Originality – aka: thinking outside the box

These days, thanks to Google, it’s so easy to find a perfect quote to express whatever you happen to be thinking about, most times. Despite its time-wasting capabilities, I love Google!

I’ve read that American literary agents representing children’s writers receive up to 500 submissions – EVERY WEEK of the year. With that kind of competition, it doesn’t matter how great a writer you are, you simply must come up with an original story, or at least a highly original approach to an old story. I found lots of examples of uniqueness in the picture book section at the library yesterday – books that made me wish I could come up with such an idea. I’ve noticed that a lot of the best picture books these days are being produced by authors who are also illustrators; a few of the Caldecott Honor Books this year were also created by author/illustrators. If only I was artistic (she says for the thousandth time):)

Here are a few books I found that caused me to marvel at the author’s ability to create a very cool story around a seemingly simple idea/inspiration:

How to Heal a Broken Wing (Bob Graham)

A story about a boy, the only person in the crowd, who notices an injured pigeon and nurses it back to health – a perfect pairing of illustrations and (very brief) text.

How to Heal a Broken Wing

Where is Fred? (Edward Hardy, Ali Pye)

A clever caterpillar evades capture by a very persistent crow, with a satisfyingly perfect conclusion.


And Ol’ Mama Squirrel, wherein Mama protects her babies. “Mark my words,” she’d say. “There’s no shortage of creatures that would love to snack on a baby squirrel … but it won’t happen on MY watch!” In this book, the author/illustrator (David Ezra Stein) manages to create a fully-developed funny story – plot, characterization, setting and satisfying conclusion, with spare text supplemented by very expressive illustrations.


I LOVE picture books, and I’m constantly in awe of the brilliant, and original, ideas people come up with. There’s nothing like a trip to the library to get the creative juices stirring.

It’s always interesting to see which books are chosen as Newbery and Caldecott medalists/honor books each year – I was so happy to see that Flora & Ulysses, by my writing idol Kate DiCamillo, won the Newbery – her third Newbery recognition (Because of Winn Dixie (2001 Honor book); The Tale of Despereaux (2004 Medal)! She has such a marvellous imagination – I’ve read F&U twice already – it opens with a squirrel developing superpowers after being sucked into a vacuum cleaner (her inspiration came from her aging mother fretting about what she’d do with her vacuum upon her passing, at the same time as she had a sickly squirrel in her backyard). If you haven’t read it yet, please do – I guarantee you’ll laugh out loud!

Happy reading and writing (and illustrating).

About janlcoates

I'm a Nova Scotia children's author. My first picture book, "Rainbows in the Dark", was published in 2005, by Second Story Press. My young adult novel, "A Hare in the Elephant's Trunk" was published in the fall of 2010, by Red Deer Press.
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2 Responses to Originality – aka: thinking outside the box

  1. Darlene says:

    It is so wonderful to hear how writers and illustrators come up with ideas. I too love to browse through picture books. Another author/illustrator I admire is Dianna Bonder http://diannabonder.com/ Her books are adorable with whimsical illustrations.

  2. janlcoates says:

    Thanks for the link, Darlene – I wasn’t familiar with her work, but it’s very nice! Hope you’re enjoying a less snowy winter than we are!

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