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Guest Post by By Erica S. Perl
When my kids were little, there was often a solid inch of Cheerios crumbs on the floor of my car. And, frankly, that was better than the layer beneath it: hummus (not so easy to attack with a dustbuster). But you know what else small children grind into the carpet?
Material for picture books. Diamonds, if you will, ready to be mined and polished.
It’s true! I can say this now that my kids are older and not underfoot as I try to type complete sentences. If you want to write for children, the best thing you can do is surround yourself with them. Just to be clear, I’m not advocating procreation as a cure for writer’s block. But, if you need some fresh ideas and you have small children, look around you. And if you don’t have small children, seek them out (hmm, that sounds creepy, and possibly not covid-friendly… what I mean is: Zoom with your nieces/nephews/grandkids/friends’ kids and take notes).
Want evidence that this works? I can provide it.
Case file # 1: Cynthia Lord, the Newbery Honor-winning author of Rules and many other acclaimed books, reports that her daughter once owned a pet hamster named “Rocky.” He was apparently such a determined racer and speed-loving little guy (he used to run so hard in his wheel that he’d flip upside down) that he inspired Hot Rod Hamster, and several subsequent books in this popular picture book series.
Case file # 2: Author Kim Norman noticed a game her husband and kids liked to play when they went swimming. All would be quiet and still until “the Crocodaddy” showed up! Then the kids would squeal and run, and the game would start all over. This became Kim’s picture book, Crocodaddy.
Case file # 3: Amy Hansen’s son, at the age of three or four, asked her where the bugs went for the winter. As an author, Amy’s first thought was to look for a book that might answer this question. She was surprised to discover that she couldn’t find one. So, she took on the project herself and wrote the nonfiction picture book Bugs and Bugsicles: Insects in Winter.
Case file # 4: My daughters, who have always loved spotting injustice in the world (kids are inherently attuned to injustice, probably because they have so little say in their daily lives), called my attention to the plight of the shamash candle. This is the candle you use on Hanukkah to light the other candles. For eight nights, it works hard… and then the holiday ends. No one says thanks or gives it any appreciation for spending the entire holiday sharing its light with its neighbors. This keen observation lit the flame of inspiration for my new picture book, The Ninth Night of Hanukkah.
See what I mean? Glittering jewels, all around. You just need to spot them, take the time to polish them, and try not to vacuum them up in your dustbuster.
Erica S. Perl is the author of more than thirty popular and critically-acclaimed books for young readers. Her middle-grade novels include All Three Stooges (National Jewish Book Award, Sydney Taylor Honor Book) and When Life Gives You O.J. (Sydney Taylor Notable Book, ALA Notable Book. Her picture books include Chicken Butt!, Goatilocks and the Three Bears, and Ferocious Fluffity. She also writes the Truth or Lie!, Arnold and Louise, Lucky Dogs, and Craftily Ever After (as “Martha Maker) series. And she keeps an Instagram cartoon journal @espcrawl. Visit her at ericaperl.com and follow her online @ericaperl.