Holiday Contest: Heartsick Reindeer

This is my second entry in Susanna Leonard Hill’s Annual Holiday Contest! You can read all the stories here:


Heartsick Reindeer’s Twelve Days of Christmas (300 words)


On the first day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer stared at his hooves, wishing he wasn’t alone.

He asked, “How do I find true love?”

No one answered.

On the second day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer galloped in search of true love. Over snowy plains and icy ponds he searched.

No true love.

On the third day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer scaled a mountain. At the peak, he yodeled, “Yodelayhee-yoo-hoo. True love?”

“Yodelayhee-yoo-hoo. True love?” echoed back.

On the fourth day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer trotted into town. He spotted a reindeer pair rubbing noses. He asked, “How did you find true love?”

“Our eyes met across a crowded tundra.”

On the fifth day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer trekked to a jam-packed holiday market.

The other reindeer were too busy shopping to meet his eyes.

On the sixth day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer ambled around town hoping for a chance encounter with true love.

But chance didn’t favor him that day.

On the seventh day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer had a good cry.

On the eight day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer dried his tears and hung a sign around his neck, “Seeking true love.”

“Good things come to those who wait,” brayed a grizzled reindeer.

On the ninth day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer stood and waited.

But no good things came to him.

On the tenth day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer decided to smile at everyone he met.

He didn’t meet his true love, but he did make a friend.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, Heartsick Reindeer and his new friend smiled at everyone they met.

They didn’t find Heartsick Reindeer’s true love, but they made three more friends.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, our Reindeer didn’t feel so heartsick anymore.

“Merry Christmas,” brayed Reindeer, “to my true friends.”


Holiday Contest: All Creatures Clinic

It’s time once again for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Annual Holiday Contest! You can read all the stories — and enter your own story — here:

This year the challenge is to use the basic format/concept of The 12 Days of Christmas. Fun, but challenging! I fear I stuck a little too close to the original song. If I get my act together, you may see another story from me. In the meantime, here’s All Creatures Clinic (226 words)!


All Creatures Clinic: Twelve Days of Christmas


On the first day of Christmas

who should limp to me?

A beagle with a bum knee


On the second day of Christmas

who should skulk to me?

Two yowling cats


On the third day of Christmas

Who should bob to me?

Three sick hens


On the fourth day of Christmas

who should lurch to me?

Four woozy mice


On the fifth day of Christmas

who should swim to me?

Five funky fish


On the sixth day of Christmas

who should flap at me?

Six peaky parrots


On the seventh day of Christmas

who should sneeze at me?

Seven snuffling schnoodles


On the eighth day of Christmas

who should howl at me?

Eight achy Airedales


On the ninth day of Christmas

who should whine to me?

Nine wobbly whippets


On the tenth day of Christmas

who should tread to me?

Ten trembling turtles


On the eleventh day of Christmas

Who should crawl to me?

Eleven lousy lizards


On the twelfth day of Christmas

my true love baked for me










On the twelfth day of Christmas

who should dance with glee?

eleven leaping lizards

ten twisting turtles

nine waltzing whippets

eight loping Airedales

seven shuffling schnoodles

six prancing parrots

five frisking fish

four romping mice

three hopping hens

two pouncing cats

and a beagle barking YIPpee.






Perfect Picture Book Friday: TOKYO DIGS A GARDEN

Tokyo Digs a Garden.jpg

TOKYO DIGS A GARDEN could be the love child of The Little House and The Curious Garden. Oh, and I think it’s related to Sidewalk Flowers, too. A must-read for kids AND adults who love picture books, this magical and subversive fable about the role of nature is my pick this week for Perfect Picture Book Friday.


Written by: Jon-Erik Lappano

Illustrated by: Kellen Hatanaka

Groundwood Books, 2016, Fiction

For Ages: 4 and UP

Themes/Topics: environmentalism, green spaces, nature, magic, fables, imagination

First line:

Tokyo lived with his mother, his father, his grandfather and a cat named Kevin in a small house that stood among tall buildings.

Summary (from publisher): Tokyo lives in a small house between giant buildings with his family and his cat, Kevin. For years, highways and skyscrapers have been built up around the family’s house where once there were hills and trees. Will they ever experience the natural world again?

One day, an old woman offers Tokyo seeds, telling him they will grow into whatever he wishes. Tokyo and his grandfather are astonished when the seeds grow into a forest so lush that it takes over the entire city overnight. Soon the whole city has gone wild, with animals roaming where cars once drove. But is this a problem to be surmounted, or a new way of living to be embraced?

Why I LOVE This Book: I love the way the tables are turned in this story. As in The Little House, the city encroaches on a house that used to live in nature. At the beginning of the story we learn that Tokyo’s grandfather loved to tell stories of how things used to be. The little house where they’d always lived used to be surrounded by nature until “the city had eaten it all up.” Later, after Tokyo has planted magical seeds and grown a garden that took over the city, his grandfather says the garden is much too big and asks, “What are we going to do?” After some thought, Tokyo replies that he thinks “that we will just have to get used to it.” As the narrator adds, “Gardens have to grow somewhere, after all.” Wow!

While I don’t believe the author is suggesting we let nature take over our cities, I do think this book is meant to spark discussions about suburban sprawl, city planning, and the vital role of nature – even for city-dwellers!

Ideas for Teachers: The art in this book – created digitally using watercolor, ink drawings, and collage – is stunning. The colors are vivid; the shapes are bold. I can imagine this book being used as a model for students studying collage.

Teachers might also use the story in a unit on the environment/environmentalism or as a stellar example of a modern fable in a unit on fairy tales and fables.

Upper-elementary-school students may enjoy reading how this book came to life. The author and illustrator discuss the book’s journey from inspiration to publication here:

(For a colossal list of links to picture book reviews, along with resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site:


Halloweensie! Zombie Mommy

In the midnight hour, I decided to post a second Halloweensie story! This one comes in at exactly 100 words.


Zombie Mommy


Every Halloween, Violet’s mom went all-out spooky.

“Nice zombie costume, Mom.”

“Barg,” said Zombie Mommy, devouring raw hamburger.

“I’ll make my own dinner,” said Violet.

Under a harvest moon, Zombie Mommy followed Violet trick-or-treating.

“Your mom looks ghostly.”

“She’s eating spiders!”

Franken-Dad approached.

“ARR!” Zombie Mommy lunged.

“Ow! She bit me!”

“Mom, you need help!”

Dr. Goodbody’s diagnosis: “See a psychologist.”

Dr. Feelgood’s analysis: “Find someone on the dark side.”

Madame Goodghost’s sooth-saying: “Beyond help.”

“Wait!” said Violet. “What does everyone need on Halloween? CHOCOLATE!”

Zombie Mommy wolfed Kit-Kats and Milky Ways. “It’s like I just returned from the dead.”

Halloweensie! The Bookstore Cat’s Halloween


Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie contest is back!

In its sixth year, this contest combines the spooky fun of Halloween with the challenge of writing a short short – 100 words or less – kids’ story using the words spider, ghost, and moon (in any form).

After you read my 100-word entry below, be sure to head over to Susanna’s site to read all the other spooktacular stories:

And if you want to enter your own story, there’s still time. You have until midnight (EST) on Friday, October 31!


The Bookstore Cat’s Halloween


As Halloween bumps near

my feline heart thumps with fear.


The bookstore ghost haunts at night,

fills our bookish home with fright.


Ghosts glow green, but he’s “well read.”

His cat drops spiders on my head.



Each moonlit Halloween,

we depart the in-between.”


“An evil writer cast a spell

that brings us here to haunt and yell.”


My mistress faints in the nook,

but I prowl—for a book!


“This book of rhyme holds the key

to break the spell and set you free!”


“No more must we haunt and roam.

Now we fly to our new ghost home.”

Perfect Picture Book Friday: I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG


As a writer, I’m interested in exploring and challenging stereotypes and pigeonholing. So as a reader I seek out books about those who question stereotypes and push against boundaries. But in tandem with shooting for the moon and not letting yourself be limited by what others expect or don’t expect from you, it’s also important to recognize and accept who you are. That’s where I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG comes in. This funny story about a wee frog who wants to be anything but a frog packs a powerful message of self-acceptance without being didactic.


Written by: Dev Petty

Illustrated by: Mike Boldt

Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2015, Fiction

Fun for Ages: 3 and UP

Themes/Topics: identity, self-acceptance, gratitude, parent-child relationship

First spread:

Young frog: I want to be a CAT.

Dad frog: You can’t be a CAT.

Young frog: Why not?

Summary (from publisher): A frog who yearns to be any animal that is cute and warm discovers that being wet, slimy, and full of bugs has its advantages.

Why I LOVE This Book: Dev Petty uses wry humor and repetition to subtly convey the message of self-acceptance. And the humor gets me giggling aloud on every read. Here’s my favorite laugh-out-loud exchange:

Dad frog: You can’t be a Pig.

Young frog: Why not?

Dad frog: Most of all because you’re a Frog. But also because you don’t have a curly tail or eat garbage.

Young frog: I can eat garbage.

Dad frog: Everyone says that until they eat garbage. Sorry, you can’t be a Pig.

The entire story is told very effectively through snappy dialogue conveyed with colored speech bubbles. And Mike Boldt’s vivid illustrations perfectly express the emotions of both the wide-eyed young frog and the down-to-earth dad frog.

Ideas for Teachers:  Teachers might read this book as part of a larger unit on self-acceptance, self-compassion, and/or gratitude. Students could create and share lists about what they DO like about themselves.

(For a colossal list of links to picture book reviews, along with resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site:


Perfect Picture Book Friday: ONLY A WITCH CAN FLY


This time of year, I’m always on the prowl for Halloween stories to devour with my kids. We love spooky Halloween stories and we love sweet Halloween stories. Most of all, we love Halloween stories that evoke the magic of the season. And there’s something particularly enchanting about witches and full moons and black cats. That’s why I’ve chosen the charming ONLY A WITCH CAN FLY for my Perfect Picture Book pick of the week.


Written by: Alison McGhee

Illustrated by: Taeeun Yoo

Square Fist, 2009, Fiction

Fun for Ages: 3 and UP

Themes/Topics: Halloween, magic, witches, imagination, longing, persistence

First stanza:

If you were a young witch, who had not yet flown,

and the dark night sky held a round yellow moon

and the moon shone light on the silent broom

and the dark Cat beside you purred, Soar,

would you too, begin to cry,

because of your longing to fly?

Brief Synopsis (from publisher):

Only a witch can fly.

But one little girl wants to fly—more than anything. So on a special night, with the moon shining bright and her cat by her side, she gathers herself up, she grips her broom tight, and she tries. And she fails. And she’s brave. And she tries again. Until . . .

Utterly enchanting, New York Times–bestselling author Alison McGhee’s lyrical language and Taeeun Yoo’s transcendent linoleum block prints create a bewitching tale about finding one’s own path that will send your heart soaring.

Only a Witch Can Fly is a 2010 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year.

Why I Admire This Book: Take a lyrical story about a girl who longs to fly, set it under the full moon of Halloween night, and add breathtaking, evocative woodcuts, and what do you get? Magic! I think readers will identify with this girl in a witch costume (striped socks and pointy black hat, no less) who longs to fly like a real witch. They’ll also see themselves in her frustration when her first attempts at flying fail. This tale is also about the value of perseverance. And magic, of course.

(Amazingly, this story is written as a sestina – a form of poetry that started with the French troubadours in the 12th century!)

Ideas for Teachers: In addition to being a fun seasonal read, this book also works beautifully to start a discussion regarding the importance of perseverance. During a unit covering forms of poetry, ONLY A WITCH CAN FLY might also serve as a lovely model of a sestina. Older students (3rd to 5th graders) might also enjoy creating their own block prints after reading this story. For instructions on making block prints with kids, please see

(For a LOOONNNG list of links to picture book reviews, along with resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site:


Perfect Picture Book Friday: WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES


Here in Corvallis (which means “heart of the valley” – isn’t that lovely?) we’ve had a gorgeous week of crisp sunny mornings and warm afternoons. Perfect for long hikes to admire the autumn foliage and gather a few wild apples or late blackberries. So for my Perfect Picture Book Friday selection I chose Julie Fogliano’s exquisite ode to nature, WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES: Poems for All Seasons.

Title: WHEN GREEN BECOMES TOMATOES: Poems for All Seasons

Written by: Julie Fogliano

Illustrated by: Julie Morstad

Roaring Brook Press, 2016, Fiction

Fun for Ages: 3 and UP

Themes/Topics: seasons, nature, poetry, wonder, beauty, contemplation/reflection

First poem:

march 20

from a snow-covered tree

one bird singing

each tweet poking

a tiny hole

through the edge of winter

and landing carefully

balancing gently

on the tip of spring


Brief Synopsis (from publisher):

december 29
and i woke to a morning
that was quiet and white
the first snow
(just like magic) came on tip toes

“Flowers blooming in sheets of snow make way for happy frogs dancing in the rain. Summer swims move over for autumn sweaters until the snow comes back again. In Julie Fogliano’s skilled hand and illustrated by Julie Morstad’s charming pictures, the seasons come to life in this gorgeous and comprehensive book of poetry.”

Why I ADORE This Book: Fogliano’s 48 poems capture not just the imagery and sensory details of each season but also how those details evoke a vast range of emotions in us. She presents the brokenheartedness of gray days, exasperation of too much rain, and, of course, the magic of a first snow. Starting with spring and taking us through winter, she comes full circle ending the collection “on the tip of spring.”

I first fell in love with Fogliano’s distinctive writing style when I read IF YOU WANT TO SEE A WHALE. She taps into childlike wonder and curiosity. She brilliantly uses personification in a way that matches a child’s experience of nature (“I know enough/ to wonder/ what the trees would say/ if they could”).

Julie Morstad’s gorgeous gouache-and–pencil-crayon art sweetly complements the poetry. She features a diverse cast of children experiencing the many moods of nature.

I have a copy of this treasure out from the library, but when I run out of renewals, I’ll be heading to the bookstore to buy this book. I know I’ll be rereading this collection often both as a writer marveling at Fogliano’s craft and as a human who marvels at nature.

Ideas for Teachers: A breathtaking read aloud, I imagine teachers reading poems from this book year-round to mark the changing seasons. Students could also write their own free-verse season poems as part of a larger study of a particular season or as part of a poetry unit. Younger students might be asked to illustrate one of the poems in Fogliano’s collection or to illustrate their own nature poem. Teachers could point out instances in which Fogliano’s employs particular poetic devices, such as personification. After discussing examples, students could write their own poem using the discussed poetic devices.

(For a LOOONNNG list of links to picture book reviews, along with resources, please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s site:

Perfect Picture Book Friday: I AM YOGA


This week my pick for Perfect Picture Book Friday comes from my first-grade daughter. On Tuesday, she happily unpacked I AM YOGA from her bag and begged me to read it with her. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised.

(For a supersized list of links to picture book reviews, check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s site:

Title: I AM YOGA

Written by: Susan Verde

Illustrated by: Peter H. Reynolds

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2015, Fiction

Fun for Ages: 3 and UP

Themes/Topics: Finding calm in a chaotic world; mind-body connection; imagination; creativity

First line: “When I feel small in a world so big, when I wonder how I fit in, when the world is spinning so fast…I tell my wiggling body: be still.”

Brief Synopsis (from publisher): “An eagle soaring among the clouds or a star twinkling in the night sky . . . a camel in the desert or a boat sailing across the sea—yoga has the power of transformation. Not only does it strengthen bodies and calm minds, but with a little imagination, it can show us that anything is possible.

New York Times bestselling illustrator Peter H. Reynolds and author and certified yoga instructor Susan Verde team up again in this book about creativity and the power of self-expression. I Am Yoga encourages children to explore the world of yoga and make room in their hearts for the world beyond it. A kid-friendly guide to 16 yoga poses is included.”

Why I Like This Book: With language that is both lyrical and relatable to kids, I AM YOGA illustrates the calming power of yoga poses as well as the power of yoga movements to foster our imagination and creativity. Reynolds’ soft watercolors depict the girl’s transformations as she first calms herself through mountain pose and then moves through poses that set her imagination aloft, allowing her to “touch the sky,” “soar among the clouds,” and “dance with the moon.” As I was reading this story to my daughter, she wanted to try the poses. So I’m happy the back matter includes kid-friendly instructions for striking each pose!

Ideas for Teachers: Last year my daughter’s kindergarten teacher introduced some yoga breathing techniques and restful poses and invited her students to turn to these strategies when they needed to calm themselves. I’ve seen my daughter continue to use these techniques at home. I think teachers could use this book to introduce strategies for finding calm or focus.

Kids might also enjoy learning the adorable Emily Arrow’s I Am Yoga song. You can find the music video by scrolling to the bottom of Susan Verde’s I Am Yoga page:

Picture Perfect Friday: BLACK DOG


A picture book that can help a child face fear is a thing of beauty. Last week I reviewed THE LITTLE BIT SCARY PEOPLE. This week for Picture Perfect Friday I present another book about facing fear, BLACK DOG.

(For a humungous list of links to picture book reviews, check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s site:


Written and illustrated by: Levi Pinfold

Templar Books, 2012, Fiction

Fun for Ages: 3 and UP

Themes/Topics: conquering fears; imagination; bravery

First line: “One day, a black dog came to visit the Hope family.”

Brief Synopsis (from publisher): “An enormous black dog and a very tiny little girl star in this offbeat tale about confronting one’s fears.

When a huge black dog appears outside the Hope family home, each member of the household sees it and hides. Only Small, the youngest Hope, has the courage to face the black dog, who might not be as frightening as everyone else thinks.”

Why I Love This Book: The cover juxtaposes a Gothic red house set alone in the snowy woods with a tiny child in a yellow snowsuit. Before we even open the book, we’re intrigued. Is this a dark fable or a flight of whimsy?

Throughout the story, Pinfold’s rich and imaginative paintings transport us to the magical world of the Hope family home and its surroundings.

The story defies our expectations in a satisfying way. We see each member of the Hope family peer outside and then cower from the enormous black dog (they even build a barricade). Only Small Hope has the courage to step outside and face the dog. We expect Small to see the dog as normal-sized. Instead, she too sees the dog as gigantic but faces him bravely anyway. She entreats him to chase her. To follow where she leads he must shrink. In the end, the dog joins the family in the house and Mrs. Hope commends Small’s courage.

“’There was nothing to be scared of, you know,’ replied Small Hope as she went to sit by the fire.

And the black dog followed.”

Ideas for Teachers: At my kid’s elementary school, COURAGE is one of the school-wide themes the students focus on for one month each year. They discuss what courage looks like, how to cultivate it, and then watch for acts of courage at the school. I think BLACK DOG would be a great addition to any teacher’s discussion of courage. Students might think back on a time that something they were afraid of turned out to be not so frightening after all once they had the courage to face it. Students might also enjoy drawing or painting what their original fear looked like in their imagination and then what it looked like once faced.