Does Your Prose Stay Crunchy in Milk?

Cheerios recently started accepting submissions to its third annual New Author Contest. If you're not a professional writer, but you've got a book in you for kids 3-8, this could be your chance at fame. Just ask Shellie Braeuner, 43, who sounds like the world's greatest nanny. She won $5,000 in the first contest in 2007, and now Simon & Schuster is planning to release her "Great Dog Wash" this summer. (Robert Neubecker was hired to do the illustrations.) Shellie Braeuner and Fluffy.jpg What's more, this month Cheerios will start distributing 1.5 million paperback copies inside boxes of cereal. That's approaching "Harry Potter" and "Whimpy Kid" numbers.

I caught up with Shellie by phone yesterday in Nashville where she takes care of four children for a family she's been with almost 13 years. She had written a few books before, but never gotten anything published. Then she heard about the Cheerios contest. "I had a month and a half," she says with a laugh, "but I just couldn't think of anything. Then on the last day of the contest, the 3-year-old I take care of was out in the yard singing, 'Dog wash, dog wash.' So as she ate her mac 'n cheese, I started coming up with a story about kids at a dog wash. I submitted it that day, and when I got home at night, I realized I had a typo in the title! I thought I could kiss that one goodbye."

She needn't have worried. Three months later, long after she'd given up hope, a representative from Cheerios called to say her rhyming book had been chosen as the winner from about 1,000 entries. "To this day, I am truly amazed that they wanted to work with me after the blabbering that I did. 'Wait! Let me turn off the chilly -- it's going to burn!' It was very exciting. I just couldn't believe it."

Big dogs and small dogs,
come one and all dogs.
We're having a dog wash today!

Like any good nanny (with a Masters degree in human developmental counseling), she quickly comes back to the kids. "This is what makes me feel so good: In these hard economic times, there are people on WIC and food stamps, and they can't go into a Barnes & Noble with that card and get a book, but they can go into a grocery story and get a nutritious cereal and a new book, and that just makes me feel good."

Charm you could eat up with a spoon.

The current General Mills Spoonfuls of Stories contest is open through July 15. Click here for complete rules.

-- Ron Charles is on Twitter at roncharles

By Ron Charles |  April 1, 2009; 10:03 AM ET Children/YA , Ron Charles
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