July 31, 2013

Would You Read It Wednesday #98 - The Tomato Turner Gets A Job (PB)

I was going to post on Monday.  Really, I was.  But then we got invited out to dinner Sunday evening (which was lovely) and by the time I got home it was late and, well, you know how these things go...  So lucky you - you got another day off :)

It is high summer here on Blueberry Hill.  The bear passes by occasionally on his way from one patch of blueberry bushes to another.  The hummingbirds are hard at work raising their families, which requires a lot of calories...

... the twin fawns are growing...
this one is nursing...
and here they both are (sorry about photo quality - I was a little far away for the iPhone :)
...and if we could get more than one consecutive minute without rain, my flowers might stop looking like they drowned :)  Or they might not because, let's face it, I AM the Black Thumb of Poughquag :)

So now that you've seen summer on Blueberry Hill, I think it's time for Something Chocolate.  What should we have today?  How about...
Triple Chocolate Cookies???  YUM!

Enough chit-chat :)  It's time to get down to Would You Read It business!  Vivian is being very patient :)

Today's pitch comes to us from Vivian whom you may remember from previous pitches for other PBs in the Tomato Turner series - The Tomato Turner and Confessions Of The Tomato Turner).  Vivian is passionate about picture books - her mission is to help children become lovers of books and reading. She's a former kindergarten teacher and a current grandmother of four. Although she always thought of herself as a timid sort of person, she's had some really BIG adventures. Two years ago, she went skydiving with her son. This May, she stepped out of her comfort zone again and took her first international flight to the 2013 Asian Festival of Children  Content/SCBWI Conference in Singapore. In one of her presentations, shared her book, Show Me How! Build Your Child's Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking,and spoke to parents and teachers about the importance of reading picture books to young children. Her goal is to write a picture book story that will have kids saying, "Read it again, please!" Last this year, she and her husband will be leaving the Colorado Rockies and returning to the East Coast to be closer to family. She blogs at Picture Books Help Kids Soar and you can connect with her on Twitter andFacebook. 

Here is her pitch:

Working Title: The Tomato Turner Gets A Job
Age/Genre: Picture Book (ages 4 and up)
The Pitch: No matter how many times Peter counts the money in his piggy-bank, it's still not enough to buy the new bike he needs. The six-year old must find a quick way to earn some real money – summer vacation is only two weeks away and Peter wants to join his best friends' team when they compete in the annual bike relay race.

So what do you think?  Would You Read It?  YES, MAYBE or NO?

If your answer is YES, please feel free to tell us what you particularly liked and why the pitch piqued your interest.  If your answer is MAYBE or NO, please feel free to tell us what you think could be better in the spirit of helping Vivian improve her pitch.  Helpful examples of possible alternate wordings are welcome.  (However, I must ask that comments be constructive and respectful.  I reserve the right not to publish comments that are mean because that is not what this is about.)

Please send YOUR pitches for the coming weeks!  For rules and where to submit, click on this link Would You Read It or on the Would You Read It tab in the bar above.  There are openings in August so we're about ready for some new pitches!  Send yours for your chance to be read by editor Erin Molta!

Vivian is looking forward to your thoughts on her pitch!  I am looking forward to teaching my August picture book class (which starts tomorrow :)) and to seeing if I can scrounge up enough time to read Through The Ever Night by Veronica Rossi and Reached by Ally Condie which I've been wanting to read for ages!  Anyone else love YA dystopian? :)

Happy Wednesday, everyone! :)

July 24, 2013

Would You Read It Wednesday #97 - Fable Ranger (MG)

Golly gee whiz!

I took one and a half days off from blogging and I feel like I haven't seen anyone in ages!  I'm so glad you're all here this morning!  Let's have a chocolate feast to celebrate!  (And I'll put strawberries inside so it's healthy :))

Delicious and nutritious!  YUM! :)

Now then, first, I'd like to announce the winner of the June Pitch Pick and that is.....

.... ANDREA!!! with her pitch for The Backpack Secret!

Congratulations, Andrea!  Your pitch is zipping through cyberspace to editor Erin Molta and I'm sure you will hear from her shortly :)

And congratulations to our other brave and talented pitchers, too.  You all had splendid-sounding stories!  Thank you for sharing your pitches!

Next, let's have a look at today's pitch which comes to us from Angela.  Angela Brown is a lover of Wild Cherry Pepsi and chocolate/chocolate covered delicious-ness. [A girl after my own heart :)]  Steampunk, fantasy and paranormal to contemporary fill her growing library of books. With a full-time corporate gig by day, and caring for her rambunctious daughter - aptly nicknamed Chipmunk - by night, Angela dons her hat as an author after goodnight kisses.

You can find her here:

Angela Brown in Pursuit of Publishness -

Here is her pitch:

Working Title: Fable Ranger
Age/Genre: MG Fairy Tale Mash-up (9 and up)
The Pitch: Swept away to the land of Fabricaasia, twelve-year-old Caesimilia "Case" Mollands is trapped unless the off-script fairy tales are set right. Armed with her favorite book of fables, legends and lore, and with Robin Hood and her new friend Charlie-boy by her side, Case sets off to find the wayward tales and make things right.

So what do you think?  Would You Read It?  YES, MAYBE or NO?

If your answer is YES, please feel free to tell us what you particularly liked and why the pitch piqued your interest.  If your answer is MAYBE or NO, please feel free to tell us what you think could be better in the spirit of helping Angela improve her pitch.  Helpful examples of possible alternate wordings are welcome.  (However, I must ask that comments be constructive and respectful.  I reserve the right not to publish comments that are mean because that is not what this is about.)

Please send YOUR pitches for the coming weeks!  For rules and where to submit, click on this link Would You Read It or on the Would You Read It tab in the bar above.  There are openings in August so we're about ready for some new pitches!  Send yours for your chance to be read by editor Erin Molta!

Angela is looking forward to your thoughts on her pitch!  I am looking forward to going to hang out with this guy for a little while :)
Cute, isn't he?  I am so lucky because my very generous friend is letting me ride him :)

(Although it might not be until tomorrow or the next day... My boy had his wisdom teeth out yesterday and I have a feeling he may be in for a rough day today.  We may have a Star Wars marathon on the agenda rather than riding!)

Have a wonderful Wednesday everyone!  I might see you Friday... or I might not...  Who can tell?  It will all depend on whether I have anything remotely interesting to impart :)

Happy reading and writing and thanks for helping Angela with her pitch!

July 19, 2013

Summer Morning Drive

Happy Friday!

I'm not really posting today.

It seems that most of blogging world is on blogcation - partially or completely.  I can't quite bring myself to go on total blogcation... I would miss you guys too much :)  But I am going to take some random days off between now and the end of summer.  Never Wednesdays - Would You Read It will appear as scheduled every Wednesday - but the occasional Monday and/or Friday.  I feel quite sure you guys can use a break from me :)

So today, all I have to share is this:

Isn't he cute?  He was trotting down the road near my house.  (And no!  I was certainly not driving and taking pictures at the same time!  I drove.  My daughter took the picture.  Which you would have realized if you'd thought about it for a second... it would have been way more crooked and blurry if I was multitasking :))

Maybe he will inspire a story for someone.  Or, if you guys would like to share something unusual you saw while driving, maybe one of your sightings will inspire a story for someone!  Remember the giant picnic basket I saw in Ohio?

Please share unusual sightings!  I love stuff like that :)

Have a GREAT weekend everyone!

July 17, 2013

Would You Read It Wednesday #96 - The Curse Of The Shattered Sceptre (MG) PLUS The June Pitch Pick


Is it as hot in your neck of the woods as it is in mine?

I'm feeling a kinship with the Wicked Witch of the West.  I'm melting.... Melting!  Aaahhhrrr....!

When it's 80 degrees at breakfast, it's time to skip over oatmeal and go straight for the freezer.  Let's have profiteroles this morning, shall we?

It's for our own good.


To cool us off :)

YUM! :)

Ah, that's better isn't it?  I think we're ready to have a look at the June Pitch Pick.

#1 Andrea
The Backpack Secret (PB)

On the first day of kindergarten, Amani notices that Mason won’t take off his backpack. She’s determined to find out why, especially when the other kids start calling him names. After she finally convinces Mason to share his secret, it gives her an idea that will help everyone in the class feel braver at school.

#2 Heather
Tristan The Neighbor Cat (originally titled The Cat Who Lived In The Flowerpot) (PB)
Tristan the cat who lives in the flowerpot between apartments 7 and 8.  He loves his human neighbors and they love him.  There is just one problem.  NO PETS ALLOWED!  One day the strict landlady swings by for a surprise visit and Tristan finds himself in danger of losing his flowerpot home and the neighbors he loves.  

#3 Elaine
The Chase (PB)
A bored little boy stares at the moon, moaning about being bored while missing the stunning excitement that’s unfolding around him – pirate cows, zombie ice skaters, mummy librarians… If only he’d look down instead of UP. THE CHASE is a humorous picture book that explores the common childhood experience of what appears like the moon is following them, and turns it on its head.

#4 Alicia
Granola Bars For Dinner (PB)
Quentin is a kid who loves granola bars and wishes he could eat them all the time, even for dinner! But when Quentin discovers he is tired of all the regular granola bars at the store, he decides there is just one thing to do: make a new kind of granola bar. A kid-friendly recipe (for pizza granola bars) will be included.

Which pitch do you think deserves a read by editor Erin Molta?  Please vote for your favorite below by Friday July 19 at 11:59PM EDT.

Now then, onto today's Would You Read It!

Today's pitch comes to us from Rachel, who says "I'm an early childhood teacher and mother of two daughters.  I love reading, scrapbooking and writing children's picture books and have recently had a go at writing a junior fiction chapter book.  My blog address is"

Here is her pitch:

Working Title: The Curse Of The Shattered Sceptre
Age/Genre: Junior Fiction/Chapter Book (ages 7-10)
The Pitch: Oliver Bartholomew, bookworm extraordinaire, has never been more excited in his life.  Is it possible that an ancient book of riddles and spells just called his name?  This could be his lucky day!  Or not...  After accidentally unleashing a torrent of curses, Ollie and his friends must work together, using their wits and imagination to unravel the twisted clues and locate twelve shards of coloured glass, thereby mending the book's shattered sceptre. With a little help from a zany magician, a snappy fortune teller and a gruff groundskeeper, Ollie and his Book Club buddies find themselves embarking on a magical journey that they will never forget.   

So what do you think?  Would You Read It?  YES, MAYBE or NO?

If your answer is YES, please feel free to tell us what you particularly liked and why the pitch piqued your interest.  If your answer is MAYBE or NO, please feel free to tell us what you think could be better in the spirit of helping Rachel improve her pitch.  Helpful examples of possible alternate wordings are welcome.  (However, I must ask that comments be constructive and respectful.  I reserve the right not to publish comments that are mean because that is not what this is about.)

Please send YOUR pitches for the coming weeks!  For rules and where to submit, click on this link Would You Read It or on the Would You Read It tab in the bar above.  There are openings in August so we're about ready for some new pitches!  Send yours for your chance to be read by editor Erin Molta!

Rachel is looking forward to your thoughts on her pitch!  I am looking forward to finding somewhere like this to hang out :)

Have a wonderful Wednesday, my friends!! :)

OH!  P.S.  Remember that blog hop I participated in last Wednesday?  Wherein I answered personal questions?  I had to tag 3 other writers and Stacy's is up today HERE.  Please go visit her! :)

July 15, 2013

Summer Short And Sweets...Again :)

Howdy folks!

I hope everyone had a great weekend!

I was thinking...  It's been a while since we did a Short & Sweet, so how about we do one today?
badge created by Loni Edwards

(Hmm...  I've just noticed the Summer Short & Sweet badge says 2012... well, no matter, we're writers, we have good imaginations, we can imagine it says 2013 :))

We'll make it really short and sweet, because I know we're all crazy busy, and it's summer, and we really need to get to the beach or the pool or the lawn sprinkler ASAP in this heat :)


Here is the challenge for today:

Make up a character by answering the following questions:
1) boy or girl?
2) human or non-human? (animal, alien, monster, etc.)
3) age 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7?
4) lives in city, country, ocean, underground, or outer space?

Got it?  (You can use as much or as little of this as you like - it's just to help you imagine your character a little bit.)

Okay.  Now here's the thing about this character.  He/she has just gotten a pet.  But not just any pet.  Your character did NOT get a dog, cat, fish, hamster, gerbil, guinea pig, snake, bird, mouse, rat, or iguana (or any of what are considered usual/common pets.)  Oh no sirree bob!  Your character got something else entirely!  Pick an unusual and/or outrageous animal to be your character's pet.  (And if you want to be surprised, or can't think of anything at this hour of the morning, pick a number from 1-12 and go with the corresponding animal below.)

1. elephant
2. zebra
3. tiger
4. otter
5. kangaroo/wallaby
6. ostrich
7. giraffe
8. lemur
9. porcupine
10. penguin
11. camel
12. gazelle

Now.  Write the opening 1-5 sentences of a children's story in which you introduce your character, tell us what pet he/she has, and WHY this is a problem and/or WHAT he/she plans to do with this pet.

For example:

Jenevieve had always wanted an elephant, but when one arrived on her front porch two days before kindergarten she found herself in a bit of a pickle.
Mom worked at the hospital.
Dad worked at the firehouse.
Jenevieve would be at school.
Who would take care of her elephant?

Feel free to write as much as you want :)  I hope it will spark a fun idea for you.  And if your idea stalls out, perhaps someone else's will give you inspiration :)  My mind is off and running :)  I'm envisioning Jenevieve interviewing potential babysitters, looking for a playgroup or daycare for her elephant, coming up with a list of activities/amusements to keep him occupied while she's gone, or thinking about how she might sneak him into kindergarten.... :)

Have fun, everyone!  I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

Happy Monday and Happy Writing! :)

July 12, 2013

Announcing The Winners of The 4th Of July Secret Mystery Contest!!!

Good Morning, Everyone!

Thank goodness it's finally morning, right?

Because I know none of you got a wink of sleep last night wondering WHO would be the WINNER of the

The Fourth Of July Secret Mystery Writing Contest!

But now the day is finally here.

And I will tell you who won.

Just as soon as I find my glasses...

Ah.  Here they are.

Heavens!  I can't see a thing!

Hang on while I wash the lenses.

You know, I used to have perfect vision.  But somewhere in the last couple years I have become very dependent on my glasses.  I think it's all this computer time.  Or maybe my extreme old age...


I'm rambling?

I told you.  It's my extreme old age :)

Okay.  I'll stop :)

Are you ready to find out who won?

Before I announce the winners, I just want to thank everyone who participated in the contest one more time - the writers, the readers, the voters.  These contests are so much fun, and they couldn't happen without each and every one of you.  So thank you all.

Now then.

Drum roll, please!


The winner of The Fourth Of July Secret Mystery Writing Contest is


with her story

Mouse's Missing Magic!!!

Congratulations, Cheryl, on a fabulously written entry which has won you the opportunity to have the picture book manuscript of your choice critiqued by none other than the one and only Simone Kaplan!

2nd Place goes to Joanne for her story Mixed Messages!!!  Congratulations, Joanne!!  (Now aren't you glad you entered? :))

As second place winner, Joanne gets first choice of the remaining prizes:

 - a $50 Amazon gift certificate - Joanne
 - a picture book manuscript critique from yours truly (a $75 value) Sidney
 - the writing craft book of your choice (up to $30 value)
 - a place in Making Picture Book Magic (my online PB writing course) (a $99 value)

3rd Place goes to Sidney for her story Birthday Presents For America!!  Congratulations, Sidney!!  You get second choice of the prizes above after Joanne picks.

4th Place goes to Tina for her story Fishing Boat For Freedom!!  Congratulations, Tina!!  You get to pick after Joanne and Sidney :)

5th Place goes to Cathy for her story Guessing Game!!  Congratulations, Cathy!!  You get to pick after Joanne, Sidney and Tina :)

Winners, please email me and we will get all those prizes sorted out :)

And once again, congratulations to all our contestants!  I have to say, you are all winners by virtue of the fact that you took the time to practice your craft, write new stories to specifications and a deadline, and put them out there for people to read.  You know that whole 10,000 hours to mastery thing?  You're all a little bit closer :)

Thanks to everyone for making this another great contest.  I look forward to seeing you all in October for the 3rd Annual Halloweensie Contest!  (Unless I can't restrain myself and add another contest somewhere in between...  I'm not sure there's time, but feel free to weigh in on whether you'd like one and what it should be :))

Have a great weekend, everyone!!!

July 10, 2013

Would You Read It Wednesday #95 - That Tommy Thompson (PB) PLUS a Short Blog Hop

Okay.  I know I failed on the chocolate front last WYRI when I was away on vacation, so let's just start right out with that, shall we?  I won't keep you waiting a second longer!

I have the perfect chocolate delight for the summer heat which also happens to be perfect for breakfast because it's a legitimate breakfast item!  Are you ready?
Ah!  How refweshing! :)

Now, let's get right to WYRI!

Today's pitch comes to us from Lisa who says: A little about me.  I'm a former elementary school social worker, mom of two, and have recently made writing my full time job.  Two years ago I wrote my first picture book and just this past fall I  decided it wasn't going to do any good sitting on my computer. I began taking classes, reading craft books, attending conferences and workshops and just writing, everyday, writing.   The original story is long gone but at last count I've got 42 other drafts and ideas jotted down.  Oh yeah, and about four or five ready to go manuscripts. I have worked with kids my entire adult life and I feel strongly that this is the avenue in which I am meant to reach those little hearts and minds at this time in my life.  On a random note, I'm a big fan of chocolate covered gummy bears. ;)

(Chocolate-covered gummy bears?  She'd my kind of gal :))

Here is her pitch:

Working Title: That Tommy Thompson
Age/Genre: Picture Book (ages 5 and up)
The Pitch: Just a girl???? Abigail Richmond was not about to let "that" Tommy Thompson ruin her day. In fact, she has just enough confidence combined with a dash of sass that allows her to prove she can do anything she puts her mind to, just like some other famous women in history. Luckily, she also has the smarts to know what she shouldn't do. 

So what do you think?  Would You Read It?  YES, MAYBE or NO?

If your answer is YES, please feel free to tell us what you particularly liked and why the pitch piqued your interest.  If your answer is MAYBE or NO, please feel free to tell us what you think could be better in the spirit of helping Lisa improve her pitch.  Helpful examples of possible alternate wordings are welcome.  (However, I must ask that comments be constructive and respectful.  I reserve the right not to publish comments that are mean because that is not what this is about.)

Please send YOUR pitches for the coming weeks!  For rules and where to submit, click on this link Would You Read It or on the Would You Read It tab in the bar above.  There are openings in August (GULP!) so we could really use some new pitches!  Send yours for your chance to be read by editor Erin Molta!

Lisa is looking forward to your thoughts on her pitch!  I am looking forward to seeing who wins the 4th of July Secret Mystery Contest!!!  If you haven't voted, please go HERE.  It's a very tight race so we need all the votes we can get!

Now, before I let you go, I have a quick little blog hop item.  My friend and fellow horse lover, Robyn, who blogs over at Robyn Campbell, just asked me to participate in this "blog hop interview."  Naturally I said yes, since Robyn is my pal :)  The idea is, she sends me a bunch of questions of which I can answer as few as 4 or as many as all of them (don't worry, I'm going with Option A - short and sweet for the time-challenged!).  At the end, I tag three other writers, who will in turn answer their choice of the same interview questions on their blogs next week.

Here are las preguntas (I hope you're admiring my splendid accent :)):

1. What are you working on right now?
2. How does it differ from other works in its genre?
3. What experiences have influenced you?
4. Why do you write what you do?
5. How does your writing process work?
6. What is the hardest part about writing?
7. What would you like to try as a writer that you haven't yet?
8. Who are the authors you most admire?
9. What scares you?

Alrighty then.  I shall proceed with the answering.  Skipping right over the first 5... :)

6.  What is the hardest part about writing?
For me, there are two hardest parts: finding enough time and shutting up my inner editor.  Time is an issue because I always seem to want to do more things than actually fit into a day.  The inner editor problem has to do with perfection.  Sometimes I'm so afraid to write something that isn't good enough and thereby ruin a potentially great idea that I can't seem to write anything at all.  Other times, I spend so much time on page 1 that I never get to page 2! :)

7.  What would you like to try as a writer that you haven't yet?
Well, this is a little bit cheating because I have tried it (very unsuccessfully!) but I would like to try writing a YA novel.  I would also like to try my hand at some non-fiction.

8.  Who are the authors you most admire?
Why did I pick this one?  What was I thinking?  This is an impossible question because there are so many.  But I love Joyce Sidman's way with words.  I love Oliver Jeffers's ability to tell wonderful picture book stories with humor and also equally successfully to tell ones that are sweet.  I love anything Sarah Dessen.  And I think Patrick Ness knows how to tell a riveting story.  I could go on indefinitely, but I'll stop :)

9. What scares you?
Not being good enough.
Also competitive eaters who can eat 69 hot dogs in 10 minutes.  That is VERY scary!

Thanks for reading!  And please check out Robyn's answers.  Feel free to leave her a comment (read pleasepleaseplease leave her a comment because she is tons of fun:)) and let her know you hopped over from my blog.

I am tagging

Stacy Jensen
Alison Hertz
Julie Rowan-Zoch

Feel free to stop by their blogs today if you don't already know them, and definitely next week when they post!

Oh and one more thing:  I just found out my guest post with Sarah Forrest at Easy Read went up today.  It's about helping kids who struggle with reading find the fun in it (I have a M.A. and M.Ed in Counseling Psychology and Special Education of Children With Learning Disabilities, and before I wrote full time I helped kids with dyslexia learn to read.)  Sarah would love some visits, and perhaps if you have a child who struggles with reading or know someone who does the post could be useful and you could share the word of her blog.

And now, after that detour :), please leave your comments for Lisa below and cast your vote for your favorite story in the 4th of July Contest!

Have a lovely day, everyone!

July 8, 2013

The 4th of July Secret Mystery Writing Contest FINALISTS!

I hope you all had a fabulous, sparkly, red, white and blue 4th of July!

So what's new?

How's the family?

Read any good books lately?

I guess I don't really have much to post about today...


Wait a second!

What was I thinking?

Today's the day you've all been eagerly awaiting!

The day I tell you that...

... yesterday I got to have waffles with the one and only awesome Mike Allegra! over at his blog!! and if you haven't had a chance to read it, you should go check out his post!!!  Click HERE and show him some love :)

But seriously, folks, I know what today really is.  It's FINALIST DAY for

The Fourth Of July Secret Mystery Writing Contest!

As always, the decision as to who should make the cut was agonizing.  This contest was a particularly tricky assignment for those who chose to take it on, and everyone did such an amazing job.  I mean, a secret or mystery?  Set on 4th of July?  In 400 words or less?  What was I thinking?  That is not a challenge for the faint of heart!  So I think every single person who entered a story deserves a round of applause and a nice fat slice of apple pie (it's American) a la mode (your choice of ice cream) :)  You are all winners just for participating and I thank you all for your bravery in putting your stories out there for all of us to read.  I know it's scary.  But every single one of you should be proud of the job you did, and we are all grateful to you for providing such wonderful and enjoyable entertainment!

***APPLAUSE  APPLAUSE  APPLAUSE*** (This is the part where we're all cheering for YOU! :))

The decision was so difficult that I roped in an extra assistant judge.  Thank you SO MUCH, Extra! (you know who you are, but I never divulge the identity of my assistants, so everyone else will just have to wonder :))

Much as I'd like to give a prize to everyone, I'm not that well off.  So we will have to content ourselves with 7 okay sorry 8 finalists.  Their stories are below, and you now have the chance to read them (or re-read them) and vote for your favorite - the one you think should be declared the winner!

Before I present the finalists, though, I'd like to give special mention to a couple of people.

First, Honorable Mention to Robyn Campbell for her wonderfully creative twist on the almost-not-signing of the Declaration Of Independence Lenny To The Rescue, Julie Rowan-Zoch for her fantastic A Puddling Mystery, Heather Dent for her dog's eye view in BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!, and Teresa Robeson for her delightful Who's Katy (which was my 10 year old nephew's favorite :)).

Second, a great big fireworks display of congratulations to our two under-12 entrants, Erik (Facts Are Stubborn Things) and Brianna (Who Is In The Flag Costume)!!!  Seriously!  The adults who entered had a hard time with this contest, and these two kids showed us all up :)  Congratulations to you both for your terrific stories, and there will be a little something special for you if you email me :)

Now then.  There's no more putting it off.  Time to read the finalists and choose a winner.  Please cast your vote by Thursday July 11 at 6 PM EDT.


#1 Birthday Presents For America

One July day, while our cousins were visiting, my mother announced we needed to plan a birthday party.
“A birthday party? For who?” asked George, my older brother.
“For America!” she said.
Mom explained that our country was turning a whopping 237 years old. She said we needed to bring presents to the party. If we didn’t know what kind of present to give America, Mom suggested we read some history books. 
The six of us got busy.
My three cousins, Madison, Adam and Jackson, headed to the library. George disappeared into the garage, and I went to the kitchen. My younger brother, Thomas, stayed in his room.
I worked all afternoon on my present. I sifted flour. I rolled out dough for a crust. I added filling and baked my pie in the oven with Mom’s help. 
My cousins returned from the library. They said their presents were ready. But I didn’t see any presents.
George skipped into the house with an empty crate. What kind of gift is that?
Thomas was still in his room. I peeked inside. But he wasn’t making anything. He was playing with his turtle.
I strutted back to the kitchen. I just knew my gift would be the best.
It was time to show our presents to the whole family.
Madison suggested we vote who would go first. We each wrote down a name. Madison tallied our votes.
“Actually,” she giggled, “I win because my present to America is preserving democracy by conducting an election!”
Adam went next. He asked us to hold hands and bow our heads. He said a prayer for America, and he gave thanks for
the right to practice a religion.
Then Jackson walked up to our grandfather and saluted him. He thanked him for protecting America during the war and for keeping us safe. Grandpa’s blue eyes shined.
George turned over his crate and stood atop. 
“That’s my soap box!” he said proudly. “My gift to America is my right to make a speech!”
I was next. I divided my apple pie into six pieces – one for each child.
“My present is the gift of equality!” I said in between bites.
Finally, it was Thomas’ turn.
He led us into the backyard and set his beloved turtle loose. 
“My gift to America is freedom,” he said. 
We took one more vote. We decided Thomas’ present was the best.

#2 Fishing Boat To Freedom

“We’re having a 4th of July party tomorrow, class,” said Mrs. Evans.  “A secret will be shared. So today, I want you to write about what freedom means to you.”
JeeSoo thought about her new freedom in America with foster parents and her own secret—to become an American.
At recess, JeeSoo asked Anna, “How do you become an American?”
“Maybe you have to recite the Pledge of Allegiance perfectly,” said Anna.
JeSoo stood tall with her hand over her heart and recited it.
“I don’t feel like an American,” she said.
JeSoo asked Isaac, “How do you become an American?”
“You have to meet the president,” he said.
JeSoo didn’t think she could travel to Washington, D.C.
“How do you become an American?” she asked Abbie.
“I think you have to be born in America.”
JeSoo sighed. She could never be an American.
Back in class, JeeSoo looked out the window. The sky became the topsy-turvy sea. She saw her small fishing boat with her parents and another family who escaped North Korea lost in the storm. Up and down, up and down. A huge wave came crashing, and they all fell into the icy water. Only JeeSoo had survived.
JeeSoo wrote: Before I came to America, I had no freedom. I worked in the rice paddies. We had little money. I ate once or twice a day.
Only two outfits hung in my closet—one for summer and one for winter.  My father worked for the Great Leader of our country until he became too sick. They fired him, and we had little choice but to escape out of North Korea. We sailed on a fishing boat to freedom.
JeeSoo remembered being lifted out of the water, so soggy and weak, onto the U.S. Navy ship. And a wonderful soldier and his wife had become her foster parents.
JeeSoo hurried home and told her foster mom about the party.
“I know, Sweetheart,” she said. “I’m helping.”
The next day JeeSoo’s eyes widened as she read the banner: Congratulations, JeeSoo! American flags hung around the room.
“On July 4th you will become an adopted American citizen,” said her foster mom. The class cheered.
Outside the sky no longer looked like a stormy sea. She saw hues of red, white, and blue.
“I’m proud to become an American,” she said.

#3 Harold's Hat

The day was here! Finally!
Hot dogs!
Oh, and there was also The Hat.
Harold could hardly think of The Hat without saying, “Mwah-ha-ha!”
He’ll show that Betsy Lominzer, that’s for sure.
Last year Betsy wore a special Fourth of July hat to the town parade – a nice one that had flashing lights and a cup holder for her lemonade.
Harold asked if he could try it on and she said no. Not even for one teeny, tiny little milisecond.
“Fine,” thought Harold. “I’ll show you next year.”
And, well…Mwah-ha-ha!
The Hat took Harold six months to build. He kept it out of harm’s way in his closet.
At least he thought he did.
It must be out of harm’s way in his toy box.
Out of harm’s way in his dresser?
Under the bed? Behind the hamper? In the closet again, just to make sure?
“Whaaaat?” Mom was trying to light the barbecue.
“Have you seen My Hat? The one with the red, white and blue glitter, and the flashing lights, and the siren, and the cup holder?”
“No,” she replied. “Where on earth did you get…? ”
“Too loud!” Dad was pouring chlorine in the pool.
“Have you seen My Hat? The one with the battery powered waving flag action and the cannons that shoot sparks?”
“You have a hat that shoots sparks?” Dad asked. “That could be a fire haz­–”
“Ba!” Billy was sucking on his foot.
“Have you seen My Hat? The one with the megaphone and the solar powered jukebox that plays a medley of Sinatra songs when you push a red button on the brim?”
“Do-be-do-be-do,” Billy said.
Wait. That wasn’t Billy.
Harold followed the do-bes to Sparky’s doghouse and found him swooning to Sinatra’s crooning.
The hat was safe and sound.
“Good boy.”
Off to the parade! Off to find Betsy Lominzer! Mwah-ha-ha!
But…well…Betsy’s hat had improved a bit since last year.
It had improved quite a lot, actually.
“Wow! Can I try on your hat for just one teeny, tiny, little millisecond?” Harold asked.
“No,” Betsy Lominzer replied.
“Fine!” thought Harold. “I’ll show you next year.”
In an instant, Harold’s mind filled with new and exciting ideas. A bigger hat. A better hat. The Best Hat Ever.
His lips curled into a smile.
“Mwah-ha-ha!” he said.

#4 The Missing Fourth

The Fourth of July was missing.
When people in Blueville flipped their calendars to July, the 4 had been cut out.
The mayor ran out of Town Hall. “The town’s bunting has been bagged!”
The Celebrations Committee exploded, “The fireworks have all gone up in smoke!”
The bandleader cried, “Someone’s marched off with the instruments!”
“We must call a Town Meeting!” said the mayor.
“We need to collect money for more fireworks!” said the Celebrations Committee.
The band leader sang, “Seventy-six kazoos… nope, it’s just not the same.”
They ran around, tearing their hair. “What can we do?”
The kids huddled together. “What we need to do is find who did it,” said Tommy.
“And bring the Fourth back!” said Jennifer.
“Like all the Star Wars fans say, ‘May the Fourth be with us’!” said Jack.
“Not May, July!” said Debbie. She’d never seen Star Wars.
“We need to look for clues,” Jack said. “Things can’t just vanish.”
“We need to find a motive,” Tommy said. “Why would anyone steal the Fourth of July?”
“Everybody likes the Fourth of July,” Debbie said.
“Not everybody,” said Jennifer. “People who don’t like fireworks. Or parades. Or noise.”
“AHA!” They all said together.
They sneaked down the street where the band would have played. They went over the hill where the fireworks would have been.
“Look!” said Tommy, pulling a trombone case from under a bush.
“And see this!” Debbie said, waving a sparkler in the air.
“And a bag full of 4s from the calendars!” said Jack.
Jennifer put some bunting on like a cape.
“You kids get away from my stuff!” yelled Old Man Mudgeon. His cur, Snarly, grrrrred.
“It isn’t your stuff, it belongs to Blueville!” they said. “Why did you take it?”
“It’s too dang noisy. Every year those fireworks and the band just about knock my ears off.”
“I can fix that,” said Tommy. “Wait right here!”
He ran all the way to the store. “Do you sell earplugs?”
“Turnips taste better, but yup, here are earplugs.”
Tommy raced back to Old Man Mudgeon and gave him the earplugs.
So Old Man Mudgeon lived silently ever after, and Blueville turned back into Red, White and Blueville every Fourth of July.

#5 Mouse's Missing Magic

Mouse bustled up her path and waved to her neighbor, Skunk.
She had so much to do before tonight!
Mouse threw a party every Fourth of July.
She invited her closest friends.
She served lots of yummy food.
But most of all, Mouse made her magic brew and splashed the night sky with sparkles and glitter and brilliant colors.
"This should be the best batch of magic yet." She chuckled. "I've added extra sizzle to the swizzle."
Mouse stepped into the kitchen and gasped.
"My pot of magic brew is missing!"
Mouse spotted smudges on the floor.  They glowed.
"Footprints! The thief must have spilled some brew."
Mouse followed the glowing prints outside. They led past Mole's burrow. 
Mouse knelt down and called, "Hellooo!"
Mole poked his head out of the hole. "Yes?"
"Have you seen my pot of brew?"
Mole blinked. "It's gone? Oh, dear!" He climbed out. "I'll help you search."
Mouse and Mole continued the hunt.
"The footprints are fading," said Mole.
Mouse's heart pattered. They must find her magic! She could never make another batch in time for the party.
The trail wound past Squirrel's tree.
Mouse looked up and called, "Excuse me!"
The leaves trembled and Squirrel peeked out. "Yes?"
"Have you seen my pot of brew?"
Squirrel's tail twitched. "It's missing? Oh, no!" He scampered down. "I'll help you search."
So Mouse, Mole and Squirrel continued the hunt.
But the footprints finally faded away.
Mouse sighed. "What will I do?"
Rustle. Rustle.
"What's that?" she whispered.
Rustle. Rustle.
"It's coming from that bush," said Mole.
They crept forward and peered around the bush.
"The magic brew!" said Mole.
"It's Skunk!" cried Squirrel.
"Why did you take my brew?" asked Mouse.
Skunk hung her head. "Because I'm lonely. Nobody invites me to parties. Every year I watch your Sky Show from my yard." She sniffed. "I thought if I had the magic brew, maybe I could throw my own party."
Mouse said, "I'm sorry I didn't invite you, Skunk."
"I'm sorry I took your brew," she said. "I'll bring it back."
"We'll help!" said Mole and Squirrel.
The friends carried the pot to Mouse's home just in time for the party.
When it grew dark, Mouse splashed the night sky with sparkles and glitter and brilliant colors.
"The swizzles really sizzle," said Skunk. "It's the best batch yet."
"And the best party, too!" said Mouse.

#6 Guessing Game

Maggie sat on a tall stool in her kitchen, watching her mother. She was very, very bored.
“Whatcha doing?” she asked her mom.
Her mother dropped blueberries and strawberries into cups of vanilla yogurt. “Making a treat for the picnic,” she said.
“What picnic?” asked Maggie.
“I can’t tell you,” whispered her mother. “It’s a secret.”
“A secret?” whispered Maggie. Maggie loved secrets! She was very, very good at figuring out secrets. “What if I guess it?”
“I suppose that will be all right,” said her mother.
“Is it a picnic for all of us?” asked Maggie.
“Yes,” said her mother. She picked up a baseball cap with an American flag on it. “Don’t let your brother leave without his hat.”
“Aha!” said Maggie. “So we’re going somewhere for the picnic!”
Her mother nodded.
“But why?” asked Maggie. “It must be a special picnic. Is it a party?”
Her mother smiled. She collected blue paper plates and put them in the picnic hamper. “Put these cups in there, too, please.”
Maggie stacked red plastic cups inside the hamper.
Maggie’s dad walked into the kitchen. “Is everything ready for the picnic?” he asked.
“We’ll need the extra-big blanket,” said her mother. “The one with stars and stripes on it.”
Maggie sat on her stool, thinking of the secret. What kind of party could the picnic be? Last week, her softball team had a party. But that was the last team party of the summer.
“And don’t forget the cupcakes!” called her mother.
Cupcakes! “Is it a birthday?” asked Maggie.
Her mother smiled again.
A birthday! Maggie thought of her grandparents and her best friend and even her next-door neighbors. But she did not think any of them had a birthday today. She jumped off her stool and walked to the wall calendar. “Let’s see,” said Maggie. She looked at the month. “July,” she read. She looked at the dates. “1, 2, 3, 4,” she counted. Maggie crossed her arms and thought and thought.
“Time to go,” said her dad.
But she had not figured out the secret yet! Her family started for the door with the hamper, the blanket, and the cupcakes.
Who has a birthday on the 4th of July, wondered Maggie.
“Wait,” said Maggie. She followed her family outside. “I know the secret! It’s America’sbirthday party!”
Her mother laughed. “How did you ever figure it out?”

#7 Who Ate My Hotdog

Every Fourth of July, my entire family comes over for a barbecue. Usually, it’s a lot of fun.  This year, there was a serious problem. Somebody ate my hotdog.

It was there one minute, and then it was gone. I left it to get a root beer.  When I came back, there were only some crumbs from the bun.

“Who ate my hotdog?” I asked.

Dad said he’d been grilling the whole time.

Mom said she ate too much of Aunt Rosie’s pasta salad and was already full.

It was probably Peter.  It was the sort of thing my older brother would do.

Nope, it wasn’t Peter.  He’d been helping Uncle Fred get the fireworks set up on the dock.

Could grandpa have done it?  There’s no way grandpa would steal my hot dog.  But wait, is that ketchup on the corner of his mouth?  I always eat my hotdogs with lots of ketchup.

“Grandpa did you eat my hot dog?”

He chuckled.  “No, my boy, I ate my hotdog, not yours.  But I think I might know who did.”

He pointed a long shaky finger toward the picnic table.  Who was he pointing at?  Cousin Sally?  Then something caught my eye.  A hotdog was moving across the table.  It inched its way along the red and white checkered table cloth. It went past the potato salad, past the watermelon, past the corn on the cob until it fell to the ground. 

I peered into the shadows under the table and then I saw the guilty party. Our dog, Jack, gobbled up the spoils of his sneaky theft.

Well, at least I knew who ate my hotdog.  The only thing to do now was to ask dad for another one. I made my way back to the grill.  Dad gave me another hotdog.  I covered it with ketchup.  I sat at the table and was about to enjoy my first bite when I realized something awful had happened.  

Someone drank all my root beer!

#8 Mixed Messages

Sweat rolled down Alex's neck as he laid the blankets on the lawn. He wanted everything to be perfect for the fireworks show tonight.
"Hey Alex, I've got a message for you." It was Alex's next-door neighbor. He was carrying lawn chairs back and forth between the two yards. "If you've got a cold, then your mom made you itchy and your grandpop is freezing."
"What is that supposed to mean?" asked Alex.
"No idea, but that's what my little sister said to tell you."
Alex went in search of little Lola. He found her parading through the grass waving her teenie American flag.
"Lola, what were you supposed to tell me? I'm feeling fine and my Pop-Pop is in the house."
Lola wrinkled her nose, thinking hard. "If you're hot and cold, then your mom may be itchin' and your grandpop is freezin'. Or somethin' like that. If you don't believe me, ask your daddy."
Alex left Lola looking for lightning bugs and headed for the patio. He found his dad cooking the last of the hot dogs on the grill.
"It'll be dark soon. Ready for the fireworks?" he asked.
"Almost, Dad. The neighbors said you had a message for me?"
"Oh yeah. If you're hot and cold, then Mom may be in the kitchen, and your Pop-Pop is freezing. It doesn't make any sense to me, but that's what your Grammy yelled from the porch. Maybe you should go ask her."
Alex dragged himself up the porch steps. He was sure he must be melting. This was the hottest Fourth of July he could remember.
Grammy was sitting on the porch swing, hoping to catch a breeze. "Did you get my message, Alex? Your mom said if you're hot, there's cold lemonade in the kitchen, and isn't it nice your Pop-Pop is freezing. Though how he can be, in this weather, I'll never know."
"Thanks, Grammy," said Alex. "I'll bring you a glass of lemonade when I come back." But Alex was still confused. He shuffled through the front door, expecting to see his Pop-Pop bundled under a quilt. Instead he spied a note from Mom. It said:

Gone to the store to buy more sparklers.
If you're hot, there's cold lemonade in the kitchen and ice pops in the freezer.
Be back soon.

Again, please cast your vote by 6PM EDT on Thursday July 11, and thank you all so much for participating, reading, and voting!  These contests couldn't happen without all of you!

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