Creative Kids, From Featured Moms

Storytelling with Dinosaurs: How to Encourage Kids to Develop Their Own Stories from Abigail Samoun, Children’s Book Editor

November 14, 2014 Creative Kids, From Featured Moms

We asked this week’s featured mom, Abigail Samoun, book editor extraordinaire and co-founder of Red Fox Literary, what creative activities she likes to do with her own son:

He’s two and a very exuberant and wild two at that, so it’s hard to trust him with paint and markers right now. I’ve tried playing the piano with him — we have a weighted action electronic keyboard — but he’s mostly interested in pushing buttons and pounding the keys to make the loudest sounds possible.

What’s been fun is starting to tell stories together using his stuffed animals and plastic dinosaurs. A lot of my work involves thinking about narrative, character, motivation, and conflict. Telling stories is something that develops very early.

When Tristan was one, we would play a game where his stuffed tiger wanted a kiss but Tristan wouldn’t give him one. The tiger would plead for a kiss and Tristan would laugh and refuse to give him one. Already in this very simple narrative we have two characters in conflict. One character wants something and the other character is denying him. Tristan recognized that narrative tension and delighted from it.

It’s a very basic thing in us, that fascination with conflict. Storytelling is a fundamental part of learning to understand the world, our own desires, our relationships with others. Stories help us see how our needs bump up against others’ needs, how to look closely at conflict and learn to puzzle out a solution.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk

Ways to encourage your your kids’ natural story-telling impulses:

For younger children, pick out some of their favorite stuffed animals and asking them questions about what the stuffies like, what their personality is like, what they did today, etc.

For older kids, help them find characters in old catalogs and magazines, paste them to paper, and, with mom’s help, write up a little story about them encouraging them to think about character, motivation and development. Staple it together and they’ve created their own picture book!

As a kid, I spent hours upon hours playing with my dollhouse, creating epic storylines within that miniature Victorian mansion — all sorts of intrigues and adventures. I think that sort of play directly led to my becoming an author and editor. The Bronte siblings famously spent their lonely childhoods on the isolated moors creating entire imaginary countries, with their own histories, heroes, and villains. Would we have ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’ if their minister father had moved them to town? Perhaps not.

I try to let Tristan have time to be alone in his own little world — time where he’s not watching TV or playing on the iPad or being entertained by my husband and I. He’s just starting to have conversations with his stuffies and talking for them and it’s fun to see him starting to create his own stories.

Photo credit: Davidd

Thanks so much for sharing, Abi! I love your epic storytelling spun from your dollhouse because I was exactly the same with sweeping tales for my Barbies that would unfold over months of intense make-believe. As a parent, it’s so easy to put on the iPad or a cartoon but so rewarding to hear what the kids come up with when left to entertain themselves.Read more from Abi in her interview or her list of favorite bedtime books.

Thanks also for the cover photo from Stephanie Sicore.


Abigail Samoun was an in-house children’s book editor for over ten years, working on a wide range of projects, from board books to young adult novels. Her books received such honors as the CCBC Charlotte Zolotow award, the New York Public Library Ezra Jack Keats award, and the Pura Belpre. In 2011, Abigail made the transition from editing to agenting, co-founding Red Fox Literary with Karen Grencik. She is the author of three children’s books, What’s In Your Purse? (Chronicle Books, 2014) and How Gator Says Goodbye and How Hippo Says Hello (Sterling Publishing, 2014) and one Kickstarter project, Mind Afire: The Visions of Tesla, an illustrated biography of Nikola Tesla with art by Elizabeth Haidle.

Abigail likes to organize her library according to which authors would get along well together (the Brontës next to George Elliot, Lois Lowry next to Margaret Atwood). She’s shelved all her Tesla books next to Mark Twain’s so that the old friends can keep each other company. Abigail lives in Sonoma, California with her entomologist husband, two dogs, a gaggle of chickens, and a curious little boy named Tristan. Visit