I love the holiday season! And what better way for a writer to celebrate than by entering a holiday writing contest! This is children’s author, Susanna Leonard Hill‘s 8th year of sponsoring this fun event, and the rules are as follows:
Theme: Holiday Heroes
Ages: 12 and under
Words: 250 or less
And here’s my submission. . .hope you enjoy!
MAZY’S CHRISTMAS MIRACLE
By Patti Richards
The stable was damp.
There was leftover hay.
No one would help
On that December day.
Snoring sheep snuggled
All warm in their stalls.
Mice dreamed sweet dreams,
In their nests in the walls.
But one mouse woke up
When it heard the soft cry
Of a baby just placed
In a manger close by.
“That little one’s cold,”
Tiny Mazy could see.
She grabbed knitting needles
And called out to Bea,
Her very best friend
Of all the barn beasts.
“We need to act fast,
Give me some of your fleece!”
Mazy carded and spun
As quick as she could.
Her fingers were flying,
While Bea calmly stood
As her wool became yarn.
Then row after row,
Mazy knit swaddling clothes
For the small one below.
Now, when Mary gets
Credit for wrapping her babe,
Mice and sheep the world ‘round
Know it’s what Mazy made.
Sensibility-Use the holiday season to spark new ideas for writing projects in the coming year.
Sense- Pace yourself and your writing based on the demands of the holiday season. Don’t fret if you’re not as productive as usual. Embrace this time and be present in each moment with family and friends.
I just wanted to take a moment and thank you all for being part of my publishing journey this year. It’s had its ups and downs, but I love what I do and am glad I get to keep on doing it! I hope your Thanksgiving is full of every good thing. Life is a gift, and I’m glad for this season where we can pause for a while with family and friends and be grateful! Have a lovely Thanksgiving week:)
I’ve already announced this on social media, but I wanted to share here as well that I’m over-the-moon excited to be part of a new poetry anthology for children called, THANKU: POEMS OF GRATITUDE, edited by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Marlena Myles (Lerner/Millbrook, Fall 2019).
I’m celebrating hitting the 2000-follower mark on Twitter this morning with a Picture Book Critique Giveaway! Be one of the first five people to comment on this blog post and receive a picture book critique (800 words or less) absolutely FREE! That’s a $50 value completely free! So comment below and I’ll reply with submission instructions! Thanks so much for being part of my writer journey:)
Back in October, I received the news that my picture book manuscript, CUPINE’S PERFECT DANCE PARTNER, had been awarded an Honorable Mention in the 86th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. There were over 5100 entries across several categories, and I was over-the-moon excited that my porcupine story had been selected! Today, they sent me a little swag as a reminder:
I post this today as an encouragement to each of you to keep on keeping on. You never know when that next submission is going to bring you some happy publishing news!
Happy New Year, and Happy Writing!
Sensibility-Persistence always pays off, even if it seems like it’s taking forever!
Sense- Find new places to submit your writing this month. Contests, magazines, newsletters and publishing journals provide important credits and the motivation you need to keep going!
What are some contests or places outside of publishing houses or agents where you’ve submitted your work?
It’s smack in the middle between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and I’m looking out my office window at a winter blue sky and fresh snowfall. It’s a white and wonderful around here, and I’m enjoying having my daughters home from college for a few more days and looking forward to our family New Year’s Eve celebration. I wanted to take this opportunity to wish all of you Happy Holidays and especially a Happy New Year! Thank you for making this writer’s journey so pleasant by visiting here and sharing your comments along the way. I appreciate each of you!
In the New Year, look for more installments on Writing for Today’s Child, author interviews, great giveaways and new services from PGWRites Critiques as I approach my 100th Sensibility and Sense post! I hope you’ll visit often and let me know your thoughts as we learn and grow together!
Here’s to a happy and healthy 2018!
Sensibility- Find a quiet moment between holiday activities to just think, breathe and be. Turn your heart to thankfulness for all the blessings in your life.
Sense-Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, consider making a list of reachable goals for each month of 2018. As long as you’re moving forward, even baby steps are steps in the right direction!
I’ve been doing some research about the lives of today’s children in my efforts to learn more about my audience, and I’ve come across some pretty startling statistics. For example:
1 in 6 people in America face hunger. That means more than 1 in 5 children is at risk for being hungry during a regular school day. Among African American and Latino American children, the risk is 1 in 3.
For every 100 school lunch programs, there are only 87 breakfast sites and 36 summer food programs.
Nearly half of the 1 in 7 people enrolled in SNAP programs are children.
Over 20 million children receive free or reduced-price lunches each day at school. Less than half of these kids get breakfast, and even less than that have access to a meal program in the summer.
40 percent of food is thrown out in the United States each year. That’s about $165 billion, and that amount could feed 25 million people.
Yep, you read that right…$165 billion…enough to feed 25 million hungry people; and a grotesquely large number of those are children. Pretty overwhelming stuff, considering we’re at the end of the season of thankfulness and just opening the door on the season of giving.
So what do these numbers have to do with writing for kids? Well, think about that for a minute. One in 5 children ARE hungry during the regular school day. That means when little Johnny or Susie picks up a book during library time, most days all he or she can think about is, “When’s lunch?” And I don’t know about you, but when I’m hungry, reading, thinking or any kind of concentrating is almost impossible. Now imagine if that same child picks up a book about making pancakes, or having a meal with family, or sitting down to a table laden with holiday goodness? I mean, don’t we all get a little bit hungry, even when we’re not if food flashes in front of our eyes?
Now let’s talk buying books. If more than 20 million children across America receive free or reduced-priced lunches, how many of them have ever or will ever hold a book in their hands that they’ve purchased with their very own money? And how does that figure into school book fairs where some families must choose between paying the rent or buying groceries, much less finding some extra cash so a child can be like his or her classmates and visit the book fair? Part of developing a life-long love of reading is the feeling that comes when you crack open a book of your very own. The smell. The sound of pages turning. The brightness of brand new pictures and paper that isn’t stained or torn. All of this creates memories that draw adults back to books. I know ebooks have their place, but for book lovers, there’s just nothing quite like it. If this love of books never develops because books aren’t accessible or kids are too hungry to read them, how is this impacting society as a whole?
When I was a teacher I wrote a different inspiring quote on the chalkboard each day (you know, that long green thing that used to hang in the front of the classroom:). One of my favorites was, “Readers are leaders.” But even the child with the absolute most potential for greatness in the world can’t lead when she’s hungry, because all she thinks about is, well, being hungry.
It would be great if the answer were as simple as putting hungry children in our stories so they can see themselves in what they read. Or don’t put hungry children in our stories so they won’t feel marginalized. Or don’t put food in our stories so we don’t create more hunger. Or put more food in our stories, or, or, or… you see the problem here, right? I guess, as with many other types of social injustice, writing in the most thoughtful way possible with the goal of shining some light on the problem without singling out children and making their lives more difficult is the best approach. Pretty tall order, but you’re a writer for children, remember? In your heart, you’ve taken a sacred oath to do just that. And if you haven’t you should, or find something else to do with your time.
The other thing you can do is put legs on your prayers for hungry children by seeking out ways to help. I read a really great suggestion on Facebook the other day about going to your local school and paying off outstanding lunch charges for children in need. You may not know this, but hungry kids fall through the cracks all the time, and not all families who need free and reduced-priced lunches get them for a variety of reasons. When these kids’ lunch charges exceed a certain amount, they can no longer get lunch and are forced to eat a dry cheese sandwich or a bowl of Cheerios. Yep. It’s the truth.
Another great idea is to help your local school start a sharing table! Sharing tables are no-judgment zones in school cafeterias. They help reduce food waste by encouraging children to place the food they don’t like or don’t want to eat on the table and choose something they do like instead. At the end of the day, any extra food is donated to charity to help feed the hungry in the community. It’s a win-win because kids who didn’t get quite enough can feel free to pick something off the sharing table without feeling embarrassed, and food that otherwise would have gone in the trash gets eaten. Some schools even pack up the leftovers and send them home with needy kids so their families can have just a little more that night. You can read more about Sharing Tables here:
Writers are doers.We “do” every day without having to punch a time clock. As long as we meet our deadlines, it’s all good. Put that writer “do” into finding ways to help end childhood hunger.
Then what will we have? More kids with satisfied tummies and books in their hands (the ones with your name on them). More readers. More leaders who remember what it’s like to be “that kid” and who work to change their world.
Every time I write a new story, I think about the child that might read it. I think some about the current children’s book market, what’s new and what’s coming down the pike in a few years, but I think more about the child that might one day pick up a book that bears my name.
I think about her a lot.
Is she tall? Short? Plump? Thin? How does she see herself when she looks in the mirror? Are her jeans too tight or not the right style? Does she have a favorite doll? Stuffed animal? Game? Is she so smart it scares her sometimes and is she afraid to raise her hand in class and give the answer. . . again? Does she believe in magic and fairies and Santa Claus even though everyone else stopped believing long ago? Does she feel like she could fly if only she could just find a way to grow a pair of wings?
And what about him?
Is he skinny? Short? Fast? Slow? Does he hate baseball? Does he love football? Does he love hunting? Does he want to learn to cook or plant flowers or sing? Is he afraid of spiders just like his sister even though he isn’t supposed to be? And what if he never likes reading? So what? Will he ever be able to sit still in class, even for a minute? And what if he can’t? Will he still feel OK in his own skin? What if he likes wandering in the woods better than just about anything else? What if he feels he could fly if only he could just find a way to grow a pair of wings?
We hear an awful lot these days about what we should be writing about. What teachers want for their students, what parents want for their kids and what society says we should be giving them instead of something else. And all of those are very good things. But I didn’t start this very long journey for any other reason than to write for that girl or that boy. I truly believed, and still do, that simple stories with universal truths that meet kids where they are and take them where they need to be are the best kind for growing amazing little people into amazing big adults. Stories of compassion, kindness, goodness and love, woven with adventure, courage and fantasy about heroes kids can trust, believe in and identify with. Those are the kinds of stories I gave my own children, and all three of them have turned into amazing big adults ready to take on the world.
Having the big empty nest I mentioned in a previous post has given me time to think about the why of things. . . why we make the choices we make, why this world is the way it is; why children seem to be busier than ever, have more access to programs and experiences and opportunities than ever and are still killing themselves at an alarming rate with prescription opioids and heroin. Why? Why aren’t they satisfied and happy? I have a few theories, but that would take its own blog post.
So I’m going on a little journey to discover as much as I can about the children for whom I write, and I’m starting by reading C.S Lewis’s Letters to Children and Other Worlds: Essays and Stories. I’ll be sharing what I learn in a series of blog posts over the next few months, not every week, but as often as I can. I think it will be a fascinating journey. I hope you’ll join me.
Sensibility-For writers, not knowing your audience could find you producing stories something akin to a broccoli birthday cake or a Thanksgiving turkey made entirely of cheese.
Sense- Get to know your audience by reading both timeless books and what is trending now.
What are some of your favorite books on writing or writing for children?
A few weeks ago, after almost 20 years of first-day pictures, new backpacks, shiny, white sneakers and packing lunches, my husband I finally made it to the empty-nest club. To celebrate, we took our first extended trip without any kids or pets, and headed north to Michigan’s gorgeous and remote Upper Peninsula. It seemed like the perfect way to ease into our new roles- drop our daughters off at school, pick up the ferry across Lake Michigan and have an adventure. It was amazing. We talked, laughed, hiked, ate, rested and looked at each other without interruption for 5 whole days! “This empty-nest thing is a piece of cake,” we said. “We’ve got this!” And then we came home.
Yep, you guessed it. The other shoe fell sometime during the second evening of our newly-found, empty-nest bliss. I looked at my husband after our second or third episode of the West Wing and said, “What time is it?”
“Eight-thirty,” he answered.
“That early?” I responded.
“Yep,” he said.
“So this is how it’s going to be?” I questioned.
“I guess so,” he said.
I’m not sure if we both cried right then, or if a number of tears I shed over the next few minutes were enough for two, but there were waterworks a-plenty. It felt good to let it out after all the busyness of getting the girls supplied, packed up and delivered to school while at the same time preparing for our own trip. It was the end of a very long marathon that began the previous September with the last set of senior pictures, homecoming, etc. You know, all that “last time, last kid” stuff we do to send our babies off into the big college world. We trudged upstairs and went to bed, weary from weeping, while at the same time strangely refreshed.
It took me a while to get back into a routine, especially since a week later we made a trip south due to a loved one’s medical emergency. But after we got back home again, I fell into a groove, and it felt good. It was now time to take care of some long-neglected items on my to-do list, and one of those was my bulletin board.
Ever since I became a teacher (once upon a time), I’ve loved bulletin boards. So there’s always one in my kitchen where everyone can see it. It has a nice calendar and lots of room for whatever notes, business cards, receipts, etc. that I need to keep in a safe place. It’s been our family hub for a long time. So, I started removing every piece of paper thumbtacked to the cork. Everything I touched was outdated or no longer needed. I didn’t find anything important. Nothing. Zilch. When I finished, this is what was left:
The empty cork with lonely thumbtacks and a blank calendar almost made cry. . . almost. But before the floodgates opened, I realized something. That emptiness represented space in my life. Something I haven’t had much of since hearing those first amazing words, “It’s a boy!” Those were the absolute best years of my life. There’s nothing better than being a mom! But wow, that space, that cracked, well-used corkboard space looked hopeful somehow. What to do with it?
The temptation to fill it up to stop the loneliness came. . . and went! Are you kidding me? How about pausing, exhaling and letting God fill the space? Or not fill it! What an incredible feeling- to have space that didn’t need filling, just repurposing.
And of course I’m using my part of that space to write, and write and write some more. In the emptiness, creativity has flooded in (and I’m getting my paying work done too). I’m enjoying my quiet hours more than I ever thought I would. Oh, I still cry. And there are many evenings when I ask my husband, “Is it that early?” I mean hey, we’ve only been at this a few weeks. And thankfully, my kids are close enough to us that if the need for a cup of coffee with them becomes overwhelming we can get to them easily. But that space. Wow.
It’s been a week or so since I cleaned off the bulletin board, and it’s still empty. Even the calendar for October is empty (not the one I keep on my computer, but still). I think I’ll keep it that way a while longer. It’s a great reminder to cherish the space as a gift, rather than fill it with more things that don’t really matter.
And as a way of celebrating this new season, I’m running one of my famous BOGO Critique Specials. That’s right! Now through November 17th, purchase one picture book critique at the regular price and get a second critique absolutely free. Just click on the PGWRites Critiques tab above for more information. Looking forward to reading your stories in the coming weeks!
Sensibility-Life’s seasons can be challenging. Keeping a positive attitude and looking for the unique joys each one brings keeps us moving forward.
Sense- Find yourself with some unexpected space? Fill it with creative projects. They are the best kind of food for the soul!
Kristin is the author of YA novel, THE ART OF HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO (Elephant Rock Productions, September 2016). The book was a Junior Library Guild Fall 2016 Selection and chosen for the 2017-2018 Great Lakes Great Books statewide literature program. Kristin’s success led to lots of speaking engagements and a flurry of activity as the book gained popularity. But what’s a newly-minted author to do when the process of promoting a book zaps your energy and leaves you feeling unable to write anything new? Kristin answers this important questions and more in this fabulous post that provides an honest perspective. Hope you enjoy it!