Sharpen Your Pencils: #50PRECIOUSWORDS IS COMING SOON!!!

In 2012 I had a dream. I wanted to write picture books. And I wanted to be traditionally published. One of the most important things I did was to participate in writing challenges like Susanna Hill’s contests. Why was that important? Because it got me writing. It got me revising. It got me submitting. Hmmm….writing/revising/submitting. I believe that if we do those three things enough times, our writing improves and agents and editors get a chance to see our work. And as much as I am thrilled with my own success, nothing makes me happier than to hear about the success of others in our kidlit community.

When I first got the idea for this contest back in 2016, I thought a few of my friends might take pity on me and submit a story – to my surprise, there were 128 entries.

Art by Vicky Fang

The winner that year went on to sign with my wonderful agent, Essie White, and the story that won, LITTLE TIGER, is now part of a beautiful board book series by award-winning author Julie Abery.

Over the years, other entries have become books…in fact, one of our generous prize donors has TWO books launching on March 8th that were both past entries for #50PreciousWords.

But what I love the most is the enthusiasm and the positive energy that this contest generates. Last year there were almost 11,000 comments on the contest blog post – and all of them were encouraging and supportive and positive – and that’s not something you find in many places these days.

If you are currently writing picture books…or just reading them, you’ll notice that the average word length for many is getting shorter and shorter. I thought, wouldn’t that be a great challenge…to write a story for kids with only 50 words or less? With a beginning, a middle, and an end. I wondered if I could do it. I opened the challenge to everyone. And here’s the 49-word story I wrote as an example for the 2018 #50PreciousWords Contest.

WHY THE STARS TWINKLE (49 words) by Vivian Kirkfield

It was Sun’s birthday.
Moon gathered paper, paint,
glitter and glue to make a card.
But Wind blew.
Glitter and glue covered the stars.
“Now I have no gift for Sun,” cried Moon.
“Twinkling stars are the best present of all,” said Sun.
And Moon glowed all night long.

So, my friends, please put on your thinking caps, sharpen your pencils, and get busy writing. The OFFICIAL CONTEST POST will go live on March 4th right here on my blog,(if you follow my blog, you’ll email notifications of the contest) and you will be able to post your story in the comment section of that OFFICIAL CONTEST POST till March 6th at 11:59pm. I wanted to give everyone a heads-up today so that they can start thinking about their stories now!


  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.
  4. Title is not included in the word count and no illustration notes please.
  5. If you have children who want to write a story, that’s awesome. But please hold onto their stories until the kids’ challenge in May, #50PreciousWordsforKids.
  6. The contest officially opens Friday, March 4th, in a special post on my blog entitled: #50PreciousWords 2022 OFFICIAL CONTEST POST
  7. Between March 4 and March 6, post your story in the comments of that #50PreciousWords 2022 OFFICIAL CONTEST POST. If you have a blog of your own and want to post it there also, that is terrific…please add the link to your comment so we can all go and visit you there. But please make sure you put your entry in the comments of that OFFICIAL CONTEST POST, even if you are posting it on your blog. And although I would love everyone to share about the contest on social media, please make sure you don’t post your entry on my Facebook page or Twitter page or a contest post from previous years. I’m not able to track down entries that pop up in odd places.
  8. Please make sure you put your name in the post so that I know who wrote it.
  9. Only ONE entry per person, please. For very prolific writers, I know that it’s hard to choose. But we had 770 entries last year – that’s a lot of stories for me and my judges to read and comment on. Just think, if everyone had submitted two, that would have been over 1500 entries to read. 😊
  10. Deadline for posting the story in the comments is Sunday, March 6th, at 11:59pm.
  11. Winners will be announced on the first day of Spring, Saturday, March 20.
  12. First place winner will choose first. Second place winner goes next and can choose from the remaining prizes. And so on.  There are critiques with EDITORS and AGENTS and PUBLISHED AUTHORS, seats in WRITING CLASSES, Author coaching sessions, SIGNED PICTURE BOOKS…and thanks to the generosity of Highlights director George Brown, a 3-Day Personal Retreat at Highlights Foundation in Pennsylvania…and more. The book prizes are limited to USA addresses, please.

HERE IS THE LIST OF PRIZES – They are arranged somewhat haphazardly – Editors and Agents are mostly in the first group, seats in picture book writing classes in the second group, and author critiques and signed copies of picture books in the third group, but as more prizes come in, I just add them wherever I can. And just because something is Prize A or Prize 1 or 2 doesn’t mean it’s the best prize…if you are one of the 50+ winners, the best prize is the prize that is best for you.

Prize A: A 3-Day personal retreat at the Highlights Foundation. It is a $500 value and includes three nights lodging plus meals (based on availability).

The Highlights Foundation offers personal retreat opportunities for our community at our campus in northeastern Pennsylvania, The Barn at Boyds Mills.


On your personal retreat, time is yours to focus on your work, be in nature, and spend as you please. No structure. No schedule (unless you make one).  You can come as an individual, or in groups (friends, critique groups, writing partners, interest groups, and more).

PRIZE B: An Above the Slush-pile Submission with Little Press editor Michele McAvoy. (They are currently closed to submission – so this is a fabulous opportunity!)

The Little Press is a traditional publisher bringing new talent and new voices to children’s literature. 
Our books offer windows, mirrors, doors, escape hatches, trampolines & bungee cords because life, even for the young, is full of twists & turns.
For more info and their catalogue:

PRIZE C: Developmental Editorial Notes on 1st 30 pages of a YA or MG from Storm Literary Associate Agent Michelle Hauck.

Michelle Hauck is an associate literary agent for Storm Literary Agency. Michelle is currently accepting young adult, middle grade, and select adult genres. She has a particular love of science fiction and fantasy as well as cozy mystery, and is not the best fit for romance, though she does love a romance sub-plot. Please check out her full wishlist and submission directions at Storm Literary Agency.

She likes positive, upbeat characters, quirky humor (or really any humor) and is always excited to see stories with diverse underrepresented voices (including and not limited to LGBTQA+, neurodiversity, BPOC, Latinx, Indigenous People, and disability). Other traits she likes in a story are: Characters with lots of backstory that is revealed slowly, villains with complex motivations and layers, and stories set on secondary worlds or settings that are other than American or European.

PRIZE D: An Intensive Rhyme and Meter Self-Study Course from Master Lyrical Lady, Renee LaTulippe.

Renee LaTulippe is an amazing mentor to the kid lit community. I took Renee’s regular Lyrical Language Lab course back in 2014 and it totally helped me become a better writer. This self-study class is perfect for those who like to pace themselves – lyrical writing is necessary in both prose and rhyme writing. And if you don’t win this awesome prize, make sure you check out Renee’s many free resources on her wonderful website:

  1. Picture Book Critique with Penguin Random House UK editor COURTNEY FAHY. Courtney was my editor for MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD – she was a joy to work with.

Courtney Fahy is an editor at Penguin Random House UK. Some of Courtney’s picture books at her previous company, Little Bee Books, include Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit by Linda Marshall, Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe by Vivian Kirkfield, Mootilda’s Bad Mood by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call, as well as Moonbeams: A Lullaby of the Phases of the Moon by Ann Bausum. Prior to joining Little Bee Books, Courtney interned at Macmillan at Roaring Brook Press and Farrar, Straus, and Giroux for Young Readers, as well as W.W. Norton. Originally from New Jersey, Courtney graduated from Pace University with a Master in Science in publishing. You can find Courtney on Twitter @courtneyfahy.

2. A PB Critique with my amazing agent, Essie White, Storm Literary partner

There isn’t enough room on this page to detail how amazing my beloved agent, Essie White is. This is an unbelievable opportunity to get your manuscript in front of a stellar agent who is currently closed to submission.

3, A PB Critique with the lovely Helen Wu, editor at YeeHoo Press.

Helen H. Wu is a children’s book author, illustrator, translator and publisher. She is the author of Tofu Takes Time, illustrated by Julie Jarema (Beaming Books, 2022), and Long Goes To Dragon School, illustrated by Mae Besom (Yeehoo Press, 2023). Helen is the associate publisher of Yeehoo Press, an independent children’s book publisher. Being fascinated by the differences and similarities between cultures, Helen loves to share stories that can empower children to understand the world and our connections. Born and raised in Hefei, China, Helen moved to the US in her 20s. Currently, she resides in San Diego, California, with her family and two kids. Learn more about Helen at and follow her on Twitter at @HelenHWu and on Instagram at @HelenHWu.
Yeehoo Press is dedicated to publishing fun, enchanting, and socially responsible children’s books for audiences around the world. Yeehoo Press has offices in Los Angeles and San Diego, California, and Shanghai in China. Yeehoo books are currently being published and sold in English and Simplified Chinese editions. 

4. 20-minute Zoom Chat with James McGowan, agent at Bookends Literary

James McGowan is a book person. He works with books as an Associate Agent at BookEnds Literary Agency. He reads books for fun. And he writes picture books. Good Night, Oppy! is his debut. While he’s not an astronaut, James wears tons of NASA shirts, and has always been interested in outer space.

5. Picture Book Critique from Thalia Leaf, Associate Editor at Calkins Creek/Astra (Thalia is the editor for my newest book that we just sold!)

Calkins Creek Books
 introduces children to the many people, places, and events that shaped our country’s history. Our picture books, chapter books, and novels—nonfiction and historical fiction for ages seven and up—combine original and extensive research with creative, energetic writing. History is key at Calkins Creek—front and center. Our authors transport their readers back in time to recognizable places with living and breathing people.

6. A PB Manuscript Critique or Above the Slushpile Submission from Kaitlyn Sanchez, Literary Agent at Context Agency

Kaitlyn loves helping authors and illustrators bring their beautiful books into the world. She’s the proud creator and co-host of the Kidlit Fall Writing Frenzy Contest and also co-creator and co-host of the Spring Fling Kidlit Contest and Kidlit Zombie Week.
Kaitlyn’s Manuscript Wish List

7. Critique of PB or CB or 1st 50 pages of MG or YA (with detailed 3 page synopsis and query letter) from Heather Cashman – Associate Agent and Agent Mentor at Storm Literary

Surrounded by books from her earliest memories, Heather reads picture books, biographies and select nonfiction, poetry, and all genres of fiction. While she devours any book that tells a good story and introduces a new world, she especially loves the ones that make her want to be the heroine of her own life. She was a professional editor for Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, helped authors by working as Managing Director of Pitch Wars, and interned for three years at The Bent Agency. She’s now an Associate Literary Agent and Agent Mentor with Storm Literary Agency. You can find her latest deal announcements on her website, but many more have yet to be announced.

Storm Literary Agency​520-850-5043  ​​heather.stormliteraryagency@gmail.comWay-Word Writer | Twitter | LinkedIn | Instagram | Facebook

8. A Picture Book Critique with Lisa Amstutz – Associate Agent with Storm Literary

Lisa Amstutz fell in love with reading at an early age, devouring stacks of books from the library each week. While she never stopped reading, she earned degrees in Biology and Environmental Science and worked as a lab technician, outdoor educator, and small-scale farmer before returning to her first love: books.

With sixteen years of experience as an author and freelance editor, Lisa comes to Storm Literary Agency as an Associate Literary Agent. She has written more than 140 books for the educational and trade markets as well as numerous magazine and newspaper articles. As an editor and mentor, she worked with writers to shape and polish their manuscripts, many of which went on to land agents or book contracts. She also edited materials for several publishing companies.

9. Seat in Making Picture Book Writing Magic course from the founder of Perfect Picture Book Friday, NYTimes Best-selling author Susanna Leonard Hill.

What can I say about Susanna? Her class was the first picture book writing course I took – and it provided an amazing foundation for me. She is a mentor to all, providing challenges and contests to keep us motivated and inspired!

10. Your choice of one single 12×12 webinar from author, mentor, and fearless 12×12 leader Julie Hedlund.

Julie Hedlund is the founder of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, which boasts more than 1,200 members. She is a co-founder of Picture Book Summit, an annual online conference celebrating its 6th anniversary in 2020, and the co-creator (with Emma Walton Hamilton) of The Complete Picture Book Submissions System.
Julie is a sought-after speaker at writing industry events, schools and libraries, bookstores, and book festivals.
When she is not writing, you can find Julie on the hiking trails in and around Boulder, enjoying a cup of English Breakfast on her patio, or working on her latest jigsaw puzzle, perhaps accompanied by one of her two teenage children and/or her high-maintenance hound dog, Rocky.
Julie is represented by Erzsi Deak of Hen & Ink Literary Studio.

11. A Set of Webinars on the Craft of Writing from Author, Critique Maven and Editor ALAYNE CHRISTIAN.

Alayne Kay Christian is an award-winning children’s book author, and the creator and teacher of a picture book writing course Art of Arc. In addition, she shares her knowledge with writers through free and affordable webinars at Writing for Children Webinars.
Art of Arc

12. Seat in Master Class in Picture Book Writing from author Karla Valenti

Karla was born and grew up in Mexico City. Since then, she has had the great privilege and opportunity to live in a number of places: the U.S., Japan, France, and most recently Germany. She currently lives in the Chicagoland area where she keeps herself busy with lots of words and big ideas (both in her job as a lawyer and author).
Her writerly self focuses on picture books and middle grade novels. She also offers a Master Course on Picture Book Writing and Editing and Picture Book critique services.
She is rep’ed by the inimitable Ammi-Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary Agency.
Find her on Facebook or Twitter

13. A 30-minute phone or video call to ask anything about publishing or editing with Independent YA & Children’s Book Editor Julie Scheina

Julie Scheina is a former senior editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers with over fifteen years of experience editing acclaimed and bestselling books for children and young adults. Julia has edited more than 200 titles across a variety of genres, from picture books and poetry collections to middle grade and young adult novels. Please visit to learn more about Julie’s work. Julie also recently launched a free resource for writers,, a series of weekly letters filled with writing guidance, revision advice, and encouragement.

14. Promotional opportunity – video interview with Mel Rosenberg, host of the Children’s Literature Channel of the New Books Network and co-creator of OurBoox.

Mel Rosenberg hosts the Children’s Literature Channel of the New Books Network. Following a career in science, Mel currently promotes writing worldwide via and, free websites which he co-founded. The three animations which he recently wrote for TED-Ed have been viewed over nine million times (123). His own writing for children focuses on acceptance and the challenges of dealing with the unexpected.

15.  Author Career Consult via Zoom with author Susan Kusel and an autographed copy of THE PASSOVER GUEST, winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

Susan Kusel is an author, synagogue library director, an independent bookstore buyer, and children’s book consultant. She has served on multiple book award committees including the Caldecott Medal and as the chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award. Her debut picture book, The Passover Guest was illustrated by Sean Rubin, published by Neal Porter Books/Holiday House and won the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

Want to know more about children’s book publishing? This mentor session with children’s book expert, librarian, bookseller, book buyer and consultant Susan Kusel will help guide you on your path to publication and figure out the next steps in your journey. 

16. Rhyming PB Critique from author Lori Degman

Lori Degman is the author of the award-winning picture books, 1 Zany Zoo (illus. by Colin Jack) – 2010 Winner of the Cheerios New Author Contest agbnd 2013 Illinois Reads featured title; Cock-a-Doodle Oops!(illus. by Deborah Zemke) – 2014 International Literacy Association Honor Book, and Just Read (illus. by Victoria Tentler-Krylov) – 2020/21 Illinois Reads featured title. Other titles include Norbert’s Big Dream  (illus. by Marco Bucci)Like a Girl  (illus. by Mara Penny, and Travel Guide For Monsters (illus. by Dave Szalay).  Lori enjoys helping fellow rhymers by doing critiques and mentoring. Visit her at

17. PB Critique or Dummy Critique Plus Signed Copies of The Amazing True Stories of Pepito The Squirrel & More Amazing True Stories of Pepito The Squirrel from author/illustrator Federico Erebia.

Federico Erebia is an author-illustrator, artist and woodworker. His works have been featured in various magazines [including Boston Spirit Magazine, Boston Globe Magazine], newspapers [including The Boston Globe, Boston Home], television [Greater Boston] and radio [NPR-Boston]. The Pepito The Squirrel books have received critical recommendations from Kirkus, Booklife, and other editorial reviewers. His debut YA novel is schedule for publication in Spring 2023 by Levine Querido.Website: https://FJEbooks.comAmazon Author Page:

18. PB Critique from award-winning author Lindsay Leslie.

A diary keeper, a journalism major, a public relations executive, now a children’s author—Lindsay Leslie has always operated in a world of written words. She likes to bring her unique outlook on life, quirky humor, and play with words to the page in picture books. Lindsay is the award-winning author of THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS, NOVA THE STAR EATER, DUSK EXPLORERS (an SCBWI Crystal Kite Award winner, Bank Street Best Book of 2021 with Outstanding Merit, and Amazon Editors’ Pick), and SO YOU WANT TO BUILD A LIBRARY. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, two kiddos, two fur-beasts, and a guinea pig.

19. PB Critique from author Keila V. Dawson

Keila V. Dawson worked as a community organizer, teacher, school administrator, educational consultant, and advocate for children with special needs before becoming a children’s book author. She is coeditor of NO VOICE TOO SMALL: FOURTEEN YOUNG AMERICANS MAKING HISTORY (Charlesbridge, 2020), and the forthcoming NO WORLD TOO BIG: YOUNG PEOPLE FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE (Charlesbridge, 2023) with Lindsay Metcalf and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Bradley. She is the author of THE KING CAKE BABY, illustrated by Vernon Smith (Pelican Pub, 2015), OPENING THE ROAD: VICTOR HUGO GREEN and HIS GREEN BOOK, illustrated by Alleanna Harris (Beaming Books, 2021), and the forthcoming YUMBO GUMBO, illustrated by Katie Crumpton (Charlesbridge, 2023). A New Orleans native, Dawson has also lived and worked in states across the U.S., and in the Philippines, Japan, and Egypt. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

When Dawson isn’t reading, writing, and visiting schools, she’s traveling, playing tennis, or digging in genealogical archives. Find more about her from her website and or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.a

20. Non-Rhyming Picture Book Critique from author Melissa Stoller

Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection – Book One: Return to Coney Island and Book Two: The Liberty Bell Train Ride (Clear Fork Publishing, 2017 and 2020); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork, 2018). Upcoming picture books include Return of the Magic Paintbrush and Sadie’s Shabbat Stories (Clear Fork, 2020). Melissa is an Assistant and Blogger for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, a Moderator for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, and a volunteer with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators/MetroNY. In other chapters of her life, Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. Additionally, she is a member of the Board of Trustees at Temple Shaaray Tefila, and a past trustee at The Hewitt School. Melissa lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy.

21. A signed copy of ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOON from author Laura Roettiger

 Laura Roettiger is the author of ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOON and has enjoyed working with children ever since she was no longer considered a child herself. She was a reading specialist and elementary teacher in Chicago, IL before moving to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado where she worked in Environmental Education, as a mentor for new teachers at a STEM school, and as a tutor in the adult literacy program Boulder Reads. She is a judge for Rate Your Story. Her superpower is encouraging curiosity in children and her students, letting them know she believes in them.
She can be found on Twitter and Instagram @ljrwritenow 
Website which includes a blog with author interviews, giveaways, and photography.

22. Picture Book Critique from author Maria Marshall (Maria is one of my long time critique partners – her thoughtful feedback has helped me take my manuscripts to the next level)

Maria is a children’s author, blogger, and poet passionate about making nature and reading fun for children. She’s a Cybils Awards judge ( and a contributing blogger for STEM Tuesday – From the Mixed-up Files of MG Authors ( She interviews authors & illustrators and reviews books on -The Picture Book Buzz ( Her poems are published in The Best Of Today’s Little Ditty 2017-2018, 2016, & 2014-2015 anthologies. When not writing, critiquing, or reading, she bird watches, travels the world, bakes, and hikes.

23. Picture Book Critique from author Carol Gordon Ekster.

  • Carol Gordon Ekster was a passionate elementary school teacher for thirty-five years. Now retired, Carol is grateful that her writing allows her to continue communicating with children. She is the author of Before I Sleep: I Say Thank You which won 3rd place in the children’s category of the Catholic Press Association Book Awards and was also a finalist for the ACP Excellence in Publishing Awards 2016. Her picture book, You Know What?, came out first in Dutch (Mama, Wist Je Dat?), December 2016 with Clavis Books. The English version released September 2017 and was a CLEL Bell Picture Book Awards Nominee for Talk (2018) and a finalist for the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award in the New England region, 2018. The Korean language edition came out 2019 and Arabic and Chinese editions are in process. A new picture book, Some Daddies, with Beaming Books, comes out May 2022. Trucker Kid, illustrated by Russ Cox comes out spring 2023 with Capstone. When Carol is not in a critique group or at her computer she might be doing yoga or biking. She lives in Andover, Massachusetts with her husband Mark. Find out more at
  • 24. Picture Book Critique (up to 500 words) OR 20-minute Zoom chat OR Signed book from author Debbie Zapata

Debbie Zapata is the author of UP AND ADAM, her debut picture book published by Kids Can Press and illustrated by Yong Ling Kang. As a child growing up in Austin, Debbie loved the places that brought people together—public parks, community rec centers and the local libraries. She loved writing letters to her international pen pals. Today she is passionate about writing books for children that have heart and humor. Her favorite stories are about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Through her work, Debbie hopes to make children smile, inspire kindness, and to create an inclusive world where all readers can see themselves.

Besides being an author, Debbie is a former international programs specialist. In 2005, she received her Master in Social Work from NYU. Debbie enjoys helping others as a counselor and spending time with her family. She is a member of SCBWI and represented by James McGowan of BookEnds Literary Agency. Visit her at

25. A Copy of A Penny’s Worth from author Kimberly Wilson

  •  As a full-time writer, Kimberly is an active member of the SCBWI, 12×12, and several critique groups. She is a pun-lover and enjoys mixing humor, heart, and educational details into her writing. Her debut picture book, A PENNY’S WORTH, illustrated by Mark Hoffmann (Page Street Kids, April 5, 2022), is the story of a new penny searching for her place in the world while learning the importance of self-worth. The sequel, A DOLLAR’S GRAND DREAM (Spring 2023), follows a dollar bill as he discovers living large may not be as one-derful as it may seem.

When not writing, Kimberly shares her love for books by volunteering with local literacy nonprofits through their Title I outreach programs. She also enjoys yoga, tennis, and family ping pong parties. Kimberly lives in Charlotte, NC, with her husband and two daughters.

  • 26. 30-minute Zoom Chat with author Shannon Stocker

Shannon Stocker is an author and proud word nerd. She lives with her husband, Greg, and her children, Cassidy and Tye, in Louisville, KY, where she molds words into picture books and songs all day. Shannon currently serves as SCBWI social co-director for Louisville, a judge for Rate Your Story, and created the blog series, Pivotal Moments: inHERview, highlighting transitional life stories of female picture book authors. She is also the author of the picture book Can U Save the Day? and the 21st Century Junior Library: Together We Can: Pandemic early reader series.

27. 30-minute Zoom Chat with author Donna Cangelosi.

Donna Cangelosi enjoys writing stories that entertain, enlighten, and inspire kids of all ages. When she is not writing, she works as a child psychologist, helping children deal with feelings that are hard to express with words using play, art, and music. Her debut picture book, MISTER ROGERS’ GIFT OF MUSIC, illustrated by Amanda Moeckel, will be published by Page Street Kids, August, 2022. Donna lives with her family in northern NJ.

28. Picture Book Critique with Zoom chat from author Ellen Leventhal. (Ellen is one of my long-time critique buddies – I love her feedback!)

Ellen Leventhal is an educator and writer in Houston, TX. Her writing usually contains universal themes to which children can relate–even if the thoughts occasionally come from talking cows or lambs.  She can’t remember a time when she wasn’t writing in some capacity. Ellen is the co-author of Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets and the author of Lola Can’t Leap. Her newest picture book based on the many flood disasters she and her family endured, launches this year, Flood of Kindness.  She has been published in magazines and newspapers as well as in short story and poetry anthologies. Ellen loves school visits! When visiting schools, she coordinates with and supports literacy programs as well as diversity and anti-bullying programs. Ellen’s best days are when she can interact directly with the students and spread her love of literacy and kindness. To find out more about Ellen’s books and writing projects, please go to

29. Picture Book Critique from award-winning author Tina Cho (Tina is one of my long-time critique partners – her insights are spot on!)

Tina Cho is the author of four picture books– Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans (Little Bee Books 2018), Korean Celebrations (Tuttle 2019), My Breakfast with Jesus: Worshipping God around the World (Harvest House 2020), and The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story (Kokila/Penguin Random House Aug. 2020). Her lyrical middle grade graphic novel, The Other Side of Tomorrow, debuts from Harper Alley in 2023. After living in South Korea for ten years, Tina, her husband, and two teenagers reside in Iowa where Tina also teaches kindergarten. 
Twitter: @TinaMCho
IG: @TinaMCho

30. Picture Book Critique or Signed Copies of her newest board books, Wildflowers Grow & Butterflies Soar (which were once entries in #50PreciousWords) from author Amber Hendricks

 Born and raised in the Midwest, Amber Hendricks grew up reading everything she could get her hands on–including the morning cereal boxes. That passion melded into writing, and by the age of eleven, she was writing and binding her own “books.” Amber has worn many hats in her career: army wife, mother, visual merchandiser, certified pharmacy technician, and most recently, childcare professional, but she has always circled back to her first love of telling stories. Amber is the author of Sophie and Little StarExtraordinary Ordinary Ella, Superheroes Don’t Babysit, and the Little Nature Explorers board book series. She lives in Missouri with her husband and two children.

31.A Copy of a Calkins Creek Nonfiction Picture Book from author Beth Anderson

Beth Anderson, a former English as a Second Language teacher, has always marveled at the power of books. With linguistics and reading degrees, a fascination with language, and a penchant for untold tales, she strives for accidental learning in the midst of a great story. Beth lives in Loveland, Colorado where she laughs, ponders, and questions; and hopes to inspire kids to do the same. She’s the award-winning author of TAD LINCOLN’S RESTLESS WRIGGLE (10/2021), “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES, LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT, and AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET. Beth has more historical gems on the way.
@Bandersonwriter (Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram)

32. A Signed Copy of DINO PAJAMA PARTY from award-winning author Laurie Wallmark

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark writes picture book biographies of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) as well as fiction. Her books have earned five starred trade reviews, been chosen as Junior Library Guild Selections, and received awards such as Outstanding Science Trade Book, Best STEM Book, Cook Prize Honor Book, Crystal Kite Award, Mathical Honor Book, and Parents’ Choice Gold Medal. Her titles include ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE, GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE, HEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFE, NUMBERS IN MOTIONCODE BREAKER, SPY HUNTER, and her debut fiction picture book, DINO PAJAMA PARTY. Laurie has an MFA in Writing from VCFA and is a former software engineer and computer science professor.
Twitter:                @lauriewallmark  

33. Picture Book Critique or a signed copy of one of her books from award-winning author Nancy Churnin

A native New Yorker, Nancy is a graduate of Harvard University, with a master’s from Columbia University. She lives in North Texas with her husband, a dog named Dog and two cantankerous cats. Learn more about Nancy at

34. Picture Book Critique (fiction) from author Lisa Katzenberger.

Lisa Katzenberger is the author of IT WILL BE OK: A STORY OF EMPATHY, KINDNESS, AND FRIENDSHIP (Sourcebooks 2021) and NATIONAL REGULAR AVERAGE ORDINARY DAY (Penguin Workshop 2020). She is an instructor at The Writing Barn, a mom to eleven-year-old twins, and serves on the Board of Trustees of her public library in suburban Chicago. She is represented by Wendi Gu at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates.

35. A Signed Copy of Pigs Dancing Jigs from author Maxine Schur

Maxine Rose Schur is an award-winning children’s book author and travel journalist. She was the Baker-Nord Guest Lecturer on Writing for Children in the Humanities at Case Western Reserve University and teaches children’s book writing at the San Francisco Writing Salon.

Maxine has written children’s fiction and non-fiction for numerous trade publishers and for educational publishers including Houghton-Mifflin, Heinemann, Addison-Wesley, National Geographic Kids. She has also written imaginative children’s content for the BBC television program, Playschool and the Children’s Television Workshop. He upcoming book is Child of the Sea illustrated by Milanka Reardon (Child of the Sea)
Learn more about Maxine and her books at

36. Rhyming Picture Book Critique from author Gayle Krouse.

An SCBWI PAL member and Master Educationalist, Gayle writes PB, MG and YA novels. Her picture book, Rock Star Santa was performed as a play in Australia and presented at Storytime in Montserrat, West Indies with a real “Rock Star Santa” from The Climax Blues Band – Peter Filleul.  (www.gayleckrause.comDaddy, Can You See the Moon? (Clear Fork/SPORK) shares royalties with Our Military Kids, and her YA novel, RATGIRL: Song of the Viper, a retelling of the Pied Piper set in a dystopian future (Noble Young Adult) was nominated for the International Reading Award and the Horn Book/Boston Globe Award. Connect with Gayle on Facebook and Twitter.

37. Picture Book Critique from Rita Lorraine Hubbard

Award-winning author Rita Lorraine Hubbard is a retired special education teacher of 20 years who now writes for children and middle graders full time. Her books, THE OLDEST STUDENT: HOW MARY WALKER LEARNED TO READ; HAMMERING FOR FREEDOM: THE WILLIAM LEWIS STORY; and AFRICAN AMERICANS OF CHATTANOOGA: A HISTORY OF UNSUNG HEROES, have garnered awards that include the New Voices Award, the East Tennessee Historical Preservation Award, the 2021 Floyd’s Pick Honor Book Award, Amazon Editor’s Pick, and the 2021-2022 Texas Bluebonnet Master List Award. You can find Rita online at:

  • 38. A 20-minute phone consultation for an emerging/unpublished writer to map out a plan of action for their career or to answer writing/publishing business questions from author Rosie J. Pova

Rosie J. Pova is a multi-published, award-winning children’s author and kid lit Writing Coach. Her latest picture book, Sunday Rain, was featured in The New York Times and recommended by Parents magazine. Her upcoming picture book, The School of Failure: A Story About Success will be released in spring 2022 in both China and the USA.
Rosie loves to visit schools and her interactive workshops empower students to unleash their creativity and grow in confidence through reading, writing, and creating. 
She has been featured on TV, radio, podcasts, and print media, and also speaks on women’s and moms topics.

Join Rosie’s Facebook group community for supporting unpublished writers, The Unstoppable Writer, or find out more about her work by visiting her website:
Website Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Instagram

39. A Picture Book Critique from author Shirin Shamsi

Shirin was born and raised in the UK. Having lived on three continents, she views herself as a global citizen and now spends her time sharing stories with children of the world. She has raised six children- three human and three feline, and lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband. 
Her books include the middle-grade novel, Laila and the Sands of Time (Clear Fork Publishing, 2019) 
Her upcoming books include:
ZAHRA’S BLESSING (Barefoot Books, Spring 2022) Illustrator, Manal Mirza
THE MOON FROM DEHRADUN (Atheneum, Fall 2022) Illustrator, Tarun Lak

40. A 30-minute Zoom Chat with author Lynne Marie, owner of Rate Your Story.

Lynne Marie is the author of Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten – art by Anne Kennedy (Scholastic 2011), Hedgehog’s 100th Day of School – art by Lorna Hussey (Scholastic 2017), The Star of the Christmas Play — art by Lorna Hussey (Beaming Books 2018), Moldilocks and the 3 Scares — art by David Rodriguez Lorenzo (Sterling 2019 and Scholastic 2019), Let’s Eat! Mealtime Around the World — art by Parwinder Singh (Beaming Books 2019), The Three Little Pigs and the Rocket Project — art by Wendy Fedan (Mac and Cheese Press, 2022), American Pie (Dancing Flamingo Press Spring 2022), There Was a Blue Whale Who Tangled with Plastic (Dancing Flamingo Press Spring 2023) and more, forthcoming. She’s also the Owner and Administrator of and a Travel Agent. She currently lives on a lake in South Florida with her family, a Schipperke named Anakin, where she can be found daydreaming and fracturing fairy tales. Visit her on her website Lynne Marie is represented by Marisa Cleveland Follow her on Facebook here and on twitter here.

41. A 30-minute Zoom Chat with author Lynne Marie, owner of Rate Your Story – attention: THERE IS are not seeing double – Lynne Marie has generously offered this prize to two lucky winners.

Lynne Marie is the author of Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten – art by Anne Kennedy (Scholastic 2011), Hedgehog’s 100th Day of School – art by Lorna Hussey (Scholastic 2017), The Star of the Christmas Play — art by Lorna Hussey (Beaming Books 2018), Moldilocks and the 3 Scares — art by David Rodriguez Lorenzo (Sterling 2019 and Scholastic 2019), Let’s Eat! Mealtime Around the World — art by Parwinder Singh (Beaming Books 2019), The Three Little Pigs and the Rocket Project — art by Wendy Fedan (Mac and Cheese Press, 2022), American Pie (Dancing Flamingo Press Spring 2022), There Was a Blue Whale Who Tangled with Plastic (Dancing Flamingo Press Spring 2023) and more, forthcoming. She’s also the Owner and Administrator of and a Travel Agent. She currently lives on a lake in South Florida with her family, a Schipperke named Anakin, where she can be found daydreaming and fracturing fairy tales. Visit her on her website Lynne Marie is represented by Marisa Cleveland Follow her on Facebook here and on twitter here.

42. A PB Critique with award-winning author Carrie Finison (Carrie is one of my long-time critique buddies…her critiques are amazing!)

Carrie Finison writes picture books with humor and heart, including Dozens of Doughnuts (2020), Don’t Hug Doug (2021), and the forthcoming Lulu & Zoey: A Sister Story, and Hurry, Little Tortoise, Time for School! (2022). She lives in the Boston area with her family. For updates and giveaways, subscribe to her newsletter, check out her website, or follow on Twitter or Instagram.

43. A PB Critique from award-winning author Hannah Holt. (Hannah is also one of my long-time critique partners – her feedback helps me make my manuscripts sing)

Hannah Holt is a children’s author with an engineering degree. Her picture books weave together her love of literature and lifelong learning. They include, The Diamond and the Boy (HarperCollins), A Father’s Love (Penguin), and A History of Underwear with Professor Chicken (Macmillan). She lives in Oregon with her husband, four children, and a very patient cat.
Find out more about Hannah and her books here.

44. A Picture Book Critique with 20-minute phone chat with author Zeena Pliska.

Zeena M. Pliska spends her days immersed in the joy of 5-year-olds.  She is a kindergarten teacher by day and a children’s book author by night in Los Angeles, California.  A progressive public school educator, she believes that the most important aspect of teaching is listening to children.  A social justice activist and organizer for over 30 years, she brings race, class, and gender analysis to everything she does.  A lifetime storyteller, she has facilitated stories as a theater director, visual artist, photographer and journalist.   Her debut picture book, Hello Little One:  A Monarch Butterfly Story from Page Street Kids came out May 12, 2020.  Her second picture book Egyptian Lullaby from Roaring Brook Press is due out in 2023.  Find out more about Zeena at Teaching Authors – and connect with her at www.zeenamar.comInstagram @zeenamarTwitter @zeenamar1013Facebook zeenamarFacebook Zeena M. Pliska author

45. A PB Critique OR a 20-minute Zoom Chat OR a signed copy of Counting to Bananas from author Carrie Tillotson

Carrie Tillotson is a biostatistician turned children’s book author. Her creative works orbit the intersection of science, creativity, persistence, and play. Through her work, Carrie aims to inspire others to follow their dreams. Her debut picture book, Counting to Bananas: A Mostly Rhyming Fruit Book, arrives on a shelf near you in April 2022. To find out more about Carrie:

46. A Fiction or Nonfiction Picture Book Manuscript Critique with author Robyn McGrath.

Robyn McGrath has spent her career working with children as a dance and yoga instructor, reading teacher, school counselor, and now…children’s author. Whether she’s writing fiction or nonfiction, Robyn believes that books help us navigate life experiences while fostering an understanding of self and others. When Robyn is not writing she works as a Play Therapist helping children and parents regulate BIG emotions. Robyn lives in Austin, TX with her husband, two children, a Labrador retriever, and a friendly cat they found camping. You can find her here at-

47. A PB Critique (Rhyming or Prose) from author Melanie Ellsworth.

Melanie Ellsworth writes picture books, including HIP, HIP…BERET! (HMH, 2021), CLARINET AND TRUMPET (HMH, 2021), and BATTLE OF THE BOOKS (Little Bee, 2022). She and her family live in Maine, where Melanie writes in an old barn with an old dog as her muse. As a former ESOL teacher and literacy specialist with an M.Ed. in Language and Literacy, Melanie loves all parts of the writing process, from gathering ideas to revising to sharing books with readers! Visit Melanie at, on Twitter @melanieells, and on Instagram @melaniebellsworth.

48. A Picture Book Manuscript (non-rhyming) Critique and a signed copy of Forever Home from author Cathy Stenquist.

Cathy Stenquist won second place in the 2020 Boston Author’s Club Picture Book Discovery Award for her MS “I Wish I Were” and had the chance to work with Peter H. Reynolds, who called her a “Magical wordsmith.”  Herdebut picture book “Forever Home,” a story about two orphaned kittens searching for a place to be loved was recently published. She was delighted to work with her talented daughter @ericaleighart who illustrated it.  Cathy is a longtime member of SCBWI, The Writer’s Loft in Hudson, Mass. and Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Challenge. You can find her at: and on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @cathystenquist.

49. A Picture Book Manuscript Critique and signed copy of The Penguin Lady from author Carol Cole.

Carol’s father taught her to read when she was only three and she started writing “TV Scripts” at ten.  As an adult, Carol had over 30 short stories for adults published in online e-zines and in four anthologies. A retired Physical Therapist in a Virginia School setting; a Special Education teacher told her – “You work with kids; write a book for kids.” So, after joining SCBWI in 2004 and her critique group in 2009; she did just that. “The Penguin Lady” was published by Arbordale Publishing in 2012. In pre-Covid days, Carol did multiple school visits along with a standing invitation for 5 years in a row at a private school.
You can learn more about her and reach out to Carol at:

50. A 20-minute Ask the Author Zoom Chat with author Melissa Coffey

Melissa Coffey is the author of FRIDGE-OPOLIS, her debut picture book published by Little Bee Books and illustrated by Josh Cleland. She grew up in Wisconsin toting around an overstuffed book bag and a dog-eared spiral notebook of poetry and stories. Unsurprisingly, her first job was at the public library. After earning a journalism degree from UW-Madison, she moved to Atlanta and called CNN Center home. Melissa was a freelance writer for Fortune 500 companies, CEOs and magazines before pursuing her passion as a children’s author. She now lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two sons—who thankfully inherited her book-loving genes. She is a member of SCBWI and represented by Charlotte Wenger at Prospect Agency. 
Fridge-opolis | Book by Melissa Coffey, Josh Cleland | Official Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster ( 

WOW! What do you think about these amazing prizes? I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of this kid-lit community. Thank you to all the prize donors. And to all those who are participating, please remember that the best gift you can give an author or illustrator is to buy their books, review their books, tell friends about their books, and ask your local library to purchase the books for their collection.

This year I’m partnering with my local independent bookstore, The Bookery in Manchester, NH to create a literacy initiative that will put books in the hands of children who need them. I’m asking each participant to purchase a children’s book when they post their entry on the Official Contest blogpost (that will go live on March 4th). Every book will be donated to three local schools in need – an elementary, a middle, and a high school. That way, you can buy whatever type of book you prefer – a board book, picture book, chapter book, middle grade, or YA. You can buy a book written by a friend. If you are a published author, you can buy a copy of your own book and it will become part of one of the school’s libraries. I’ll provide the link to the bookstore and also their phone number for people who don’t like to purchase things online. And if you are not able to buy a book or you’d rather not, I still want you to join the contest. But even if only 10% buy a book, and we have a turnout like last year, the schools will receive almost 100 books. If everyone bought one last year, we would have donated almost 800 books! When you buy the book, either online or over the phone, please let them know that this is for #50PreciousWords. That way, the bookstore will be able to put it aside in the #50PreciousWords pile. This is a win-win-win for the independent bookstore, for the schools, and of course, for the students. And also for the authors and illustrators of the books that are purchased.

Dear friends…please put on your thinking caps and sharpen your pencils and rev up your computers. It’s time to write! And if you know someone who is always saying they are going to write a story, please let them know about this opportunity.  If anyone has questions, please email me. I will be happy to answer them:


47 thoughts on “Sharpen Your Pencils: #50PRECIOUSWORDS IS COMING SOON!!!

        • I could have had a dozen more, Ken…but I had to stop at 50 prizes because it takes several weeks to distribute them after we announce the winners…and I’ll be out of town and then out of the country in April. And then, when I had 50, 6 more AMAZING prizes were offered (like the 3-day personal retreat at Highlights Foundation and a critique with Michele McAvoy, editor/publisher at Little Press, and the seat in Renee LaTulippe’s self-study Lyrical Language Lab…and of course, I could deprive our kid-lit community of the opportunity to win those.


  1. Pingback: Baby Wren – Writer's Corner

  2. I am excited to enter this year Vivian! After missing last year – no excuses!
    Thank you for everything you do to support and encourage us out here in the trenches…even us senior writers! And 50 precious words is just a teeny part of what you do. Prizes are awesome, good luck to everyone!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: 50 Precious Words Contest 2022 – Jessica Hinrichs

  4. CHUTNEY ( A South Asian Treat)

    By Afsheen Atif
    50 words

    Once upon a kitchen…

    “I am king of aroma,” claimed coriander.

    “Introducing, his highness with tangy flavors,” said garlic.

    “I am the queen of spices,” declared chilli.

    “I beg your pardon,?” said salt.

    “We can be tasted much better with each other,” suggested lemon.

    And they lived happily ever after.


  5. It’s always fun to play 50 Precious Words!

    DUCKLINGS IN MY POOL (based on a true story)
    by, Zainab Khan

    This hot day…
    Mama waddles…
    into my pool.


    Ducklings hop in.



    “Peep. Peep.”

    Cooled ducklings.

    Mama flies out.
    Ducklings can’t!


    Mama waddles. Screeches.


    My skimmer swishes under webbed feet.

    Scoop. Pluck.

    Soft ducklings skedaddle…
    into the bushes.

    Cuddle under…
    Mama’s wings.

    Safe and cool.


  6. All The Feels
    by Maureen Leuba

    Sometimes I’m happy. Sometimes I’m sad
    Sometimes I’m scared. Sometimes I’m mad

    Feels can sneak up like quiet little mice
    Sometimes they’re bad. Sometimes they’re nice.

    All the feels are real and are all part of me.
    And I’m pretty special. Don’t you agree?


  7. Making Music
    by Dianne Borowski
    The drums were marching around my room,
    Boom, boom, boom.
    Trumpets, trombones and saxophones too
    We were a motley crew..

    The strings and woodwinds joined our parade.
    The sound of music grew and grew!

    Our house was rocking from side to side.
    Come along and enjoy the ride.


    By Katie Schwartz

    YIP-YIP…yip? She’s here to stay??
    I’M the dog. Scram. Go away!

    Bouncing! Barking! Arf-arf-yap!
    Keep it down…I’m trying to nap.

    Sniff my butt?! That’s rude! Okay…
    BRAAPP! Hee-hee-hee, stinky spray!

    Easy, pup! Pant-pant-click-click…
    close enough! SLURP-SLOBBER-LICK!

    PUPPY BREATH! Ahhh, sweet. Like you.
    Welcome home, new puppy, Boo!


  9. Joanna Benn
    Teddy Bear Philosophy

    Why did the night sky
    Become a war zone?
    Millions fleeing under cover of dark,
    I dropped to the mud as the roar explored and sirens squealed,
    Wet eyes fixed,
    Looking for the last kiss the boy had sent to his father,
    Wondering if a kiss can stop a missile.

    50 words


  10. On the Road Again
    By Richard Kovelant (50 words)

    My name is Mitch, a shiny round tire.
    I drove my family safely along the road.
    Sadly, I never expected that I would go flat beyond repair.
    Placed on a tire pile forgotten,
    I was removed and recycled into sandals for children in need.
    My rubber hit the road again!


    By: Drew Egan

    A stone wall is
    made to be one thing:

    Then you come.

    It changes:
    a bus stop
    a mountain
    a marimba.

    You’re magic.

    Up close,
    the cracks crowd
    with mossy softness.

    “Jump,” it suggests.
    “Look,” it whispers, “you’re on the other side.”

    It’s a wall again.
    And you go.


  12. Skunk and Beaver
    By Jill Stuck
    Word Count 50

    It was the night of the masquerade ball.

    Skunk primped and preened.
    But no matter what she did… Skunk still stunk.
    “I can’t go,” she cried.

    “Everyone deserves to dance,” insisted Beaver.
    So he crafted vanilla-scented masks for everyone.

    The night smelled sweet as the two friends joined the promenade.


  13. The Broken Swing
    by George Anthony Kulz
    54 words

    Alice’s swing broke.

    ”Can you help,Tree?”

    “I’m broken too.” Tree said.

    “Can you help, Bird?”
    “I’m building my nest,” Bird said.

    “Can you help, Beaver?”

    “I’m building a dam,” Beaver said..

    Alice had an idea. Tree offered a log. Beaver bit holes in it. Bird gave her rope.

    Soon, Alice’s swing was fixed..


    by Becky Goodman

    Betilda Roo: two-year-old Researcher, Scientist…


    explored what sinks and floats.

    car keys,
    A to Z, Betilda tested the toilet’s bounds.

    And Dad’s.

    “Tell me why…” he sighed.


    “Tell me WHY.”


    At bedtime, Dad said, “I love you.”

    “Tell me why.”

    “Because you’re you, Betilda Roo.”


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