Monday 3 July 2017

Ask a Question, Write a Story! • Natascha Biebow

From Curious George Visits the Library by H.A. Ray

Children often think grown-ups know everything. But I like to think grown-ups know a lot, but still have a lot to learn . . .

Like the eponymous children's book character, Curious George, children are full of wonder and bursting with curiosity. Their enquiring minds are a seemingly bottomless pit of questions that lead to new knowledge and discoveries about the world. Importantly, children are often coming fresh to things so they question WHY things are the way they are. But most adults accept the world as a matter of course. I wonder: do we sometimes get so wrapped up in the business of everyday life, doing stuff, that we pass up the opportunity to STOP, look and learn?

Do we forget to ask questions and stay ahead of the ever-changing world? Are we missing out on the fun of the ‘WHAT IF?’ game, taking a leaf out of the book of children’s curiosity?

From Ada Twist Scientist by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
I like to think that I learn something new every day. My seven year-old says, “Really, Mommy?”

YES, really! The world is so big and full of the unknown, surely it is possible to learn something new – even if it's just a small thing – every day?!

So, for instance, yesterday I learned that the new self-driving cars being developed by Volvo can detect a whole range of wildlife hazards, but bouncy kangaroos are eluding them. Hmmm. Random. But a story is forming. What if . . . ? 

And did you know that we are born to lie, that lying is innately part of human development, like walking and talking? 

Or that there is a tomato fight in Spain every year?

Or that Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were best friends?
Of course, living with a young person in your house helps. Children are always asking “WHY?” and “HOW COME?” and “WHAT IF?” and saying, “DID YOU KNOW . . .?” 

"Oooh a worm - what does it do?"

Sometimes the questions are quite difficult to unpick:

WHO tells your brain what to do – who is the boss?
WHAT is the universe made of?
WHEN can we get a robot to do our chores?
WHY can’t we have cars that go on tram tracks? (Perfect for not using so much petrol!)
HOW COME cigarettes don't cost a million pounds each if they cause cancer?
WHY hasn't anyone invented a flying car yet?!
Cover of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again illus by Joe Berger

These day when you want to find out something, the first recourse is often to “Ask Google”. Oooh, look, quick answers, facts at the end of your fingertips. What wonder! Hmm, but though the internet may be ‘clever’, it is only as good as the person asking and thinking through the answer.

What does all this have to do with picture books, I hear you ask?

Well, the truth is often stranger than fiction. And this kind of curiosity is a great start for STORY and a fabulous resource for writers.

Non-fiction picture books are a fantastic launching point for our quest to learn about the world and pursue our questions, but facts can also be so much fun when you fictionalize them to knit the story in between. Like in this book:

Because story is one of the most powerful ways we can find out about the world, 

introducing us to ideas and facts that we had perhaps never even considered,

. . . and some stories are so delightfully complex or ambiguous that we just want to keep asking and delving deeper.



In fact, I'd wager that some of the best stories leave us with more questions than answers . . . 

If we all keep on asking WHY the world goes and WHAT makes it go – whether or not the answer can be found on Google or inside a picture book near you – oh, the wonder of the stories we can create!

What will you learn today?!


Natascha Biebow
Author, Editor and Mentor

Blue Elephant Storyshaping is an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission.  Check out my small-group coaching Cook Up a Picture Book coursesNatascha is also the author of The Crayon Man (coming in 2019!), Elephants Never Forget and Is This My Nose?, editor of numerous award-winning children’s books, and Regional Advisor (Chair) of SCBWI British Isles. 


Jane Clarke said...

Oh yes! I think one of the great joys of writing is asking that question, researching and finding out new things - and often getting led off on a tangent to an entirely different idea.

David McMullin said...

I like to hope that I learn something new every day, but I'm sure some days get by me.

Candy Gourlay said...

Another excellent post!