Seeking Courage

By Bonnie Kelso

Finding lost things was Riley’s specialty.

She found Mama’s keys!

A shiny penny.

Her sister’s doll.

“Here it is, Kara.”

Riley and Kara were playing hide-and-seek 

when Riley found Mama wrapped in a blanket.

“I’ve lost my job.” 

“I’ll help you find it!” said Riley. 

Mama hugged her tight.

Later Riley found

a stack of boxes

with Kara’s doll stuffed inside one. 

“We’re moving?” asked Riley.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t find your job.”

“I know moving is scary, Riley,

but we have to find courage,” said Mama. 

Riley looked everywhere,

but she couldn’t find courage.

She wished courage would find her.

At the shelter Riley counted to ten 

and opened her eyes.

She searched for Kara…

in every room,

in every closet,

and on the patio.

Cars zoomed in the street. 

Kara was lost!

Her heart beat faster.


“We’re in here, Riley,” said Mama.

Kara was safe.

Riley collapsed.

“I can’t find my courage!”

Mama smiled.

“Riley, I found a job!” 

They squeezed each other tight.

In their new apartment they found wonderful things.

Soft blankets.

Friendly neighbors.

Kara discovered a new word, Riley.

Riley decided courage isn’t something you find.

It grows inside, little by little,

like making a friend,

learning new words,

or the feeling of home in a new place.

This story was submitted to Susanna Hill’s Valentiny Contest. The theme was BRAVE and the word count is 214 words (for February 14th).

My 2020 Successes

This year I am participating in Julie Hedlund’s “12 Days of Christmas for Writers.” She has challenged us today to publicly post our successes for the year. When I first heard this I was sad, because all I could think about was the pandemic and all the challenges we have all been going through. Then I started taking inventory of all the work I’ve done this year in my pursuit of becoming a traditionally published author/illustrator. O-M-G. I can’t believe all that I did, especially under the circumstances. I feel that this is a testimony to the power of having a creative world to dive into when the “mud” hits the fan. If you have an idea of something I should pursue or investigate in 2021, please leave me a comment. So, without further ado, here is my list of SUCCESSES:

What was the escape hatch / magic portal you created for yourself during 2020?

  1. I’m here. I’m alive. I haven’t given up. I still have hope for the future. I believe that good things are coming.
  2. Change helps me grow. I have grown through many challenges this year and have learned a lot about myself and what is most important to me.
  3. I participated in 11 online writing workshops.
  4. I read over 100 books this year. (MG, GN, and PB).
  5. I wrote 20 new manuscripts this year. These are fully fleshed out stories, some of which I have begun illustrating. One of these was my first Nonfiction Picture Book and another was my first early reader Graphic Novel.
  6. I revised 5 older manuscripts.
  7. I created 10 other story ideas that I haven’t developed fully yet.
  8. I completed 15 picture book dummies. (This was a big OMG for me).
  9. I compiled 1 complete GN submission proposal including manuscript, first chapter, and art samples.
  10. I participated in The 100 Day Project and got to 60/100. Not too shabby.
  11. I participated in Folk Tale Week for the first time and illustrated a story based on the prompts. That’s 7 full color spreads in one week!
  12. I drew about 75 other vignettes, just for fun.
  13. I entered 6 competitive contests and received recognition in 2 of them.
  14. I won 3 professional critiques.
  15. I gave 150 critiques.
  16. I participated in 5 pitch events on Twitter. I received requests from 3 agents.
  17. I submitted work to 14 agents this year. This was a big step forward for me.
  18. I was interviewed by 2 publications and was requested to write my first book review.
  19. I’ve made a lot of writer and illustrator friends this year. 🙂
  20. In my other realm of art facilitation, I held a workshop at the Discovery Children’s Museum, received funding for a youth project in 2021 from Clark County, and received two teaching artist grants to produce video lessons, also in 2021.

Whew! No wonder I’m exhausted. I think I’ll go take a nap now.

Sending love to you all and wishing you a safe and healthy New Year!


Holiday Helpers: Susanna Hill’s 10th Annual Holiday Contest

I’m entering another contest! Why? Because I learn a lot when I step outside my writing comfort zone. For Susanna Hill’s Holiday Contest we were given the theme of “Holiday Helpers” to work with in 250 words or less. I hope you enjoy my entry, inspired by the endless amounts of tinsel around my house this year. Ho-ho-ho, everyone! 🙂

Sparkle 3000

The holidays are here and there’s so much to do!

Just me and my mom, we’re too small a crew.

How will we manage to cook, clean, and shop,

when I still have school and her work doesn’t stop?

Then Sparkle 3000 arrives at our door.

Arms like an octopus, he rolls on the floor.

He gets straight to work and says, “Please, excuse me.”

His lights blink and flash like our new Christmas tree.

He shakes out the carpets and dusts every shelf,

flashing and humming like a big metal elf.

He straightens and sweeps, tosses trash in the bin.

This robot works hard! It makes my head spin!

“He did it! It’s done!” All is shiny and new.

But Sparkle keeps going, even when we’re through.

So tired from watching, we collapse in our beds,

as gingerbread dreams dance in our heads. 

When morning arrives, I creep out to see

that Christmas is gone! “How can this be?

You took down our tree because it’s not neat?”

The presents and turkey are piled on the street!

“I want to be helpful.” Sparkle turns blue.

“I’ll learn to do better, I can watch you.”

I say, “We must fix this!” Sparkle’s lights flash.

“I’ll teach you the difference. Treasure or trash?”

A few hours later, Mom wakes and comes out.

“A perfect holiday,” she says without doubt.

I wink at Sparkle. “No working today.”

He slumps in a chair with one word, “Okay.” 

The Power Of Cuteness

We have a saying in my family:

She’s not as cute as she looks.

Everyone in my family is cute. Some are beyond cute. It’s part of a family legacy that spans back centuries. Even our old Scottish family crest reads: “Leisure With Dignity.” How cute is that? When I gaze at old sepia-toned family photos I see bright-eyed round, chubby-cheek faces twinkling back at me and I recognize those familiar elements of cuteness that reside in the faces of my parents, my sisters, my nephew, and my own children.

Exhibit “A” from my Hall(way) of Cuteness Fame: Me and my little sister holding our puppy, Smokey.

The other day, at the dinner table, where most deep family discussions take place, we discussed how cuteness can be a important survival skill. For example, our cat might swipe at someone, but then because of her extreme cuteness, all is forgiven, and she continues to live a pampered life in our home. This example can be extended to just about every member of my family. Like I mentioned before, we’re not always as cute as we look, but like the cat, we always seem to land on our feet.

So this week, in honor of cuteness, the less recognized superpower, I have been drawing something cute each day in my sketchbook. Of course, cuteness is subjective, but if you’d like to follow along, I have been posting them on Instagram. The greatest thing cuteness can offer these days is to, in some small way, lift a person’s spirits and maybe even help a person smile. If either of those things happen when you see my drawing, then mission accomplished.


The 10th Annual Halloweensie Contest

Today I’m celebrating a social-distanced Halloween by posting my uber-short (100 words) kidlit story for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie contest. For some reason this year, I’m kind of obsessed with Frankenstein. What if Frankenstein was a kid? What would it be like to be so green? Could Frankenstein be solar-powered? Anyway, hope you enjoy the story!

Furley Frankenstein

Furley Frankenstein was tired of social distancing.

He’d been cooped up in the lab ever since he became undead.

“Pleeeeeease, Dad? Can’t I go out? It’s Halloween.

No one will care that my skin is green.”

“It’s just not safe,” said Dr. Frankenstein.

“Don’t you know, there’s a pandemic going on!”

The door locked when it slammed behind him.

Furley groaned!

Furley stomped!

Furley moaned.

Furley noticed something shiny on the counter.

His dad forgot the skeleton key!

He listened for his dad’s footsteps to fade.

Furley snatched a medical mask,

unlocked the door,

and crept out into the night.

Professional Critiques

I am part of several critique groups and some of the members are published authors. I have learned so much from each critique partner and when I look back at my earlier drafts I realize that my work has improved dramatically over the years because of the help of fellow writers.

When I get really stuck with a manuscript, I’ll even pay for a professional critique. And sometimes, every now and then, I win a professional critique. BONUS!!!! That’s what I’m going for now. If you write for children and you want to enter as well there is still time. Here’s the link:

You’ll have to pick a manuscript ahead of time that you want critiqued, and even tougher, you’ll have to choose a few pros from the long list of authors, illustrators and agents who have generously donated their time to help lowly unpublished writers such as myself to get just a little closer to reaching their publishing dreams.

So, thanks to each and every one of you, because writing this post earned me 20 extra entries! Whoo-hoo!

Hope everyone is staying healthy and creative.

Lots of love,


Fall Writing Frenzy!

In celebration of the changing season, I decided to write an entry for the 2020 Fall Writing Frenzy hosted by Kaitlyn Sanchez and Lydia Lukidis. Thanks to the entire Children’s Literature Community for your encouragement and support.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.


by Bonnie Kelso

The path to Preston’s art studio

is a narrow ribbon of dirt weaving between

blackberry bushes and pine trees.

Wide-eyed cats stare

as curious neighborhood dogs

push wet noses into my empty hands.


the crooked house by the creek.

I walk inside,

welcomed by the scent

of sawdust and paint.

On the pegboard hangs folded art paper,

printed leaves,


but at the same time,


In the corner is her name,

not mine.


All these weeks,

I thought I was the only student.

I never realized how special it felt to be here,

until now.

Have I been replaced?

Who is Autumn?

Is she clever?

Pretty as a scarlet maple leaf? 

I feel like the dry crumpled one,

smothered and crushed

between sheets of fresh paper.

Tossed aside.


“Hi, Summer!” Preston says cheerfully,

“Come meet my new student.”

It’s her!

She is vibrant and full of artistic promise.

Tears well up in my eyes.

As I turn to leave,

she grabs my hand and gives it a squeeze.

“Friends?” she asks.

I am pulled to the table next to her.

Our hands slide into the gooey golden paint

and I feel special again.

Safely Facilitating Art

This Sunday I will be facilitating an art class at the Discovery Children’s Museum. It will be my first time teaching since the coronavirus pandemic began. The museum has been open for several months now and I trust they are taking every precaution to provide a safe environment for their guests and staff. We will be socially-distanced and wearing our masks as we create art together as a community.

Like so many others, I’ve missed these moments of connection. There is something special that happens when you create art as a group and it’s hard to recreate online the synergy of a live face to face (or in this case, mask to mask) event. But the more we work together to find our way through the challenges of this pandemic, the more resilient we will become as a society. Trust and respect have taken on new importance, as we navigate the aisles of grocery stores, the waiting rooms of doctor’s offices, and the recreational activities we long to engage in.

I’ve always believed that the arts play an important role in our individual healing processes. Part of why I love being an artist is to be able to connect with others in unique and profound ways. So, I look forward to an afternoon of creating art in new and innovative ways. We are all pioneers of this new world reality.


Since the lock-down began, I’ve suddenly had a lot less time to work on my projects. The funny thing is… I’ve somehow managed to still find time to work on my projects! I’ve had to make a lot of tough choices in order to stay productive. It’s heart-breaking work to have to say ‘no’ to comfortable routines and people we care about, but it helps you to understand in your heart what you need to continue saying yes to, no matter what. The world is changing on micro and macro levels all at once. Even when things “go back to normal” we’re only kidding ourselves if we believe that anything will ever be like it was. I’ve been learning important things about myself during these past few months. Like the other day when a distracted driver almost ran me over in the crosswalk. I learned two things in that one moment. #1, I learned that my crisis response is to freeze, not fight or flight. #2, I learned that I had been taking for granted that a few lines drawn on the street could grant me safety. They don’t. In these times we have to be extra vigilant. We have to observe. We have to look both ways, again and again, even when the lights are green and the little walkie man is flashing. It’s okay to freeze, but at some point we need to start moving again. But when we do, we have to remember that the world has changed, that we have all changed. There will be some things we will miss. But there will be other things that we can rebuild to be better than they were. We have to decide to hold on to that hope.


©Bonnie Kelso and Creating Your Experience

For a limited time I have reduced the price of my coloring books to $7.99. Enjoy!

Check out this new 100 Day Project on Instagram: #TinyLifeLines2020