The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

Ideas Are All Around

Ideas Are All Around
Written and Illustrated by Philip C. Stead
Published in 2016 by Roaring Brook Press
ISBN 978-1-62672-181-4
All Ages
Book Review
Looking for the antidote to a case of writer’s block? Take a cue from author / illustrator Philip Stead and just take a look around. The Caldecott winning author’s latest picture book focuses on creative inspiration. In first person voice, Stead introduces his problem: “I have to write a story today. That is my job. I write stories. But today, I don’t have any ideas.” Stead’s shaggy black and white canine companion, named Wednesday, knows what’s best and together they set off on a walk around the neighborhood. As they stroll, they encounter objects, animals, and people and Stead narrates the journey through stream of consciousness free verse. The trip culminates in conversation with a neighbor, Barbara, who provides a casual solution to his perceived dilemma (spoiler alert –  think title). Figuratively accompanied by all the characters he has just encountered, Stead returns home ready to “take a walk on the page.” Mixed media illustrations include collage, monoprints, prints from cardboard, drawings, and even Polaroid photographs snapped in the moment. This juxtaposition of images offers an impressionistic perspective alongside concrete documentation of the journey. A deep musing on the creative process, this title can’t help but prompt readers to ponder ideas and inspiration both evident and elusive.
Teaching Invitations: Ideas for Your Classroom.
A Series of Quick Writes. As Philip Stead walks through his neighborhood, the things he sees and the conversations in which he participates inspire ideas for writing. Use Ideas All Around as a launch point for a series of quick writes for your students (for more on Quick Writes see Linda Rief’s description). Here are several quick write suggestions drawn from the book:
Graffiti/ Slogans / Bulletin Boards. Crossing the boardwalk, Philip and Wednesday see spray-painted on the boards the words “Stop War.” Take or find photographs of intriguing signs, graffiti, slogans, or text on bulletin boards from your community or in your school. Invite students to respond to the messages / images in writing.
Sounds. At one point in their walk, Stead and Wednesday pause to hear the variety of bird sounds. Take a listening walk – either inside or outside of your school building. Invite students to make a list of the different sounds that they hear, using onomatopoeia to capture the essence of the noises. Then, invite students to play with the sound words, either composing poetry or prose that captures and explores the sounds they heard.
Conversation with an Animal. Frank the turtle is just one of the characters that Stead and Wednesday encounter as they walk. Stead greets Franks and muses, “Someday I hope he looks forward to these smidgeons of time that we share.” Invite your students to write an imaginary conversation with an animal of their choosing. What kind of animal would they like to talk to? What questions would they ask? How might the conversation progress?
A Journey. En route, Stead also encounters a train, imagining the place to which riders might be traveling. Display an image of a train or a collage of transportation methods and ask your students to write about a journey they would like to take. Where would they go? What would they bring?  Who might they meet? What would they see? What would they do?
Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?Wednesday and Stead meet neighbors on their journey. Stead converses with Barbara, his former housemate, and Wednesday is quite popular with the people waiting in line for the soup kitchen. Invite your students to identify a community member whom they encounter as they travel through their neighborhood. Students can write a quick character sketch or reflect on a conversation that they have had with this community member.
Ten Thousand Years Ago (Or A Century Ago).While talking with Stead, Barbara reflects on what life was like “ten thousand years ago,” and then reaches even further back in time noting that Wooly Mammoths once walked in her front yard. Invite your students to consider in writing what their community might have been like “long ago.”
Direction Words. As he begins his walk, Stead describes his travels using a series of direction words (prepositions): “Together we walk over the bridge / down the concrete stairs / then under the bridge / and across the boardwalk / beside the river rolling lazily by.” Read this section aloud to students and then invite them to imagine a favorite place. Ask students to write descriptive directions to guide a friend to join them in that special place.
Clouds / Paint Blots. Barbara looks at a paint blot and sees a blue horse. While Wednesday visits with the folks in line at the soup kitchen, Stead observes the sky and the changes in the clouds. Either photographs of cloud shapes or paint blots could serve as inspiration for student writing. Show a series of images, asking students to jot down what they see and what they imagine in response to each picture.
Typewriter. As Stead reminds us, “A typewriter makes writing fun even when there’s nothing to say.” Offer your students the opportunity to compose using a typewriter, allowing them to type whatever comes to mind. This activity could be done as a center activity.
The Quick Write as a Seed. After carrying out several of the Quick Write activities above, ask students to reread their writing with the goal of selecting an idea that they would like to explore in a longer composition (prose or poetry). Guide students through the recursive steps of the writing process (idea generation, drafting, revising, soliciting feedback, and editing) to produce a publishable work of writing.
Philip Stead Author Study. Author / Illustrator Philip Stead has composed an array of picture books, including the Caldecott Award winning title A Sick Day for Amos McGee(illustrated by his wife Erin Stead). Read Stead’s books with your class to generate discussion around observable patterns in themes, characters, plotlines, word choice, and visual storytelling. Investigate digital resources including Stead’s website and online interviews to learn more about Stead’s biography and artistic process. (See our Classroom Bookshelf entries on A Home for Bird and A Sick Day for Amos McGee.)
Duet Model with Bear Has a Story to Tell. Pair a reading of Ideas are All Around with Philip Stead’s picture book Bear Has a Story to Tell in a Duet Model reading (see our Teaching with Text Sets entry). Compare and contrast the content, themes, and images in these two works. Consider how, taken together, these two books offer a reflection on the role of story in our lives. Invite students to observe and note, over the course of several days, examples of storytelling in oral language in everyday interactions. When do people tell stories? For which purposes and to what effect?
Writers Text Set. Read Ideas Are All Around as part of a text set exploring author’s craft and writer’s process. Make the text set multimodal and multigenre, including fictional books about writing (see the CCBC booklist in further resources), picture book biographies featuring writers, online interviews with authors, and videos in which authors describe their processes (search author and publisher websites. What can students learn about the process of writing by reading/ viewing these resources? Are there common elements? Infinite variation? What can students learn from a study of process? How does this inform their own writing? In grades two and up, ask students to more formally discuss and record what they have learned about the writing process. Consider dividing the class us into small working groups, each group responsible for presenting what they have learned about the writing process: idea generation, drafting, revising, editing and publishing.
Mixed Media Illustration. Collaborate with your art teacher to offer your students the opportunity to experiment with the techniques used by Stead to illustrate Ideas Are All Around. Read a discussion of Stead’s image making on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast for inspiration. If possible, provide students with access to a Polaroid camera (or a digital camera) along with sketch books and head out into your community to capture photographs and sketches that can become the raw material for students’ expression of their neighborhood in mixed media.
The “Walk on the Page.” Stead returns to his typewriter accompanied by all the characters and ideas that he has encountered on his walk. Invite your students to play with story, working in small groups to share ideas on how all the characters Stead has encountered might interact in a work of fiction. Groups can storyboard their ideas and dependent on the time you have available, they could then compose, revise and publish their stories or perform the stories orally for their classmates.
Grades Three and Up
Close Reading: Sunflower Musings. At the opening of Ideas Are All Around, Philip Stead describes the blooming of a sunflower plant, noting that “Planting a seed is always a risk.” After an initial reading of the book, come back to this opening and invite your readers to consider what layers of meaning might be embedded in Stead’s choice to begin with this observation. Could this be a metaphor for a writer’s notebook? What other interpretations are possible?
The Blue Horse: Exploring Symbolism. After reading Ideas Are All Around, read Stead’s discussion of how this book came to be on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Then read Eric Carle’s The Artist who Painted a Blue Horse and view Franz Marc’s painting The Large Blue Horses. Invite students to ponder the role of inspiration and expression in the making of art. Consider the rebellion and radicalness expressed by Mac and the “Blue Rider” movement and its influence on Carle. Consider Stead’s experience with blue paint and his neighbor Barbara, summed up in his statement: “Art is a sort of kindness that transforms ugliness into a running blue horse.” Ask your students to think and talk about the role of art (in all forms) in their own lives and their own sources of inspiration. Create a collage of words and images that captures their reflections on the artistic process.
The Back Story. Invite your students to use digital resources to investigate the story of the creation of a favorite book. What is the back story of their favorite book? How did the author/ illustrator get the ‘idea’ for the book and what was his/her composition process? Collaborate with your school or local librarian to identify resources such as review journal websites, author/illustrator personal sites, children’s literature bloggers, and publisher websites that will support student research.
Reading for Deeper Meaning: Philosophy in Children’s Literature. Many of Stead’s picture books, including his collaborations with Erin Stead (see for example, their latest picture book Lenny and Lucy), lend themselves to philosophical discussions, offering insight into what matters most in our world. As an extension of the author study above, read Stead’s body of work closely, inviting students to note on an anchor chart insights they glean from the themes in the book. Work with your school or local public children’s librarian to offer your students additional works of children’s literature both classic and contemporary that prompt reflection on humanity in relationship to societal obligations, stewardship of the earth, and individuality. (Some titles to get your started include:  Arnold Lobel’s characters Frog and Toad with their musings on life, Seuss’s The Sneetches, Leo Leonni’s fables, Oliver Jeffers books such as Lost and Found and The Heart and the Bottle and Sarah Kilborne’s Peach and Blue.) Consider how students can share their observations with a larger audience – perhaps creating posters for display around the school that offer inspirational messages or even writing a play script that places the characters they have encountered in conversation with each other. Invite your students to offer suggestions for how they might present the ideas they have explored.
Further Explorations
Online Resources
Author’s Website
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Making of Ideas All Around
Scholastic: Linda Rief on Quick Writes
CCBC: 50 Books About Writers and Writing
Eric Carle: The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse
Walker Museum: Franz Marc: The Large Blue Horses
MOMA: German Expressionism
Teaching Books.Net (subscription required, check your library for access)
Something About the Author (subscription required, check your library for access)
Washington Post: Why Kids More Than Ever Need to Learn Philosophy
Carle, E. (2011). The artist who painted a blue horse. New York: Philomel.
Jeffers, O. (2005) Lost and found. New York: Philomel.
Jeffers, O. (2010) The heart and the bottle. New York: Philomel.
Kesley, E. (2015). Wild Ideas. Ill. by S. Kim. Owl Kids Books. 
Kilborne, S.S. (1998). Peach and Blue. Ill. by L. Fancher. New York: Knopf.
Lionni, L. (1967). Frederick. New York: Knopf.
Lobel, A. (1979). Days with Frog and Toad. New York: Harper Collins.
Reynolds, P. (2012). Sky color. Somerville, MA; Candlewick Press.
Rosenstock, B. (2014). The noisy paint box: The colors and sounds of Kandinsky’s abstract art. Ill. by M. Grandpre. New York: Knopf.
Stead, P. (2010). A sick day for Amos McGee. Ill. by E. Stead. New York: Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press.
Stead, P. (2012). A home for Bird. New York: Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press.
Stead, P. (2012). Bear has a story to tell. Ill. by E. Stead. New York: Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press.
Stead, P. (2015). Lenny and Lucy. Ill. by E. Stead. New York: Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press.

Erika Thulin Dawes About Erika Thulin Dawes

Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.


  1. I loved the quiet beauty of this book.

  2. I loved the suggestions to get kids writing using this book. Helping to solve the age old problem…'I don't know what to write about…' I used the slogan idea with some 3rd graders and the listening walk with some first graders.

  3. I loved using this book to get out those writers who 'have nothing to write about…' I used it in a 3rd and a 1st grade classroom to great results! Thanks.