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).

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