What do a feisty mother duck and old bike have in common? Probably nothing, except they inspired my picture books. Here I'll share the stories behind my books and two tips to help inspire you too.
My first favourite book
My earliest memories of my elementary school library are happy, albeit scrappy. These fragments consist of me quietly reading in a cosy space, flipping through a small book about the adventures of a mouse named Monty, and watching the librarian stamp books. One memory that stands out is re-reading one of my favourite children's books of all time – The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I have since learned that people love or hate that story. One of the reasons I think it's classic is because the story elicits such a strong reaction from readers. My response was also intense as a child: I was heartbroken by the tree's sacrifice for the boy she loved. This story has 'stayed' with me throughout the years, and I recently bought a copy for my son to read when he's a little older. As you read this post, I am sure you can think of at least one book that has stayed with you too.
My inspiration for Ellery's Magic Bicycle
The Giving Tree was the inspiration for my second picture book, Ellery's Magic Bicycle. Both books depict a special relationship between a child and a magical object. Ellery's Magic Bicycle is also a reworking of a story I wrote years ago as part of a high school assignment. The story's title was 'My Green Bike – The Good, Bad and the Ugly'. It chronicled the life of my childhood bicycle, from when I learned to ride, to being thrown around by neighbourhood bullies, to becoming a part of my adolescent exercise regime, to eventual abandonment in the backyard shed after I grew too big for it. When I submitted the assignment, I had no idea that the next day my English teacher would give copies of it to my classmates and hold her copy aloft and say, "Now this is how you write a story!" I don't tell that anecdote to brag; I was insecure about my creative writing skills, so my teacher's pronouncement was a welcome boost to my confidence. That experience and the tremendous support of my parents are why I am a writer today. The story I'd written for my high school assignment had a similar bleak ending to The Giving Tree. For years I yearned to rework my high school assignment into a picture book, if only to rectify that sad ending! I wanted Ellery's Magic Bicycle to be as heartfelt as The Giving Tree but with a life-affirming conclusion.
How to get ideas for your next kid's book
As you can see, the path to writing Ellery's Magic Bicycle wasn't straightforward. The story evolved from a mix of literary inspirations and a reimagining of my childhood bicycle. If you're looking for inspiration to write your own children's book, I have two suggestions:
Recall things or moments that meant a lot to you as a child or were a source of fun and hilarity to you and your family. For example, my first picture book, Eve's Ducklings, is a humorous retelling of my being chased by a protective mother duck at a lake. My grandfather, who witnessed the incident, would recount that tale with mirth for years.
If you have kept your school assignments, see if you can find any nuggets to develop into a story. As children and young adults, we don't tend to critique or filter our ideas as much, so you may find a raw gem waiting to be polished!