by Natasha Wing
If you’re a writer who has a hard time coming up with new ideas, schools are a breeding grounds for them.
Whenever I do school visits, I have one ear and one eye open to possible new book ideas. First of all, kids and teachers are your reading audience. They can clue you in to what’s important to kids at different age levels.
You’ve heard the saying, “Kids say the darnedest things.” Because they do! And they usually are pretty funny, or insightful. So work an interactive segment into your presentation that will allow the students to learn something about your books, and leave the door open for them to offer up ideas.
For instance, I talk about my Night Before books and how I got some of the ideas for the stories. Then I ask the kids what Night Before book they think I should write next. I’ve gotten everything from The Night Before Test Day, The Night Before the New Principal, and The Night Before My New Puppy. It seemed like The Night Before My Birthday came up at each school so the next step was to ask questions like,
“What’s exciting about your birthday?”
“What do you do for your birthday?”
“What games do you play?”
“What was the funniest gift you ever got?”
“What’s your favorite cake flavor?”
This involves the students in the brainstorming process, (which is a teachable moment about how writers think up things to put in their books) and also provides you with some fun details. Suppose one child said his favorite cake was a rocket-shaped one. That might spark an idea for your next book possibly titled Birthday Moon.
I have one book that has a surprise ending. I play You Be the Author and ask the kids what they would have put as the surprise. They come up with both clever and fun solutions – some of which I wish I thought of myself!
If you have a book already published that you were thinking of writing a sequel to, or perhaps a companion book using the same character, ask the kids what they think should happen next. Then see where their ideas may take you.
Teachers are great resources, too. At one school, I was having lunch with the teachers and they asked why I hadn’t written a St. Patrick’s Day book yet. I had written a bunch of Night Before books on several holidays by then, but not St. Patrick’s Day. So I asked them what they did in their classrooms to celebrate. They shared that their students made leprechaun traps that were baited with shiny objects and chocolate coins. Then the janitors and teachers would help spring the traps and upturn the chairs and desks before the kids came in the next day for class. I loved the idea of leprechaun traps and the little green men making a mess, so when I did get a chance to write The Night Before St. Patrick’s Day I used those ideas in my story.
Another thing you can do is ask teachers some questions such as:
“Are there any holidays or topics that you feel aren’t covered?”
“Are there any holidays or topics that you feel need current books?”
“Is there anything that you teach that you haven’t been able to find a good book for?”
“Are there any funny stories about things that happened in your class?”
“What types of books do your students like to read most?”
The librarian is also a great person to ask these questions of.
After your school visit, you might receive letters or stories that the kids wrote. Read through them all. Often there are gems, or at the very least, really interesting names you might be able to use for your new characters.
So keep your eyes and ears open during and after your school visits. You just might find your next book idea.
Natasha Wing is the author of the bestselling Night Before series of picture books, celebrating special occasions in kids’ lives. Her newest book is The Night Before Hanukkah.
Tags: author visits, book ideas