Every year Vivian Kirkfield hosts a 50 precious words contest. A challenge, yes, and one that pushes me to consider how a story can be told in very few words. Writing picture books is really hard, and it still comes as a surprise when I can slash words from my story to make it even tighter. Ever word matters. My entry this year points to an article I read back in 2017, but the article came out in 2015, about a 109-year old Australian man who knit sweaters for injured penguins. It really tugged at my heart so I wanted to write a little something in honor of that sweet man.
A SWEATER FOR PENGUIN
By Lori Himmel (50 words)
Wings are for flying, but you don’t soar.
The ocean is your sky. Zip. Zoom.
Do those scratches hurt?
Bandages slip off your wet suit.
Knit one, purl two.
Vibrant colors collide.
I am old.
You should live long too.
Here, a sweater.
Wear it in good health, penguin friend.
SUSANNA HILL’S 2021 VALENTINY CONTEST
RULES: Write a story for children in 214 words or less about someone being brave. This story is a nod to the all famous Amanda Gorman, American poet & activist.
By Lori Himmel
“I can’t wait to hear all your Valentine’s Day poems tomorrow,” announced Ms. Morris.
Juliet wanted to disappear like chocolate in a heart-shaped box.
At home, she stumbled over her already written words.
She tried again.
“This isn’t working!”
Juliet climbed up to her treehouse crying raindrop-sized tears.
Just then, a paper airplane flew into the treehouse window.
There was something written inside.
“Be brave. I believe in you. Love, Mom”
Juliet calmed, dried her eyes, and practiced her poem all afternoon.
She chewed her favorite blue candy in between lines.
Confidence began to burst in Juliet’s voice like cherry-filled chocolates.
“OK! I’ve got this!”
On Valentine’s Day, Sam raised his hand first.
Then Gwen, then Sara.
It was Juliet’s turn.
Still nervous, she began by saying:
“Writing a poem can be hard
especially when you’re shy
I wasn’t sure what to say
But I needed to give it a try
Here it goes.
Roses are red
Puppies are sweet
You may be hungry
So here is a treat
They’re all different colors
My favorite is blue
Guess what they are?
Whew, I did it!
Juliet popped more candy while passing out Fruity-Ka-chew Valentines to her class.
Rules of the contest: write a 100-word Halloween story appropriate for children, using the words skeleton, creep, and mask. Here is my entry:
A BONE-TASTIC HALLOWEEN!
by Lori Himmel
Spiders creep as the sky shifts to black.
Ghost hovers over the lawn and calls for Skeleton,
“Rise up bones! Time to rattle and quake!”
“Let’s go, Humerus and Tibia!”
Vertebra stacks bone-to-bone along the grass.
Shoulder Bone squares up below Clavicle.
Pelvis wobbles into place.
Tarsal shimmies down to the foot.
“Nice job!” shouts Ghost.
“Almost complete! But where is Skull?”
Ghost looks everywhere!
Finally, Spike sprints to the lawn wearing Skull as a mask.
“You silly dog!”
Spike shakes and Skull rolls into place.
“Oooo! It’s a bone-tastic Halloween!”
RATE YOUR STORY
Rate Your Story (RYS) has been a great resource for me as a writer! The service gives writers an opportunity to submit a story where an author (or judge) reviews the story, rates it, and provide valuable feedback to help improve your story.
The rating scale goes from 10 to 1.
10 is: Consider this story as practice and write a new one.
1 is: Great story! You should consider submitting this.
I have been a member of RYS for a few years now and I value every ounce of feedback I receive. When I first submitted a story to RYS, I received a 7. And subsequently, each story has improved. One story received a 1 and I about fell off my chair. It’s a great gauge on how your story reads and sounds to a professional in the field. I’m so grateful to all the judges at Rate Your Story, and their time and effort to help writers, like me.
Honorable Mention – VIVIAN KIRKFIELD’S 2020 #50 PRECIOUS WORDS CONTEST
I was so excited to be an honorable mention in the adventure category for this fun contest. Thank you Vivian Kirkfield for being so generous with your time on these contests!
#328: Big Ride by Joy Pitcairn
#267: Let’s Take a Walk by Lori Himmel
#291: Search for Life by Jilanne Hoffmann
#11: Wombat Rescue by Robin Currie
#91: To Catch the Moon by Jenny Buchet
LET’S TAKE A WALK
by Lori Himmel
Let’s take a walk
Down the street
around the block
up a trail.
Where paths twist and turn
and rock beds and mud
slop our shoes.
Look under logs
Collect secret treasures
Until pockets are heavy and
legs grow weak.
Let’s take a walk,
viviankirkfield I love that you took us along on this walk also, Lori. And I like that you let us feel what they were feeling: until pockets are heavy and legs grow weak. Thanks for sharing your precious words with us.LITTLEREDSTORYSHED
Really love that their pockets are heavy with “secret treasure.” Nice imagery, Lori. MARIA MARSHALL
Nothing like exploring and finding treasures with a kid. Great job putting us in their shoes – slopped with mud – and heavy pockets. Good luck! DIANE TULLOCH
Great visuals on this lovely walk. Good luck Lori. CATHERINE FRIESS
I really enjoyed walking with you Lori – this is lovely to read :o) NANCY RILEY
I can se the whole walk. So fun for a little one. Nice job. JILLBURNS7
Sounds like a lot of fun! Cute story!
Honorable Mention –
Unique Character for the character in my short story entry.
The Contest: write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children, using the words potion, cobweb, and trick. Here is my entry:
THE VERY HAUNTED HOUSE
by Lori Himmel
House worked for days decorating herself for Halloween.
She mixed up bubbly potions in the kitchen and watched them ooze to the floor.
She hung ghosts in the living room and set a timer for the booing sounds.
House hung cobwebs in every corner of every room.
She saw that it was scary, but not scary enough.
It had to be perfect.
She added vampire bats! Skeletons! Ghouls and goblins!
Then drops of blood, bones, and slime!
Scream machines and mummies wrapped tight!
There! That would do the trick!
Now, House wasn’t just a house anymore.
One of my favorite authors knew just what to say in Winnie the Pooh.
“It occurred to Pooh and Piglet that they hadn’t heard from Eeyore for several days, so they put on their hats and coats and trotted across the Hundred Acre Wood to Eeyore’s house.
Inside the house was Eeyore.
“Hello Eeyore,” said Pooh.
“Hello, Pooh. Hello, Piglet” said Eeyore, in a glum sounding voice.
“We just thought we’d check on you,” said Piglet, “because we hadn’t heard from you, and so we wanted to know if you were okay.”
Eeyore was silent for a moment. “Am I okay?” he asked, eventually. “Well, I don’t know, to be honest. Are any of us really okay? That’s what I ask myself. All I can tell you, Pooh and Piglet, is that right now I feel really rather sad, and alone, and not much fun to be around at all.
Which is why I haven’t bothered you. Because you wouldn’t want to waste your time with someone who is sad, and alone, and not much fun to be around at all, would you now.”
Pooh looked and Piglet, and Piglet looked at Pooh, and they both sat down, one on either side of Eeyore in his stick house.
Eeyore looked at them in surprise. “What are you doing?”
“We’re sitting here with you,” said Pooh, “because we are your friends. And true friends don’t care if someone is feeling sad, or alone, or not much fun to be around at all. True friends are there for you anyway. And so here we are.”
“Oh,” said Eeyore. “Oh.” And the three of them sat there in silence, and while Pooh and Piglet said nothing at all; somehow, almost imperceptibly, Eeyore started to feel a very tiny little bit better.
Because Pooh and Piglet were there.
No more; no less.”
Author – AA Milne
Vivian Kirkfield’s writing challenge begins on March 2, 2019. Here is my entry:
by Lori Himmel
You whispered me awake, “sunshine.”
Flipped pancakes, poured my juice, so kind.
Held my hand on the way to school.
Reminded me of the “golden rule.”
“Oops!” I dropped a plate, so sad.
Hugged me tight and didn’t get mad.
Read my favorite books in bed.
“Goodnight, my little sleepyhead.”
Susanna Leonard Hill, Children’s Author is hosting Oh, Guilty Heart! – The 4th Annual Valentiny Writing Contest!
. The rules are: write a 214-word Valentine story appropriate for children in which someone feels guilty.
MIMI’S MIXED-UP VALENTINE
by Lori Himmel
“Leave the cards alone, Charles!” Mimi roared at her brother.
Charles mixed up Mimi’s Valentine’s Day cards on the kitchen table and hid some in his pocket.
“Mine!” laughed Charles.
“Charles, you are T-R-O-U-B-L-E!” huffed Mimi ripping a card out of his hand.
“Mimi is my favorite.”
She kept signing cards not looking up and Charles crumpled more cards.
Her brother poked at everything on the table.
“Mom! Charles won’t stop!”
“Honey, you know Charles just wants to be with you. Be kind.”
Mimi whispered to her mom, “He’s just out-of-control all the time. Annoying, really.”
Mimi gathered all the cards and slammed the door when she left for school.
“What a start to Valentine’s day! Ugh!”
Later that day, Mimi put a card in her classmates’ decorated boxes.
“One for you. And one for you.”
When she looked through all the cards she received, she saw a crooked mixed-up Valentine.
The card was crumpled and scribbled in black marker.
“I love Mimi. Love, Charles.”
Mimi’s heart sank low.
“I didn’t make a card for Charles!”
After school, Mimi ran into the house and wrapped her arms around Charles.
“I love you everything about you, little bro. Thanks for the card!”
“Mimi is my favorite Valentine!”
“And you’re mine!”
Susanna Leonard Hill, Children’s Author is hosting the 8th Annual Halloweensie Contest. The rules are: write a 100-word Halloween story appropriate for children using the words cauldron, shiver, and howl. Here is my entry:
WEREWOLF & THE HALLOWEEN RACE
by Lori Himmel
Witch tapped her cauldron three times.
CLINK! CLINK! CLINK!
“Welcome to the Halloween race!”
Werewolf’s knees knocked as he took his place on the starting line.
“On your marks, get set, GO!”
Ghost zoomed off the line, but then disappeared.
Vampire tumbled over his cape.
Skeleton’s bones clanked, falling apart.
Werewolf stumbled and then found a steady pace.
His fur flew.
Ghost appeared again swooshing in and out of Werewolf’s lane.
“Watch out!” shouted Werewolf.
He darted and shivered right through Ghost as he crossed the finish line.
“AHHHH! What happened?”
“Congratulations, Werewolf! You’re the winner!”
I’m so excited to be partnering with a friend for a new Young Writer’s Workshop offered through our local school starting Fall 2018. For details, visit Young Writer’s Workshop.
My son reading his story at our Writer’s Showcase.
Susanna Leonard Hill’s holiday writing contest is underway! Here is my entry:
by Lori Himmel
In November my email DINGS! It reads:
“Sam, I can’t deliver Christmas this year. I broke my back! All the doctors at the North Pole say I have to stay in bed for six weeks! I don’t know what to do. The elves stopped making toys and Mrs. Claus went on vacation. This is a total disaster! Please write back.”
Santa needs my help? Doesn’t he have a lawyer, psychologist or dermatologist or someone else to ask?
Mom says Santa knows I’m organized and that is why he asks me for my help.
I ask the social worker at my school what to do. She looks at me funny and then says she’ll be seeing me quite a bit in the new year.
I ask the lunch lady what to do, she says, “Lay off the sugar, kid.”
The nurse checks my temperature. “Normal, kind of,” she replies under her breath.
Oh, no! Christmas is in big trouble!
I remember there are other holidays around this time, so I call up Hanukkah and Kwanza.
Hanukkah says, “Happy to help! We don’t start lighting candles until January this year. We’ll bring the gifts, one for each child.”
Kwanza says, “One of our main principles is to create unity in the world. We’ll bring the food as it brings us all together around the table.”
Hurrah! It’s all coming together. Presents and food arrive at homes everywhere.
Christmas day is a huge success—thanks to our holiday neighbors.
A couple of months later, Cupid texts me…
My critique group appropriately named the PBJs (Picture Book Junkies), talks about, reviews and studies picture books. All. The. Time. Every week we bring books to the table and we learn from and drool over the fact that we are holding years of effort, sweat and love.
In early December we have our annual Christmas Tea to celebrate our year-end. We laugh at all the fun we’ve had, the minor successes, the heartbreak rejections, the nominations, the mentorships, our writing news. It is a wonderful celebration!
We also have a gift exchange and everyone leaves with full bellies and either a craft book, picture book, MG or YA to enjoy. This year we will also bring a list of our top 15 favorite picture books. This is a challenge for me, but I’ll sort out the ones that have stood out over time or new ones just hitting the charts as best books of the year. Here are some of my most favorite time-treasured picks:
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (will probably remain #1 forever!)
*the rest are in no particular order*
- Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel
- Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
- The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
- Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
- On the Day You Were Born by Debra Frasier
- The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak
- Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick
- Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
- The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse by Mac Barnett
- The First Dog by Jan Brett
- Owen by Kevin Henkes
- Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback
- Train by Elisha Cooper
- Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena
One day, I hope to add my name to this list or be on someone else’s list of top picks. Until then, I will work diligently at my craft and enjoy the beautiful (and sometimes agonizing) process along the way.
Golden Pen Finalists
This year at the Letters & Lines conference, faculty members selected ten outstanding manuscripts to be the Golden Pen Award finalists. The authors of these manuscripts not only have bragging rights but also the opportunity to be selected as the winner. One winner will be chosen by a committee of three judges. The winning author’s manuscript will be announced in November and that winner will receive free conference tuition to our 2018 Letters and Lines conference. Here are the finalists:
I was one of them! Can’t wait to hear who the winner is!
Cara Davies, Homestead
Megan E. Freeman, Lone Girl
Ashley Hastings, Blame It on the Cow
Katy Hess, The Pirate’s Hand
Lori Himmel, Waiting for Kai *
Ann Morris, Thin
Paula Obering, Grizzly Bird
Laura Perdew, Undercurrents
Nancy D. Riley, Chaska and the Great Flood
Laura Wynkoop, Deer, Bear and Bicycle
Susanna Leonard Hill, Children’s Author is hosting the 7th Annual Halloweensie Contest. The rules are: write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children using the words candy corn, monster, and shadow. Here is my entry:
by Lori Himmel
“Shadow! Shadow, where are you?”
“Mom, have you seen Shadow?”
“Check your room.”
I scoop up a handful of candy corn and run upstairs.
I look in my sister’s room.
“Go away, Sheldon! I’m transforming into a princess. And princesses don’t look for lost pets.”
“Dad, have you seen Shadow?”
“Check the porch.”
My monster-dressed friends are ready to trick-or-treat–costumes, bags, flashlights.
I’m ready too, but it won’t be Halloween without my best friend!
I finally give up looking.
We start trick-or-treating then something softly lands on my shoulder.
“Shadow, you found me!”
Pirate costume complete.
One of my favorite ti016 mes of year—the Letters & Lines Conference through the Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI! The rooms are packed wall-to-wall with picture book writers, illustrators, agents, and editors from the field, eloquently presenting steps and tips on how to break into the picture book market.
I sat fascinated by the knowledge and excitement of the keynote speakers during their kick-off presentations. Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser, the co-founders of SCBWI, chuck out funny stories about how the organization began. Hopeful writers, published writers, and those on the brink of a contract listen and feel grateful for the opportunity these two had back in the ‘70s. If it wasn’t for them launching this amazing organization, who would it have been?
One day in and I’m learning so much already. Each conference provides new and important information on the market trends, word count, proposals, first page sessions, critiques, and so much more. My knowledge of the industry continues to grow each year, and I immediately apply the information to my current project: polishing, removing words, improving my pitch/hook, and developing character(s).
The networking opportunities are also remarkable. It’s exhilarating to brush shoulders with agents and editors, sit with them during lunch, or casually talk about their picture book desires. I’m always so impressed with their professionalism and also human-ness (they seem so distant on their website or in the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market). Knowing they drink coffee and walk with one foot in front of the other, just like me, gives me a little relief … just a little.
I always pay for the extra manuscript critique, so I can sit with an agent one-on-one and discuss ideas or suggestions for my project. The feedback is invaluable and perhaps one of my favorite parts of the conference. There is always energy from the agent that helps me launch either into a new direction or gives me the energy to edit certain scenes in my project.
Outside of the presentations, roundtable discussions, and information on the industry, the best part is meeting and talking with fellow writers. One panelist said the word “pre-published” and after hearing that, I feel closer to the publishing world than ever before. I’m a writer, a pre-published writer. That sounds better than “I’m not yet published.” Being a writer is a lot of work, but thanks to my colleagues, the energy and inspiration I feel after a conference keeps me writing. Just as my characters keep me writing, and the scenes I create keep me writing.
I’m so grateful for my critique group, the PBJs, too. It is great to be able to bounce ideas off of each other during and after the conference. Discussing our takeaways from different sessions is invaluable!
So until the 2017 Letters & Lines conference, I will rewrite, update, create new characters and stories, dabble in different scenes, and submit to various agents and editors accessible through the conference. This is indeed a wonderful resource for all children’s book writers and illustrators. Thanks again Lin & Steve for being our pioneers! Happy 40th SCBWI!
Writing is tough. The words all have to be spelled correctly. Sentences have to be structured. Verbs have to be in the correct tense. Don’t end in a preposition. Make sure you have a story arc. Make sure you’ve developed your characters well. Single or double spaced? “Said” or “explained“? It’s enough to make your head spin! But alas, it’s what I love doing.
I’m not an English major so there are many reasons why I need a critique group. I’m not published. I don’t have an agent. I’ve just started this journey and I’m 2 years in! There is so much to know, so much to learn.
After attending the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators (SCBWI) writing conference in Golden, Colorado last year, I realized I knew very little about the industry. And many of the attendees were in the same boat. We were floundering, wondering how this all works, and all working hard to become authors. Writing for children is probably the toughest book market, at least that’s what we’re all hearing. Every word counts. Every sentence counts. Most importantly, we’re learning that 500 words or less is what publishers are looking for. Really? That’s all I get to tell a story?
So this brings me to my wonderful and amazing group of writers called the PBJs! The Picture Book Junkies. We brainstormed our name and wanted something catchy and kid-like. It works for us. And every other week we gather in a small conference room, filled with excitement and energy for each other and our stories. Two stories are critiqued and we come up with creative ideas for each other, provide edits, kudos, and things to consider. We write a pitch that could be used in a query letter and overall have a really nice time together. I’m super thankful that I found the PBJs. They provide a great deal of enthusiasm for my writing, and I can’t wait to read more exciting stories from this very creative bunch.
On October 15, 2012, I put my middle child, Natalie, to bed in my usual nighttime routine: snuggles, kisses, and blanket tucks. I then gave her hopes for a great sleep, prayers, and more kisses. It was getting late so I didn’t read her a book, but she asked me to talk about my childhood. Being tired, I couldn’t really think of a single story to tell her, at least not a new one.
So I leaned in close and whispered her a story that came pouring out of my mouth—a character was developing, an adventure was happening, a conflict was occurring. As the story progressed, my eyes started to well up. I was amazed at what was transpiring. The story ended and Natalie looked at me with wide eyes.
“Is that a true story?”
“No, I just made it up,” I replied.
“Well, that was the best story I’ve ever heard,” she said sweetly.
It wasn’t until the next morning when I thought this story might have potential. It was a subject I knew something about. I’ve heard time and time again to write what you know. So I fleshed it out over two years. Since then, I’ve been editing, writing more stories, editing some more, researching, receiving feedback and critiques, attending writing conferences, and working toward publishing my first picture book. This whale might give you a little hint on what one of my stories is about. Spending time in Hawaii where these beautiful humpback whales live, inspired me to write this tale.
There have been many, many drafts of this story. I’m so grateful to my critique group for their time and feedback on this and other stories, and for the agents that almost said yes! Maybe it’ll be the next one I query. Fingers crossed!