

Wed. Nov. 14 – Inspired  by a random word generator. Completely misunderstood ghost, vampire, etc. Might learn to understand each other.

Thurs. Nov. 15 – Halfway through the challenge! I was told to think about what I was passionate about as a child. Reading. Animals, especially cute fuzzy animals. Well-developed characters I could learn to love. (This is not an observation from childhood, but rather something I figured out as an adult. This is also what draws me to certain television shows that may not seem to fit in with other things I know about myself.) Family. OK, that’s a start. Let’s see what goes on in the mind of a family pet. I bet it would sound a lot like me.

Fri. Nov. 16 – A chipmunk tale of hoarding and acorns stolen by the local squirrel bully. Chipmunk community bands together to help. Inspired by newspaper article about bumper acorn crop.

Sat. Nov.17 – What if Superman was a real person? Where was the planet Krypton before it exploded? Astronomer  Neil deGrasse Tyson of the Hayden Planetarium recently located  a red dwarf star he thinks may have had inhabitable planets. Tyson is highlighted in a recent Superman comic. Fact meets fiction. Again.


A moment to plug the Spielberg movie, Lincoln. Excellent acting, characterizations, makeup, and sets. Well worth seeing. Who would have thought Lincoln was a human being?

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PiBoIdMo Lives On

Maybe I should mind sharing all my ideas, but I have a strong feeling that, even if people steal these, our books would be very different. Besides, if I can help inspire, that’s good too. It’s all about the kids who will read our books. So here is a journal-style accounting of the picture book ideas generated this week.

Sun. Nov. 4 – I saw an article the other day about all the plantings that have been inspired by Lady Bird Johnson’s highway beautification idea. I know there have been books written about Mrs. Johnson, but I don’t think any recently. Biographies about the person behind the really famous person can be fun. Often more fun than the person in front. Also, we once knew a botanist who was directly involved in getting more native plantings instituted in interstate medians. This might also be a good angle for the ecology. Her efforts live on.

Mon. Nov. 5 – This is an idea that grew out of the middle grade book I’ve been working on. How did Helen Keller communicate and what were some of her accomplishments? There have been biographies about her, but most concentrate on her early life. She lived a good, long life and was a very accomplished woman. I’m very excited about this one.

Tues. Nov. 6 – Election Day. Even small kids would be interested in the odd system that is the Electoral College. How did this become the law of the land? What have the problems been? 2000 Supreme Court decision. 1876 debacle. Change to voting strictly for president. Use an illustration involving pencils and markers on tables. Kittens and puppies?

Wed. Nov. 7 – Had trouble getting my head in the game this morning. So I went back to the newspaper. What kind of soil is on Mars? How do we know? Expand into different types of soil on earth and the creatures that benefit.

Thurs. Nov. 8 – Holidays are always ripe territory. Thanksgiving particularly so. Nearly all cultures have some ritual in which they give thanks. What does it mean to give thanks? What are some of the more interesting/odd thanksgiving rituals? Perhaps follow a bird or other animal to some places to observe.

Fri. Nov. 9 – I’m a little proud of this one. Total nonsense – the way my brain actually works and what children really love. I started with a random word generator to get me going, then I thought about Roger Miller’s “You Can’t Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd.” Some very interesting questions and answers resulted.

Sat. Nov.  10 – This is from another newspaper article. Large animals (megafauna) have been slowly disappearing. The mastodon and the saber-toothed tiger are gone. What caused these extinctions? Now, elephants and tigers are endangered. What have we learned that can help us save these magnificent beasts?

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First Days of PiBoIdMo

PiBo is about ideas. Since I have been writing more seriously and feel comfortable telling people that’s what I do, most people comment that they have a great idea for a book and would I like to hear it? Usually, I summon all my patience and listen. Then forget what they said. My real reaction is, “Good for you. Put it to paper.”

For one thing, ideas are very personal. Unless I feel passionate about an idea, it’s not likely to evolve into much of a book. For another thing, I don’t really lack for ideas. Ideas are everywhere. Sometimes my brain hurts from all the ideas in there. Please don’t add to the clutter or I’ll never get anything out of there again. But, again, will I be able to make them into a book? And, if so, is it a picture book?

So, where do workable ideas come from? I tend to write short, which means that I pack a whole lot into a very few pages. Most of the serious writing I’ve done is for middle graders. People who read what I’ve written very often say they want to know more about some topic I’ve approached. For that reason, I feel very comfortable cannibalizing my own work.

Other great sources are the newspaper and magazines. Even if I weren’t writing a lot of nonfiction, there are some great stories in the news. You can’t make this stuff up.

Another source is observation. Sit in a McDonald’s somewhere and play the what if game. The imagination runs wild.

Old stories are some of the best sources. Aesop, Mother Goose, etc. There is a theory there are no new stories. But there are new story tellers.

Even though the idea is the goal, I want to make sure each idea is workable, so I spent some time mulling over idea, how I would approach it, the kind of research I need to do, and things like possible character names.

Thurs. Nov. 1 – Starting with the newspaper. An article about a nearly extinct toad species.

Fri. Nov. 2  – Newspaper article about communicating with Mars rover.

Sat. Nov. 3 – Inspired by my brother’s efforts to help those in grief, children among them.

One other thing: I view this as a marathon, not a sprint. I want to give each idea at least a full day’s thought so that maybe it will become a book.  That being said, I do admire those who had thirty ideas on the very first day. You work this the way you need to.

On to idea four.