Valentiny Writing Contest: MYSTERY VALENTINE


crowIt’s time for the Second Annual Valentiny Writing Contest, hosted by the talented and generous Susanna Leonard Hill. This year’s challenge is to write a Valentine’s story for kids, featuring someone who is confused, in 214 words or less. You can peruse all the contest rules and enter your own story (and read all the other fabulous entries!) here:

My entry for 2017 comes in at exactly 214 words:


Sonia stared out the window. Three days until Valentine’s Day.

She missed Texas.

She missed sunshine and mockingbird songs.

In Portland, the sky poured rain and crows cawed.

Sonia dreaded Valentine’s Day in this wet and lonely place.

“Why don’t you play outside, Noodlebug?” asked Mom.

On the porch, a silvery button shone.

A Valentine’s gift? Who is it from?

“Is this from you, Mom?”

“No, Doodlebug.”

“From you, Dad?”



Sonia stared up at a crow staring back at her.

The next day, rain sprinkled.

On the porch, a copper coin sparkled.

Another Valentine’s gift? Who is it from?

“Is this from you, Mom?”

“No, Poodlebug.”

“From you, Dad?”



The same crow in the same tree stared at Sonia.

“What do you want?” asked Sonia.


“Sunflower seeds?” Sonia tossed a handful.

“Caw.” The crow flew down, pecked up the seeds, and blinked at Sonia.

“More tomorrow.”

The next day, rain showered.

Sonia fed the crow.

On Valentine’s Day, a line of sunlight fell across Sonia’s pillow.

Outside, green grass shimmered.

On the porch, something glimmered – a tiny golden heart.

“A Valentine! Mom, is this from you?”

“No, Froodlebug.”

“Dad, is it from you?”



“Are the gifts…from you?” asked Sonia.

“Caw,” said the crow.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, crow!”




Perfect Picture Book Friday: BITTY BOT




Look at this cover! Who knew robots could be so adorable?


Written by: Tim McCanna

Illustrated by: Tad Carpenter

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016, Fiction

For Ages: 3 and UP

Themes/Topics: robots, bedtime, adventure, space travel

First page:

“In a busy robot town,

bots begin to power down—

all except for Bitty Bot.

Feeling sleepy? Maybe not.”

Summary (from publisher):

A little robot would rather go on an intergalactic adventure than go to sleep in this rhyming romp that breaks all the bedtime rules.

Why I Like This Book: I’m a big fan of anything robot-related, especially robot books. And Bitty Bot has got to be the cutest robot ever. I’m completely smitten with the way Tad Carpenter has powered up this wee robot. And the color palette he’s chosen is out-of-this-world! The purples, greens, pinks, and blue used for Earth at night have an appealing, Eighties sci-fi quality. On the moon, Tad switches to a warm, more manic, palette.

Tim McCanna’s fun rhyming text pulls us into Bitty Bot’s whimsical robot world where not-so-sleepy Bitty Bot doesn’t just stay up late, he pulls out the power tools, welds a space ship, and blasts off! But, not to worry, after his adventures on the moon Bitty Bot ends up “sound asleep and softly snoring.” Oh, and read this in your best robot voice to add extra fun!

Ideas for Teachers: Did you know that there’s a website devoted entirely to reading about robots? Well, there is! Check out to read interviews with several authors and illustrators and find a variety of kid activities. You can also find out how to participate with your class in Read About Robots Day (October 11)!

Author Tim McCanna has several fun videos ( on his website that you might want to share with your class. Watching the rhyming song might be a fun way to kick off a unit on writing in rhyme.

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


Perfect Picture Book Friday: SHY


I first heard about SHY very recently, on day 13 of Tara Lazar’s Storystorm: If you aren’t familiar with Storystorm (formerly PiBoIdMo), please do yourself a favor and check it out. While it’s geared especially to writers and illustrators, anyone who’s interested in the creative process will benefit from this month of idea generation with inspiration from daily blog posts.

Storystorm day 13 featured a post by teacher Colby Sharp who detailed his experience running a “Mock Caldecott Awards” with his class of third graders. His post made me 1.) wish I’d had Colby Sharp as my third grade teacher, and 2.) really want to read Deborah Freedman’s SHY, the winner of his “Mock Caldecott Awards” against some super stiff competition including THE NIGHT GARDENER, THEY ALL SAW A CAT, FREEDOM IN CONGO SQUARE, and WE FOUND A HAT.

Title: SHY

Written and illustrated by: Deborah Freedman

Viking, 2016, Fiction

For Ages: 4 and UP

Themes/Topics: shyness, bravery, books, bookworms, birds, nature, adventure, friendship

First page:

“Shy was happiest between the pages of a book.”

Summary (from publisher):

Shy loves birds. He’d love to watch them fly and hear them sing, but he’s only ever read about them in books. . .until a real bird comes along.  He’s dying to meet her, but there’s just one problem:  Shy is, well, shy–so shy, in fact, that he’s afraid to leave the gutter of the book.  Can Shy overcome his fears and venture out onto the page?

Why I Like This Book: Like the title character in SHY, I was bashful growing up. And, like the title character, I often hid away in books. But Shy doesn’t just hide himself metaphorically in books—a small arrow on the first spread suggests he’s literally hiding in the book’s spine. On a first read, we don’t know what he looks like. We don’t know if he’s human or animal.

Because Shy also loves birds, when “a REAL bird trilled by,” he is inspired to follow the vivid yellow songbird to “a land far away.” I won’t give away what happens when he finds the bird or who Shy is because the mystery is part of what makes the story so fun. That said, the story stands up to repeat readings because of its lyrical text, moving depiction of bravery, and gentle watercolor and pencil illustrations.

Ideas for Teachers: Teachers might ask each student to write about a time when he or she showed bravery, perhaps overcoming shyness or fear. (And, unrelated to SHY, next time the Caldecott Awards are approaching, take a cue from Colby Sharp and complete a Mock Caldecott Awards unit with your students.)

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


Perfect Picture Book Friday: WOLVES


I can’t recall who recommended Emily Gravett’s WOLVES to me. Once I had my hands on it, I devoured it before looking at the copyright date. I was flabbergasted when I discovered that WOLVES came out in 2005. I would’ve guessed it was hot off the presses. What makes this book ahead of its time?

It’s got spot-on dark humor in the vein of Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back.

It’s meta like Mo Willems’s We Are in a Book.

And it’s subversive (subverts our picture book expectations) like Mac Barnett’s Guess Again!


Written and illustrated by: Emily Gravett

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2005, Fiction

For Ages: 4 and UP

Themes/Topics: predator/prey relationship; thwarting reader expectations; imagination, meta books (book within a book)

First page text:

Shh! {placard hanging in library}

Rabbit went to the library.

He chose a book about…

WOLVES {title of book Rabbit is holding}

Summary (from publisher):

What do wolves really like to eat? It isn’t little girls in red hoods.
Rabbits shouldn’t believe what they read in fairy tales, but this book has the facts.

(This book follows the National Carroticulum.)

Why I Like This Book: A cute rabbit checks out a book titled WOLVES from the library. Rabbit reads facts about wolves and we read with him. But as he reads, he becomes more and more absorbed in the book until he is completely inside the rather dangerous red book within the book. If you think things do not end well for Rabbit, you’re right. But, fear not, the author provides an alternative ending “for more sensitive readers.”

The illustrations are handled brilliantly throughout and I love the clever library card from the “West Bucks Public Burrowing Library” at the start of the book and the growing pile of mail, including an overdue notice from the library, at the end.

Ideas for Teachers: I think upper elementary students would enjoy reading how Emily Gravett created this groundbreaking debut picture book. This article includes sketches and a chronological detailing of her artistic process. It’s worth noting that Ms. Gravett did not know how things would end for her little Rabbit until she had nearly completed the writing and illustration process.

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

Storystorm Day 1: “The Calm Before the Storm” by Deb Lund

Take 2017 by storm! If you’re in need of inspiration for your writing, check out StoryStorm.

Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

by Deb Lund

I’ve been restless lately. Uncertain. Wondering what to work on next, but not taking action. Growing up in northern Minnesota, the outward version of that was an approaching storm—a blizzard, a tornado, torrential rains… It starts out in stillness and quickly gets dark.


There’s something in the air that you can’t quite identify, and then it whooshes in…


Energy builds. Everything whirls around you. There’s nothing to hang on to. It all feels impossible and there’s nothing you can do about it—except face it. Be brave! Lean into the wind! You got this!

Creativity needs chaos. It needs a storm. Once in a while we need to be shaken out of our pitiful patterns and hideous habits. You know what I mean. Those crazy excuses—I’m too old/young/busy/whatever. Or… just another game of Solitaire, or another snack. Yeah! That’s what I need!


When the storm hits, don’t hide…

View original post 690 more words

2017 Anti-Resolution Revolution

This is my second year participating in Julie Hedlund’s Anti-Resolution Revolution (

Julie’s approach – celebrating successes from the previous year and using them as a base to build upon – feels more hopeful and productive than writing your typical New Year’s resolutions (I failed to accomplish X this year, but next year I’ll make X happen!).

As I wrote last year, listing “successes” wasn’t my style in the past, but I think in this new-ish era of going “all in” with my writing, celebrating success, in whatever form, might be just the push I need. For those of us, especially women, who’ve been taught to be humble, not to brag, not to promote ourselves, this can seem foreign. We think people will say something like “Who does she think she is?” or “She calls those ‘successes’?” But owning that writing is vital to me and that this is where I am right now is powerful.

One of my favorite successes from this year was a critique session with Matt de la Peña at my local Oregon SCBWI conference. His feedback along with his amazing keynote helped me hone in on and articulate my “writing mission.” Articulating my personal writing mission has increased the satisfaction and joy I find in writing AND has given me one more key rubric for judging whether a piece of writing is “done.” Does it match my writing mission? If the answer is “no,” then I know I have some revising to do….



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.”