Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Catherine Johnson shares picture book ideas, books

Children's writer and poet Catherine Johnson joins us today to talk about ideas. 

By Catherine Johnson

“Characters don’t pee in stories.” Anne Whitford Paul - Author of Writing Picture Books

(Don’t give too many details.) This is brilliant if you remember more than the pee part lol.

Here is a list of the best illustrated books of 2011:

With my picture book Everglator (a.k.a. Big Al of the Everglades) I surprised myself and chose the setting first and when I think about it I chose the setting first on another pb To the Beach. This is very unusual for me, but in choosing two very original settings: the first is the Everglades and I don’t know about you but I haven’t seen many picture books about the Everglades. And the second is based on my local beach when I lived in New Zealand. It is the most amazing black sand beach where you can drive on it with your car and do all sorts of sports. So unusual that I thought it would work.  
How do you come up with ideas? What has worked for you? What could you switch around a bit? Have you considered changing your setting at the last minute? I don’t have any picture books published yet, so I cannot spout wisdom to you, but I know what it feels like to read something amazing. And don’t forgot we are not re-inventing the wheel here folks, you can mix a couple of old ideas together to make something new. Look at it like an old recipe where you change only a couple of things and hey presto! everyone thinks you are Martha Stewart. (Okay that never happens in my house ;) 

These are some picture books I’ve read recently and they are all wonderful. I do encourage you to check them out, you may just get some new ideas!

A Nap in a Lap by Sarah Wilson - 
This one is for pre-schoolers and goes through some brilliant places different animals take a nap in. The twist at the end is the narrator, a little girl, says the nest place for a nap is in a lap (I.e. mommy’s) so really cute and nice how they finished on the title.

Dancing Feet  by Linsey Craig
- is really cute and also for pre-schoolers.

Noises at night
by Beth Raisner Glass and Susan Lubner -This is a good one for boys who are scared of noises with wonderful rhyme. The location is the bedroom, but with each different noise a different scene is pictured, fabulous!

Tiger Can’t Sleep by S.J. Fore 
- This is such good fun. There is a Tiger in the closet making crunching noises, scaring the boy silly until he realises the tiger is so funny eating chips etc. Great use of senses in this book, something I’d like to use more in my stories.

Bella and Stella Come Home by Anika and Christopher Denise - 
This is my favourite of all my recent reads because not only is it a nice subject (moving house) to cover for kids but her cuddly bear Elephant is just s cuddy bear on some pages and on others its enormous. So imaginative and I love the illos!

Tip Tap Pop by Sarah Lynn 
is my next favourite. It is about a girl who dances with her grandpa even when he gets quite old, so cute. 

Down to the sea with Mr. Magee by Chris Van Dusen 
is a fab rhyming book. 

Where does Thursday go? by Janeen Brian 
This was my son’s recent favourite and he is so fussy it perked my interest. Kids love wonder and wondering where a day went is quite interesting to them. If you are interested in layering in pbs, this is a perfect example because as adults we often wonder where a day went n’est-ce pas?

Hope this helps and you manage to find some of these titles. Do share some of your own in the comments if you’ve read any stunners recently. Have fun creating!

Catherine Johnson is a British ex-pat living in Canada after four years in New Zealand. She lives with her husband, two young children and a puppy called Sandy. Catherine has several poems and a flash fiction piece published in Static Poetry II, IV, Yarns for our Youth and Pot Luck. She loves writing picture books too and would love to write MG one day. 

Stacy here - So glad Catherine joined us today. You can also find her on Twitter @CJohnsonWriter Also, if you missed it, she recently shared her story Kangaroobee on her blog. The story is a fun treat.


  1. Stacy - thanks for hosting Catherine, and for this wonderful series on Picture Books you've been doing! Catherine - Thanks for the great advice! I love your list of books and can't wait to check them out - of all of them I have only read Tip Tap Pop so I have lots to look forward to!

  2. Another great post. Thanks, Stacy and Catherine. Thanks for the list of books (grandchildren!).

  3. Thanks so much for having me Stacy. Your picture book posts are such a great idea for Picture Book Month. You rock!

  4. Catherine - thank you for recommending so many picture books with rhyme! I'm going to log into my interlibrary loan account right now to request them!

    Stacy - great post hostess as always!

  5. Thanks for stopping by and sharing Catherine. I love this book list.
    @Susanna @Karen and @Cathy - Thanks for stopping by. And, @Cathy - I've requested the books from my library too.

  6. Stacy, lovely interview with Catherine. It's nice you've focused on the Picture Book theme throughout the month. Love learning more about Catherine. Her book list is excellent -- I love it when I run across new books. Haven't read any of these, and I appreciate the recommendations. Thank you Stacy and Catherine.

  7. Excellent post, filled with great thoughts, Catherine! Love your book suggestions. I am always looking for more picture books. Library, here I come. *zips away*

    Stacy, you really do rock!

  8. Thanks so much for your Picture Book enthusiasm Susanna, Karen, Cathy, Stacy, Patricia and Robyn.

    Hope you get lots of inspiration from the books!

  9. Another great post!!! Thanks for all the suggestions too :)

  10. Great post Catherine! I can't believe I haven't read ANY of the books on your list, so I guess I have work to do. Thank you for sharing them.

    Also, now you've gotten me thinking about setting. I've never started with setting first as an idea, so maybe I should try to get a PiBo idea that way.

  11. I'm in agreement with all the other commenters. Thanks for the great list. I always go with a list and the next time I'm in the library won't be any different. I'll have these picture books to ask about.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  12. Starting with an unusual setting - great tip! Thanks for sharing your ideas and your fave picture books!

  13. Hi Catherine, whew! I finally made it. Loved the interview ladies, and thanks for the list of new books for me to check out. It sounded funny hearing you mention about the black sand that a few beaches have down here in NZ.
    Enjoyed this.

  14. Susanna Leonard Hill's CAN'T SLEEP WITHOUT SHEEP is a fun bedtime read! Bought it recently for my baby sister-in-law! :)

  15. Catherine, you are inspiring me to think about setting more. I usually have a character first. I think i can become a lot more creative in this.

    Stracey, thanks for allowing us to get to know Catherine and her stories a little better.

  16. @Coleen, @Julie @Clar @Ishta @Patientdreamer @JC and @Joanna Thanks for stopping by. I really appreciate Catherine sharing all this information with us.


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