Two Leaves

It’s a fun day to participate in Vivian Kirkfield’s 50 Precious Words contest. There’s loads of time for you to make your own entry.

Here’s my own 50-word entry:

Two Leaves

As young green leaves unfurled with spring, a single brown leaf gripped the maple branch. Green tried to poke her head into the world.


Crinkled Brown clung, too afraid to fall.

“You could leap.” Green said.

“I’m afraid.”

“If you fly….” she suggested.

“…you will grow!” said Brown, soaring.


Baby Wren 50 Precious Words Reject

It’s time again for Vivian Kirkfield’s 50 Precious Words contest! It’s so much fun to challenge ourselves to 50 words and see what bubbles to the top. If you are on the fence, you should do it! This year I have an entry that I will post next week when the contest opens, but it’s too sad for the contest, so I’m posting it here instead.

The challenge is as follows

  1. Write a story appropriate for kids ages 12 or under, that has a total word count of 50 words or less.
  2. It can be prose, rhyme, free verse, silly or serious…whatever works for you.
  3. This needs to be a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

My entry rings in at 49 words. Inspired by Margaret Wise Brown’s wonderful Dead Bird, which is actually humorous. The version that is illustrated by Christian Robinson is perfect.

Baby Wren

Wren hatchling by the riverside,
not yet even open-eyed.
Her little mouth she opened wide.
To feed the baby bird we tried.
A tiny dropper to her beak applied
throughout the night at our bedside.
In the morning when she had died
we buried her, and we all cried.

Review of The Nest That Wren Built

The Nest that Wren Built by Randi Sonenshine and Illustrated by Anne Hunter

Who doesn’t love excellent poetry? Especially when it’s focused on birds and nests and hatchlings? Especially when those hatchlings are baby wrens? Ahem, spoiler alert: stay tuned for a little wren story of my own I will post here in the coming days.

When we lived in the South, we had a pair of Carolina Wrens who regularly roosted in our screen porch rafters. During building seasons or feeding seasons, we had to remember to leave the screen door open, so the birds could fly back and forth to tend their nests. Watching from the windows, we saw the birds return to the rafters hour after hour with twigs, leaves, and an occasional string. Then we watched them repeat the cycle as doting parents feeding their brood until their babies were two weeks old. We looked so forward to fly-away day to see the babies emerge into the world. One fly-away day a small hatchling was terrified by our interested large dog (unaggressive with the bird, though not the mailman). In her panic, one baby trapped herself between the porch railings and the screen, while her increasingly desperate parents tried to lure her out.

Eventually my husband donned a pair of gloves and lifted her out to her raucously joyful parents. They all flew to the forest together. Then a miracle happened. Those parents flew back to my husband, swirling around his head, and chittering at him. If I had not seen it happen, I would never have believed that a bird could say, “Thank you.” As it happens, the last fly-away day we were able to witness was on our last day in that wonderful home. Our own fly-away day.

What I love about The Nest That Wren Built is the way Randi Sonenshine utilizes brilliant rhyme to offer us detailed pictures of the wrens in their care of nest and nestlings. Where else could you find a phrase featuring the words “spidery rootlets” or “reptilian charm”? Sonenshine is brilliant at this sort of phrasing, and she does it with such natural grace that both the rhythm and meaning of the text merge fluidly to create beautiful imagery.

And speaking of imagery, the illustrations that Anne Hunter delivers in this picture book are breathtaking. Observant readers will enjoy searching for the little ant and other friends on every page.

This text has quickly risen to my pick of the month from our library haul. We just had to have a copy of our own! Thank you, Randi Sonenshine and Anne Hunter, for such a beautiful, quiet book.

Valentiny Time Again

It’s that time of year when hope returns. I spend most of November-December fighting feelings like “I’m not cut out for this.” or “I’ll never write again.” And then, lo and behold, January comes back (and it’s too dang dark to do much else), and contests with their flashy headlines and beautifully-illustrated buttons and amazing prizes start calling my name.

This year StoryStorm was my ticket to the writing train. It rekindled my imagination and hope and joy in writing. And that offered me some new material for all of these contests that follow. Starting with Susanna Leonard Hill’s Valentiny contest, which is always so much fun. 214 words or less, centering on Valentine’s Day in which someone feels proud.

This was my 210-word entry this year. As always, I find inspiration in the kids I get to raise.

The Perfect Card

The Valentine’s card rack is packed with red envelopes. I rotate it, hoping to find a card my sister Salome will love. If she were here, she’d use her hands to sign “Music. Music. Music.” Salome loves musical cards the most.

I find a musical Toy Story card that says “I love you ‘To Infinity and Beyond!’”

I find a card with a droopy-eyed dog holding a goofy guitar and singing, “You Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hound Dog.”

Finally at the top of the rack I see a bunch of big eyes and orange beaks peeking down at me from a barnyard card. When I open it, “The Chicken Dance” song blares through the store. I smile.

I picture helping Salome open it. I see her close her eyes and flap her arms and clap her hands and dance wildly with joy. And I picture dancing with her.

Not everyone understands happiness like Salome’s. Sometimes people laugh when she moves like that. Maybe they don’t have that kind of joy deep inside—the kind that spills over the edges.

Even though Salome won’t be able to read my words, I pull out her favorite colored marker and write:

Dear Salome,

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I’m proud to be your chicken-dancing brother.

Love, Shiloh

Author Interview with Karen DeWitz

Have you ever discovered a book that you were so thrilled had come into the world that you wanted to share it with EVERYONE? Look at That Bird!: A Young Naturalist’s Guide to Pacific Northwest Birding is that book for me. And its author, Karen DeWitz, has been generous enough to grant us a window into her writing/birding world.

I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did and that you share this book with all your young birding friends (and young at heart too!) My husband and I (who both enjoy adult bird books) stayed up alternating nights reading and enjoying Karen’s excellent content.

What made you want to write this book for young birders?

I decided to write this book because there isn’t really anything like it out there for kids to take when they’re heading to a local birding site or nature trail—something that would draw them into wanting to know more about the nature around them. I wanted to create a book that would get kids (and the adults in their world) excited about the birds they see in their everyday lives. Adult birding guides can be complicated and not a lot of fun to read. They can be full of technical terms that aren’t well explained, and you have to understand maps to use them properly. Kid bird books, on the other hand, can be lots of fun but contain birds from other parts of the US (like cardinals and blue jays) or even the world (like ostriches and penguins). This book is for kids in the PNW to use right here at home.

How did you narrow your selection of birds for the book?

I made a list of the most common birds in my state (Oregon), and then added in any I missed that were common in Washington, Idaho, or SW British Columbia. From there I cross-checked every bird that could be found in every state & province in the Pacific Northwest. Anything that checked all the boxes stayed (at least until we had to cut for space…boo). Unfortunately, that meant that some local favorites—like great egrets and magpies—didn’t make the cut. I’m going to create a website that includes information on birds that didn’t make it in. Lots of great birds did, though! And while kids may not see every bird in the book every day, they at least have a chance of seeing every bird without traveling too far from home.

Did you take all the photographs for the book?

I took all of the pictures except the European robin on page 49 (a friend in the UK sent me that one) and the photo of me with my dog at the end, which was taken by my son. (He’s pretty psyched to have a photo credit in a published book.)  My very favorite thing to do is to hang out in nature taking pictures of birds and other wildlife. I’ve been known to sit almost motionless for hours under a pile of blankets to get the perfect shot of a hummingbird pooping or a bird parent feeding a chick. I have a super-long 600 mm lens that I’ve nicknamed Bertha. Bertha and I go almost everywhere together—you can see her along with my dog and me on the very last page of Look at That Bird! People always comment that I can probably see the craters on the moon with that thing (I can). Mostly, though, Bertha lets me get close-up shots of shy or vulnerable birds without scaring them or alerting predators on where to find them.

How long did the project take from start to finish?

In some ways I can say I’ve been working on this book for years with every bird photo I’ve taken and every new ID I’ve learned. The last time I had my camera serviced they said I’d taken well over 200,000 photos with it! (And this is not my only camera.) I’ve been sorting through tens of thousands of photos of wildlife and birds to create this book (and the other NW nature-exploring books I plan to write in what I hope will be a series). I pitched my idea to Sasquatch Books in the spring of 2019 and have been working on it in earnest ever since. The book involved tons of careful research. In addition to finding and photographing each bird profiled, I researched every fact presented and cross-checked each finding with a number of resources. After I finished, I had two ornithologists, a biologist, and one lifelong hobby birder read through it to triple-check my work. (Whew! All is well!) It’s been a couple of intense years of stalking birds, photographing birds, reading about birds, and talking to experts to learn more about the science of birds.

Were there any particular birds that were extra difficult to find?

That’s a great question! Bird photographers get super excited about the big, colorful, exciting action shots. But the hardest shots for me were the LBBs (Little Brown Birds) that bop around in the shadows and scurry out of sight just as you pick up your camera. Our local wrens were particularly hard to photograph. Their scientific family name is Troglodytidae, which comes from the same root as troglodyte, which means “caveman”— fitting since they flit in and out of the dark, hidden places in the forest.

Do you have an all-time favorite bird?

Ooh! That’s like asking if I have a favorite child! Honestly, I think my favorite is whichever bird happens to be delighting me in the moment. I do get a little extra excited when I see owls, since many species are usually nocturnal (and therefore hard to spot). But I’m also a huge fan of bushtits—and not just because people giggle at the name. They’ll visit your suet feeders in huge flocks, looking like sweet little mouse-birds. And they have one of the coolest nest out there (see page 75 in Look at That Bird!).

What did you think was the most challenging aspect of birthing this book?

I’ve helped several authors and small publishers bring their projects to life as an editor and photographer, but this is my first experience creating a book like this entirely from my own writing and photos. There’s so much to it that I hadn’t even considered! The biggest challenge, I think, was letting go of the creative and editorial control—learning to create this thing as a group project while still producing all of the writing and pictures. That can be hard when you’re used to being a perfectionist working alone. If I’m the photographer on a project, I just take the needed shots and let the editors and writers take it from there. In this case, I was also the writer, so selecting and placing the photos was a big part of my job. But I still had to let go and trust the designers, who came through amazingly.

The best part was actually getting out into nature and taking the pictures. I could do that all day every day. Sometimes I would sit for two or three hours out in my little nest on the patio just waiting for particular birds to visit the yard. When my husband or kids would give me the “Are you going to just sit there all day?” side eye, I could honestly wave them away and say, “Shh! I’m working!” I could give them the same retort every time I went hiking at yet another wildlife refuge with a friend. “I’m going to work! Bye!”  Best. Job. Ever.   

Where can we find you online?

My website is undergoing some new construction with the addition of Look at That Bird! to my body of work. But it exists! I’m also on Instagram. Please see links below.

You can find Karen’s book here or wherever books are sold.

Tapping Maples– Entry for Spring Fling Writing Contest 2021

There is so much to love about writing contests, and this one run by Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez and Ciara O’Neal is one of my all time favorites! Why? Well, prizes. The chance to read others’ excellent work. Prizes. Deadlines that force me to write something new. Did I mention prizes already? If you haven’t yet entered the 2021 Spring Fling contest, be sure to check it out here. Word limit of 150, and a theme of spring is all you really need to know to get you going.

Tapping Maples
150 words

Spring in bloom.
Sap expands,
dripping, dripping
in our hands.

A hole we drill,
a tap we pound.
Maple sap drips
to the ground.

Grab a tube
and bucket quick!
Sugar sap,
sweet to lick.

When nights are cold
and days warm up,
watch the sap
fill up the cup.

Filter it.
Shoo, flies, shoo!
We have lots
of work to do.

Tools we need:
-big, deep pot
-heat so hot.

Boil and boil
and boil away.
Sap will thicken
slow this way.

Walk away,
forget to check.
Smoke alarm:
that batch is wrecked.

Try again.
Collect and pour.
Keep it close,
boil some more.  

Starts like water,
thin and clear.
Browning now,
we persevere.

7 degrees
above a boil
sap to syrup
from the soil.

Thick and dark,
let’s pour and see           
if we’ve reached
right density.

66 brix!
Take a bow.
Time to make
some waffles now.

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.

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.

The challenge was to keep the manuscript to 214 words or less, have a Valentine’s Day theme, and feature bravery.

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.