Birds of the Pacific Northwest

This was a wonderfully fun contest, and you should participate too. There’s still time to enter! Find your 50 Precious words, and enter them at Vivian Kirkfield’s website by 3/7. So many wonderful prizes to win!

Birds of the Pacific Northwest
By Keely Leim (50 words)

Eagle circles,
white tail bright.

Falcon dives,
prey in sight.     

Chickadee lets
her brave call ring.

Goldfinch cheeps
his songs of spring.

Ring-necked pheasant
struts all proud.

Northern flicker
pecks so loud.

Nuthatch hops
right up the tree.

Shy quail flocks
with family.                       

Birds above, below, beside
resting now, eventide.

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Valentiny time again

Each year Susanna Hill’s fantastic blog challenges (and distracts) me. A couple of her contests have helped me develop manuscripts to query. While I wouldn’t query this one (because it is not an OWN VOICES manuscript), it was fun to accept another challenge from Susanna.

Here’s my entry from this year. The challenge was to keep the manuscript to 214 words or less, have a Valentine’s Day theme, and feature bravery.

Valentine’s Recitation

Reciting a Valentine’s poem
in front of my grade
makes me jittery, panicky,
and just plain afraid.

For most kids it flows.
For most speaking’s easy,
but with a stutter like mine
I feel extra queasy.

The stutter will begin
in my stomach, then rise,
a halting flutter
of twitchy butterflies.

I try to hold back,
I try to restrain
the indomitable stutter
and recite the words plain.

I slow myself down
and let the fear go.
I volunteer a stutter                      
to help confidence grow.            

I lock eyes with my best friend.
She gives me a wave.
I take a deep breath
to help me feel brave.

I get stuck here and there,
a few words like quicksand,
but one syllable at a time,
each word I command.

On the final line I trip,
then quickly proclaim,
“Happy Valentine’s to you!”
I loudly exclaim!

By the end of my poem,
my grade stands to cheer,
and I walk off the stage
with a smile ear to ear.

Halloweensie Contest Entry

Here’s my crack at Susannah Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie contest. The rules were as follows:

The Contest: write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (children here defined as 12 and under) (title not included in the 100 words), using the words skeleton, creep, and mask

My entry is below:

Skellie’s Closet

It’s Halloween night
with the moon on the rise.
Out come masked goblins,
ghouls, and ghosts to surprise.

One little skeleton
cowers with fright
inside his closet,
this holiday night.

Too scared to come out,
too scared to be seen.
Mama pleads candy
while, sick, he turns green.

“They all will look!
They all will point!
And what if they laugh
at my tendonless joints?”

“Little Skellie,” says Mama,
“There’s no need to fear
for all those who love you
are gathered round here.”

Slowly Skellie creeps out
from shadow to light,
willing to come
though his complexion was white.

Fall Frenzy Writing Challenge


Red apples crisp and blush.
Our hands pluck and reach.
Air is cooling, but there’s no rush.
Pick a pear, pick a plum, pick a golden peach.

Maple leaves we rake.
Barn hay we stack.
Watch the geese lift off the lake.
Don’t worry, Mama, they’ll be back.

Pile the wood while the rooster crows.
Wear your scarf, your hat, your mittens.
Frost is cold now on your nose.
Keep your eyes out for black kittens.

Deer grow hungry here
becoming bolder day by the day,
drawing close to hydrangeas near
though in summer they stayed far away.

We light a fire in the grate.
We warm some chocolate in a mug.
Though sun sets early, we celebrate.
I pull you close into a hug.

Soon the snow will fall,
and leaves will all be gone.
Let’s line our corn stalks on the wall,
while pumpkins decorate the lawn.

Daffodil Picture Book Challenge


Welcome to the first, annual–wait. Maybe I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. It’s just a fun chance to while away the winter blues with a little writing challenge. I’d love for you to join me in writing a lyrical picture book. It doesn’t have to rhyme. The story must include (or at least refer to) daffodils.

Limit 315 words, due by…you guessed it…3/15/19.

As to prizes: obviously since this is my first week on the old blogosphere, there won’t be a prize. Sorry about that.

Paste yours into the comments along with your blog link. I’ll announce a winner March 25th!

Here’s my own example (it won’t be part of the competition)…


Daffodil Winter

Ice melts;

a bud peeks through.

Winter warms.

It grows for you.

Cold snap!

Frozen rescue.

Blooms rest

in a vase of blue.


Two Picture Book Biographies of Eugenie Clark: A Comparative Review


Recently I was thrilled to discover, not one, but TWO picture book biographies about Eugenie Clark, the daring ichthyologist who devoted much of her life to researching sharks and dispelling myths about them. Of course, this piqued my interest, not only because I had never heard of Eugenie Clark prior to this find, but also because I was interested in what each book had to offer. How did each portray Eugenie? What did the illustrations illuminate about her research? What sort of back matter does each book feature? And, more to the point, do we really need two biographies about Dr. Eugenie Clark in an already crowded field?

In our industry, a not-so-secret rumor has it that the publishing houses have overbought picture book biographies. It makes sense that publishers rode the exciting wave of biographies, and it’s certainly possible for the field to become saturated.

So, how do these two biographic picture books measure up?

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist
Written by: Jess Keating, Illustrations by Marta Alvares Miguens

Shark Lady, published in 2017, is a sweet, bright unfolding of Eugenie Clark’s life. The real work of this book is to highlight how Dr. Clark, through meticulous research, dispelled the common misconception that sharks are mindless killers. The illustrations are cheerful.  Keating has some whimsical play with words throughout the story, featuring Eugenie diving into books, plunging into academic courses, and fishing through her mind to devise an experiment. The back matter is presented across two spreads. The first spread details facts about sharks, gives a little information on Dr. Clark’s discovery of shark sleeping patterns, discusses their sizes, their manner of giving birth, and the species’ resilience over millions of years. The next spread features a beautiful timeline of Dr. Clark’s life and discoveries. As a whole, it’s a lovely book that serves as a nice, if somewhat basic, introduction to Eugenie Clark’s research.

Swimming With Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark
Written by: Heather Lang, Illustrations by Jordi Solano

Swimming With Sharks, published in 2016, sets a different tone from the beginning. The illustrations are darker, more suited for an older picture book audience. It seems to capture from the cover the stakes of Dr. Clark’s story. The cover features little Eugenie with her hands pressed against the shark tank glass, her tiny braids dangling over her shoulders, while behind the glass, enormous sharks loom. This book gives a little more detail about the obstacles in Eugenie’s professional path and details her research with more specificity (how she trained a pair of lemon sharks, for example). Swimming with Sharks also drives home the theme of sharks being misunderstood. There is not as much detailed back matter, though the dedication highlights the author’s interaction with Dr. Clark’s assistant and son, among others intimately familiar with her research and story. This type of devoted research about Dr. Clark’s life yields some compelling dramatic detail to the story. My one critique is that, though the illustrations are beautiful, they are so dark that some of the detail is difficult to make out.

Overall, Swimming With Sharks packs a little more punch for the page, though Shark Lady would be a more popular choice among younger readers with a burgeoning interest in ichthyology.

Ultimately, and perhaps predictably, this Mama thinks that both are valuable, even essential, additions to the field.

Now, where did I put my snorkel mask?

A Shout-out to Picture Book Biographies

Yes, yes. We’ve all heard the sobering account of an over-saturated picture book biography market. The grave Magic 8-ball predictions that say, “Enough, already, with the biographies!”

And yet.

For those unfamiliar with picture book biographies or beginning to doubt their impact, please consider (and then reconsider) the following:

Jen Bryant’s A Splash of Red illustrated by the sparkling Melissa Sweet about Horace Pippin’s journey as an artist—really no better picture book to read this month to celebrate Black History Month/Future. It’s a favorite at our house every month of the year.

The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon by Jacqueline Davies and again illustrated by Melissa Sweet (is there anything she does that isn’t brilliant?).

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez and illustrated by Felicita Salta is a straight-up win all around. It propelled me to do some additional digging about her life. A book that does that earns my applause.

Last year’s Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed and illustrated by Stasia Burrington is a breath-taking sweep of a story, filled with the rich emotions of a dream nearly derailed, but taken up again.

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist
Written by: Jess Keating, Illustrations by Marta Alvares Miguens

Swimming With Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark
Written by: Heather Lang, Illustrations by Jordi Solano

For a comparison between the last two books on my list, stay tuned for my next post.

And feel free to add your favorite biographical picture books to the comments section.

Valentiny contest

You know what today is? It’s the day I’ve submitted a story to Susannah Hill’s blog for a the 4th annual Valentiny contest.

I’m not holding my breath, but it was a fun exercise.

Which brings me to another February writing challenge.

Stay tuned for a writing contest involving daffodils, because what’s not to love about those?

Going on a Book Hunt

bear hunt

“Gonna catch a big one! What a beautiful day! We’re not scared.” -Michael Rosen from Going on a Bear Hunt, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury.

We’re not scared.

Or are we? I know I am. Writing is hard. And scary. And writing well takes so much time. It feels like the end goal is impossible, the odds are against us, we’ll never get there, and even if we do, our lives will be so consumed with effort trying to keep us there that perhaps we should give up before we really start and head on home.

One thing that has kept me going recently is the feeling that I’m not alone on the journey. That there are some really generous and talented writers who can challenge me to be better– yes, even the ones querying the same agents that I am.

I want to take a moment here with this blog to celebrate the beautiful about this craft and the children who receive the words we write as a community.

Thanks for stopping by, college roomies (and maybe 2 others?). Where would I be without you?