from the inquiring mind of
children's author and educator
Barbara Jean Hicks
Anyone who presents in schools as a visiting author hears this question from the audience at some point in his or her career: "Where do you get your ideas?" My answer is always the same. "Ideas are everywhere. I don't have a hard time coming up with ideas. I have a hard time deciding which idea to write about!"
I was inspired to write my concept book I Like Black and White, for example, one summer day when I looked out the window and saw my tuxedo cat, Miguel, sitting in his "meatloaf" position in the back yard. He looked so very black-and-white and beautiful against the green, green lawn! That got me to thinking about all the wonderful things in the world that come in black and white―from tuxedo cats to zebras and piano keys to feet and hands. I researched by finding pictures of black and white animals and items. Out of the pictures came the words, which inspired the wonderful Lila Prap's illustrations.
I also find that ideas from many different sources can coalesce into a single story. I got the initial idea for the plot of my first children's book, Jitterbug Jam, from one of my favorite comic strips, Mother Goose and Grimm, by Mike Peters: a monster sitting up in bed tells a monster in the doorway he just can't get to sleep because he keeps thinking a human is under his bed. I happen to like reading the funnies over breakfast, so the tea and jam in the story came from the meal I was enjoying when I read that comic strip. I got the idea for the theme, on the other hand, from the kids at the school where I was working; they were from many different racial, ethnic, religious and language backgrounds, but they never let their differences get in the way of becoming friends. And the voice in which this story came to me carried the rhythms and metaphors and poetry of my Southern grandmother's dialect.
I wonder, today, which of my experiences this week will become a story. Looking out the window of an airplane on a sea of clouds below me? Seeing the graphic images of a city devastated by a hurricane-cyclone? Visiting a maritime museum and learning about Korean turtle ships and Chinese treasure ships? Visting the Reagan Presidential Library, seeing images of the presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama, admiring Nancy Reagan's gowns? Driving through a landscape where Westerns once were filmed? Being near harbors that reminded me of my sailing adventures in the past? Observing the interactions of the personalities in the groups I took part in? Releasing four beautiful Monarch butterflies from the butterfly cage where caterpillars had gorged themselves on milkweed leaves and retreated into green chrysalises before bursting from them in an entirely different form?
Where do I get my ideas, indeed? Ideas are all around me! But which idea, I wonder, shall I write about this week?
What ideas inspired you this week? And how will you decide which one to write about?