Creating Ideas for
by Robyn Opie Parnell
Ideas are everywhere. All of the
time. It's our job, as authors writing for
children, to find some ideas and turn them into
The most common sources of inspiration include:
our experiences and personalities, children,
family, pets, friends, conversations, television,
newspapers, books etc.
I've never had any trouble finding ideas for
children's stories. My problem is finding time to
write all of the stories.
I believe that the reason I come up with so many
ideas for children's books is simple; I'm looking
or them. I want them. I need them. I'm actively
seeking them. I'm open to the possibilities. I'm
thinking and behaving as a writer.
During conversations with friends, I sometimes
find myself saying, "I like that. I might
use it in a children's story one day." When
I see something that appeals to me I often wonder
how I can turn it into a children's story.
I look at ordinary things and ask questions.
Sometimes my questions become a little bizarre. I
often look for the funny side of situations or
There have been times when I've chosen a popular
subject, such as dinosaurs, then asked myself for
a story on that subject. And other occasions when
I've taken an old idea and given it a new and
The simplest way to explain what I mean by the
above statements is to share my personal
experience with writing for children. The
following are the ideas behind some of my
But first . . . I'm sitting in my study, writing
this article. I look around the room and see the
fireplace. What if the fireplace was a door to
another place or world? What if I heard noises
coming from the fireplace? And, when I
investigate, I find Santa Claus trapped in my
chimney. There are ideas everywhere. Just look
for them - and ask questions.
My easy reader Sam's Dinosaur Bone
originated from word association. I wanted to
write a story about dinosaurs. My experience with
dinosaurs was limited to museums. Mmmm . . .
dinosaurs, museums, a child going on an excursion
to a museum, being told that dinosaur fossils are
found in the ground. Are there dinosaur fossils
in his backyard?
I recently took an old idea, which I love, Henny
Penny's The Sky Is Falling, and made it my own in
my easy reader Down the Well. The hen
hears a noise coming from the well. She yells
down the well and a voice yells back. Someone
must have fallen down the well!
I remember times, as a child, when I wanted to
play with someone but no one was available. My
friends and family were doing chores, playing
sport, visiting friends, on holidays etc. My easy
reader Will You Play? was inspired by
this memory. The farm animals are too busy to
play with the dog. Will he find someone to play
Do you have fears? I do. My novel Backstage
Betrayal deals with my fear of being locked
in a public toilet. (I won't say any more as it's
I have a definite dislike of spiders. I don't
fear them. I don't hate them. I just prefer to
not be in the same vicinity as a spider. This
preference inspired my easy reader Jo and the
Spider. Jo sees a spider in her bedroom.
When she returns with her dad, the spider is
gone. Where is it?
One night I went to the cupboard for a snack and
saw a jar of honey. I wondered what it would be
like to be honey - sticky, moist, gooey, sloppy,
warm, sweet etc. But there was one big problem:
you'd get eaten. From those thoughts came my book
Mrs Twitch and the Small Black Box. Jess
uses Mrs Twitch's invention, the small black box,
to become honey. She's in danger of being eaten
by her father.
A publisher asked me to write a number of
non-fiction books for children. I sat at the
kitchen table, wondering what subjects I could
tackle, when I thought about milk. Then I decided
that milk was too boring. It had been done to
death etc. Green milk would be interesting,
though. But wouldn't green milk be Martian milk?
This idea was the beginning of my novel Martian
Milk. Paul doesn't want to try Martian Milk
because he's afraid it will turn him into a
The Mad Mower came from my desire to
have a twin to do all the boring things in life
like housework, paying bills and walking my dogs,
while I did all the fun things like going out
with friends, watching football and reading. Tony
creates a computer double and asks him to do
various chores. Ah, if only life was that easy .
Have you ever had trouble sleeping and wished
that you had someone to pass the time with, but
everyone is asleep? In my easy-reader Chick
Catches Dinner, the little chick can't sleep
and goes searching for company. She finds Hoot, a
little owl, and has a fun but tiring night.
I was reading a children's book one afternoon.
The child in the story had a teddy bear. After
reading the words teddy bear, I thought to myself
that I'd like to write a story about a teddy
bear. My next story was called Old Teddy
and was followed by Teddy's Sticky Mess.
I was watching the television news one evening
and saw a story on a seagull problem in a nearby
town. The greedy seagulls had become a nuisance
to residents and tourists. My story The
Greedy Seagulls is nearing completion.
So, you see, ideas are all around us. It's your
job as an author writing for children to
interpret the information you see around you and
turn it into your own creation!