The Climbing Tree Wins Writer’s Digest Competition

I am incredibly honored to learn that The Climbing Tree, my first children’s book, has been awarded First Place in the Writer’s Digest 28th Annual Self-Published Book Awards in the category of Early Readers / Children’s Picture Books. The 28th annual competition was open to all English-language self-published books and attracted more than 1,800 entries in eight categories.

I’ve been reading Writer’s Digest for decades and, when I noticed it had a competition for indie authors, I almost didn’t bother entering; I figured it would be such a long shot for a first-time children’s book author. When I set out to write and publish my books, it was because I wanted to create something special for each one of my granddaughters. Working with them on the stories and seeing them hold their stories in their little hands was reward enough.

So–THANK YOU! Writer’s Digest, and thank you to Eleanor, my muse, and Marrieta Gal (a pseudonym for the brilliant Marija Stojisavljevic), whose beautiful illustrations bring the story to life.

A woman holds an owl as two little girls look on in amazement.

Raptors Find a Rapt Audience

Don’t you love the look on the face of a child when she’s introduced to another wonder of nature? My granddaughters had a rare opportunity recently to learn about raptors from Nikki Stamps, a state and federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator and master falconer who nurses these beautiful birds when they are in need of special care. As director of Bird in the Hand conservancy, Nikki has provided life-saving medical treatment and nursed literally hundreds of raptors back to health, so they can fly free again. She also gives demonstrations to audiences of all ages, hoping to inspire in others an appreciation for these magnificent birds of prey.

We grownups were as in awe as the children as Nikki brought out three different kinds of owls and talked to us about raptor biology and conservation. It reminds me that learning offers lifelong joy, and the more we learn the more we thirst for knowledge and understanding. Children take to learning instinctively. All they need from us is encouragement and moments that open the world to them.

Little Storytellers

As a little kid, my most prized possession was a hefty volume of Grimm’s illustrated fairy tales. I would find a quiet place away from my siblings—all nine of them—to immerse myself in worlds where the heroes always beat the villains. As I grew older, it wasn’t much of a leap to trade in fairy tales for tales of mystery and the macabre. On road trips at night, I would entertain my brothers and sisters with stories improvised from my own imagination. If I told the stories long enough for the youngest ones to fall asleep, I could sit in peace in the back of a quiet station wagon and watch the moon follow our car. 

Decades later, I entertain my young granddaughters in the same way. When the oldest was not quite three, to relieve her boredom on the long drive to my house, I made up a story about fairies that live in a hollow oak tree in my yard. Now, at six, my eldest granddaughter, Eleanor, is both collaborator and critic. If she doesn’t like the turn of a plot, she’ll redirect it. If I meander into too much backstory, she admonishes: “Just tell the story, Grandma!” 

She’s also a storyteller in her own right. At her request, we might spend a couple of hours working on a book of her creation. Page by page, Eleanor describes a scene and draws it, leaving space for me to scribe the words as she dictates them. Her first creation was about a girl who uses a magic wand from a friendly fairy to save her family from a terrible dragon. She called it “Eleanor Loves Apples.”

Her four-year-old sister, Virginia, is more of a poet. Here is her first poem, faithfully recorded by yours truly:

Hearts and Flowers

by Virginia

Hearts can’t bloom when they’re sad.

If hearts can bloom, there will be love.

If hearts can’t bloom, there will be no love.

You need love or the hearts will broke and the flowers will die.

And now them didn’t and there will be love.

Our mutual love of words and pictures and stories prompted me to write and publish a book for each of them: The Climbing Tree, for Eleanor, and Virginia Loves Dogs, for her sister. A third, Caroline and the Not-Mamma, for Caroline, age two, will come out later this year–by Caroline’s birthday in September.

I never planned to be a children’s book author. I used my imagination and creativity the way I hope my granddaughters will always use theirs, and it just happened. Who knows what might be next?

Reindeer in woods

A Christmas Visitor to Four Oaks

by Barbara Leary

Once in a while, to entertain friends,

I spin up a story to see where it ends.

While I might mess with facts, I can say with conviction

That sometimes the truth is much stranger than fiction.

Of last night, for instance, I give this depiction:

Some nights before Christmas, while home at Four Oaks,

The wind is a-howling, the fire pit smokes.

The Baileys is waiting for coffee to brew.

In a Dutch oven bubbles a savory stew.

I’m humming and poking at embers and ash,

When from deep in the forest I hear a great crash!

Into the darkness I peer warily.

Into the shadows that stretch scarily.

I wish for bright light but the fire burns low.

I stray timidly from its comforting glow.

I zip up my coat; I flip up my hood.

I must fetch a few logs from the edge of the wood.

It’s 20 long paces to get to the stacks.

I take a deep breath. I take up the axe.

If something is out there to give me a fright,

It will see what I’m made of! I’ll put up a fight!

Into the shadows I step quietly,

With my axe at my side, and what do I see?

But a monstrous Thing half obscured by a tree!

With one eye that glows red and looks straight at me!

What should I do? Should I strike? Should I run?

Should I offer it stew? Would it eat a bun?

As I ponder these questions imagine my shock

When the Thing heaves a sigh and commences to talk.

In a whisper it says, “You’re too tall for an elf.”

It takes me a bit to recover myself.

For it’s plain to see as the strange Thing draws near:

It’s no monster at all! It’s Rudolph the Reindeer!

I notice he’s staring rather intently

At the axe in my hand, so I set it down gently.

As a smile spreads over his sweet furry face,

I ask, “How in the world did you come to this place?”

He says, “I was out flying and chasing my nose,

“When sleep overtook me and caused me to doze.

“I awoke to discover I’d lost altitude!

“I’m sorry to startle, didn’t mean to intrude.

“If you’ll just point me North, I’ll be on my way,

“And the children will have presents come Christmas Day.”

“I know where to direct you,” I say. “See that star?

“Follow it North. It will take you far.

“But before we bid each other adieu,

“Tell me—are you hungry? Would you like some warm stew?”

His nose flames bright red; his agitation grows great

At the sight of the boiling pot on the grate.

And I realize then that the Thing I’d held grim

Had been more scared of me than I’d been of him.

I laugh loud as Santa: “Ho ho! Ho ho ho!

“I see there is something that you need to know.

“You’ve clearly mistaken me for a barbarian.

“That’s not venison stew. I’m a vegetarian.”

Copyright 2013 Barbara Leary

Walking with Virginia

Four-year-old Virginia and I set out on a fine fall day to walk the half-mile to pick up her older sister from school. I thought we’d take the short way there and the long way home. But time and distance are meaningless when I’m walking with Virginia, especially when there are leaves of many different colors on the ground, and pinecones, and stone retaining walls in front-yard gardens to practice walking heel to toe.

Nothing in nature escapes Virginia’s notice. She is especially fond of flowers and bright green leaves. Examining a neighbor’s garden, she found a paddle-shaped leaf as big as her hand and held it up to me. “Smell it!” she demanded. “Doesn’t it smell beautiful?” It did smell beautiful. It made me wish I knew the name of that tree. It made me curious about the way the world looks to Virginia: not just how it looks from her height, but the way it looks through big brown eyes managed by the unique operating system that is Virginia’s lively brain.

As we made our way to Eleanor’s school, I had to stop myself from hurrying Virginia along. Instead, I took her outstretched hand to steady her as she navigated another stone wall, and let her set the pace.

Virginia moves at the speed of flowers. It turned out to be exactly the right speed to get us where we needed to go.