The 2021 Valentiny Contest WINNERS!!!

Rise and shine, my friends!

I know it’s Monday.

I know it’s freezing cold and snowing… AGAIN!

I know someone in your house probably snagged the last Poptart and you’re stuck eating All-Bran for breakfast. . .on a frigid Monday morning. . .in the snow!



I am about to cast a ray of sunshine into your freezing, snowy, All-Bran-y, Monday morning!


It’s true!

Here comes sunshine and heart-warming happiness because I am going to SING YOU A SONG! 🎶🎵🎶

🎶How much are those Poptarts in the window,
So sugary sweet and divine?
I’m brave, but not brave enough to offer
All-Bran to my sweet Valentine!🎶


Ok, how about

🎶Oh, my darling,
Oh, my darling,
Oh, my darling, Valentine!
I will give you all my Poptarts
If you promise to be mine!🎶

Oh no, wait! I’ve got it!

🎶I’m a little Poptart filled with jam
Some say I’m sweet and it’s true! I am!
But my Valentiny also true –
No one else is sweet as you!🎶

I don’t know what’s happening here.

Apparently someone (who is not a good singer) has Poptarts on the brain.

Who could that be?

But never mind, because GUESS WHAT?

It’s time to announce the WINNERS of

The 6th Annual Valentiny Writing Contest

~ for children’s writers ~

First of all, I want to thank EVERYONE who took the time and care to write an entry for this contest.  You all did a fabulous job and provided great enjoyment for so many! As always, I was thrilled to see so many wonderful stories!  It is amazing and inspiring, not to mention VERY entertaining!  There is just so much talent out there amongst you all!  The other judges and I are blown away anew each time!

Second, I’d also like to thank EVERYONE – writer, reader, or both – who took the time to go around and read as many entries as you could and leave supportive comments.  This means so much to the writers who worked hard on their stories.  It helps them see what they did well, as well as giving them the joy of knowing that their stories were read and enjoyed.  I hope you all got as much delight  and entertainment out of the reading as I did!  Plus, we got to meet quite a few new people which was a wonderful added bonus! 🙂

Third, I want to say again how difficult it was too choose!  There were so many amazing entries.  Really.  I could find at least something terrific about every single one.  The sheer volume of entries meant that many good ones had to be cut.  We chose 14 finalists, and around 35 Honorable Mentions which we also loved, and even with those 49 total there were over 200 entries we couldn’t list! So if yours didn’t make the final cut please don’t feel bad.  You’re in good company! There was a huge amount of competition.  Judging, no matter how hard we try to be objective, is always subjective at a certain point – we all have our own preferences for what makes a great story.  And the fact that you didn’t make the final cut DOES NOT mean you didn’t write a great story.  Everyone who plonked their butt in a chair and worked hard to write a story for this contest is a winner!  You showed up.  You did your best work.  You practiced your craft.  You wrote to specifications and a deadline.  You bravely shared your writing with the world.  And you have a brand new story that is now yours to expand beyond 214 words if you like and maybe submit at some point to a magazine or as a PB manuscript.  So bravo to everyone who entered!

Because it was such a hard choice, and there were so many wonderful stories, before we get to the winners, my assistant judges and I would like to award bragging rights, recognition and a small prize to the following authors for the following merits:

1.  For Honorable Mention In The Competition As A Whole: (entries we truly wrestled with not including in the finalists!)

Elizabeth Volkmann for Class List

Melissa Trempe for The Most Terrible, Awful, Icky Valentine Ever

David McMullin for Brave Brave Brave (also funny 😊)

Laken Slate for The Brave Little Conversation Heart

M.R. Haqq for Soon

Mia Geiger for Peanut’s Brave Valentine’s Day

Ashlee Hashman for The Wildflower

Lindsey Hobson for U R Brave

Audrey Day-Williams for Legendary Valentine

Sara Ackerman for Arrrrr Is For Valentine

Amy Leskowski for A One-of-a-Kind, Just-in-Case, Not-at-All-Pink Valentine’s Day

Donna Kurtz for The Owl and the Kitty-Kat

2. For Great Kid Appeal: (not already mentioned in the finals or other categories)

Una Belle Townsend for Six Secret Valentines

Jan Suhr for The Lost Valentine

Kaylee Gwarjanski for Mission: Cancel Cupid Call

Gregory E. Bray for A Valentine’s Day Quest in the Land of Moore

Elizabeth Muster for W-R-I-T-E For Each Other

3. For Original POV:

Molly Ippolito for Cardamom’s Courage (POV of cardamom)

Rozana Rajkumari for Lemon-Tine (POV of a lemon)

4. For Humor:

Kelly Conroy for The Monster’s Valentine Buffet (dark 😊)

Catherine J Lee for The Valentine on My Shoe

Karyn Curtis for The Valentine’s Quest

Tracy Curran for The Wibbler (also great POV – jelly!)

5. For Well-Written, Fun Story With Great Sibling Interaction:

Brenda Whitehead for Step-Brother Battle

Shannon Howarth Nelson for Super Brothers

Danielle S. Hammelef for Scaredy-Cat

6. For Beautiful Writing:

Ciara N M Greenwalt for The Gift Tree

Sandhya Acharya for Sarla Asks A Question

Jyoti Rajan Gopal for A Cocoon of Love

Amy Flynn for Tilly’s Great Big Heart

7. For Best Short Valentiny Story:

P. J. Purtee for A Simple Valentine

8. For Sweet Valentiny:

Kelly Swemba for Brave For Gigi

Anne Bromley for Caleb’s Heart

Carmen Castillo Gilbert for Roses From Valentina

9. Best Story From A Young Writer:

Sophia Zafra for Bravery Is From The Heart

Congratulations to all of you for fantastic elements of your stories!  You may all email me at susanna[at]susannahill[dot]com subject line Prize Winner to collect your award badge and prize, which is five dollars in a format that can be emailed for you to put toward something you’d like at a large online store (and I’m being cryptic because when I did this for Halloweensie I got a ton of problematic spam mail because of the way I worded the post, but hopefully you can figure it out.  The store starts with the letter A 😊) I know it’s not much, but hopefully it will come in handy for something!

And now…

…the moment you’ve all been waiting for…

The announcement of the WINNERS OF THE 2021 VALENTINY CONTEST as voted on by you, our devoted readers!!!



In First Place

Winner of the whole shebang…

who gets first choice of all the prizes…

Sarah McDermott

Lemur in Love!!!

Congratulations, Sarah! We had such fun reading this aloud! Terrific job 😊

In Second Place

Sarah Meade
Jana’s Valentine Visit

Congratulations, Sarah!  So believable! You get to pick your prize after Sarah.

In Third Place

Nancy Derey Riley
Percy’s Valentine

Congratulations, Nancy!  What a perfectly rhymed and timely story! You get to pick your prize after Sarah and Sarah.

In Fourth Place

Jessica Hinrichs
Valentine’s Gotcha Day

Congratulations, Jessica!  So sweet! You get to pick your prize after Sarah, Sarah, and Nancy!

In Fifth Place

Carrie Boone
The Ballad of Bad Bart

Congratulations, Carrie!  What a Valentine bargain! You get to pick after Sarah, Sarah, Nancy, and Jessica!

In Sixth Place...

Nicole Loos Miller
Stella & Hank

Congratulations, Nicole!  You must have a cat and a dog to write them so well! I’m sure you get the idea of how the prize picking goes by now 😊

In Seventh Place…

Paul Kurtz
Someone Special!

Congratulations, Paul!  You made us laugh   You get to pick next 😊

In Eighth Place…

Chambrae Griffith
Octopus Hugs

Congratulations, Chambrae!  Happy ending for shark 😊 You get to pick after Paul 😊

In Ninth Place…

Janie Reinart
Untangled Valentines

Congratulations, Janie!  So beautifully written!  You get to pick after Chambrae!

In Tenth Place…

Anne Lipton
Most Valuable Valentine

Congratulations, Anne!  You did a masterful job of turning history and racial justice into a Valentiny story! And in rhyme! You get to pick after Janie!

In Eleventh Place…

Katie Brandyberry
Valentine Delivery

Congratulations, Katie! We could just see the picture book your little mail truck would make! You get to pick after Anne 😊

In Twelfth Place…

Lauri C. Meyers

Congratulations, Lauri! You had us at the title! And we laughed at the ending 😊 You get to pick your prize after Katie.

In Thirteenth Place…

Judy Sobanski
Brave Little Friends

Congratulations, Judy! Little Racoon was certainly very brave! 😊 You get to pick after Lauri!

In Fourteenth Place…

Samantha Haas
Valentine’s Day Rocks

Congratulations, Samantha! We loved Marjorie for her kindness and understanding, and Roger for bravely (and intelligently) coming up with valentines that worked for him!

All the winners should email me at susanna[at]susannahill[dot]com with the subject heading Prize Winner so we can work out details for you to receive your prizes!  (The sooner the better!)  And for your convenience, the whole prize list is included at the bottom of this post.

Congratulations again to all our winners – it was a stiff competition!! – and congratulations to EVERYONE who wrote and entered a story in the contest.  You all deserve a huge round of applause and a gigantic chocolate heart… or lots of little chocolate hearts… or both… really, you can never have too much chocolate 😊 . (Or, can I interest you in a Poptart? Maybe a chocolate Poptart… 😊 )

Thank you to everyone who helped make this contest SO MUCH FUN, whether by writing an entry, reading people’s stories, leaving comments for the authors, and/or voting in the finals.  It’s because of all of you that this contest was such a success, so many, many thanks from the bottom of my heart!

Have a marvelous Monday, everyone! 😊

The Prizes:  Swoonworthy!

Hannah VanVels – Agent, Belcastro Agency – PB MS Critique

Hannah will offer one lucky winner a PB MS critique. The winner may submit fiction or nonfiction, rhyme or prose – Hannah is open to anything!

(from Belcastro Agency’s website)

Winner’s choice of Renee LaTulippe‘s Lyrical Language Lab Intensive Rhyme & Meter Self Study Course OR a one-hour ZOOM consultation with Renee to get feedback on a manuscript of your choice, ask questions about writing in rhyme/lyrical prose, or spend however you like!

Renee LaTulippe

Picture Book Manuscript Critique (Rhyme or Prose, Fiction) from Dawn Young, author of THE NIGHT BAAFORE CHRISTMAS (WorthyKids 2019), COUNTING ELEPHANTS (Running Press Kids, March 2020), and THE NIGHT BAAFORE EASTER (WorthyKids January 26, 2021)

Dawn Young

Picture Book Manuscript Critique (fiction) from Kirsti Call author of The Raindrop Who Couldn’t Fall (Mazo Publishing, January 2019),  Mootilda’s Bad Mood (Little Bee, September 2020), as well as COW SAYS MEOW (HMH) and COLD TURKEY (Little Brown) which will release in 2021.

Kirsti Call

Picture Book Manuscript Critique from Melissa Stoller, author of SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH (Spork 2018), READY, SET, GORILLA! (Spork 2018), THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE COLLECTION (chapter books) (Spork 2017), and SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES (Spork, October 2020)

Melissa Stoller

Picture Book Manuscript Critique (non-rhyming, fiction) from Becky Scharnhorst, author of the forthcoming MY SCHOOL STINKS! (Philomel Books, July 6, 2021)

Becky Scharnhorst

Picture Book Manuscript Critique from Ellen Leventhal, author of A Flood Of Kindness (WorthyKids April 2021), DON’T EAT THE BLUEBONNETS (Spork 2017), LOLA CAN’T LEAP (Spork 2018), and HAYFEST A HOLIDAY QUEST (ABCs Press 2010)

Ellen Leventhal

Picture Book Manuscript Critique (non-rhyming, fiction, fewer than 800 words) from Rebecca Kraft Rector, author of SQUISH SQUASH SQUISHED (Nancy Paulsen Books, February 16, 2021) (which means it’s coming out in the middle of our contest!😊) and the forthcoming LITTLE RED (Aladdin, Simon & Schuster, Spring 2022) and TRIA AND THE GREAT STAR RESCUE (Delacorte/Random House)

Rebecca Kraft Rector

Picture Book Manuscript Critique (nonfiction PB or rhyming PB) from Julie Abery, author of LITTLE TIGER and LITTLE PANDA (Amicus Ink 2019), YUSRA SWIMS (Creative Editions February 2020), LITTLE MONKEY and LITTLE HIPPO (Amicus Ink February 2020), THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN (Kids Can Press, December 2020), and the forthcoming LITTLE PENGUIN and LITTLE ZEBRA (Amicus Ink, March 2, 2021) and SAKIMOTO’S SWIM CLUB (Kids Can Press, May 4, 2021)

Julie Abery

A Picture Book Manuscript Critique by gifted author and former Holiday Contest prize winner, Jenna Waldman, author of the forthcoming Larry’s Latkes (October 2021) (originally written for the Holiday Contest!) and Shark-bot Shalom (August 2021) She is on twitter at @SarafinaDesign

Author Jenna Waldman

– Either a signed copy of WHEN A TREE GROWS OR a Picture Book Manuscript Critique – winner’s choice! – from Cathy Ballou Mealey, author of WHEN A TREE GROWS (Sterling April 2019) and the forthcoming SLOTH AND SQUIRREL IN A PICKLE (Kids Can Press, May 4, 2021)

– a personalized signed copy of SUNDAY RAIN from author Rosie Pova PLUS a personalized signed copy of DEAR GRANDMA from Yours Truly.

– a personalized signed copy of DON’T HUG DOUG: (He Doesn’t Like It) from author Carrie Finison PLUS a personalized signed copy of CURIOSITY’S DISCOVERY from author/illustrator Nancy Derey Riley!

– a personalized signed copy of The Night Baafore Easter from author Dawn Young PLUS a personalized signed copy of Hop To It: Poems To Get You Moving from poet Sarah Meade!

Please join me in thanking these very generous authors and other writing professionals for contributing their books and writing expertise as prizes by visiting their websites and blogs, considering their books and services for birthday, holiday or other gift purchases, rating and/or reviewing their books on GoodReads, Amazon, B&N, or anywhere else if you like them, recommending them for school and library visits, and supporting them in any other way you can dream up! 😊

The 6th Annual Valentiny Writing Contest FINALISTS!!! – Vote For Your Favorite!!!

I know, I know!

You’ve been up all night, wearing holes in your carpet, nibbling your nails to nubbins, refreshing your browser every 10 seconds in case the blog notification you’re waiting for somehow needs a nudge to load, picking the clock up to make sure you read it right because YIKES! how long can it BE until MORNING!

And when at last it is actually time for that blog post to arrive. . .

. . .it DOESN’T! (You had to wait until 11 AM!)

(Gnashing of teeth, tearing of hair, rending of garments, howl of frustration! GAH!!!)

I know. I understand. I really do.

Because here, on the other side of the blog post, the other judges and I have spent the past several days (and nights) reading and re-reading 252 amazing, wonderful entries, trying to narrow them down to a mere handful of finalists when there are SO MANY we’d like to choose. It is agony, I tell you, sheer AGONY!

It makes me realize that apparently I am a glutton for more than chocolate! Who knew? I must also be a glutton for punishment to put myself through this every contest!

Because every contest you guys amaze me with your talent and creativity. Each time I think I can’t be more impressed with the entry pool, you prove me wrong.

So. . .

. . .gnashing of teeth, tearing of hair, rending of garments, howl of frustration! GAH!!! and consumption of a LOT of sustaining chocolate and caffeine 😊

Because entering a contest is a kind of practice for submitting to agents and editors, I thought you might be interested to see a bit of breakdown so you know what you’re up against when you submit. This contest (popular as it is 😊) got 252 entries this year – a mere drop in the bucket compared to the number of submissions agents and editors get. Approximately 240 entries had to be cut. Only the tiniest percentage of entries make it to the finalist list. It is even more competitive among agents and editors. I do not say this to discourage you! But it does show how important it is to submit your best work. When making a choice, it is much easier to cut the ones that didn’t follow the submission guidelines, weren’t proofread, have subpar writing mechanics with mistakes in spelling, grammar, punctuation, and word usage, or simply don’t feel special enough to stand out from a crowd of excellent entries.

This contest the entries seemed to fall into topic categories more than usual.

We had many groups of 2 or 3 entries relating to robots, spiders, bees, lions, seeds/flowers, snails/slugs, color blindness, dragons, and zombies.

Then we had bigger groups about:

Birds (4)
Cats (5)
Chickens (5) (I think that was because of the bravery theme 😊)
Grumpy/Scary Neighbor (5)
Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity (6)
Fear of Public Speaking (7)
Nursing Home/Elderly/Ill/Dementia/Dying/Dead Grandparent (8)
Sick/Injured Child (particularly cancer) ((9)
Dogs (10)

(and I don’t claim to have counted exactly right 😊 there may have been a few more in each group)

I thought it might be helpful to you in your continued writing so see how many writers’ minds go in similar directions in order to help you distinguish your writing from that of others by looking for ways to make those topics fresh and new, and to write them in ways that truly enhance the topic and make it shine so that a judge, agent, or editor can’t get it out of her mind. What (for example) will make your dog story funnier, more heartfelt, more original, more…whatever, than the other X number of dog stories it’s up against?

Anyway, with apologies for being unable to winnow the finalist pool to 12 and therefore settling on 14 (which is the number of Valentine’s Day after all 😊) (and yes, I will see if I can scare up two more prizes!) I present to you the finalists in the 2021 Sixth Annual Pretty Much World Famous Valentiny Writing Contest!  Please read through them carefully, take your time, think it over, and vote for your favorite in the poll below by Sunday February 21 at 5 PM Eastern time.

To help with objectivity, finalists are listed by title only, not by author.

And I’d like to be very clear about the voting process.  You are MOST welcome to share a link to this post on FB, twitter, or wherever you like to hang out, and encourage people to come read ALL the finalists and vote for the one they think is best.  Please do that.  The more people who read and enjoy these stories the better, and the more objective votes we get the better.  HOWEVER (and I want to be very clear on this) please do not tell people you are a finalist.  Please do not ask people to vote for a specific number or title, or for the story about the brave little alien who faced certain peril at the launch of the Valentine Roboblaster 2000 or whatever.  Trolling for votes or trying to influence the outcome is counter to the spirit of this competition which is supposed to be based on merit.  We operate on the honor system.  I thank you in advance for respecting this. Your win will mean more if it’s honestly earned.

So now, here are the 2021 Valentiny Contest Finalists!!! 7 rhyme, 7 prose (total accident!), some for younger readers, some for older (but still kid) readers, some funny, some sweet, some sad, some thought-provoking but all fabulous! 😊

The 6th Annual Valentiny Writing Contest


#1 – Percy’s Valentine

“Hello NASA, Percy here,
I’m on approach to Mars.
I’ve come to meet my valentine
out here among the stars.”

Suddenly his dash went dark.
He lost communication.
The rover now was on his own
to reach his destination.

“The next ten minutes are the worst.
It’s called the time of terror.
I’ve calculated all the risks
and have no room for error.”

He used an extra thruster burn,
to slow his rate of speed.
He changed his orbit, pitch, and slope
to plot the course he’d need.

But then alarms began to blare.
He cried, “I’ve overshot!”
His heat shields glowed a brilliant white.
“I’m coming in too hot!”

With only seconds left to save
his Valentine’s Day mission,
he saw “Range Trigger” on a knob,
“That’s how I change position.”

He pulled the knob and felt a thunk,
the parachute deployed.
The sky crane lowered him to Mars
beside another droid.

He smiled at Curiosity.
“I had to persevere.
Please say you’ll be my Valentine,
now that I made it here!”

“Your entrance was spectacular.
It won my heart and soul.”
She said, “We’ll be the best of friends.
Come on, let’s rock and roll.”

#2 – Valentine Delivery

Mail Truck’s engine flutters with nerves. Today is Valentine’s Day and his mailbags are overflowing.

But… snowflakes swirl and twirl around him. Mail Truck has never driven on snowy, slick roads before.

Wheels spinning, he begins his route.
He slips to the left,
then slides to the right.
His shocks shake.
He fogs up in fear.
He carefully shuffles back and parks.

The snow will melt tomorrow. I’ll deliver the valentines then, he thinks. I’m sure nobody will mind.

Across the street, a child darts to her mailbox. She slips in a homemade valentine for pickup. Mail Truck’s tires deflate with guilt.

Further down, an old lady trudges to her mailbox. Seeing it empty, she wipes away a tear. Watching her, Mail Truck’s lights turn red in shame.

Determined, Mail Truck fills his tank.
He turns on his brightest lights.
His wipers zip back and forth.

“My job is to deliver the mail – snow or shine!”

Bravely, he rolls down the street. His heart races as he inches from mailbox to mailbox.

The child runs outside, yelling “Happy Valentine’s Day, Mail Truck!”

When the old lady sees her mail delivered, her face lights up.

On this cold and snowy day, Mail Truck feels warm inside…
and remembers why he loves his job.

#3 – Most Valuable Valentine

This year I’ll make baseball cards instead of valentines,
to honor a brave player who transcended racial lines.
Henry Louis Aaron batted well above his weight,
his legend soaring over those who needled him with hate.

Henry grew up poor but loved, down south in Mobile Bay.
Thwacking bottle caps with sticks, he’d pop them far away.
Though he had no bat or glove, he had great strength within,
but he was barred from Little League because he had dark skin.

Henry’s high school had no team, so he went semi-pro.
When he unspooled his mighty swing, he made the crowd go “Oh!”
Henry slid into home plate, and he’d sew up the win,
yet some hotels and restaurants would not let Henry in.

Henry Aaron never quit, his hopes pinned to his dream,
working hard to do his best, to always help his team.
With his eyes glued on the ball, he’d shut out racist jeers,
and with the cracking of his bat came loud, wholehearted cheers.

Henry was the Home Run King, a diamond for his court.
He rose above the foul done him and championed good sport.
My ball-entines will be a hit, a home run, no debate,
because they’re threaded through with love and not a stitch of hate.

#4 – Stella & Hank

Stella was the perfect cat:
And charming,
And oh-so-soft.

She was loved by all,
Especially Hank.

Hank was the perfect dog:
And drooly,
And oh-so-playful.

He was loved by everyone…
Except Stella.

Hank tried to win
Stella’s affection
With rope-pulls,
And slobbery bones,
Even his favorite stuffie.

But Stella flattened her ears,
Wrinkled her whiskers,
And turned her tail.

When Hank came near,
Stella’s claws came out.

When Hank whimpered,
When Hank howled a love tune,
And when he tried to give her a bath…

Poor Hank.

Then, one February day,

She finally came back
With a big plastic collar
That went up instead of down.

Stella was sore,
And sad,
And sleepy,
And it broke Hank’s heart.

He gathered his courage,
And his bones,
And his stuffie.

He risked a HISS,
And a SMACK,
And even a SWIPE,
To put his offering at her feet.

Stella opened one eye.
She considered him closely.

Enough room for a large dog
(If he stayed very quiet). Hank barely dared to breathe.
Stella started to purr.
It was the best Valentine’s ever
Because he spent it next to her.

#5 – Octopus Hugs

Octopus was floating by,
when a flyer caught his eye.

Clown fish, dolphins, sting rays, slugs,
are you good at giving hugs?
A Valentine’s Day hug contest.
The prize, a sunken treasure chest!
Contestants, meet at Aqua Park.
Test all your hugs on me!
Love, Shark.

“A treasure chest? Oh what a prize!”
But hug a shark, would that be wise?

With 8 strong arms he’d be the winner,
or he might wind up— shark’s dinner!

He squirmed his way to Aqua Park
to see who dared to hug a shark.

But not one creature stood in line
Only shark—who held a sign.

Hug contest. Enter, please!
I’ve never had a single squeeze.

Shark’s head hung low, he looked so blue,
Octopus knew what to do.

He swam up slowly feeling wary,
shark was big, and very scary!

He stretched his shaking arms out wide,
and whispered, “Here shark, swim inside.”

He wrapped shark up, all tight and snug,
and gave him the most perfect hug.

“Oh what a hug! The very best!
You win this sunken treasure chest.”

But Octopus had fixed his eyes
on something else, a shark-sized prize!

“Though the treasure chest looks great,
I’d rather win— a new best mate!”

#6 – Untangled Valentines

This Valentine’s day is
like my hair…

One last time,
I brush
my bangs.

Put on
the gift
from my sister—
a new red

She’s been
in the hospital
a lot.

My sister
no one
will want
to be her

My sister
no one
will think
she is

of her hair
fall out—
on her pillow.

we leave for

I promise her
—cross my heart—
I will hold
her hand
the whole time…

they tie her hair
into ponytails.


Then clippers

My heart beats

What’s left
of her soft curls

I clutch her hand.

In minutes
her little head is …

I blink fast.
my eyes
And swallow

Her small mouth
into a half smile.
“Want to rub my head for good luck?”

I exhale.

I take off
my new headband.

The words

“Better than that,” I say softly.
“I’m next.”

#7 – The Ballad of Bad Bart

High noon
Western town
Bad Bart stares the sheriff down.

Empty street
Dusty square
Tension crackles in the air

Spurs jangle
Fingers shake
Bad Bart’s heart begins to quake.

Buzzards fly
Shadows in the clear blue sky.

Down below
Bad Bart stands
Lasso twisting in his hands

Palms sweaty,
Mouth dry,
Bad Bart catches Sheriff’s eye.

Hesitation –
Can he do it?
Deep breath in–nothing to it!

“Tell me, Sheriff Caroline,
Will you be my Valentine?”

Buzzards pause
Wind stops
Bad Bart’s stomach flips and flops

Sheriff frowns
Seconds drag
Bart’s high hopes begin to sag

Sheriff brightens
Hope revives!
Bad Bart’s dearest wish survives

Sheriff says
to her cowboy
Words that fill his heart with joy:

“Put aside your life of crime–
Then I’ll be your Valentine!”

#8 – Someone Special!

“Yoo-hoo, Blowtorch,” Danny calls into the cave.
A dragon appears. “YAWN! I was napping—what’s up?”

“Tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day. I want to show someone special I’m brave.” Danny waves a striped bag. “Pretend to fight me and these fireball-jawbreakers are yours.”

“Ooo—my favorite.”

Next day—

“Danny,” Princess Dawn says, “are you sure about this? Your Valentine card, flowers, and candy were plenty.”

“But I want you to see I’m brave.”


—rattles Danny’s armor as he approaches the cave.

“Come out, fiery dragon—brave knight Sir Danny challenges you!”

Blowtorch appears—


Danny’s silver sword flashes—Blowtorch’s golden claws rip the air.

“Oh my—” Princess Dawn gasps.

All day they fight like tigers.

“OH MY!” Princess Dawn squeals.

Blowtorch rises onto his back legs, and—


—giant flames flare from his nostrils.

“YYIII!” Danny shrieks.

The flames melt Danny’s armor and burn away his clothes. Stumbling backward, he sprawls on the ground in his charred, smoking underpants.

“OHHH! Blowtorch, why did you do that?”

Blowtorch winks at a dragon with glittering pink scales standing beside Princess Dawn.

Giggling, she waves her silver claws and flutters her violet eyelashes at him. “My handsome, brave dragon-hero.” Blowtorch sighs and flames flare from his nostrils, forming a heart. “I have someone special too!”

#9 – Charmadillo

Charmadillo sniffed the air
And smelled the lovely Shelly there.
She snorted dirt while pigging out.
He loved her soft pink digging snout.

He should say “hi” or “whatcha eating,”
But his heart was loudly beating.
Too shy to speak, he hatched a scheme
To tell sweet Shelly she’s his dream.

He would write some words of love
And pass the note from up above.
“Your snout is pink, your bands are fine,
Won’t you be my Valentine?”

He watched the letter fall below…
But then his fear began to grow.
He tried to snatch it back again,
But it was deep inside her den!

The situation turned him pale.
He rolled himself and hugged his tail.
His armor wasn’t tough enough –
Inside he felt all squirmy stuff.

He tried to dig a hole and hide,
But something stirred from deep inside.
What if his dreadful doubts were wrong,
And sharing feelings made him strong?

He paced nearby for her reply,
Jumping when he heard her cry:
“Charmadillo, I can’t read.
You want a candied centipede?”

The lunch of termites he prepared
Showed his love how much he cared.
She didn’t know the words he wrote,
But showed her love and… ate the note.

#10 – Valentine’s Gotcha Day

Valentine sat in her kennel, nervously thumping her tail against the floor.

Was today the day? She’d gotten her hopes up before, but everyone always said her fur was too scruffy, her nose was a funny shape, and her size was just too much to love.

Day after day, she remained at the shelter, watching families adopt her friends and hoping one day it would be her turn too.

Just then, Valentine’s ears perked up. She heard a girl’s voice. Her heart beat faster as the girl approached.

“Look, Mommy!” The little girl squealed. “Her fur is red! Her nose is shaped like a heart! And there’s a lot of her to love! She’s perfect.”

The little girl knelt down and smiled—the prettiest smile Valentine had ever seen.

Valentine’s eyes pleaded with her. Could this be my Gotcha Day? I’m too scared to even hope. Be brave! She trembled, but she held the little girl’s gaze.

As if the little girl understood, she reached out her hand and gently whispered, “Sweet Valentine, will you be mine?”

Will I ever! Valentine’s fears faded in a split-second and she lunged into the little girl’s arms, peppering her face with wet kisses.

The little girl giggled. “You’re the best Valentine ever!” No, thought Valentine, you are.

#11 – Lemur In Love

Trevor is an AYE-AYE and he’s ready for some love.
But sadly he’s so SHY-SHY, hiding in the leaves above.
He’s got his eyes on Rita, it feels more than just a whim.
But what if she won’t love a scruffy GUY-GUY just like him?

Trevor knows that AYE-AYEs aren’t the handsomest of males.
He gives a great big SIGH-SIGH as he polishes his nails.
But maybe looks aren’t everything, he needs to make her see
The fluffy little TIE-TIE wearing GUY-GUY up the tree.

Trevor must impress her but an AYE-AYE’s skills are few.
He gives a mournful CRY-CRY. He just hasn’t got a clue.
But then a lightbulb moment, Trevor’s great at French cuisine!
He’ll bake a splendid PIE-PIE, soon she’ll be his jungle queen!

Trevor looks up HIGH-HIGH where the moon is shining clear.
He makes his way to Rita, trying hard to show no fear.
He offers her his PIE-PIE, Rita smiles then takes a bite
And hearts begin to FLY-FLY on this very special night.

#12 – Valentine’s Day Rocks

“Time for show-and-tell!” Ms. Carla announced. “Who wants to share their Valentine’s Day craft first?”

Arms sprang toward the ceiling like balloons. But Roger’s hands stayed hidden inside his sweatshirt.

Dylan held up a homemade flower. “I painted pasta for the petals and used a pipe cleaner for the stem.”

Then Jade chimed in. “Mine is a clothespin butterfly with glitter tissue paper for wings.”

Roger’s fingers fidgeted inside his pocket while the others went around the circle — each project more colorful than the last.

Marjorie nudged Roger. “Psst. Your turn.”

His face turned as red as the rose on his teacher’s desk.

“Roger, did you forget yours at home?” asked Ms. Carla.

He cradled something in his palm, weighing what to do next.

Marjorie leaned over and whispered, “It’s okay. I don’t have craft supplies at my place either.”

Roger took a deep breath and showed the plain rock to the class. “I read a library book about penguins who give out pebbles like people do with candy when they like somebody.”

When the students giggled, Marjorie jumped up to distract them with her project: a bent and twisted paperclip.

“This is my heart,” she beamed. “I’m giving it to the bravest person I know.”

Roger scooted closer to Marjorie. “Psst. You rock.”

#13 – Brave Little Friends

Little raccoon spent all afternoon
making cards that he’d soon give away.
For tomorrow at three, the forest would be
all a twitter for Valentine’s Day.

He put names on each card and tried very hard
to make certain that all were included.
Then Raccoon had a thought that maybe he ought
to give one to his friend who’s secluded.

Poor Mr. Bear, was quite unaware
of the Valentine’s Day celebration.
He was curled in heap, in a winter deep sleep—
his annual bear hibernation.

Little Raccoon arrived around noon
to deliver the card to Bear’s cave.
He shivered and shook as he took a quick look;
he knew that he had to be brave.

He set the card down by the bear—big and brown,
then left in a tippy-toed dance.
His friends all stood near shaking with fear,
“Why would you take such a chance?”

“Cause he’s my friend, too, and so wouldn’t you
like to make a kind gesture toward Bear?”
The rest found their “brave” and went to the cave
to leave goodies and cards everywhere.

When Bear opened his eyes and saw the surprise,
he knew the exact words to say.
I’m very elated to wish you a ‘Belated’ but
Most Happy Valentine’s Day!”

#14 – Jana’s Valentine Visit

Almost there.
Mom sings along to love songs on the radio as she drives.
Jana stares down at her sparkly red fingernails.
They match her Valentine’s Day dress.
She thinks about last time,
even though she doesn’t want to.
How scared she’d been.
The strange smells,
scary sounds,
sad faces.
Jana shivers.
She doesn’t want to go back there today.
When the car stops,
Jana feels her breath catch.
“I’m scared,” she whispers.
“I’ll be with you,” Mom says.
Jana carries her valentine in shaking hands.
They step
up the sidewalk,
through the sliding doors.
The strange smells,
scary sounds,
sad faces.
Jana swallows.
She slides behind Mom,
tries not to breathe,
or hear,
or see.
Outside Gram’s room, they pause.
“See? You’re OK,” Mom says.
Jana nods, her face hot.
She goes to Gram’s bed.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” she whispers.
Gram’s same small smile.
Jana places the valentine in Gram’s hands.
“Thank . . . you,” Gram murmurs.
She grabs Jana’s hand and squeezes.
Jana gasps.
“Pretty. . . nails,” Gram whispers.
Jana smiles. “Sparkly red like valentines. It’s your favorite holiday.”
Gram nods.
“Gram?” Jana says. “Want me to paint your nails, too?”
Gram’s face lights up.
Jana’s hands don’t shake at all as she begins to paint.

Please vote for your favorite in the poll below by Sunday February 21 at 5 PM Eastern time.

Tune in Monday February 22 to see THE WINNERS!!!

Thank you all so much for taking the time to write (if you did), read, and vote!  These contests simply wouldn’t be what they are without all of you!

I can’t wait to see who the winners will be!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to . . .

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. . . . 😴 😴 😴

(right after I see what I can do about 2 more prizes so all these well-deserving finalists get they’re just desserts 😊)

Have a thrilling Thursday, everyone!