Valentine’s Day Rocks

UPDATE 2/22/2021: Congratulations to the 14 finalists and 35 honorable mentions from the 200+ submissions! I’m thrilled to share my story “Valentine’s Day Rocks” was among the finalists!**

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

– Judges of the contest on my 14th place entry

**

Until now, this blog has mainly been a journal for my photography. Today, I’m also adding something new: a children’s story. And I hope it’s a trend that continues. It seems fitting that I’m launching this on Valentine’s Day, because reading and writing picture books is something that has truly captured my heart over the last couple of years.

For Christmas I self-published Life Before You, a personalized story for my nieces, nephew, and the kiddos my husband and I sponsor with their own illustrations (their interpretation of “love” is shown in the photo above). I’m currently querying one polished manuscript inspired by my trip to the Galapagos (that has taken me dozens of drafts and hundreds of hours of writing and editing) and working on a few others with my SCBWI Wisconsin critique group. But, the story I’m sharing here was finished in two days for a writing contest, which has been a challenging exercise in both brevity (only 214 words) and bravery (posting publicly).

In this post, I will share the rules and prizes of the 6th Annual Valentiny Writing Contest (there’s still time to enter until midnight), my submission, my extended version (because I fell in love with the characters and *shocker* wanted to write more), and links to some of my favorite submissions by other talented writers. Enjoy!

Rules:

Write a Valentine’s story appropriate for children (ages 12 and under) with a maximum of 214 words (no illustration notes) in which someone feels brave!

Prizes:

Picture book manuscript critiques from agent Hannah VanVels and authors Renee LaTulippe, Dawn Young, Kirsti Call, Melissa Stoller, Becky Scharnhorst, Ellen Leventhal, Rebecca Kraft Rector, Julie Abery and signed copies of various books.

My Submitted Story:

Valentine’s Day Rocks – 214 words

By Samantha Haas

“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.”

My Extended Story:

Valentine’s Day Rocks – 599 words

By Samantha Haas

The school bell rang and Roger bolted from his seat. 

“Teacher! Roger is running!” said Marjorie. 

“Back of the line, please,” said Ms. Carla. “Both of you.” 

The classmates agreed to a game of rock-paper-scissors. On three, Roger held out a fist and Marjorie covered it with her hand. He glared at her braids in silence.

By the time they opened the craft box, even the cotton balls and popsicle sticks were gone. 

Marjorie picked the paperclip and skipped out the door. 

Only one item remained. 

“Ugh. What am I supposed to do with this?” said Roger. 

Ms. Carla smiled. “Use your imagination.” 

The next morning, a paper chain of pink and red framed the classroom door. Hearts and arrows covered the chalkboard. 

“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.” 

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

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

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

When everyone finished presenting, Ms. Carla clapped. “Wonderful imaginations, friends! At the end of the day, please put your creations back in the craft box.”

The bell rang, but Roger was glued to his seat. He waited until Marjorie got up and then quietly slid in line, staring at her braids. 

She stood on her tiptoes and scanned the room, slowly meeting the pair of chocolate brown eyes behind her. “Want to play rock-paper-scissors again?”

Roger nodded. 

“No peeking,” Marjorie said. “I’ll start the count.”

Roger clenched his right hand and shielded it with his left. 

On the third shake, they made their selection and opened their eyes. Roger rested his tight fist on top of her flat hand.

“Roger, paper covers rock.”

He grinned. “I know. I know. Just turn your hand around.”

As she did, Roger loosened his grip and Marjorie felt something drop into her palm. 

She clutched the smooth rock in her right and reached for his hand with her left. It was sweaty, but she didn’t mind.

Roger tried to hide his rosy cheeks by looking down. And that’s when he saw it: Marjorie’s shiny heart clipped to the pocket of his sweatshirt. 

He gave her hand a gentle squeeze and they walked to the back of the line, holding on as long as they could. 

When it was finally time to return their items to the craft box, Ms. Carla closed the lid and winked. 

“It’s full,” she said. “Looks like you can keep your treasures after all.” 

And to this day, they’ve never let go.

My Favorite Submissions

At the time of publishing this post there have been over 200 stories submitted, but I’ll try to check back tomorrow after the deadline to read more that come in and add any favorites here. It has been SO fun to see everyone take such a different approach on the same topic. I love the creativity!

One Comment

  • To See, Or Not To See – Samantha Cora

    […] about more and more writing contests. I may have had some beginner’s luck with the last Valentine’s Day writing contest (my 214-word story placed in the finals), so I’m tempering my expectations […]

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