Last night I spent a lovely evening at the Wellesley Free Library, playing "bookstore ambassador" at what's become one of my favorite community events — the "Read In" for winners of the town's fifth grade fiction writing contest. The Foundation for Children's Books, based in Boston, was the organization that originally got the contest off and running here, then later piloted it in other towns/cities (including Boston proper). The Wellesley contest is now organized and run by local parents with the sponsorship of our bookstore, the Wellesley Free Library, and the Wellesley Townsman, our local weekly newspaper.
What's so great about this contest? Community. And I'm not just talking about the local community — I'm talking about the book industry community. The one you're probably a part of if you're reading this blog with any regularity and your last name isn't Morris. Fifth graders from the town of Wellesley don't just mail their contest entries off to a local parent or local teacher or local bookseller to have them judged. Their entries are judged by CHILDREN'S BOOK EDITORS. And each of the kids who enters receives what remarkable prize? An editorial letter from one of those children's book editors. I ask you: how cool is that?
While in previous years Houghton Mifflin and Candlewick Press have also played a part, this year's judges were all from Charlesbridge, which no doubt made it a bit easier to corral the judging staff into the same room to hash out their thoughts on the entries. In the end, the Charlesbridge Four (as I'm calling them) selected six stories as the best of the bunch. The authors of those stories each received, in addition to their editorial letters, the coveted prize of a gift card to Wellesley Booksmith.
These gift cards are presented each year at the ceremony I attended tonight — the "Read In," which all of the contest entrants are invited to attend, and at which all of them are invited to read at least part of their stories aloud to the audience. Every year I see kids who aren't going home with gift cards step up to that podium and read to the room of assembled parents, grandparents, and siblings, and every year I think to myself, "What a cool event," and often, "That kid's going to be a writer someday."
The "writer someday" part is what prompted me to ask last night's assembled group of kids and families if anyone minded my giving you a verbal snapshot of the stories read aloud during the Read In, plus the names of their authors. I don't know what the future will hold for these talented young people, but I'd like to think that some of them may appear in frontlist catalogs a few years down the road. Wouldn't it be cool to be able to say, "Yep. I knew she was going to become a writer that night she read her story to a crowd at the Wellesley Free Library"?
As such, the blubs pasted below include the names of those bright young writers who might someday be writing for you, in a professional capacity. In the meantime, they are writing (what else?) the types of stories that fifth graders like to read. In other words, those of you publishing types who tuned out paragraphs ago might want to start paying attention here:
Meg Crowley: Delivered in the first-person, Meg's heart-warming story is about befriending a new classmate from Korea and helping her get a better grasp on the English language. I love the finishing touch on her story: the narrator sees a Spanish-language translation of the children's book her friend can now read in both Korean and English. She wonders ("Hmmm") how difficult it would be to learn Spanish.
Emily Ryan: Emily's suspenseful story is about a skiier stuck on a chair lift beneath a rapidly fraying cable. During her daring escape, "She flung the bar on the chair lift up, and before she could think twice about what she was going to do, she clipped her skis off so they landed in the snow and began their long descent down the mountain." (I love the image of those skis setting off on their own.)
Louisa Elliott: Louisa had us laughing at the beginning of this story and (no joke) fighting back tears at the end. Her story, punctuated with entries from a girl's diary, is about Nicole Lawford, who's been sent to spend the summer with her overly saccharine grandmother and learns she's had the old lady figured all wrong. My favorite excerpt from Nicole's diary: "Boy was today awful. Grandma Nikki is already spreading her 'specialness,' even though it's only been a couple hours."
Alana Rosenbloom: In Anna's touching story, a girl named Arabella is reunited with her long-lost sister in a visit arranged by her new foster mother, Gertrude. When Arabella meets Gertrude for the first time, the scene plays out like this: "All of a sudden a plump old lady wearing a pink sweater and a green hat appears in front of me. She looks like a strawberry, and me, I'm the carrot, skinny and pale."
Cole Krasner: In a humorous introduction to the supernatural, Cole gives us Alex, whose London pen pal has sent her a very unusual gift: a poltergeist. When the ghost disappears Alex calls out for it. "In response, a book started dancing on the table. It looked like it was trying to do the can-can but failing because it had no legs, only four corners."
Serena Benages: In a Serena's story, each puppy in a litter of four was named according to what their mother deemed important. The results? Pups named Bone, Squirrel, Chase, and Moon. Moon's adventures eventually deliver him to a shelter, a loving family, and life with a new name: Mattie.
Christina York: A adventure tale about two mice, Christina's story ends with the duo safe inside their hole in the kitchen wall, being attended to by two human girls who've discovered their hiding place. The girls supply them with cheese and tissues, a.k.a. mice food and blankets.
Emily Kessler: Her story about two boys discovering a secret door in the Green Monster at Fenway Park had everyone laughing out loud. What's behind the door? A snake pit and the Red Sox spirit who explains, "My job is to poison Yankees fans. That is the purpose of the snakes."