Family Trees – A Celebration of Children’s Literature

This morning, my kids and I went to a special holiday exhibit at the Concord Museum in Concord, Massachusetts. This is an annual exhibit I’ve wanted to see for several years, and I was glad to have a quiet morning during vacation week when we could go.

The exhibit is called “Family Trees: A Celebration of Children’s Literature.” Volunteer decorators – some of them the authors and illustrators themselves – use picture books as a theme to decorate Christmas trees around the museum. Each tree includes a copy of the book nearby so you can enjoy the stories.


This tree stood in the entryway – the centerpiece of the exhibit. It was decorated for Lola’s Fandango by Anna Witte, illustrated by Micha Archer, and decorated by the illustrator.

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I love how she used toothbrushes as the bodies.

My daughter had read Snowmen at Work by Caralyn Buehner before, but wanted to read it again when she saw this tree.


The author, Jane Kohuth, decorated a tree for her book Duck Sock Hop, illustrated by Jane Porter. It was next to another tree decorated with socks, for Dirty Joe, the Pirate by Bill Harley, illustrated by Jack E. Davis.


This one was for Red Wagon by Renata Liwska.


This was one of my favorites, for The Umbrella Queen by Shirin Yim Bridges, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo. I loved the detail in the umbrellas.



A group of 5th graders and kindergarteners from a local school decorated this one for The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.


The display included a coloring station where kids could decorate their own crayons.

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This beautiful little tree was decorated for Gem by Holly Hobbie. It’s a wordless book, so my daughter was able to read the story to herself.



I should mention that the exhibit was sponsored by Barefoot Books, which is located in Concord. What a cool thing for a publisher to do.

There’s only two more days for this exhibit so if you can, go. Or catch it next year. It will be on my holiday-season calendar, for sure.

My Favorite Contests – 2014

blueribbonI’ve been watching the relentless countdown to Christmas on my kids’ Advent calendar, feeling at once underprepared and overly ambitious about the turn of the New Year. As a token toward begin organized for 2014, I started to fill in some dates on my submissions spreadsheet. (That sounds more impressive than it actually is, folks.) I thought I’d share a list of my favorite contests for picture books, children’s poetry, and children’s magazine fiction.

Have I won any of these contests? No. But I love entering them because, for me, the process of getting ready for a contest deadline often brings out the best in my writing. (Or as my husband might say, a wild raging beast that wants to win, win, WIN.) And those non-winning entries can be repurposed. One piece I submitted to a Children’s Writer contest didn’t win, but I turned it into a rebus and sold it to Highlights. My Barbara Karlin entry from last year didn’t win, but did (with some revision) land me an agent.

This is by no means a complete list. Please leave a comment if there are other picture book/short story-focused contests you know of for 2014.


Children’s Writer contests
Children’s Writer magazine holds 3-4 contests each year. Entry is free to subscribers, $15 for nonsubscribers. Recent contests included Seasonal Poetry, Kindergarten Stories, Young Adult Short Stories, and Middle Grade Mysteries.

Susanna Leonard Hill’s contests
Susanna runs contests on her blog about 3 times per year. They are free to enter and prizes have included critiques from agents, editors, and published authors, free books, and more. These are usually for short children’s stories from 100-350 words.


Highlights Fiction Contest
This yearly contest for magazine stories usually has a theme. This year it’s holiday stories up to 800 words. No entry fee and the prizes are drool-worthy – tuition to a Founders Workshop or $1,000.

RateYourStory Contest
(ADDED) This new contest from Rate Your Story includes categories for picture book, novel/novella, and “everything else.” Prizes include cash, critiques, and memberships to Rate Your Story. Free entry for members, a very reasonable $5 for non-members.


Pacific Northwest Writers Association
This contest allows entries in every category of children’s literature. You do not have to be a member of PNWA to enter. There is an entry fee, but the nice thing about this contest is that the fee includes two critiques on your manuscript.


NAESP Contest
UPDATED: I just found out that this contest is NOT being offered in 2014. [This contest for picture books and chapter books actually offers the opportunity to have a book published by Charlesbridge Publishing. It could be a good chance to get your manuscript out of the regular slush and into the presumably better odds of contest slush.]

Barbara Karlin Grant
For SCBWI members. This prize for picture book manuscripts offers a grant of $2,000, plus bragging rights to all your writer friends.

March Madness
If you enjoy the gut-wrenching agony of having to produce a passable poem containing an assigned word in a short span of time, then this contest is for you. If not, it’s fun to follow along, at least.


Golden Quill Poetry Contest
ADDED: As part of her Rhyming Picture Book Month challenge, Angie Karcher is hosting a contest for rhyming poetry. Click the link for details. Prizes are scholarships for one of three online picture book writing courses.


Southwest Writers Conference Contest
This contest offers a category for picture books as well as middle grade or YA. Open to nonmembers. There is an entry fee and I believe you can pay a bit extra to get a critique but it’s not posted in the rules right now. It could also be a good chance to get your work in front of an editor, depending on who the judge is that year.


Hunger Mountain – Katherine Paterson Prize
I have not entered this one, but it seems like a great opportunity to get some work out there, and something nice to add to your query letters if you win. Caveat – they do publish the winning entries in the magazine, so probably best not to submit a picture book manuscript.


Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories
(DEADLINE CORRECTED: Thanks to Mandy for the correction on the submission date.) Sadly, I have never been able to enter this fantastic contest. The winning prize includes $5,000 and a publishing contract with Simon & Schuster. Talk about launching your career! But they accept only completely unpublished writers, so if your writing has been published in any way, and you have been paid for it, you are disqualified. Bummer.


Pockets Fiction Contest
(ADDED: Thanks, Susanna, for reminding me of this one.) This contest is for children’s magazine fiction. The website says that they will begin accepting stories in March, with a final deadline of August 15 – plenty of time to get entries in!

Shabo Award
The website description reads: “The contest is open to writers with a ‘nearly there’ manuscript who have not yet published a picture book.” The prize is tuition to a day-long master class and follow-up session to polish your manuscript. OK, so I live nowhere near Minnesota, but if I won this I would seriously consider a visit!


Lee & Low New Voices Award
(ADDED) This is a great contest for picture book writers of color. Award is a cash prize and a publishing contract with Lee & Low. I’m not eligible for this one, but if they ever open up the award to writers of Italian/German/Dutch descent, I’d be all over it.

Contests specific to New Englanders or New England SCBWI:


PEN New England – Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award
Guidelines (UPDATED)
Open to picture books, middle grade, and YA. New England writers only. Sorry, rest of the country. We like to keep ourselves to ourselves here in New England.


New England SCBWI – Ruth Landers Glass Writers Scholarship
Open to all types of children’s literature. The prize is free tuition for one day to the New England SCBWI conference.


New England SCBWI – Peg Davol scholarship
This is a new prize that was announced in the regional newsletter. The prize, open to picture books, will be awarded to one pre-published author and one published author. Winners will receive a manuscript critique before the regional conference, and in addition a free critique at the conference. (Must register for at least one day at the conference.) I missed the deadline in 2013, but will keep an eye out for it in 2014!

A Merry Thanksgiving – A Holiday Mishap Story

I’m taking a break in the midst of holiday madness to take part in Susanna Leonard Hill’s holiday mishap contest. The rules – write a children’s story about a holiday mixup, mishap, or mistake in 350 words or less.

Enjoy! And please hop over and check out the other entries.

A Merry Thanksgiving 

By Carrie Finison (334 words)

’Twas Thanksgiving evening, and all through the house

not a creature was hungry…not even a mouse.

The remains of our feast were tucked safely away

in the fridge to make sandwiches for the next day.

A vision of leftovers danced in my head—

sliced turkey and stuffing on warm toasted bread,

when all of a sudden, I heard on the roof

a prancing and pawing that sounded like…hoofs?

Then, from the kitchen, arose such a clatter,

I raced down the stairs to see what was the matter.

And what to my wondering eyes should appear,

as I flipped on the light…but a herd of reindeer!

At the table sat Dasher, with Donder and Vixen,

devouring some leftover turkey-day fixin’s.

Cupid, that devil, perched high on a chair

and gobbled the peas with a satisfied air,

while Dancer and Prancer stood huffing and puffing,

engaged in a tug-of-war over our stuffing.

In the corner old Comet was filling his belly

with all of our leftover cranberry jelly.

And, taking our pumpkin pie down from the shelf,

dressed all in fur, was the big man himself.

I spoke not a word — just what does one say

when Thanksgiving turns into a reindeer buffet?

They looked up, mid-bite, and I watched Mr. Claus

turn exactly the color of Rudolph’s bright schnoz.

I hated to see what was left of our feast

being gulped by that gaggle of gluttonous beasts.

But I thought about Santa — I thought of the years

he’d braved winter snowstorms to spread Christmas cheer

with the presents he left me, and that’s when I knew

there was only one thing I could possibly do.

I took out a knife and I sliced up that pie,

and I said to him, “Santa, I’m glad you dropped by.”

He laughed, and we feasted till late, almost dawn,

and then Santa, our pie, and the reindeer were gone.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

“’Twas the spirit of Christmas on Thanksgiving night!”