The 2021 Winners Are…
The number of awards given in each category is proportional to the number of qualifying entries. This year, the first-place winners in each category will receive a manuscript critique from one of our faculty members plus free tuition to next year’s Writers Day event.
Second Runner-up: Karen Koh for My Very Own Room
Our heroine wishes she had a room of her own, just like all her friends do. Will she ever be able to host a sleepover, or plan a lemonade stand with her friends? Crowded in with her parents, siblings, and Korean extended family, her house is just not big enough. Even in the backyard, with its fruit trees, vegetable garden, and koi pond, there’s hardly any place to play. Young readers from all cultures will relate to the main character’s desire for privacy and a space of her own. It takes a series of shared family experiences to inspire a perspective change in the young girl. Sometimes a house filled to the brim with family togetherness is just the right size after all!
First Runner-up: Kara B. Wilson for Dad’s Planet
Mae and Dad’s amazing adventures included going on moon rock missions, spotting aliens, and coming back in time for astronaut ice cream. Mom said they were the galaxy’s greatest team. But everything changes when Mae’s parents separate, and Dad says he has to move to another planet. Will Mae find a way to adapt to a second home? Will Mae and Dad resume their close bond and continue to explore the unknown, as the galaxy’s greatest team? Using space fun and exploration as a backdrop, this touching and hope-filled story addresses a serious topic in a very accessible and kid-friendly way. Oh, and the illustration potential here is out of this world!
Winner: Erica Rich for Captain Crank
This story has it all. Humor, heart, and an adorable pirate who doesn’t want to be adorable but can’t help it. He can’t pronounce his “Rs.” Every time he says, “Arrrrrr,” it comes out, “Awwwwww.” When Ms. Baker sends a message in a bottle, the treasure map inside leads Captain Crank to her class. With a little cheering on from the students, Captain Crank summons the courage to take part in a lesson on pronouncing ‘Rs.’ A boost to his confidence, this gift turns out to be more valuable than any tweasuh, I mean, treasure.
Runner-up: Laurie L. Young for Twin Curses
Ten-year-old (almost) twins Abigail and Augustus Flotsam, who’ve had their share of bad luck, make a grim discovery. Mother (who is actually their stepmother, Father’s seventh wife) seems to be dead. And they’ve killed her. Inadvertently, of course. With the absent Father’s phone having been “out of service” for quite some time, Abigail and Augustus are not quite sure what to do. And Mother’s mortal remains have begun to attract flies… These opening pages do a superb job of introducing us to Abigail, our bold main character, and her less-bold brother, Augustus, as they confront their predicament and embark on a mission to devise some (mostly ineffective) solutions. Boasting first-class, fast-paced writing, flavored with a dash of Lemony Snicket, this hilarious story has great promise.
Winner: Toni Gallagher for Battle for the Cane Toads
As the only kid in a remote Australian village (population 251), eleven-year-old Mal (short for Malcolm) has had to make do with a cane toad for a best friend. Said best friend, named Eddie, is scaly and fat with big bulging eyes, but Mal loves him, the way he loves all the cane toads that have taken over much of his country. Turns out, though, more adults than not consider cane toads to be pests that cause nothing but problems. A movement is afoot to have them eradicated. And Mal knows that “eradicated” means “killed.” He’s ready to lead the charge against eradication. Which means he’ll be facing the “eradicated” camp’s lead scientist: his own mom. The strong middle grade voice and engaging humor in these pages creates a vivid sense of place to unfold a story with clear stakes and great promise. It’s an enjoyable, laugh-out-loud read from beginning to end.
Special Mention: Margaret Mayo McGlynn for Sweet Betty
High school cub reporter and photographer Charlotte “Charlie” Grant seems to be onto a hot lead relating to the Black Dahlia murders in Los Angeles, circa 1947, when her definitely crooked and likely involved principal expels her and confiscates all of her evidence. The exceptional tone of this manuscript reads like a fun film noir screenplay and leaves the reader hanging, wondering how on Earth Charlie will be able to get her story to the public.
Special Mention: Rieko Mendez for Chaya, Daughter of Death
A contemporary, seemingly realistic story but with a definite otherworldly feel. Chaya is determined to pursue medicine despite her father being adamantly against the idea. An outcast at school, Chaya mostly keeps to herself. Returning from a school trip, Chaya’s anxious to get back to school for extra coaching for the science regionals, when the school bus is in a sudden and violent crash, leaving Chaya bleeding profusely from a head wound—and definitely missing the coaching session.
Runner-Up: Laurel Busby for Amara Rising
With a total commitment to mood and tone and exceptional attention to detail, Amara Rising drew me in instantly. After a brief prologue explains that what we’re about to read is a recently unearthed diary of a 16-year-old Turkish girl circa mid-4th century BCE, we’re introduced to the main character as a bleeding body is laid at her feet. The author slowly and expertly unfurls details about whose body it is (the young woman’s husband) and the relationship the two have (abusive). The young woman struggles with swirling emotions—of relief, guilt and panic—all the while knowing her response and actions must appear appropriate to those around her. She also has doubts that her husband is truly dead, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, because it seems a scenario too good to be true. Though weeks away from giving birth, it would be her job to tend to her husband’s body and cleanse her home of the “pollution of his death.” It’s not clear what challenges await this young woman after the messy business of her husband’s death is behind her, but this author’s skill at weaving an intriguing story leaves no doubt that her journey will be a worthwhile one.
Winner: Nicholas Ponticello for Sinner X
Foreboding emanates from every syllable of this manuscript, starting with its opening line. Early clues let readers know the story takes place in an other-worldly setting—but one that includes chilling echoes of realistic fiction. It’s soon clear that 15-year-old Xen is being sent to a conversion camp of sorts by his ultra-religious father because he’s gay. However, the cattle car-like transport, manned by brutal and unfeeling robot sentinels, indicate the hellish prison Xen’s headed to is more akin to a Nazi concentration camp than a modern-day conversion camp, as misguided and damaging as they may be. Considerable time is spent crammed into the transport with Xen, where he does his best to comfort a young boy and accommodate an elderly woman. Only one of his traveling companions makes it to their destination alive. The ten pages of Sinner X submitted offer a chilling, devastating opening to what is likely an impossible manuscript to put down.
Other (Nonfiction and Poetry)
Winner: Christine Van Zandt for Butterfly Dreams: A Monarch’s Life Cycle
In this lyrical and well-researched nonfiction picture book, a monarch butterfly’s life cycle is described in detail. While butterfly metamorphosis is not a story new to picture books, the author breathes fresh life into the subject with a manuscript that excels on dual levels of narrative poetry and explanatory science. Page turns reveal developments, with the final lines of original short rhyming poems and accompanying detailed scientific insights. “Stays, days,/a storm churns within./Colors surprise when…/… they show through the skin.” Never dull or obligatory, the explanatory material is insightful and vital to the work—and often fascinating. Part of one such description reads, “A caterpillar lays a line of silk as it travels. When startled, it will drop and dangle from this silk.” This brief but thorough book will likely enchant and enlighten both kids and adults and help spark meaningful conversation about the natural world.