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Where to Go for Picture Book Ideas

Louis on Sesame Street
Louis Henry Mitchell on Sesame Street with Elmo and Grover

If you’re looking for picture book ideas, remember what a teacher says: “Stop, look and listen.”

Watch little kids run and play, and listen to them chatter. Talk to people – those you meet or those you know—and ask questions. Lots of questions. Like, “What were you like as a child?” Or, “When you were a young boy or girl, who did something very special for you that you’ll never forget?”

You’re bound to discover stories no one else has told. Ones waiting just for you to get them published and into children’s hands!

One story I’m working on right now is about Louis Henry Mitchell, Sesame Workshop’s Creative Director of Design.

I first met Mitchell, Sesame Workshop’s Creative Director of Design, this past November at an IBM Watson conference in Las Vegas. Sesame Workshop (the nonprofit educational organization that produces Sesame Street) is using IBM Watson’s cognitive computing to improve preschool education.

Mitchell is a warm, talented artist with many responsibilities at Sesame Workshop. Mitchell designed the Sesame Street float you saw in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade last November, and he drew the colorful chalk murals of the Muppets that decorate Sesame Workshop.

I was once a reporter, and I guess the saying’s true. “Once a reporter, always a reporter.” I began chatting with Mitchell inside the IBM Expo exhibit hall and asking questions after seeing him standing next to Elmo and Grover. Suddenly, during our conversation, Mitchell shared a story about his mother that I just had to tell. His story touched my heart, and has never left me. It is the seed of a picture book we’d both like to share.

We all have mentors, and one of the most inspirational people in Mitchell’s life was the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This is one of Mitchell’s favorite quotes from a speech by Dr. King:

We must discover what we are called to do. And once we discover it we should set out to do it with all of the strength and all of the power that we have in our system. After we’ve discovered what God called us to do, after we’ve discovered our life’s work, we should set out to do that work so well that the living, the dead and the unborn couldn’t do it any better.”

Two sentences from that speech inspired me and gave me the courage to tell Mitchell’s story: “If you can’t be the sun, be a star. It isn’t by size that you win or you fail. Be the best of whatever you are.”

I hope you find the idea that turns writing into passion, and that you tell that story the best you can.

As Dr. King says, “If you can’t be a highway, be a trail.” Find the words that lead a child down the path of a sweet story that becomes a beloved book they can’t wait to hear or read each night

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