Inspire Me, Please!

 By Kate Carroll

In this extraordinary year, have you struggled to find motivation and inspiration? The abrupt changes in the world, and its effects on the publishing industry drove me to a standstill for a while. And I don’t think I was alone.

Here are some ideas that may help you get back to doing what you love most – writing for kids.   

Thankfully, the kidlit industry rose up providing online content, which I took advantage of, but ultimately, I knew that I had to do my own heavy lifting. The old proverbial adage of “leading a horse to water…” rang true. This horse had to put its own head into the trough and drink.

And so, I began.

One morning, I grabbed a cafĂ© mocha and pulled out my old conference notebooks and dug in. OK, full disclosure. This activity didn’t start out that way. I was on an organizing binge in my office which led me to rereading all the great wisdom shared by so many valuable experts. For hours, I sifted through a cache of craft material that had been sitting idle. It felt like I had found some old friends. If you haven’t pulled out your conference notes in a while, I highly recommend it. Mine ignited a spark!  

Another idea grew out of boredom. Flipping channels one day, I landed on an old sitcom. Deputy Barney Fife is so goofy and hilarious. What makes him funny?  How do the characters play off each other? What about the dialogue? Not only did I belly laugh again, but I also thought about humorous picture books and soon studied several. Here are some I love:

Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller & Anne Wilsdorf
This Book Just ate my Dog by Richard Byrne
We Don’t eat our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins
Underwear! By Jenn Harney
Barnaby Never Forgets by Pierre Collet-Derby

One great exercise taken from my notes is Story Builder. It’s easy, fun and a good way to jump start your imagination. In a notebook or on a piece of paper, make three columns and head each one with basic story elements - Character, Problem, Setting. Now dream up ideas for each category. The zanier the better. Eventually you can choose an element from each section and mix the ingredients together for a unique story starter. And while you’re doing “life”, if a character, problem or setting comes to mind, be sure to add it to your own Story Builder.

If you aren’t ready to sit down at your computer or pick up a pen and paper, how about a nature walk? Better yet, a scavenger nature hunt.  Corny? A-corny, maybe. Give yourself a list of things to find as you explore. It’s such a simple activity, but it reminds us that we are meant to wonder, to discover. Unless you are craving some real peace and quiet, take along a small human whose curiosity will likely pique yours.                                   

Why not try on a new genre? While this may seem incongruous for someone who is searching for inspiration, sometimes the stretch is just what we need to get going again.  Creating free verse poetry or journaling may rekindle your creative juices. Maybe offer up an editorial for your local newspaper. Write a Parents’ Corner in your church bulletin or preschool parents email thread. The point is to stay in the game any way you can.

As I said at the beginning, the kid lit community offers endless opportunities to connect and grow one’s craft during this secluded time.  Follow a new blog.  See what your local SCBWI has to offer. Join an online critique group. Search online for websites devoted to your genre. I discovered author Carol Kim’s website, Many of her blog posts are about the “business” of children’s writing.  Check out this link on the relevance of Twitter and children’s publishing. Although many of us use Twitter and the like, they can contribute to the slump if you don’t navigate them well.

As a final thought, even in these uncertain times, the good news is that we can restart our creative engines. And above all, remember that small, curious humans are the reason we write our stories!     

Interview with author/illustrator Susan Kralovansky

By Lisa Amstutz

This week, we are excited to welcome author/illustrator Susan Kralovansky to the Six Pens blog. 


Susie, please tell us a little about yourself!

I am a former librarian who began writing picture books for my students. They had a terrible time understanding the difference between a dictionary and a thesaurus. The first book was What Would You Do with a Thesaurus? By the time I had written them a book about encyclopedias, I decided to submit my idea to a publisher. That submission ended up being a six-book series for ABDO Publishing.

I write both fiction and non-fiction picture books. In February 2021, I have two books being released. My first, WE REALLY, REALLY WANT A DOG, is a story about animal adoption. And THE BOOK THAT JAKE BORROWED, which was first released in 2108, will now be released in a bilingual edition: EL LIBRO QUE JAKE TOMO PRESTADO.

I love talking to kids at school visits and hanging out in libraries and bookstores. When I’m at home, you can find me discussing a new book idea with my two writing partners. 

What are some of your recent/upcoming books and what inspired you to write them?

My most recent book was inspired by a fire ant bite. I’m originally from Indiana, where ants are harmless. They march along in single file, and if disturbed, they simply get back in line. Then I moved to Texas. While planting flowers, I accidentally jabbed my trowel into a fire ant hill. No problem, right? Wrong! Tiny red ants swarmed up my arms and legs and began to sting. Ouch! I quickly discovered that fire ants are fierce! Those fiery ants gave me the idea for HOW FIRE ANTS GOT THEIR FIRE: A TEXAS TALE.



Do you always illustrate your own books? How did you get started doing that?

When writing my second picture book, TWELVE COWBOYS ROPIN’, I knew I wanted it to be both a counting book and a book about Texas symbols. Rather than trying to describe how I thought that might work, I sent the editor a couple of pieces of collage art to demonstrate the concept.

When my editor offered a contract, she asked if I would like to illustrate the book. In my head, I screamed, “WOULD I?!?!? YOU BET!!!!!” But, ever the professional, my answer to her was, “I would love to!”  Luckily, I have been able to illustrate my next four books with Pelican Publishing.


What type of media do you use in your work?

Normally, most of my illustrations are fiber art collage. But, due to Covid-19, and the fabric stores being closed, WE REALLY, REALLY WANT A DOG has a lot of watercolor.


What tips do you have for aspiring author/illustrators?

My best advice is to believe in your project and persevere. I knew librarians needed THE BOOK THAT JAKE BORROWED, and I was right. That book just sold out for the fourth time!


What kind of books do you like to read?

I love to read every type of picture book. Tuesdays are library day. Every Tuesday I have to force myself to give back the books I’ve checked out and then bring home a whole new stack to enjoy.


What work do you wish you had written/illustrated? Why? 

Just about everything I check out on Tuesdays!


Short and Sweet:

Pantser or Plotter?  Pantser

Guilty Food Pleasure?  Lily’s Salted Almond Chocolate Bar

Favorite Hobby?  Reading

Dog or Cat person?  Don’t tell the cat, but the dog is my baby.

Who would you like to have dinner with (living or dead)?   My father

Do you do your best work in the morning, afternoon, or evening?  Evening – after everyone is in bed.


Susan lives just north of Austin in Georgetown, Texas. Visit her online at