Deborah Underwood Doodles (+GIVEAWAY)

A couple of months ago, picture book extraordinaire Deborah Underwood shared a post on Facebook about her writing process. I loved that post so much, I asked her to expand upon it a bit for all of us here at Picture Book Builders.

First, though, I wanted to showcase Deborah’s already released 2019 books:

A bear, a panda, a bunny…oh, my!

Next, I want to showcase her soon-to-be-released 2019 books:

Let’s all pause and admire these books as well as Ms. Underwood herself. She’s pretty awesome, no?

(For information about these books as well as her many, many other books, click here.)

Okay, people. Now it’s time to get some paper, get a pen/pencil/Sharpie/crayon/whatever-is-your-pleasure, and get ready to be inspired.

Heeeeeeeere’s Deborah….

Thanks, Tammi! So, as Tammi said, I write picture books. And the picture book writers among you will not be surprised to hear that I get stuck. A lot.

For picture books, a strong concept is key. We can’t use thousands of words to pull readers into different places or times or situations. Picture books live or die by their concepts. Which is why much of my time is spent pacing, muttering to myself, and staring into space.

When I was stuck recently, I picked up a pen and began to doodle. This fellow appeared:

And the title Lion Has Stage Fright! immediately popped into my head. So did a storyline about a class play and a lion who has encouraged his classmates through their various terrors during the process, but is hit with stage fright himself right before the curtain rises.

Will this doodle become a picture book manuscript? I don’t know yet. But it wouldn’t be the first time a doodle has inspired a manuscript.

I was similarly stuck many years ago. Because I had no good ideas and my cat was lying in front of me, I drew a cat. The cat looked cranky. I asked the cat why. The cat held up a sign and started complaining to me about the Easter Bunny and all the attention he gets.

That sketch was the genesis of the five-volume Here Comes Cat series. Would I have thought of Here Comes the Easter Cat without that cranky cat doodle? Doubtful. It’s such a visual idea. It depends so much on the interplay between the narrator and Cat’s signs. Without that grumpy cat staring at me, I suspect the book concept wouldn’t have materialized.

I think doodling helps me write partly because I’m drawing with no expectations. If I end up with a page of scribbles, fine. If a character decides to show up, great, but there’s no pressure. And like all writers, I spend so much time rearranging words in my head that it’s a relief to move away from words for a bit—to have something wordless sitting in front of me to play with and ponder.

About that lion—who knows? I’ve got some thinking to do. I like the idea of the lion being the animal in the class who is immobilized during the class play, as opposed to maybe his mouse friend who the lion has been bucking up all along. Lion Has Stage Fright! seems like a fun title. Is the idea too simple? Possibly—I’d need to think about some other dimension I could layer in, and check to see what other stage fright books are out there.

But it’s a starting point. And aren’t starting points great?

So if you’re stuck, I’d like to encourage you to pick up a pen. Scribble. Play. You never know who you might meet!


Deborah’s Muse

Deborah Underwood is the author of more than twenty picture books, including The Panda ProblemOgilvyInterstellar Cinderella, and the New York Times best sellers The Quiet Book and Here Comes the Easter Cat. She and her feline muse Bella live in Northern California.


For a chance to win a copy of The Panda Problem, leave a comment and/or share this post on Twitter. Please be sure to tag Deborah @underwoodwriter and Tammi @SauerTammi. The book has been generously provided by Dial, Deborah’s publisher. Winner must live in the United States.

Tammi Sauer

Tammi Sauer, a former teacher and library media specialist, is a full-time children's book author who presents at schools and conferences across the country. She has more than 30 published picture books and has many others on the way. Her books have received awards, earned starred reviews, made lists, been made into musicals, and been translated into many different languages. Most importantly, kids really like her books! To learn more about Tammi and her books, please visit and follow her on Twitter at @SauerTammi.


  1. Kim Pfennigwerth

    Love this post! I don’t think my doodles could ever look that good but I love the idea of letting our subconscious free to see where it might take us!

    And 5 books out this year! Congratulations!!

  2. Thank you Tammi and Deborah! I love Deborah’s cat and seeing the inspiration for such a great, grumpy character. Congrats!

  3. I love to doodle but haven’t done so in such a long time. Thanks for the tip, and congrats on that pile of new books!

  4. Starting new stuff is always the hardest part for me. So I’m going to try this, Deborah, even if all my doodles tend to look like stick figures. Thanks so much for coming by, and congrats on all the new books! And thanks for getting her here, Tammi. 🙂

  5. Carole Calladine

    Thank you for this post on finding ideas written by Deborah Underwood. Her process is inspiring.

  6. Debra Kempf Shumaker

    Love this! I love your Cat series and now love knowing how it all started! Thank you for a great post!

  7. I’m not an illustrator. I write longer works, but putting a pen or pencil in my hand and scribbling down random thoughts is a great way to generate ideas. Perhaps it’s the novelist version of what Deborah does. Kudos! Thanks for the great post!

  8. Great post! My doodling now feels validated!

  9. Always love your work, Deborah! Thanks for the great post.

  10. Love the tip for doodling! I usually doodle unrecognizable designs. Perhaps I should attempt actual things like people, pictures, animals, things. Thanks for the great interview!

  11. Karen Henry Clark

    Inspiring. I’m not a doodler, but sometimes I jot down verbs as I read other books. I find images appear randomly from the list.

  12. Wonderful advice! I’m getting my scribble pen ready!

  13. Danielle Hammelef

    Awesome post! You have an excellent imagination as seen by a doodle cat answering you. I’m in awe here. Congratulations on your books!

  14. Katherine Rothstein

    Thanks for the inspiring ideas! One of my favorite things to do is doodle with my kids. Time to start doodling my characters.

  15. Thank you for admitting you get stuck and doodles help move you along. I get stuck in the middle. Time to doodle.

  16. Great idea, Deborah — doodling!! I can barely draw a straight line with a ruler, but I’ll try doodling and see what comes out! Thanks!

  17. Jennifer Lynn Dieleman

    I loved reading about the process of your beautiful drawings. I am so excited about your upcoming books.

  18. Thank you for this post. I’ll pay more attention to doodles and try to doodle myself!

  19. Super encouraging for a Saturday morning. Getting out pen and paper now.

  20. Shirley Espada-Richey

    What a wonderful post! Thank you both for so generously sharing your process. I can’t wait to start doodling and see what comes out!

  21. I don’t know . . . my doodles might scare any ideas away. But I guess I could give it a try. 🙂 Thanks, Deborah and Tammi.

  22. I loved this post so much, Deborah. I’m a doodler too (was even punished for doodling in my school notebooks) but I’ve signed up for an art intensive on character study. I think your grumpy cat example is perfect for it. I feel so validated with this post!!! And wow!!! Look at all those books!!! Congratulations!!!

  23. Thanks so much for all your lovely comments! Happy doodling, everyone! 🙂

  24. I love that doodling created fabulous ideas for you, Deborah. I’m a big fan and am looking forward to reading your new books…congratulations! Great post, Tammi. Now I’m off to doodle!

  25. Thanks, Tammi, for this inspiring interview! And congrats, Deborah, on this year’s releases! Love that there’s such a variety.

  26. What a great idea – to brainstorm through doodles. Thanks, Deborah. Love your books.

  27. Thanks for this great reminder that art can help unstick a writer!

  28. We had coffee at Merchants soon after High School, when you stated clearly you wanted to write picture books. I got all lost in the wonders of wordless knowledge but you are an artist and we thank you for your work! I knew you would do it Deborah.

  29. From the loveliness of the concepts to the heartwarming messages, Deborah’s books always take me to a better world. <3

  30. I love this breakdown of how playing can and often does lead to new ideas! I try to start every work day with “free play”—work that’s non-attached to a “project”. Thank you Tammi and Deborah for sharing and giving us a dose of inspiration to keep playing ourselves.

  31. Thanks for the nudge to draw more. I say I am not an illustrator, but really, we can all doodle and have fun with it! Appreciate you both for this reminder!

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