2018 Valentiny Contest: The Valentine’s Rooster

music 2 “I love you, a bushel and a peck….”

Hello, there. And Happy Valentine’s Day! It’s time once again for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Valentiny kidlit writing contest. This year, entries must feature someone “hopeful.” And, as always, the story must contain no more than 214 words.

After reading The Valentine’s Rooster, please check out all the fabulous Valentiny stories on Susanna’s blog.


The Valentine’s Rooster (214 words)

By Gabi Snyder

At the animal shelter, Rooster trembled.

His Valentine’s wish was for someone to take him home and love him.

On the inside, Rooster was as soft and cuddly as a chick.

But when people stopped at Rooster’s cage, they only saw his outside.

“He was a fighting rooster.”

“Looks mean.”


Rooster’s heart sank. Maybe he was unlovable.

The day before Valentine’s Day, a girl stopped at Rooster’s cage. “He’s trembling. Why is he all alone?”

“He’d peck another animal,” answered a man.

Rooster slumped. He would always be alone.

“Could a person hold him?” she asked.

Maybe I can be loveable. I’ll show her!

Rooster cocked his head and cooed.

Only his coo came out as “BAWK!”

“See?” said the man. “Ornery.”

“I’m not sure…” said the girl.

Then the girl went away, and night came.

Long. Dark. Lonely.

But a peck of hope had lodged in Rooster’s heart.

In the morning, the girl returned. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Rooster!”

The girl stroked his neck, and Rooster almost stopped trembling.

“Ahh,” she said. “You’re a lover, not a fighter.”

Rooster snuggled into the girl’s arms.

She rocked him and sang, “Rock-a-bye Rooster…”

He trilled softly and closed his eyes.

“You’re going home with me,” she whispered.

And Rooster lived happily, and cuddly, ever after.


Perfect Picture Book Friday: LOVE



Today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday selection is from one of my favorite authors, Newbery Medal winner, Matt de La Peña. And what better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than a celebration of love in its many forms.

Title: LOVE

Written by: Matt de La Peña

Illustrated by: Loren Long

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018, fiction

For Ages: 4 and up

Themes/Topics: love, family, emotions, connection

First spread:

In the beginning there is light

and two wide-eyed figures standing

near the foot of your bed,

and the sound of their voices is love.

Summary (from the publisher): “In this heartfelt celebration of love, Newbery Medal-winning author Matt de la Peña and bestselling illustrator Loren Long depict the many ways we experience this universal bond, which carries us from the day we are born throughout the years of our childhood and beyond. With a lyrical text that’s soothing and inspiring, this tender tale is a needed comfort and a new classic that will resonate with readers of every age.”

Why I LOVE This Book: The lyrical language carries us beautifully from one instance of “love” to the next. We find love in expected and unexpected places. The book doesn’t shy away from the fact that life can be challenging and painful at times. Love helps, but it can’t fix everything.

A “quiet old lady” tells the “you” of the story, “Stars shine long after they’ve flamed out…and the shine they shine with is love.” In the next spread we read, “But it’s not only stars that flame out, you discover. It’s summers, too. And friendships. And people.” The illustration depicts a child and dog cowering under a piano as the child’s parents argue. This spread has been the topic of some hot debate in the kidlit community. I like what Loren Long has said about this spread: “And what I’m illustrating here is a domestic dispute. And if you’re reading this book with a child from a wonderfully stable home, great. But that’s a way of sharing empathy with that experience. And if you are that child under the piano, you exist in this book.” (https://www.npr.org/2018/01/15/578172727/new-picture-book-illustrates-how-love-is-always-around)

The book also calls out instances of love that might be “overlooked,” like a “love that wakes at dawn and rides to work on the bus.” I love that a child might read this book and realize that something she sees a parent do every day, something she takes for granted, might in fact be a manifestation of love.

(For a collection of picture book reviews, along with resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site: http://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/.)

Perfect Picture Book Friday: EARTH! MY FIRST 4.54 BILLION YEARS



I’m back with another amazing nonfiction selection for Perfect Picture Book Friday!


Written by: Stacy McAnulty

Illustrated by: David Litchfield

Henry Holt and Company, 2018, nonfiction

For Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Earth, planets, solar system, life, sharing

First spread:

“Hi! My name is Earth. Some people call me Gaia, the blue marble, the world, or the third planet from the sun. You can call me Planet Awesome.”

Summary (from publisher):

Prepare to learn all about Earth from the point-of-view of Earth herself! In this funny yet informative book, filled to the brim with kid-friendly facts, readers will discover key moments in Earth’s life, from her childhood more than four billion years ago all the way up to present day. Beloved children’s book author Stacy McAnulty helps Earth tell her story, and award-winning illustrator David Litchfield brings the words to life. The book includes back matter with even more interesting tidbits.

Why I Like This Book:

This book strikes a perfect balance between facts and fun. By getting the story straight from the source –smiling, brown-eyed Earth itself – we learn about Earth the same way we get to know a good friend.  Earth tells us all about its family, favorite activities, and its history. Baby Earth was “a hot mess.” And the time of the dinosaurs was one of its favorites. Earth says, “I mean, everyone loves dinosaurs!” But the story is not without drama: “ASTEROID!!” Earth also gently reminds us that while humans “have been super fun,” they also “forget to share and place nice and clean up after themselves.” But Earth is rooting for us: “I bet humans will turn out to do really great things.” And you can’t read this book without rooting for Earth, too.

My kids tell me that at 8 and 10 they’re getting “too old” for picture books. But independently they both read EARTH! cover to cover. I overheard my son laughing raucously throughout.

Resources: Check out the engaging back matter at the back of the book. You can also find curriculum guides by scrolling to the bottom of EARTH!’s Macmillan page: https://us.macmillan.com/earthmyfirst454billionyears/stacymcanulty/9781250108081/. Stacy McAnulty’s author page also features downloadable activity pages.


(For a collection of picture book reviews, along with resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site: http://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/.)


Perfect Picture Book Friday: HOW TO BE AN ELEPHANT



Written and illustrated by: Katherine Roy

Roaring Brook Press, 2017, nonfiction

For Ages: 7 and UP

Themes/Topics: elephants, development, life cycle, learning, African animals, conservation

First page:

“WITH FLAPPING EARS and whiffling trunks, the herd quickly spreads the news. After 22 months of growing, a new baby is on her way. From walking and rumbling to drinking and dining, nothing will come easy for this giant-to-be. But like her mother before her, she’ll have to learn

…how to be an elephant.”

Summary (from publisher):

The savanna is not an easy place to live, even for African elephants, the largest land animals on earth. If it’s a challenge for these 7,000-pound giants, what’s it like for their newborn babies?

An infant elephant has precious little time to learn the incredible array of skills that are necessary to keep up, from projecting her voice across a 10-octave range to using the 100,000 muscles in her trunk to stay hydrated. But this giant-to-be has the perfect classroom–a family herd made up of her mother, sisters, cousins, and aunts. With their help and protection, she’ll learn how to survive, how to thrive, and how to be an elephant. 

Why I Like This Book:

This book beautifully balances detailed information about what makes African elephants unique with arresting watercolors that capture the movements and emotions of the elephants and of their environment.

Roy makes clear that an elephant calf, like a human baby, is not born knowing how to be an elephant. She must learn nearly everything, and her education continues “for a lifetime.” The text details how important an elephant calf’s family is in modeling the behaviors she must learn.

Roy includes detailed information regarding elephant anatomy and the science behind how they walk, smell, and communicate. Did you know that an elephant’s trunk contains over 100,000 muscles? Kids – and adults – will find plenty of fascinating facts about African elephants here.

Roy points out that elephants need a lot of space and that humans have not been “good at sharing common ground.” This book is bound to help kids develop a deep appreciation for this amazing species. And kids who have a deep appreciation for wildlife are more likely to work to conserve it. As Roy says in her author’s note, “…ultimately, elephant conservation is a choice. Their most dangerous threat is also the source of their only hope. There’s enough space for us all. Are we willing to share it?”

Resources: Writers and educators might enjoy the excellent All the Wonders podcast featuring Roy: http://www.allthewonders.com/podcasts/katherine-roy-all-the-wonders-episode-411/

(For a collection of picture book reviews, along with resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site: http://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/.)


Santa Versus The Tooth Fairy

Coming in just under the wire, here’s my entry for Susanna Leonard Hill’s 7th Annual Holiday Contest. For this contest, entrants wrote a children’s holiday story, featuring a surprise, in 250 words or less.



Not a creature was stirring, not even a…

Wait! The mouse was stirring.

And the cat, who chased the mouse across the table…

…past cookies awaiting Santa…

and straight into the glass which held a tooth for The Tooth Fairy.

CRASH! The tooth went flying.

The Tooth Fairy fluttered in. She peered under this and that, flitting from room to room. But no tooth. In the location where her Toothoscope had calculated a tooth deposit, she found…

“Cookies!? Tut tut tut,” chided The Tooth Fairy, “this will never do.”

She scooped the cookies into her tooth box. “This is a dental disaster,” she said.

Just then, who to her wondering eyes should appear?

“Ho ho ho,” called Santa. His twinkling eyes grew wide at the sight of the empty cookie plate. “What’s this? No cookies?!”

“Who are you?” asked The Tooth Fairy.

“I’m Santa Claus, of course!”

“You!” said The Tooth Fairy. “I should’ve known that the king of tooth-rotting candy canes, sugar plums, and peanut brittle would be a cookie connoisseur!”

“Those sweets you slander spread cheer!”

“Those sweets spread tooth decay!” said The Tooth Fairy. “Rotted teeth make terrible fairy dust. Santa, open your mouth and say ‘Aww.’”

“Aww,” said Santa.

“Oh, my,” said The Tooth Fairy.

On Christmas morning, the children scurried downstairs to discover, nestled in their stockings, candy canes and…


The note read:

Keep your sweet tooth jolly. Crunch on candy canes and then brush!


Santa and The Tooth Fairy

Perfect Picture Book Friday: OUT OF THE WOODS


Title: OUT OF THE WOODS: A True Story of an Unforgettable Event

Written and illustrated by: Rebecca Bond

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2015

For Ages: 4 and UP

Themes/Topics: true stories, natural disasters, forest fires, nature, animals, wonder, memory

First page:

Antonio Willie Giroux lived in Ontario, Canada, in the town of Gowganda, on the edge of Gowganda Lake, in a hotel his mother ran. It was not a fancy place in 1914, but it was big—three stories tall.

Summary (from publisher):

Antonio Willie Giroux lived in a hotel his mother ran on the edge of a lake. He loved to explore the woods and look for animals, but they always remained hidden away. One hot, dry summer, when Antonio was almost five, disaster struck: a fire rushed through the forest. Everyone ran to the lake-the only safe place in town-and stood knee-deep in water as they watched the fire. Then, slowly, animals emerged from their forest home and joined the people in the water. Miraculously, the hotel did not burn down, and the animals rebuilt their homes in the forest-but Antonio never forgot the time when he watched the distance between people and animals disappear.

Why I Like This Book: Bond’s beautifully-detailed illustrations and lyrical text reveal a unique and fascinating setting. As readers, we’re right there in the hotel with Antonio, peering into rooms, smelling “sweet tobacco and wood, wool and leather,” and hearing the stories and laughter of the “men who worked in the forest.” And when the lanterns are blown out, we’re with Antonio when it becomes “so quiet that he could hear the fir boughs brushing against the windowpanes.”

Bond keeps us close as Antonio explores outside, too. We see and hear the signs of animals – tracks and fur left behind. But these “half glimpses” are not enough for Antonio. He understands that the animals stay safe when they remain hidden away, but he longs to see them up close.

It’s a disaster – a massive forest fire – that grants him his wish. People and animals alike went into the lake – the only safe place – when the fire came. We experience Antonio’s wonder at seeing the animals up close. “Wolves stood beside deer, foxes beside rabbits. And people and moose stood close enough to touch.”

Bond captures the mesmerizing way an event like this can feel almost as if it stands outside of time and how it can leave an indelible mark on those who experience it. It reminds me of a recent natural event, this one not a natural disaster, but an astronomical event – the solar eclipse. For many of us, this collective experience of something that took us out of our everyday experience, will leave a lasting impression.


(For a mammoth list of links to picture book reviews, along with resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site: http://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/.)


Perfect Picture Book Friday: THE FUN BOOK OF SCARY STUFF


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Fun Book

I’m happy to report that I’ve been getting a lot of writing done this month. I’m unhappy to report that I’ve been neglecting Perfect Picture Book Fridays. As Stephen King says, (paraphrasing here) if you don’t have time to be a reader, you don’t have time to be a writer. So I’m back this week with a fun story for the run-up to Halloween, a time when some of us enjoy being scared. And some of us…don’t.


Words by: Emily Jenkins

Pictures by: Hyewon Yum

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2015, fiction

For Ages: 3 and UP

Themes/Topics: fear, overcoming fear, scary stuff, monsters, the dark, evil, friendship, love, dogs

Opening lines:

Dad says I should make a list of everything that frightens me. He says it will help me be brave.

Summary (from publisher):

There are lots of frightening things out there. Witches. Trolls. Sharks. The DARK!

But nothing seems as scary once you turn on the light. In this hilarious picture book, a boy and his two dogs go through a list of all the things, both real and imagined, that make the hair on the backs of their necks stand on end―and come up with a clever way to face their fears.

Why I Like This Book:

As a kid, I had lots of fears. Some of them (sharks, the dark) made a lot of sense. Some of them (the open field, walking to piano lessons) didn’t.

A book like THE FUN BOOK OF SCARY STUFF, with its funny and big-hearted exchange between friends, would’ve helped. In this sweet and simple PB, a boy and his two winsome dogs talk about fears. With light-hearted humor and honesty, they tackle each fear in turn. And while they don’t exactly banish each fear, they do manage to make the fears feel less weighty and more manageable. This book also lets kids know that it’s totally okay to have fears and that talking through the fears, bringing them out into the light, can drain away some of their power over us.


(For an EXTENSIVE list of links to picture book reviews, along with resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site: http://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/.)


Midweek Middle Grade Review: ZINNIA AND THE BEES (on Goodreads)

Zinnia and the BeesZinnia and the Bees by Danielle Davis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After spending the last day of 7th grade in detention for yarn bombing her school mascot, Zinnia walks home to discover that her brother and partner in crime is gone. And he hasn’t left any word on his whereabouts. Zinnia doesn’t think her day can get any worse until a colony of bees turn her unruly head of hair into their new hive.

Davis has perfectly captured Zinnia’s quirky voice and the fraught emotions around friendship that are so common at this age. Zinnia stumbles upon a new friend, and together they search for her brother and try to figure out what to do about the bees. In the process, Zinnia learns to trust herself and step toward instead of away from her friends.

And I LOVE that the “B story” is truly a “bee story” — told with poignancy and humor in the pitch-perfect voice of the hive.

For any middle-schooler who’s ever felt quirky, lonely, misunderstood (who hasn’t?), this is the book for you.

Perfect Picture Book Friday: WHY AM I ME?


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why am i me

After a summer hiatus, I’m happy to be back with this gorgeous gem for Perfect Picture Book Friday (PPBF). Back in the day, I worked with WHY AM I ME? author Paige Britt and I was struck then by her infectious joy, her compassion, and her curiosity. Those elements shine through in WHY AM I ME? The questions she poses in the book are deep and compassionate. And the artwork by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko exquisitely depict the journey – physical, mental, spiritual – our two main characters take in the story.

Title: WHY AM I ME?

Words by: Paige Britt

Pictures by: Sean Qualls & Selina Alko

Scholastic Press, 2017, fiction

For Ages: 3 and UP

Themes/Topics: identity, self/others, curiosity, questions, wonder, empathy, compassion, connection, love, diversity, tolerance

First spread:

Why am I me…

…and not you?

Summary (from publisher):

“Presented as a thoughtful, poetic exchange between two characters — who don’t realize they are thinking and asking the very same questions — this beautiful celebration of our humanity and diversity invites readers of all ages to imagine a world where there is no you or me, only we.

If the first step toward healing the world is to build bridges of empathy and celebrate rather than discriminate, Why Am I Me? helps foster a much-needed sense of connection, compassion, and love.”

Why I Love This Book: For some reason, my son seems to come up with his “big questions” just after I tuck him in, shut off his light, and start to close his door. “What does infinity look like?” he’ll ask. Or “Where was I before I was born?” I love these questions and I’ll come back in, sit on his bed, and we’ll talk for awhile. I admire books that invite kids (and adults) to ask “big questions” and this one asks the reader to consider the very essence of identity. Why Am I Me? encourages us to ponder why we are who we are, and further, “Why are you, you…and not me?” The illustrations are a vivid visual feast and suggest, I think, the beauty of not just “you” and “me” but of where we connect and intersect – where “you” and “me” become “we.”


(For a LONG list of links to picture book reviews, along with resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site: http://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/.)


Perfect Picture Book Fridays: BLUEBERRY GIRL


blueberry girl


Written by: Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by: Charles Vess

Harper, 2009, fiction

For Ages: 2 and UP

Themes/Topics: lullabies, prayers, invocations, girls, creativity, freedom, beauty, joy, nature, parenthood, childhood, aging

First spread:

Ladies of light and ladies of darkness and ladies of never-you mind,

this is a prayer for a blueberry girl.


Summary (from publisher):

“This is a prayer for a blueberry girl . . .


A much-loved baby grows into a young woman: brave, adventurous, and lucky. Exploring, traveling, bathed in sunshine, surrounded by the wonders of the world. What every new parent or parent-to-be dreams of for her child, what every girl dreams of for herself.


Let me go places that we’ve never been, trust and delight in her youth.


Nationally bestselling author Neil Gaiman wrote Blueberry Girl for a friend who was about to become the mother of a little girl. Here, he and beloved illustrator Charles Vess turn this deeply personal wish for a new daughter into a book that celebrates the glory of growing up: a perfect gift for girls embarking on all the journeys of life, for their parents, and for everyone who loves them.


Give her all these and a little bit more, gifts for a blueberry girl.”


Why I Like This Book: My sister gave me this book when my daughter was a baby, and I’ve read this beautiful prayer to Violet – and to myself –  many times. I love the refrain, “This is a prayer for a blueberry girl,” and the emotional appeal to the “ladies” to both keep her from things like “dull days at forty, false friends at fifteen,” but also to “let her tell stories and dance in the rain, somersault, tumble, and run.” The story doesn’t pretend that everything will be rosy throughout this girl’s life, but implores the ladies to help her to find truth, seek adventure, and dream big. It’s a gorgeous exploration of our hopes for our daughters.

I love that Charles Vess changes the skin and hair color of the “blueberry girl” with each new page so that any parent can see their child and any girl can see herself in this book.

Best-selling author Neil Gaiman wrote this book for his friend singer-songwriter Tori Amos, when she was pregnant with her daughter, Tash. For me, that detail makes the story even more beautiful because I love Tori Amos’s music and her songs resonated with me and helped me through a tough time in my twenties.


Resources: Check out A Mighty Girl (http://www.amightygirl.com/), described as “the world’s largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls,” it’s a great resource for supporting and celebrating girls and women. Their Facebook page is also fantastic: https://www.facebook.com/amightygirl/.


(For a LARGE list of links to picture book reviews, along with resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site: http://susannahill.com/for-teachers-and-parents/perfect-picture-books/.)