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SCAMPERing through Picture Books

When I’m not writing children’s books, I work on highly innovative research and development projects. Believe it or not, there’s a lot of crossover between innovation and picture books, albeit with far fewer talking bears (although they’ve already invented dog translators, so I’m sure it won’t be long).

Innovation is all about subverting the norm; finding a different viewpoint that nobody has taken before, resulting in something better. This is precisely the process writers go through when coming up with the core of a PB plot.

With this in mind, it may help to apply some lessons from innovation to writing. In particular,

there's a mnemonic called SCAMPER that can be really useful. It stands for:

  • Substitute

  • Combine

  • Adapt

  • Modify

  • Put to another use

  • Eliminate

  • Reverse

Let’s apply it to this innocent giraffe:


Replace one thing with another. What happens if you have a giraffe for a pet instead of a dog? How big would the kennel have to be?


Add one thing to another. If you can have ligers and zeedonks, what other animal combos can you have? Would a giraffe and an ant be a giant?


Add or subtract bits. What would it be like if a giraffe had two heads? Would they argue all the time and get tied up in knots?


Maximise or minimise something. What if giraffes were really small? Or all the giraffes in the world were combined into one enormous giraffe? Maybe that’s how they could be protected from poachers

Wood vector created by jcomp -

Put to another use:

Exactly what it says. Could you use a giraffe to dry your washing? Or as a flagpole?


Take something away completely. What if we took giraffes away, or took their necks away? What if you took away everything else, just to leave their necks? Is that what a snake is?


What if the giraffes and the humans swapped places? What would they think if they went on safari in a city?

What do you think, Giraffe?

Suit yourself.

Importantly, innovation creates humour. By making things different, strange things can happen, with hilarious consequences.

What are your favourite innovative storybooks? Let us know in the comments.

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