Do you want to write a children's book but struggle to come up with great children's book ideas?
You're not alone in this. All too often do budding writers (or seasoned ones!) sit down to write their book for kids and stare, glossy eyed, at a blank page—for hours.
Sometimes this discourages writers so much that they give up on their idea altogether. They assume an idea will come to them when the muse decides to speak up.
Writers don't have to wait for the muse, though. This article shares strategies that can help you come up with your next great book idea—particularly if you want to write a book for children.
The Common Question I Get as a Children's Book Author
I've been writing children's books for more than two decades. It's common for people to ask me where I get my children's book ideas when I’m presenting my work, whether in a first-grade classroom or at an educator conference.
My truest answer is “everywhere,” but I admit this is frustratingly vague. The blank page is both an intimidation and an invitation.
In my article “How to Write a Children's Book,” I share how to know your Story Intention. I primarily write to give families a way to share love and inspire connection, so I tend to search for ideas that work under this umbrella purpose of mine.
Each of my many book titles and concepts started with a spark of an idea. Some took hold when I heard someone speak a certain phrase; others started with an idea for a theme (adoption) followed by casually interviewing people about the topic.
My book Hooray for You was inspired by a particular photo I saw in a newspaper that moved me.
Although we can find ideas everywhere, I've created the following strategy you can use to jumpstart your own idea finding.
It's an easy way to remind yourself of the proactive role you can play when waiting for inspiration to find its collaborator.
S.T.O.P. to Write: 4 Actions to Spark Children's Ideas for Children’s Books
To put a helpful framework around the process of idea generation for children’s books, I created a simple, four-part acronym: S.T.O.P. to Write.
It is easy to remember and implement, and gives you a chance to come up with a story idea that will work for books for kids even if you don't yet know what the entire story will look like.
You can use S.T.O.P. to come up with ideas from board books to stories for all types of children. This is how it works:
S = Start with What You Know
This is a natural way to gather ideas for books for children. What sentimental, informative, or silly situation have you experienced that you can parlay into an engaging tale for children?
What is a topic, cause, or theme close to your heart because it’s impacted you in a meaningful way?
Don't worry if your initial reaction to this is a blank mind. Give yourself permission to prod for a little bit. If you do, it's likely that you'll come up with all sorts of ideas—and they might speak to your experiences!
Do you have a lot of knowledge about sports, video games, cooking, dance, monsters, bullies, art, pets, grandparents and travel? Start with this and go from there to expand on the knowledge to create a story idea that will work for a book for kids.
Next, consider the themes that could work for a story with that topic. Often, when I've talked to students about story ideas, I've heard themes about perseverance, courage, resilience, overcoming, fear, and empathy.
These are things these kids already know about—but maybe haven't actually written a story about. The same is true for you.
In the spirit of starting with what I know, I wrote one of my bestselling books, I Love You So, from a bedtime routine I shared with my own four kids when they were little. Other examples from existing children's books:
- The Invisible String by Patrice Karst is a tale Patrice wrote as a single working mom to soothe her young son when he was at daycare and remind him they were always connected by love.
- Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho aims to show the beauty of Asian eyes while also showing that everyone is beautiful.
- Every Night is Pizza Night by popular cookbook author Kenji Lopez-Alt is a celebration of the joy of food.
- I am God's Dream by LBGTQ+ author Matthew Paul Turner wishes to cultivate for kids a view of a loving, accepting God.
All these examples illustrate Start With What You Know in action. What might this look like for you?
Here are a few things to ask yourself:
- Is there a ritual or tradition you share with your family that you can share with others?
- Are you known for something among your friends? For example, perhaps you are passionate about karate, knitting, climate change, baking or mental health. Or you're known as particularly funny, kind, or generous.
- Do you have a life experience that you can parlay into encouragement to others? Perhaps you moved a bunch of times, disliked vegetables, loved growing a garden, or grew up with a particular physical or emotional challenge.
T = Talk to People
Many writers are introverted, which makes one-on-one conversation a great strategy for idea gathering. Yes, you are surrounded by all kinds of inspiration if you're willing to engage with people and listen.
This can happen anywhere: In the grocery line, on an airplane, in your neighborhood, on a nature hike. One never knows when the spark of a concept may find you.
If you are interested in writing for young kids, talk to teachers about what might make a good book for children. Then go and talk to your friends, librarians, bookstore owners, and, of course, children. Ask them what they care about.
Ask them for book recommendations to jog your idea consideration even further.
Are they afraid or excited about something? What makes them laugh? What topics are teachers already building lessons around that you can come alongside?
Conversation is an amazing idea generation tactic to listen for universal themes that connect us all.
For example, when I was writing a book about loss many years ago, I attended a small-group memorial service of bereaved families to listen for emotional commonalities. When I wanted to write about courage, I asked my eight-year-old son while folding laundry to define courage.
“A choice,” he said matter-of-factly after I had wrestled with the concept for months.
His brilliant, impromptu answer was the key to my entire picture book and this line in particular. “How far will I go, what things can I be, when I get to choose what brave is to me?”
Talk and listen. Talk and listen.
Some great phrases to initiate conversation include:
- “Tell me about XYZ.” Tell me what you're hearing in your classroom.Tell me what has you excited/scared/nervous right now.
- “Tell me the story of your shoes/scarf/funky hat/ring/pet gerbil.” There's always a backstory behind what you see, and it may just be where you find your idea gold.
O= Open Your Mind
An important step in the search for ideas is to open your mind. Ever notice how demanding inspiration from yourself rarely works? Me too.
When I think of the phrase “open your mind,” I agree with the dictionary definition: “to become able to understand different ideas or ways of thinking.”
But there's a cognitive counterpart to this: Putting yourself into an emotionally receptive place.
Open Your Mind is a two-fold process. One begets another.
- Open the right-brain “portal” to the creative side of the brain.
- Open the mind to new ideas, stimuli and viewpoints.
Pro tip: To get out of your way, try to move your body, change your environment, and give your brain new stimuli.
The following are specific ways you can open your mind when trying to come up with new ideas for your children's book, all of which I do to flex my idea receiving muscles.
Move. Take a walk. Go for a run.
Says science writer Ferris Jabr:
“Walking on a regular basis promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them.”
Wow. I have written many a stanza in my head while enjoying the outdoors, complete sentences popping into my mind when I least expect them.
Carry your phone or tiny journal when you're out and about so you can jot your thoughts into a notes app or write down a quick reminder to reference later.
Meditate or try automatic writing
Meditation is a great way to connect with your inner guidance.
There's a lot of noise out there and a ton of content. Sometimes you simply need to shut out the external and focus on the message that resides inside YOU.
Taking input from the world around you is excellent, but just like a funnel narrows water into a container, you need to narrow your vast inspiration into a few conceptual nuggets. Two suggestions for you:
First, meditation. When you need to turn off the brain chatter, I recommend finding a quiet space and meditating for fifteen minutes. Simply inhale and exhale.
If you need a mantra to keep you focused, you might try repeating, “I am open to new ideas.” Or, “I am a deep well of creativity.”
After a few moments of quiet, can ask yourself a question and listen for the answers your subconscious gives. For example, “What message do I want to communicate?”
Or, automatic writing. One of my favorite techniques is automatic writing, where you ask yourself a question, close your eyes, and write the answer you hear!
Yes, the answer will be crooked, but the process allows you to stay connected with your inner voice and keep distractions at bay. Sometimes I won't realize what I've written until I go back and re-read it later which is quite fun.
Change up your routine
Write at a coffee shop or library instead of your usual desk at home. Take a new route to the grocery store or gym. Any minor tweak in your routine will put into motion a cascade of new stimuli from the new people you encounter to the new scenery you notice.
You never know when inspiration will strike.
Things as simple as a meandering butterfly, a chatty barista, or an unexpected encounter with a curious chihuahua at a new dog park can invite your brain to ponder, “What if?”
Explore, visit, travel, volunteer
Spend time without an agenda—and certainly not with the expectation, “I need to come home with an idea!”
Instead, try something new. Go to a museum or travel to a place you've wanted to visit, local or far away. Maybe volunteer for an organization you really like.
Push yourself out of your normal routine and you will gain experiences and life skills that are new and fresh.
When this happens, simply notice what catches your eye and attention: Is it certain colors or objects? Someone's outfit, shoes, or hat?
Again, bring your phone or a small journal to jot down funny or interesting dialogue you hear.
One example of a kids picture book series that does uses this very wandering as the plot is The “ISABELLA” series of children's books by author Jennifer Fosberry, whose stories journeys through the imagination, “visiting” world landmarks, famous artists, and historical events.
“Interview” someone with a different experience than you
We often surround ourselves with people like us, which often limits the taking in of new perspectives.
Have you heard of the Human Library, a nonprofit started in Denmark? The idea is to rent out a human being for conversation to challenge existing stereotypes, biases, and perspectives.
You can replicate the intention of this wherever you are.
Chat with a grandparent. Ask them what message they'd love to tell their grandchildren. Befriend a person or family from a different country. Ask them what it's like to be a person who looks different from everyone around them.
I love this perspective by musician Ed Sheeran, who once explained an artistic hiatus with a rationale akin to:
“I needed to go live more life before I had more to say.”
Opening your mind is akin to living more life through other people's eyes.
Once you have an idea or two you wish to explore, you can put it down on a paper.
P = Put it Down
This is exactly as it sounds.
Start by starting. Start by removing the pressure of needing to write in wholly formed sentences and perfectly rhyming couplets.
The idea is to get your brain connecting with your hand that is connecting with your paper or keyboard.
Here are a few ideas that work for me (and perhaps they will for you, too!):
- Start by doodling on paper before your doodles become letters. Type nonsense on your screen before your thoughts take shape.
- Use pencil instead of pen. I capture random ideas in a blank journal and use pencil when I do. Something about its erasable nature helps free my writing process.
- Write down snippets of thoughts rather than complete sentences. General ideas. A short, nonsensical phrase or few words of dialogue. A forced rhyme. Anything to loosen yourself and your creative thinking brain and free up the flow.
- Let ideas evolve.
As you begin to experiment with your own creative process, you'll find techniques that work for you.
You may have a favorite chair or part of the house, too. I have several “offices” around my house so I can follow the sun.
Now that we've talked about several ways you might find ideas, let's practice what we've talked about.
START: 10 Children's Book Ideas, Mix and Match
The best-selling children's books naturally appeal to the things that are part of children's lives—and what they naturally love.
Choose from the two lists below: one “character” idea and one emotion/theme. Then we'll move on to our practice.
- Vehicles/Things that Go
- Farm Animals
- Zoo Animals
- Forest Animals
- Sea Creatures
- Teaching Colors/Words
- Managing Feelings
- Following your Dreams
- Growth Mindset
- The Power of Gratitude
Go Where Inspiration Takes You (Or Seek Out Inspiration Yourself)
There are tons of ways to find ideas for a children's book. The strategies I've shared to help you get started can inspire an idea for a book for all age ranges, from books for babies to chapter books.
Don't be afraid to push yourself out of your comfort zone. It's in the moments that you'll probably find your best idea, one that can carry a complete story and wow book agents and dazzle a book editor.
To help you get started, take all the knowledge I've provided in this article and join me in the practice exercise at the end of this article.
Let's turn white paper into a great book idea for your children's book!
How do you get your children's book ideas? Let us know in the comments.
It's your turn! Choose two items from the lists above (for example, Nature + Friendship or Forest Animals + Gratitude. Now spend fifteen minutes and put your idea on paper. This can look like a few different things:
- A sample page one of your book
- A description of your story framework
- A rhyming stanza
- Sample dialogue from your characters
If you need help, try the Automatic Writing above. Sit for a few minutes and ask yourself what your story is about. Then write—with your eyes closed—whatever answer comes.
Then share your work and children's book ideas in the Pro Practice Workshop here. When you're done, don't forget to leave feedback on children's book ideas from our awesome community of writers.
I'm Marianne Richmond—writer, artist and inspirationalist. My words have touched millions over the past two decades through my children's books and gift products.
Basically I put love into words and help you connect with the people + moments that matter. You can find me on my website, Facebook, and Twitter (@M_Richmond21).