The Storytellers Rule by Christy Mandin

Hello, Christy Mandin! Welcome to Watch. Connect. Read.! Oh my goodness, I love The Storytellers Rule. I took a break from revising Louder Than Hunger to read it. It is the picture book my heart needed at that very moment. 

What planted the seed for this brilliant book?

Christy Mandin: Oh, I’m so glad to hear that! The seed for The Storytellers Rule was planted long before I wrote my first book with HarperCollins. When I signed with HarperCollins it was for a two-book deal. The contract was for Lucky (my debut picture book) and a second untitled, unwritten story to be determined after I finished Lucky. They bought a book from me I hadn’t even written yet and the pressure I felt was enormous! I combed through my old illustrations to see if there were any stories there and came across a set of characters I had created out of office supplies. Something about them made me think they might be my next story. I thought about the popular writing advice of “write what you know,” followed by “what do I know anyway?” and ended with my head on my desk wishing my pen would just conjure up a story on its own. What I knew was writer’s block is terrifying when you have people waiting on you to write a story. But that’s not a children’s book is it? So I dug a little deeper into the feelings I was having about it all and thought about how we all have a story to tell, a story no one else can tell as well as we can, and that it all begins with wonder.

So I wondered: What if my supplies could come to life? What would they say to me? I imagined they’d say, “Get up, go outside, be curious again about the world around you, and a story will come.”

And then it did.

Scenario: Imagine you’re booktalking The Storytellers Rule to second-grade teachers. What do you share with them?

Christy Mandin: I wrote The Storytellers Rule to illustrate that a lot of storytelling comes from being curious about the world around us. Whether it’s masterful storytelling or not can be worked out later. You just have to find the thing you’re interested in, the thing that makes you excited, and get it on the page first. A lot of life happens to Birdie, the human character in the story - a new school, a new baby brother, homework - and suddenly she’s lost her creative spark. I think we can all relate to feeling uninspired when life comes at you fast. But she finds, with a little help from some friends, that if she just remembers to wonder about things the world opens up in a fresh new way again. She learns to connect the dots of the things that excite her and BAM she has a story!

Feeling like I’ll never have another good idea ever again happens to me so often. When that feeling creeps in it’s time to get up and get curious. I’ve also found that it’s usually not a lack of ideas but the belief that no one wants to hear the ideas I already have, that those ideas aren’t all that important, or no one will be interested. I think we all start out naturally curious and creative. And then, along the way, life starts to trip us up a bit and we let perfectionism or shame or anxiety convince us that we’re not creative or that we don’t have a story to tell. But storytelling is such a powerful thing. It provides an opportunity to be heard and an opportunity to practice listening - both skills that are vital to being in community with each other. And isn’t that what we all want - to feel seen, heard, known? The message I hoped to convey with The Storytellers Rule is that you don’t have to speak perfectly or write flawlessly to be a storyteller. We are all storytellers already. Our lives are a story. And the more we wonder about things, the more stories we find to tell.

Please finish the following sentence starters:

Vic, Peanut, Pip, Ruth, Red, and Penny represent my writing process and the many moods and approaches that come with telling a story - the rules, the editing, the playfulness, the fretting, the napping. Peanut understands the importance of rest! Sometimes I get so stuck trying to tell a story that nothing else really helps and a good night’s sleep is the thing that moves a story forward. I’ve found this helpful in illustrating, too. After a while I just have to walk away from it and come back later with fresh eyes.

Picture books are powerful! There’s a part of me that loves how they’re sometimes overlooked in the world of literature as childish creations because it leaves the creator room to stretch their legs while no one is looking. Picture books that break the “rules” or deal with the subversive, unmentionable, and taboo are some of my favorites. Pedagogical satire? Social justice issues? Familiar tales turned on their heads? Yes, please!

John Schu, you should have asked me if The Storytellers really come to life while Birdie sleeps or if they are a figment of Birdie’s imagination. I won’t tell you, of course, because the wondering about a thing is where the magic is.

Christy Mandin is an illustrator, author, and multipassionate jill-of-all-trades. Lucky was her first book for children. Christy believes everything can be made a little more magical with the right pen and ink. You can visit her at

Look for The Storytellers Rule on March 21, 2023. 


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