by Michelle Howell Miller

(Word Count 199)


Everyone wore red and pink, hummed love tunes, and cut out hearts for Valentine’s Day.

Everyone, except Eve.


Valentine’s Day represented love.                                             

A feeling Eve was not worthy of.


Because Eve had a secret.

Eve had hidden the beautiful card she and dad made for mom last year.

Then her dad left.

Because of Eve.


She slipped the card out of its hiding place.

If only she could go back in time.


Then she had an idea.

She delivered the card… one year late.


“Happy Valentine’s Day,” her mom said the next morning. “I love my card!”


Eve waited for the magic to happen.

For her dad to walk through the door, grab his favorite mug, and call them “his favorite girls.”

But the door remained stubbornly shut.


“I thought,” Eve said. “Oh forget it.”


Why did she think a card was going to change anything?

Of course it wouldn’t. It was just a card.

A card she never should have kept for herself.

But now she was free of it.


She reached for her black shirt, then changed her mind.


Everyone wore red and pink, hummed love tunes, and exchanged hearts for Valentine’s Day.

Everyone, including Eve.

Michelle Howell Miller
A Perfect Valentine’s Day

A Perfect Valentine’s Day

by Michelle Howell Miller

(Word Count 118)



Who wants to make Valentines?


We do!


I have the paper.

I have the scissors.

I have the … snacks.


Snacks? We don’t need snacks for Valentines!

Right. Sorry.


I have the glitter.

I have the glue.

I have the … pillows.


Pillows? We don’t need pillows for Valentines!

Right. Sorry.


I have the string.

I have the markers.

I have the … fire.


Fire? What are you thinking? We definitely don’t need fire for Valentines.

Right. Sorry.


Time to deliver our Valentines.


Oh no! There’s snow!

Valentine’s Day is ruined.


I have the snacks.

I have the pillows.

I have the fire.


Sorry. You were right all along.

That is exactly what we needed for the perfect Valentine’s Day!


Michelle Howell Miller
Perfect Penelope

Perfect Penelope

by Michelle Howell Miller

(Word Count 211)


Perfect Penelope twirled her pretty pink dress.

“Don’t you look like a little angel this Valentine’s Day?” their teacher said.

But Penelope wasn’t an angel.

Ally knew Penelope was the opposite of an angel.


Because Penelope had stolen Pierre, Ally’s best friend.

At least he used to be, before perfect Penelope!


Penelope and Pierre…

Sitting in a tree…


Ally couldn’t finish the song without feeling punched.


It was time to plot her revenge.

Ally knew what she had to do.






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One card for perfect Penelope, from Pierre.

One card for Pierre, from perfect Penelope.


Ally’s plan worked perfectly.

By lunch, she had Pierre back.


Ally felt only slightly guilty watching Penelope cry in a corner.


But Pierre didn’t want to play any of their favorite games at recess.

He didn’t want to read aloud at story time.

He didn’t even want Ally’s fruit snacks.

And Pierre loved fruit snacks more than anything.


Ally knew what she had to do.









One card for perfect Penelope, from Pierre.

One card for Pierre, from perfect Penelope.


Ally felt only slightly better,

watching Pierre twirl perfect Penelope.


Ally did love Pierre’s card though.









Michelle Howell Miller
Critique Notes for Writers
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For picture books, I read through the manuscript once. Then at the top of the page, I write Michelle’s Critique Feedback, with bullets for all of the pros. Then another section of suggestions where I add bullets for the areas that aren’t working for me. I also add comments in line throughout the manuscript, where I love the writing, where I might be confused, and where I have suggestions.

For writers new to critiques, or looking for a format to help with critique groups, here’s the template that I received for my critique at the 2018 SCBWI Austin conference. I use this longer critique format for chapter books and novels, but if you’re new to critiques, this might be helpful for picture books too…



Title of Manuscript:




1.     What are the positive aspects of this work?




2.     What elements need the most attention and improvement?




3.     Notes on plot and pacing




4.     Notes on viewpoint




5.     Notes on voice




6.     Notes on characterization




7.     Notes on language/dialogue



8.     Notes on setting



9.     Notes on audience elements



10. Notes on marketability



11. Next steps/Would you want to read more?



12. Additional comments



Michelle Howell Miller
In the Garden


In The Garden

by Michelle Miller

(Word Count 107)


A family of mice moved into the garden just before Christmas.

“Take care of those mice,” the boy’s father commanded.

And so he did.


He built them a house, decorated with holiday lights.

He presented them with platters of food.

He even gave them a sleigh, though he wasn’t sure they could drive it.


When the boy’s father discovered the little mouse world, he was outraged.

“I told you to take care of them!” he yelled.

“I know,” the boy replied, confused. “I have taken care of them!”


The boy’s mother gave him a hug.

“You certainly have. You’ve given our mouse family a magical Christmas.”


Michelle Howell Miller
Samantha Claus

Samantha Claus

by Michelle Howell Miller

(Word Count 215)


All the hubbub.

All the toys.

All the effort to make other kids happy.

Samantha Claus couldn’t understand why her dad still did it.


It was the most magical night of the year,

But not here at Santa’s workshop.

It was just work, work, work.


Samantha found the elves in chaos. Santa was missing.

Who would take his place? Not her. No way. Not interested.



The reindeer did love her just as much as Santa. Maybe more. She always fed them treats.

She knew how every elf gizmo and gadget worked.

And she had always wondered, just a little, what it would be like…

To Actually Be Santa Claus.


When Samantha told the elves her plan, the sound of thousands of elves laughing was deafening.

“What other choice do we have?” Samantha asked. “Cancel Christmas?”

The elves stopped laughing.

They would not, could not, dared not cancel Christmas.


So they scrambled to help.

They hadn’t thought of everything…

But Samantha found a way to deliver every present.


It was the most chaotic, exhausting night of her life...

And the most magical.

Samantha finally understood why her dad still did it.


When she found Santa in his closet, fast asleep with his red suit partially on, she delivered her last present.

“Merry Christmas, Dad.”

Michelle Howell Miller
One Minute PB Review - The Very Fluffy Kitty, Papillon

A.N. Kang's debut picture book is a winner. Who can resist a kitty that is so fluffy, he floats? 


Papillon is a big kitty.

He is not fat.

Just very fluffy.

I mean FLUFFY!

He is lighter than air,

which can get him into trouble.

Papillon will fly away if something's not holding him down. And one day, he does just that, following after a bird friend. But alas, he comes to a scary wood. Can his bird friend help Papillon find his way home?

Favorite Line: Papillon did not like wearing clothes. One day, he refused. Cats are like that.

Favorite Illustration: Final spread of Papillon in his new hat.


One Minute PB Review - You Don't Want a Unicorn

Everyone wants a unicorn, right? Author Ame Dyckman and illustrator Liz Climo are out to convince you there are many reasons why you should NOT wish for a unicorn.

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You were gonna wish for a unicorn, weren't you?

Wishing for a unicorn is a BIG MISTAKE!

Just step away and -



Unicorns shed, scratch and they can't be house trained. When the unicorns begin to multiply, our main character must finally wish them away.

Favorite Line: Great. You've unleashed the most destructive force in the universe - A UNICORN PARTY!!!

Favorite Illustration: Last page turn surprise.

One Minute PB Review - Chicken in Space

Chicken in Space, written by Adam Lehrhaupt and illustrated by Shahar Kober, is rich with voice and humor. 


Zoey wasn't like the other chickens.

She had dreams.

She had a plan.

She had a pig. 

"Put your hat on, Sam," said Zoey. "We're going to space!"

Chicken and her pig explore "space" in a basket powered by balloons, dodging comets (kites) and battling aliens (birds).

Favorite Line: "Not a problem!" said Zoey. "An opportunity!"

Favorite Illustration: Chicken's pig, tongue out, amazed by her gift of a moon pie.

One Minute PB Review - Peep and Egg, I'm Not Hatching

Egg is not hatching. No way. No how. It is too scary out there. This sweet book by Laura Gehl and Joyce Wan covers the themes of friendship, persistence, and facing our fears.

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"Are you hatching yet?" Peep asked. "We're going to have so much fun once you hatch!"

"Too scary," said Egg. "I'm not hatching."

We can watch the sunrise from the roof of the henhouse," Peep said.

"Too high," said Egg. "I'm not hatching."

Peep continues to pitch Egg on all of the fun they will have together. Egg continues to find a reason not to hatch. Until he's left alone - crack, crack, craaack, "Peep, wait for me!"

Favorite Line: "We can watch the sunrise from the roof of the henhouse," Peep said. "Too high," said Egg.

Favorite Illustration: Egg in a helmet on top of the henhouse.

One Minute PB Review - Flashlight Night

The amazing rhyme from Matt Forrest Esenwine combined with the intriguing artwork by Fred Koehler makes for a winning picture book in Flashlight Night.



opens up the night.

Leads you past old post and rail

along a long-forgotten trail

into woods no others dare, 

for fear of what is waiting there.

The story follows children exploring woods, tombs, ships and mountains - their imaginations spurred on by beloved books.

Favorite Lines: Sinking under covers deep as weary eyes fight off the sleep. Adventure lingers, stirs about - until a voice says, "Shhh...lights out."

Favorite Illustration: Girl making wolf shadows on the tomb walls.

One Minute PB Review - The Curious Garden

Peter Brown's The Curious Garden, about a boy creating beauty in a city without greenery, is a favorite in our household.


There once was a city without gardens or

trees or greenery of any kind.

Most people spent their time indoors.

As you can imagine, it was a very dreary place.

However, there was one boy who loved being outside.

When Liam discovers a few plants in an old railway, he tends to them to help them grow. They grow, and grow, and grow until ... the entire city has blossomed.

Favorite Line: But the most surprising things that popped up were the new gardeners.

Favorite Illustration: The moose, elephant and giraffe tree sculptures.

One Minute PB Review - XO, OX A Love Story

This is not your everyday love story. Adam Rex's humor and wit, match perfectly with Scott Campbell's watercolors in this tale, told through love letters between a clumsy Ox and a graceful, famous Gazelle.

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Dear Gazelle,

For some time now I have wanted to write a letter to say how much I admire you. You are so graceful and fine. Even when you are running from tigers you are like a ballerina who is running from tigers.

I think that what I am trying to say is that I love you.


Gazelle responds with a form letter, then another, but when Ox continues to write, complimenting and insulting her at the same time, she can't help but write back. The hilarity ensues...

Favorite Line: You make me want to be the best ox I can be. So I thank you again - you are the unflattering light of my life.

Favorite Illustration: The endpages!


Michelle Howell Miller
One Minute PB Review - Extra Yarn

There are classic picture books, like Where The Wild Things Are and The Little Engine That Could, that stand the test of time. Extra Yarn, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen, has that feel to it. Fifty years from now, kids will still be reading it.

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On a cold afternoon, in a cold little town,

where everywhere you looked was either the white of snow

or the black of soot from chimneys,

Annabelle found a box filled with yarn of every color.

So she went home and knit herself a sweater. 

And when Annabelle was done, she had some extra yarn.

Annabelle doesn't stop with her sweater. She knits sweaters for everyone - even things that don't usually wear sweaters like trees and houses. Annabelle won't sell her box, even for ten million dollars.

Favorite Line: All of them ;-)

Favorite Illustration: The cover

Michelle Howell Miller
One Minute Picture Book - Max and the Won't Go To Bed Show

Max the Magnificent is a daring magician. But will he be able to accomplish the most difficult trick of putting off bedtime?


Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and Girls!

Hurry, hurry, for the


Tonight for your entertainment and delight,

we proudly present, from all the way behind the curtain,

the world's youngest magician. Please put your hands together for...


Mark Sperring and Sarah Warburton's bedtime book is kid friendly and full of voice. Parents and kids alike will enjoy the bedtime mayhem...

Favorite Line: Tonight we will see his world-famous and death-defying PUTTING OFF BEDTIME FOR AS LONG AS POSSIBLE SHOW.

Favorite Illustration: Max's Abracadabra spread.


One Minute PB Review - Stick and Stone

Stick and Stone, the rhyming picture book written by Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld, is a heartwarming friendship story. 

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A zero.

A one.

Alone is no fun.

Stick and Stone become fast friends after Stick sticks up for Stone. 

Favorite Line: Stick. Stone. Together Again. Stick. Stone. A perfect 10. 

Favorite Illustration: Stone alone, looking up at the full moon.

One Minute PB Review - Bunny's Book Club

Bunnies. Adorable. Bunny's Book Club. Doubly Adorable. You'll love Annie Silvestro's debut picture book, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss. I laughed out loud several times with this one - particularly when the animals are squeezing through the book return.


Bunny loved books.

He'd loved them ever since he first heard the lady with the red glasses reading aloud outside the library.

As he listened, Bunny imagined himself climbing mountains...

captaining a ship...ruling a kingdom.

Bunny and his friends discover the wonders of the library. But what will happen when they're discovered by the librarian? 

Favorite Line: One by one, the animals stuffed themselves inside the library. (Bear caused a bit of a delay.). They scattered about, sniffing the stacks, pawing over pages.

Favorite Illustration: Final scene of all the animals enjoying the first official selection for Bunny's Book Club...with cupcakes.

One Minute PB Review - The Bear Report

This is one of my new favorites by Thyra Heder, mixing fiction and nonfiction elements in a fresh and adorable way. A girl grumpily finishes her "bear report" homework when suddenly, a polar bear appears in her family room. The bear takes her to the arctic to show her what bears are really like.

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Bear: I also like music.

Sophie: Music?

Bear: Whale music.

Sophie: Whaled don't make music!

Bear: Sure they do!

Sophie learns all about bears in a playful dialogue with her bear friend. Eventually, she saves the day, getting them back to shore with a ride on a whale.

Favorite Line: That was fantastic, Sophie. When did you learn to speak whale? Today!

Favorite Illustration: All of them! If I had to choose, then the same spread as the favorite line above - with the two friends looking up at the sky together.

One-Minute PB Review - The Little Reindeer

A new holiday book, The Little Reindeer, is gorgeously illustrated by Nicola Killen. The book is adorned with window and doorway cut-outs and metallic inlays. 

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It was Christmas Eve and Ollie had just gone to sleep when

jingle, jingle, jingle

she woke again with a start.

What was that sound?

An adorable little girl dressed in her reindeer suit is ready for Christmas. But one of Santa's reindeer has lost his collar, calling to Ollie in the wind. 

Favorite Line: She wondered if they would go for a ride through the forest, but to her surprise...they soared up into the night sky, leaving the trees far below!

Favorite Illustration: Ollie with her sled, discovering the collar with silver bells.

One-Minute PB Review - When Spring Comes

When Spring Comes, written by Kevin Henkes and illustrated by Laura Dronzek, is a sweet season book filled with blue skies, flowers and kittens.

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Before Spring comes, the trees look like black sticks against the sky.

But if you wait, Spring will bring leaves and blossoms.

Pretty painted pictures adorn this poetic book about all the lovely things (and not so lovely things) Spring brings. Do you like mud? Do you like puddles? I hope you like umbrellas.

Favorite line: There will be buds and bees and boots and bubbles. There will be worms and wings and wind and wheels.

Favorite illustration: The three kittens waiting for summer.