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December Winners

Susan Cooper

Grades K-2 (Level I)

Susan Cooper pays attention to her dreams. For her, dreams add to her imagination, and along with her life experiences, is what she draws from for all her writing. Write about a dream you had. It could be a daydream or one you had at night. What kinds of pictures in your mind did you see in your dream? Did this dream feel real? Was the dream fun, boring, scary, or strange? Where did the dream take place? Did you dream things that weren't possible in real life? Dreams are sometimes confusing and may not have a beginning, middle and an end. Some people write down their dreams in a dream journal. You can write your dream in a journal format and if you like, explore and write what you think your dream means.

Grades 3-5 (Level II)

In a lecture at MIT on the writing of fantasy, Susan Cooper said, "When I first gave Margaret McElderry the manuscript of The Dark Is Rising she said to me, 'Susan, don't you think this book has too much weather?'" But the extraordinary weather plays a major role — an incredible blizzard is used as a weapon by the Dark to instill worry and fear. Write a news story about an unusual or extreme weather event. It can be a real weather event from history or one that you experienced yourself. Describe your weather event. Was it a hurricane, tornado, dust storm, blizzard, hail storm or heat wave? What effect did this weather event have on individuals, communities, businesses and travel? Remember, you're not writing a weather forecast but a news article that answers the questions who, what, when, where, why and how about a weather event.

Grades 6-8 (Level III)

The places where Susan Cooper sets her books, particularly the titles from The Dark Is Rising series, are in many ways as important as the characters. The descriptions of the mountains, valleys and farms of Buckinghamshire, Cornwall and Wales are so vivid you can practically feel the very ground beneath the characters' feet. The brilliant imagery of these landscapes comes from the author's abilities and talents to remember and describe the very places she walked and played as a child. Compose a piece of descriptive writing about your favorite outdoor place. Think about this place and picture it in your mind before you write. Tell what you can see in the place, what you can hear, and what you can smell, taste, or touch. Write what makes this place different from other places and why you like this place. If you can, visit the place you describe. Remember, you're not telling a story about this place. Your job is to make reader feel like he or she is experiencing the place as you have.

  • Winner
    The Truck
    by Samantha D.
    Plantsville, CT
  • Honorable Mention
    Mary Ann Small's Sanctuary Near the Bay
    by Nathaniel C.
    Union, ME

James Ransome

Grades K-2 (Level I)

Quilts are a recurring theme in Ransome's books, from a charming folk art ABCs (Quilt Alphabet) to the story of an African American girl's escape from slavery (Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt). Quilts symbolize comfort and home — and they can weave a story through imagery, color, and pattern. Imagine a quilt that tells your family's story. What colors, patterns, and images would it have, and why? You can use this simple 9-square template or border template as a starting point for your quilt, or make your own pattern. Write 4 or 5 sentences explaining the story of your family quilt.

  • Winner
    Macy's Family Quilt
    by Macy B.
    Thomaston, ME

Grades 3-5 (Level II)

Ransome is deeply interested in folktales, particularly African American stories and their origins in African storytelling traditions. In A Pride of African Tales (by Donna Washington), Ransome contributes richly colored watercolors to illustrate a classic trickster tale, cautionary tale, fable, pourquoi story, and more. Pourquoi tales — sometimes called "origin stories" — are fictional stories that explain why something is the way it is ("pourquoi" means "why?" in French): Why birds fly, why the crow is black, or why there are monkeys in the world. The most well-known may be Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories. Many legends and folktales are pourquoi stories. Tall tales can include origin story elements, too. Remember Pecos Bill taming his horse, Widow Maker? That ornery critter bucked and kicked so much that he dug out the Grand Canyon!

The world is full of amazing creatures. Try writing your own pourquoi story, explaining to your friends how your animal got to be the way it is today. What animal will you choose? What unique physical characteristic or behavior does the animal have that intrigues you? Let your imagination go wild…

  • Winner
    The Sunfish
    by Will D.
    Birmingham, AL

Grades 6-8 (Level III)

Nearly all of Ransome's books are about people, fictional or real. He has collaborated with his wife, Lesa Cline-Ransome on a number of picture book biographies: Satchel Paige, Helen Keller, and Marshall Taylor, a little-known 19th century champion cyclist. Select a famous or accomplished-but-not-quite-famous person you would like to know more about. Dig into primary sources to find out what people said and thought about this person. Now comes the fun part: create a portrait through words by sharing an anecdote about the person that really brings him or her to life, using picturesque language, simile and metaphor, and lively dialogue. Add a bit of hyperbole, if it works! Remember, this is not a timeline of the person's life, but a snapshot of a single event or detailed description that really helps the reader picture that person in their mind.
Length: 150-250 words.

Here are two examples of good descriptive writing from Ransome's book Satchel Paige:

"[When he stood on the mound], his foot looked to be about a mile long, and when he shot [the ball] into the air, it seemed to block out the sun. Satch's arm seemed to stretch on forever, winding, bending, twisting."

"From the first breath of spring till the cool rush of fall he would ride. Sometimes he joined his teammates on rickety old buses, bumping along on back roads studded with potholes so deep, players would have to hold on to their seats (and stomachs) just to keep from spilling into the aisles."

  • Winner
    Splash!
    by Christopher F.
    Overland Park, KS
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