A monthly column by Anthony D. Fredericks
One of the questions I hear quite frequently is, “Where do you get all your ideas?” For nonfiction authors, this query is sometimes a stumbling block (“Haven’t all the good ideas been taken?”). Yet, after nearly three decades of writing children’s books, I have discovered that some of the best ideas are often right in front of me. For example, as I write this sentence, it’s 7:16 in the morning and I already have four possible topics for children’s books recorded in my notebook:
|The Idea||Where it came from|
|The migration of Monarch butterflies from Mexico to the U.S.||An illustration of a butterfly on my coffee cup.|
|Breakfasts around the world||I had a fried egg for breakfast this morning.|
|The Goliath Bird-Eating Tarantula is the largest spider in the world.||I saw a small spider scurry across my windowsill.|
|A year in the life of a tree (month by month diary)||There is a dead tree just outside my office.|
You, too, may discover that some of your finest ideas for children’s stories are, quite often, right in front of you. Here are a few places you may want to explore:
The daily newspaper (print or on-line)
Believe it or not, I find some of my most interesting topics for children’s books right in my local newspaper. Everything from headlines, display ads, photographs, Letters to the Editor, and editorials offer a daily serving of potential topics that will often turn into book topics. For example, in 2004 a tsunami (generated by an undersea earthquake) swept through the Indian Ocean. The headlines in our local newspaper shouted the news for several weeks after this devastating event. The attendant human misery gave me the inspiration I needed to write The Tsunami Quilt: Grandfather’s Story (https://amzn.to/2NqAtOs ) – a fictional account of an actual tsunami that struck Hawaii on April 1, 1946. Shortly after it was released, The Tsunami Quilt was presented with The Storytelling World Award (2008) – a testament to the power of a local newspaper to inspire a book.
Yesterday I purchased a copy of one of the two local newspapers published in our town. Here are some of the headlines, ads, and photographs that were featured, as well as some of the potential ideas I hatched for future children’s books:
|Statement/Phrase||Context||Possible Book Idea|
|“Company unveils power line plan”||Headline||How power is generated (coal, nuclear, solar).|
|“Anna Mae, 98-Year-Old Yoga Master”||Display ad for a senior residence facility||Exercise book for kids and their grandparents|
|“Saving for what’s next is important”||Display ad for a
|How to save money|
|“Put more color into your life”||Photograph of a child in a multi-colored jacket||How visually-impaired children deal with the world|
|“Erector Set in original red box”||Classified ad||The toys used in ancient societies (Egyptians, Romans).|
Pick up any magazine in your house. Open to any page, and I’d be willing to bet that there is a new book idea somewhere on that page. It might be part of an advertisement. It might be a sentence or a phrase somewhere in an article. It might be the caption for a photograph. Or, it might be the name of the magazine itself. Here are the names of some of the magazines my wife and I currently have on the family room coffee table and some potential children’s book ideas that might result from the titles alone.
|Magazine Title||Possible Book Idea|
|Time||What is time? How is it measured? Where did those measurements come from?|
|Good Housekeeping||A book entitled “How to Clean Up Your Room and Impress Your Parents”|
|Atlantic||The similarities and differences between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.|
|Sierra||Animals that live at extremely high elevations.|
|The Artist’s Magazine||Vincent van Gogh, Picasso, and Dali as children.|
We’ll explore additional places to discover nonfiction book ideas in the September blog. Stay tuned!
Tony is an award-winning author of more than fifty children’s books, including the 2018 Outstanding Science Trade BookTall Tall Tree (https://amzn.to/2KDjDyg). This blog post was excerpted and modified from Chapter 9 in Tony’s latest writing book: Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published (https://amzn.to/2tREKCa) which will be released on September 1, 2018.