Posted by: nancyisanders | November 19, 2013

Nonfiction Picture Book: Brainstorm Ideas


I’m so excited that each of you are eager to hop on board and join in the fun of writing the first draft of an 800-word nonfiction picture book from beginning to end.

Some of you already know your idea. That’s awesome! But for those of you who don’t yet know what you’d like to write about, it’s time to have some fun and brainstorm ideas.

Now, you could be like my writing buddy, Pitterpat, and could go sit in the ice chest and try to brainstorm ideas for your picture book. Or you can brainstorm ideas by looking at OTHER picture books! That’s what I like to do.

As I mentioned, if you already have an idea for your book, that’s super! But if not, consider writing a nonfiction book about American history. American history is hot right now and numerous publishers and agents are acquiring picture books on American history even in today’s tough picture book market.

If you like this idea, I recommend that you purchase or borrow from your library and read the picture book, America: A Patriotic Primer by Lynne Cheney.

The reason this book is so fantastic to help brainstorm for ideas is because it’s chock full of the key highlights of American history that kids learn about in their elementary years. So it’s a perfect launchpad to read to get our brains blasting off into space with ideas for a potential picture book.

After reading this book, choose one topic of American history that you’d like to write about, preferably a topic that is mentioned in this book. Don’t pick an obscure topic such as coal mining in Pennsylvania. Try to pick a “Top 100” topic that would be on a list every kid in elementary should know about American history. You can pick a person’s life such as Ben Franklin. Or you can pick a famous event such as building the Statue of Liberty or the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Also try to pick a topic that has a lot of research books available for it and not just articles on the Internet. You can do a quick search for this on Amazon or your local library online catalog to see if there are many books available for research.

For some silly (yet practical) tips on brainstorming ideas, check out what my writing buddies have to say at Writing According to Humphrey and Friends.


  1. Pitterpat never ceases to crack me up. Haha! What a great writing buddy. Hope you’re enjoying your non-fiction picture book journey, friend!! Can’t wait to see the outcome.

    • Yes, she’s so funny! I was packing a picnic lunch and got the cooler out and put it on the table. Then when I turned around to put something in it, there she was sitting in it!!!! ha ha ha…

  2. I think by and large our children need more understanding of history and the perspective of time and change. People forget that life wasn’t always this easy and challenges could come again.

    I used to think, “Oh, that topic has been covered a hundred times: but one day I read that libraries discard books every few years, which makes for a constant need for new bios and books on a topic. Just because someone’s life was covered ten years ago doesn’t mean there’s no point in doing it again.

    • Good points, Christine! And here’s another good reason to choose a “top 100” topic. It may not yet have been done in a picture book! And also, even if it has, a certain publisher may not yet have done a book on that topic so they want to have one, too.

  3. I like this idea! I would like to do the same sort of thing but for Canadian history. Although it would be beneficial to learn more about American history as I am not as familiar with it. I will look at the book you mentioned and then go through the history curriculum. Thank you for the great idea!

    • Canadian history will be a fantastic topic to choose from, too! Is there a picture book that gives an overview of the history of Canada? That could be a great starting point.

  4. “Also try to pick a topic that has a lot of research books available for it and not just articles on the Internet. You can do a quick search for this on Amazon or your local library online catalog to see if there are many books available for research.”

    I live overseas and don’t have easy access to books in English, and my budget doesn’t allow me to buy them. Any advice you can give on researching with limit resources?

    • Hi Linda, thanks for letting me know about your dilemma. Here are some thoughts…

      If you’re planning on writing for the market in the country you live in, choose current picture books that you CAN find near you and follow along with these blog posts but adapt them to your particular market.

      If you’re planning on writing for the U.S. picture book market, try to get as much information as you can online. For example, on Amazon, they have a “Look inside” the book feature. Can you see that and peek at different pages inside? If so, try to do that as much as possible. Also, for your research, you will probably need to get most of that information online. Be sure to look for reputable sites like from historic societies and museums.

      And one more thing…try typing in “Google Books + the name of a book you want to look at.” Then you can search for different pages and get glimpses that way.

      It’s definitely more of a challenge, but you can do it! Just try to stay positive and see what you CAN do instead of getting too frustrated with what you can’t do.

      And also, does anyone else have any tips for our international writers?

  5. Hi, Nancy. The topic I’ve been wanting to do for a long time is not going to be on the top 100. A professional baseball player, Smokey Burgess, was from our little town. I’ll have access to many articles and hopefully interview his wife and children who still live here. His Christian faith story is what I’m really interested in writing about.
    Perhaps I should choose one of the top 100 topics and put the Smokey story on hold again. I’ll brainstorm a bit and see what surfaces.

    • Actually Sally, it depends on your goals for this project. If you have a particular publisher in mind and you think it might be of interest to them, you could go ahead with your amazing idea right now. But if you want to break into the general picture book market, you could choose a top 100 topic for this picture book journey we’re taking together in the days ahead, and then use the skills you acquired to launch off on your next nonfiction picture book about Burgess.

  6. Perhaps find and join a group of English-speaking ex-pats, particularly those with young children who might be enrolled in private school or homeschool groups? They may have access to broader library systems that could help you find more online or in-person resources. Just an idea!

    • Cathy, I like your idea. Some cities have private schools that might have a selection of picture books in English in their library. It’s always good to network with as many librarians as we can, so maybe that’s a possibility for some writers. Even if you can’t check out the books maybe you can read them at least once.

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