I just finished Sophie Blackall’s gorgeous Caldecott Medal-winning picture book, Hello Lighthouse. On the flyleaf in the back of the book, Ms. Blackwell notes that her inspiration for the book arrived in the form of an old print spotted at a flea market. The print showed a cross section of the rooms in a lighthouse. She was hooked.
Ms. Blackwell researched, visited lighthouses, read lighthouse keeper’s journals and even spent the night in a lighthouse on an island at the tip of NewFoundland. The book Hello Lighthouse is stepped in the kind of details only possible with lots of background research.
Many authors delve into their family history to find writing inspiration. Take L.M. Elliot, whose Under a War Torn Sky finds its heart in the experiences of her father, a bomber pilot shot down in World War II. Or Ruta Septys, whose father shared stories of Lithuania that found a home in her book, Between Shades of Gray.
Loree Griffin Burns, author of several Scientist in the Field books including the gorgeous Life on Surtsey: Iceland’s Upstart Island, says she is a believer in the power of first-hand research. She takes copious notes in a small notebook that she takes everywhere. She also makes audio recordings of interviewees and takes hundreds of photographs.
Author Linda Urban is a notebook fan too. Mingled together in her notebook are shopping lists, notes about her kids, and ideas that may spark a new novel. Here is a comment from Linda Urban along with one of her notebook pages:
This is a page of observations from a trip to the dentist’s office. While I have not written a novel set in a waiting room, I can’t say it won’t happen. And the practice of observing small details has most definitely come in handy. Linda Urban
Ideas are all around us — consider the box you haven’t opened since your last move, a story your mother told when you were young, the deserted house in the neighborhood, or your new interest in beekeeping. Perhaps you want to follow Loree and Linda’s lead and carry a small notebook everywhere. Keen observation can lead to great storytelling.