Holiday Writing Contest: A Holiday Hippo Wish

As many of you know, in addition to telling stories, I also write them! I’ve got three published books and a whole lot of manuscripts in the works. This year I have grown even more serious about my writing, participating in such author-ly endeavors as Picture Book Idea Month, seeking professional critiques for my manuscripts, and beginning the process of finding an agent for my work. I’ve also joined a few online writing groups and subscribed to some writing blogs so I can learn as much about the craft of writing as possible.

Recently I heard about a writing contest through one of the groups I joined. At random I decided to enter, and I’m glad I did because I won a critique of the first page of my novel, Carlos and the Corral of Forgotten Ones, by Erin Black, an editor at Scholastic Press! Her feedback was super helpful, and I know it will make my story a lot stronger as I move forward.

Then I came across another contest — the 3rd Annual Holiday Writing Contest — hosted at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog and decided to give it a try as well. The contest asks participants to write a children’s story about any sort of holiday mishap in 350 words or less.  The prizes for the contest range from critiques by editors to autographed children’s books to Amazon gift cards. If you want to have some fun with words and tell your own holiday story, head on over to Susanna’s blog and get started. The deadline is this Friday so don’t delay.

Here is my entry, just making the cut at 345 words! Phew! I hope you enjoy it! Please feel free to leave your comments as they are much appreciated! 🙂


A Holiday Hippo Wish

“AAAHHHHHH!!!” Mrs. Allen’s scream rang throughout the dark house on Christmas Eve.

“What is it, Mommy? What’s the matter?”

Anna hopped out of bed and raced down the hall to find a hippopotamus in the bathtub!

“Hello,” said the hippo. “I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. You’re more pleasant than that other woman. She gave me a fright with all her screaming.”

“Sorry. That’s my mom. I think she was surprised to find you here.”

“Not as surprised as me! I was minding my business, floating down the river, when all of a sudden some impala-like creatures dove through the sky, lifted me with their hooves and brought me here. Then a fat man in a red suit told me to shimmy down the chimney. When I refused, he pushed me down! All he gave me for my traumatizing ordeal was a sickeningly sweet substance and a chalky white liquid. I want to go home!” The hippo burst into tears.

“I’m sorry,” said Anna. “This is all my fault. I asked Santa for a hippopotamus for Christmas. But I had no idea he’d take you from your home and force you down the chimney! I guess I need to be more careful what I wish for.”

“I guess so,” said Anna’s mother. “Now what are we going to do? This hippo cannot stay! If grandma sees her, she’ll have a heart attack!”

Anna looked at the clock. “1:00AM. There’s still time! Hurry!”

Anna and her mother pushed the hippo down the stairs and out the front door. Then Anna hung a note around the hippo’s neck.

Dear Santa,

Sorry for the inconvenience, but please return this hippo to her home. I promise to make my Christmas wishes more carefully in the future.



The next morning Anna looked out the window to see an inflatable hippo with a bow around its neck. The attached note read:

Dear Anna,

Your wish has been granted. Here’s a hippo the whole family can enjoy.



“The Mitten” at the ECRC

Here are a few photos from my recent performance of “The Mitten: A Ukrainian Folktale” at the Early Childhood Resource Center in Canton, Ohio. The roles of the rabbit and fox were played by two brothers who had no problem getting into their parts. They were so comical at the end of the program because they wanted to pull their hats over their faces for our final photo! They were also eager to point out the Ukraine on the globe.

You may also notice that two new puppets have been added to my collection — a squirrel and a mouse! I’m sure you’ll be seeing them again as you know how I love my puppets!

Rabbit begs to come inside the mitten, and Squirrel eventually takes pity on him and lets him inside.

A seriously handsome and seriously smiling Mr. Fox.

Rabbit and Fox snuggle into the mitten.

The full cast of the mitten — fox, wolf, bear, rabbit, squirrel and mouse!


False First Impressions — or Why You Shouldn’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

Recently I did a show for a preschool-aged crowd. Before the show began, the children were playing with some large foam blocks. A little girl was stacking her blocks contentedly when out of nowhere a little boy came running up, shouting, “Knock it down!” And of course, he proceeded to do just that.

A few moments later, the boy’s younger sister was sitting on another block, pretending it was a horse. Her brother stood behind her, kneeing her in the back. As I watched the wild way in which he tore around the room, wreaking havoc and disturbing the other children, my radar went off. I remember thinking, “This child is a real handful. I’ll be lucky if he can behave himself for five seconds, let alone the duration of my performance. And if he takes on a role in the story, things could get very interesting!”

But to my surprise, when the story began, the boy sat there completely still, completely attentive. He was soaking in every word. When I asked for volunteers amongst the very reluctant crowd, he agreed to come up, but he wasn’t a handful at all. In fact, he appeared rather shy as he put on the costume hat and took on the role of the chicken (and later that of the cow!) in the story. My fears that he would be running all over the place mid-story, disrupting others or not able to follow instructions, were completely unfounded. He behaved like an angel.

They always say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” and that saying can (and should!) be applied to people, especially children, as well. I’ll never forget my college acting teacher saying that we as humans cannot help but judge people. It’s part of our nature. The danger is when we become so locked into our judgments that we do not remain open to new information and cannot see when we’re wrong.

I do know that I had pre-judged this child. I’d looked at a tiny slice of his behavior and allowed that to color what I thought of him as a whole – or at least how I thought he would behave in that particular moment in time. I’m happy to say, I was wrong.

When the program was over, I found myself pondering what had prompted the change in his behavior during the performance. I’m sure a number of factors could have accounted for it, but part of me wondered if maybe he truly relished the opportunity to listen, to be talked to, to have someone share something of value with him. Perhaps this is something he doesn’t get a lot of in his daily life. Or perhaps his otherwise active demeanor makes others think it’s not something he would appreciate.

Now I have no idea what this boy’s home life is like, so that’s just my own random attempt at understanding. But I do know that as Lewis Carroll once said: “Stories are love gifts.” And maybe there is no substitute for the sense of value a child receives when he or she is listening to a story.

Storytelling In El Salvador

You may remember that back in February I visited Guatemala to tell stories and lead workshops in storytelling and the dramatic arts. Well, in August a friend in El Salvador who had seen the photos from my Guatemala trip asked if I would be willing to come to her country and do the same. As is my habit when it comes to overseas invitations, I said yes!

This month I spent a week in El Salvador, dividing my time between the towns of Merliot (just outside of San Salvador), Usulutan and Gualache. While there I had lots of opportunities to share stories (in Spanish!) at churches, feeding programs and schools. I taught a total of 4 workshops to everyone from church leaders to school teachers to young people interested in the creative arts! At times, the ages of the participants ranged from 12 years old to late 60s! But the wonderful thing was seeing how open and receptive everyone was and how eager they were to learn and put the lessons into practice — some as early as the following day with their own students!

While in El Salvador I also had the chance to visit El Boqueron (a crater) and to make a stop at the port/beach for some delicious seafood and fun in the waves. Throughout my time, I enjoyed more than my fair share of the local fair, namely pupusas, thick tortillas made of corn or rice and filled with such goodies as cheese, beans, and veggies, or all manner of meat for the carnivores out there! With some tomato salsa and curtido, a cabbage salad with peppers, they are absolutely delicioso!

It’s amazing to me how in one week I can grow so close to people as we share our lives and stories together. I already miss the dear friends that I made during my stay. They treated me with such warmth, kindness and generosity that I felt like I had been there much longer, and I look forward to the day when I can see them again. At one of the churches that I visited, the pastors did some detective work and discovered that I love to tell multicultural folktales using traditional dress. Thus, they presented me with the beautiful Salvadoran dress that you see me wearing in the picture above. I won’t be able to put it on without thinking of them, and now I am on the lookout for the perfect Salvadoran folktale to accompany it so I can wear it even more often!

My trip led to future invitations to visit other countries such as Bolivia, Panama and Venezuela. I may not be able to get to these places in the next year or so, but I am hopeful that one day in the future I may be able to make a tour and hit each of these locations and possibly more! Only time will tell! In the meantime, I’m thankful for the great experience I just had and for all of the amazing journeys and adventures that God has allowed me to embark upon thus far!

Below you will find a gallery of images from my trip. Enjoy!