I had the great honor of helping to judge the preliminary round for the Houston PBS KIDS GO! Writers Contest this afternoon. We read some phenomenal stories from some children who are talented story tellers, enjoyed illustrations from some kids with great talent, and saw, disappointingly but not surprisingly, that some parents can’t resist getting a little too involved in their kids’ projects.
I don’t want to say too much about the process, but feel I can share the following observations without violating the trust or privacy of the young authors.
♦ When you write that the protagonists of your story “redeem their reward,” I know you’ve been filling out contest forms on the back of cereal boxes.
♦ Children are particularly sensitive to environmental and health activism. I read stories with sea turtles being freed from plastic six-pack rings, dragonflies getting depressed by brown, polluted cityscapes, and children driving dentists crazy because constant candy-eating caused an epidemic of tooth decay. I guess all of those The More You Know breaks on television really do shape young minds.
♦ The scrap-booking aesthetic has trickled down to first grade, and I don’t think that is entirely a bad thing. Some kids have a true eye for assemblage!
Overall, it was clear to me which students are regular readers, because they had a strong sense of how to put a story together. This went beyond composition, actually, to a feel for how a book should look, whether that meant numbers on the pages, a dedication at the front, or an about the author blurb at the end. One had his “publisher’s” logo on the back of his entry, and another promised we’d get the other side of the story in the next book.
Two stood out in our group for their relatively sophisticated style: short stories in the epistolary tradition of 84 Charing Cross Road and Griffin and Sabine. First graders! I don’t care if their parents suggested the format, because the writing was clearly done by the kids, and the concept made sense to them.
I bet if I went to the home of one of the young writers, Griffin and Sabine would be on the coffee table.
I can’t wait to find out who wins the Houston competition and goes onto the national competition. What a treat to be a part of this program. One of my stories started out with this enthusiastic wish scrawled across the top page:
Enjoy yer readn!
I sure did.
I judged that contest the past three years and was sad to miss it this year. It was always an uplifting (and usually illuminating) experience, though the spread between awesome and not was painfully wide.