Holiday Contest 2020

Pulling out my coziest socks, admiring the lights around the neighborhood, making little people-shaped ginger cookies to devour… ah yes, it must be time for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Holiday Contest!

Are you tired of me raving about her contests yet? There’s something so freeing and FUN about having a limited amount of time and a limited number of words and playing with ideas until you slap one out there just in the nick of time. I am always surprised by the stories that come out under these deadlines. And I find so much JOY in writing them and in reading the amazing heartfelt, clever, and hilarious entries.

With no more howls about it, here’s my holiday story about a helper, in 250 words or less:

Winona the Wolf Spreads Holiday Cheer 
By Nicole Loos Miller
(248 words)

It had been a rough year for Winona’s pack, and she wanted to spread some holiday cheer. 

But the other wolves didn’t make it easy. They turned their snouts at knitting for cold villagers, shook their heads at harmonizing howls for a holiday concert, and refused to even try Winona’s Meatless Mince Pies. 

“Maybe Grandmama would like a new scarf,” thought Winona. “Plus, walks help me think.” She tucked a scarf into her basket and set off into the woods. 

Inspiration struck when she spotted some delicious mushrooms. 

“I could make soup for Grandmama!” 

But, when she came across a hungry rabbit family, Winona offered them her mushrooms instead. 

Wolves weren’t really fungi fans anyway. 

At least she still had the scarf for Grandmama. 

But, she couldn’t turn a cold shoulder to a shivering possum family. 

And Grandmama already had a fur coat.

Winona sighed. Did she know how to make anyone in her family happy?  

She’d almost reached Grandmama’s cottage when she heard – CAROLERS! 

A herd of sheep warbled. Their pitch was off, but Winona clapped politely. 

“Our lead singer has lamb-ingitis,” said one of the sheep.

“We sound baaaaaaaad!”

“Pssst, Winona,” Grandmama whispered. “Can you get these sheep out of here! They’re giving me a headache.”

“I can do that.” Winona grinned.

She could make Grandmama happy and spread holiday cheer in her favorite way.

“Need an extra singer?” asked Winona. 

Her heart was filled with joy as Winona led the harmonious herd through the forest. 

#KidLitHoliYAY: Day 4

I am so excited to host the fourth day of #KidLitHoliyay with some of my Critique Sisters: Maryna Doughty, Dedra Davis, Sarah Meade, Sarah Heaton, and Ciara O’Neal!

And I am very excited to feature HAPPY LLAMAKAH! by Laura Gehl, Illustrated by Lydia Nichols

I love this book. It’s sweet, it rhymes, it’s punny, it has llamas! What’s NOT to love?

I did not celebrate Hanukkah growing up but a friend of mine did and I was always overjoyed when invited over. The smell of the latkes, the laughter of the games, and when they lit the candles on their beautiful menorah? You could almost feel the miracle. And this book took me back to those sweet memories, albeit in llama form.

At less than 75 words. I still don’t understand how this book covers so much. Laura’s expert word choices and Lydia’s clever illustrations will be adored by all young readers, whether they are familiar with everything Hanukkah or whether they are being introduced to the holiday for the first time. An Author’s Note at the end goes further in depth for curious children (and their parents) who want to learn more.

This book has been requested repeatedly at my house and, to be perfectly honest, I’m still enjoying it on the 25th read through! It’s a win all around. And, did I mention the adorable llamas?

To enter for a chance to win this book, subscribe to my blog here and retweet the giveaway on twitter. Tag some friends you think might enjoy winning this book too. The winner can select their preferred Indie bookstore from which the book will be purchased.

And don’t forget about the other #KidLitHoliYAY giveaways:
Day 1: Maryna Dougthy features LET’S DANCE by Valerie Bolling and Maine Diaz.
Day 2: Dedra Davis features THE LITTLE REINDEER by Nicola Killen
Day 3: Sarah Meade features SANTA AND THE GOODNIGHT TRAIN by June Sobel & Heliska-Beith
Day 4: Nicole Loos Miller features HAPPY LLAMAKKAH! by Laura Gehl and (Right here! You made it!)
Day 5: Sarah Heaton features BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert on Maryna Doughty’s blog
Day 6: Ciara O’Neal features WILD SYMPHONY by Dan Brown & Susan Batori
Day 7: Maryna Doughty wraps things up with a giveaway featuring Valerie Bolling!!

You can enter EACH and EVERY giveaway this week – that’s a chance to earn 6 books AND a critique! Talk about HoliYAY Cheer (sorry – I couldn’t resist)! This giveaways will end on Sunday, December 6th at 5 P.M. Pacific Time (8 P.M. Eastern) and the winner will be announced on Monday, December 7th.


**Sorry to our international friends! The book giveaways are for U.S. residents only, BUT, on Sunday, Maryna will be wrapping up the giveaway with an extra special prize: a 15-min. Q&A phone call with author Valerie Bolling or a PB MANUSCRIPT CRITIQUE from her! The critique is open to all!

Happy Halloweensie!

[UPDATE: THRILLED to share that this story was given an Honorable Mention for Great Read for Younger Readers!]

It’s one of my favorite times of year: Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie contest for children’s writers! I love these contests. They challenge my brain to think in new ways and almost always inspire multiple stories. Plus, this year, they are the best kind of happy distraction from… you know… everything else.

The challenge: write a halloween-themed children’s story in 100 words or less and include the words skeleton, mask, and creep.

Without further a-boo, here is my 2020 Halloweensie story:

PUMPKIN HUNT (100 words)
By Nicole Loos Miller

Hello, little Skeleton. What are you doing?

I’m going on a pumpkin hunt.

A pumpkin hunt?

A pumpkin hunt!
I’m going on a pumpkin hunt. I’m gonna pick a big one!
Tiptoe. Tiptoe.
Ooh, a white pumpkin!
NO! IT’S A GHOST!

Don’t worry, little Skeleton. It’s just a mask.

Oh, um, I knew that.
I’m going on a pumpkin hunt!
I’m gonna pick a big one!
Creep. Creep. Creep.
A green pumpkin?
ACK! A MONSTER!

Mask again, little Skelton.

Oh, whew! 
Back to the pumpkin hunt.
Skitter, skitter, step.
Oh! Nice mask.

Uh, little Skeleton… that’s not a mask! 

AHHHHH!

Picture Book Opportunities in October!

2020, right? I’ve been working on finding silver linings, or rather, treats among all the tricks this year has brought. Here are some of my favorite October opportunities for children’s writers:

Don’t miss Brian Gehrlein’s #PBCritiqueFest raffle! There are a LOT of amazing prizes and a LOT of opportunities for additional entries. Last year I won a critique from the amazing Bridget Heos (author of Mustache Baby, Stegathesaurus, and so many other hilarious and informative titles). If you haven’t visited Brian’s blog before, hop over and check it out. It’s full of fabulous writing resources, interviews, and more!

Make sure you check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie writing contest too! This writing-community-saint hosts numerous contests throughout the year and, personally, I think they are the absolute best way to jump start the creative brain. Susanna also offers a Making Picture Book Magic class which is affordable, practical, and Susanna is so helpful with her feedback and encouragement.

October 29 marks the next #PBPitch party on Twitter – a chance to condense your picture book pitch down to 280 characters and put it on display for agents and editors who may be searching. There are success stories of manuscripts becomes books thanks to pitch parties. No matter what, it’s a great way to meet other writers and appreciate the uplifting nature of the #writingcommunity.

Get out there and write! ❤

Fall Writing Frenzy 2020

[UPDATE: So honored to share that this story placed this year!]

I feel like all the seasons have been a frenzy this year but, at least writing frenzies are the GOOD kind of frenzy. If you’re a member of the kidlit writing community, you’ve heard of Kaitlyn Sanchez – mom, teacher, children’s author, agent, (maybe super-human?), and host of so many wonderful contests. This year, Kaitlyn and children’s author, Lydia Lukidis, are hosting the Fall Writing Frenzy and offering some amazing prizes. A story in 200 words or less, based on a provided picture. You can check out the rules here.

Now, usually I stick to picture books and, recently, middle grade, but I couldn’t resist a little YA romance this year. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

ALIVE (199 words) by Nicole Loos Miller

He gasped, taking his first breath in over a year. 

Halloween. She must be close.

He flexed his fingers, smiling. Soon he’d be able to move his whole body, if only for one night.

Ten years ago, she’d been playing with her homemade wand in the cornfield. The green spark surprised them both – landing on the scarecrow’s chest, igniting a beat within his heart.

Now, she was eighteen. The farm had been sold. It would be their last night together before he was torn down, his fields paved.

Dried cornhusks crunched underfoot as she approached. He climbed down, limbs awkward with disuse. 

His heart ached as her green eyes pierced through him. She was different this year – taller, face thinner. But that same mischievous smile sent a tingle across his burlap skin. 

She reached out and nestled her fingers between his.  

“I missed you,” she whispered.

His reply caught in his throat.  

She laughed – a bright, silver sound.  

His heart beat like a caged bird. 

“I made a wish,” she said, leaning close. She smelled of cloves and fallen leaves. 

Her lips on his. 

A spark. 

But this time, it spread. 

He was alive.

For good. 

On disappointment and creativity

So maybe you put yourself out there to do a thing. A big thing. A thing you thought would Really Make a Difference.

And, maybe that thing didn’t work out. And you feel crushed. And you’re wondering if you should just give up. 

But here’s THE THING: If you are feeling disappointed and heartbroken, that means that you are passionate. That you wanted this. That you feel destined to keep going. 

And you know what leads to success? 

Passion and hard work.

So, even the feeling of being disappointed and heartbroken means you are on your way.

You might need time to grieve. To cry in the shower. To shove secret handfuls of chocolate chips in your mouth. THAT’S OKAY. Give yourself time and space to grieve. Care for your heart (it’s really important!)

But then, come back. PLEASE come back. Keep that passion and keep working hard.

And remember, YOU were not rejected: your application was simply not chosen. One piece of work that you put out there was not selected among HUNDREDS.

But that thing you put out there? I guarantee you that it’s big, bold, brave, and wonderful thing. You know how I know that? Because you made it. You created it out of nothing. That’s MAGIC. You have MAGIC in your heart and in your brain.

And if you give up on that, I will be so mad at you.

(This speech was prepared for delivery in my bathroom mirror but, just in case you need it too <3).

Talking about BIG things with little kids

Another deviation from writing for fun but very necessary things. Some of this is copied and pasted from my school social work blog (you’ll probably pick up on that vibe).

Big things are going on. Big things that are terrifying and overwhelming. As adults, when we can’t wrap our minds around them, how can we be expected to talk about them with little kids?

But the thing is, little kids notice. They notice when the grown ups they love are distracted or scared or worried.

So… now what? 

Try to avoid having the news on around young children right now. Not because they should be hidden from the information but because you know your child best and it can be very helpful for you to be able to regulate the type of information they receive and the rate at which they receive it. That way you can support them as they figure everything out.

Based on your child’s age, exposure, and developmental level, decide how deeply you want conversations to go. 

Use books and shows created specifically for young children. Today’s Parent has a list of picture books here. Even though the library is still closed, many book read-alouds are currently available on YouTube and author sites as a result of the pandemic. Preview the book before you read it with your child so you can anticipate questions they (or you) might have.  

Maybe sure you have another adult you can talk to about your own feelings and thoughts. That way, when you talk with your child, you can follow their lead. 

If you want to talk to your child about protests and racism or if they are asking questions about the protests and you aren’t sure where to start, read this article for tips from pediatricians and other child health experts

You might need some space to sort through everything. Take that space (even if it’s only available after they are in bed). Listen, engage, and do your best to model the conversations and morals you want to see in your children as they grow and begin to shape the world around them. Check out resources for yourself too. There are so many wonderful ones in this google doc about engaging in anti-racist conversations.

Sometimes raising human beings feels like a much bigger and more important job than other times. This is one of those crucial times. Let’s show them we can do and be better. 

Showing Up for Yourself

Sometimes I like to think that there is a parallel universe where parallel-universe-Nicole is still going to work and interacting with extended family members in person and grocery shopping without a mask while listening to news updates about our first female president. I hope she’s happy. She has a lot to be grateful for.

And, honestly, in this universe and, specifically in my little bubble, I also have a lot to be grateful for – even nine weeks deep in a statewide shelter-in-place! OBVIOUSLY – the health of my family. Also, jobs. And food. And sunshine. And on and on and on. I have been surprisingly focused in the scraps of spare time I have been able to carve out for writing too. Uh, recently, at least. Which definitely counts.

But, still, a global pandemic can be intimidating, to say the least. So, I wanted to share NPR’s lovely illustrated guide to showing up for yourself.

Please make sure you are taking care of yourself. Even if you have a lot to be grateful for, it’s still very okay to feel scared and unsure and anxious and guilty and mad and confused and frustrated. All your feelings are very valid. But, if you can, try to find ways to increase your favorite ways to feel and decrease the ones that leave you feeling hollow. I think that guide can help.

Resources for Talking with Young Children about COVID-19

You may or may not know that I am a mama to two toddlers and a school social worker currently working with Early Childhood/Preschool-aged children. I know this blog is supposed to be about writing but if there was ever a time for a crossover-episode, this is it.

So here goes:

How are you supposed to explain coronavirus/COVID-19 and the closure of schools, libraries, and everything else to young children?

First, breathe. This is new and rapidly changing territory. That can be scary for grown ups and kids. Make sure you can appear calm and collected when talking with your child about the current state. Take a break if you need to. Avoid having the news on and avoid talking about it around children. 

Need help breathing? Sesame Street has you and your kids covered with a video.

Need a social story about COVID-19 that is simple and to the point? It was created for children with Autism but the direct approach paired with visuals makes it ideal for Preschool-aged and young elementary children as well.

Does your child need more? NPR has an article/comic for explaining coronavirus to children. It’s geared toward children older than preschool-aged but might give you some good ideas and visuals you can use. It does not talk about school closure but could be followed up with a conversation about how another way to keep everyone safe is to stay home to stop the spread of germs: 

And finally, here is NASP article with advice for parents.

You won’t have all the answers. Honestly, your kids don’t expect you to. Wash your hands. Love the people close to you – whether in your house or via video chat. Donate money to food shelters if you are able. Feel free to post links to national food banks or charities helping provide childcare for healthcare workers in the comments.

And when you have the mental and emotional capacity for it, let’s be ready to talk about what we learned from all of this and what big things need to change to make things better for the future.

#50PreciousWords

Another contest!!! This one is hosted by the wonderful Vivian Kirkfield and it’s a real challenge: write a story for children in less than 50 words!

You read that correctly. 50 words! I actually came up with a couple. I focused on conveying snapshots of fun childhood experiences and it was a delightful and energizing exercise. But, since we can only submit one, here is mine:

SPRING PUDDLES
by Nicole Loos Miller

Grey clouds
Pitter
Patter 
Puddles!

Hop,
Splish.

Jump,
Splash.

Stomp,
SPLOSH!

Raining here
But sunshine there

Gasp! 

Red
Orange
Yellow
Green
Blue
Indigo
Violet

Sigh.

Perfect.

A thankful twirl. 
Celebratory swirl.
Hop. Hop. Spin. 

BOOM!

Quick!
Run, dash, splash!
Whew.
Made it.

Photo by Noelle Otto on Pexels.com