• Picturebooking Prof

Four Sources of Story Inspiration: Young, Old, and In-Between

Ah, it’s FINALLY spring in Michigan. Now if only spring in Michigan lasted longer than 2.5 days…

It’s finals week, so I’m drowning in papers, exams, and student emails asking for extra credit (you'd be amazed...). I need a break, so here I am! In this post, I’m sharing four of the sources of inspiration for my stories, which—so far anyway—seem to be coming in a constant stream.

1. Stories from my childhood.

A summer with grandma, my mailman grandpa, our beloved family dog, my first day on my paper route…many of my stories have been inspired by my own experiences growing up. I’ve found it interesting, though, to translate the nugget of memory into a story fit for a 32-page picturebook—often, the final product looks nothing like my original memory or experience. Although the story may have taken some twists and turns, the thread that ties the story to my childhood is still there, lending an air of authenticity and heart to the tale.

2. Things my kids do and say.

I suppose that every children’s writer who is a parent or grandparent gets inspiration from this source—the kiddos themselves. My son asking why cars have “extra fast” that they don’t use; my toddler thinking that, if ice makes him feel better after a fall, ice will fix everything; my little guys working together to make up the rules to a new game. Often, things they say or do are things I NEVER would have come up with myself. I am an adult, and even when I spend hours with young children every day, I still think and process the world like an adult. Building a story around what a young child says or does connects it to a real-life child view, and makes it more likely that young readers will see themselves in the story.

3. The little moments.

Some of my thematic/concept stories and poems center on observation, curiosity, and appreciation in the context of nature or the little moments in life. Bedtime, a walk to the park, watching an ant hill, learning to ride a bike—all of these little moments are opportunities to practice mindfulness, learn simplicity, and experience joy. Children are often naturally better at this than adults, who tend to rush through the day on a schedule. Doing life with my kiddos has helped me to slow down and notice all of these little things, and my writing has benefited greatly.

4. My older adults.

As a gerontologist, I interact with seniors regularly, often in the context of in-depth interviews about life and the aging process. Because one of my goals as a children’s writer is to highlight the amazing contribution of older generations and to promote the development of strong, varied intergenerational relationships, I have found inspiration for older adult characters from my research participants—an older woman with a snappy sense of humor, a gentleman who spent his working years at NASA, a couple who had been married for 56 years and teased and laughed together constantly. These wonderful people, along with my own special grandparent experiences, have helped me create well-rounded, diverse older adult characters that will hopefully expand kids’ perceptions of what it means to be “old.”

So many inspiring tidbits, and so little time! So what are your sources of inspiration? I’d love to hear about them!

Now back to grading… (but at least it’s SPRING for the next 2.5 days!)


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