Los Angeles Region

Writers Day Contest Winners: 2019


Writers Day Contest Winners: 2019

(L-R) Sue Schmitt, Terri McCourtney, Amy Duchene, Cara King, Laurie L. Young, Cheryl MacAller, Diana LeBost. Winners not pictured: Kathleen Piché, Nicole Popel

The number of awards given in each category is proportional to the number of qualifying entries. First place winners receive a free written critique from a faculty member and free tuition to next year’s event.


Winner: Nicole Popel for Something Small: The Story of Library Builder Todd Bol

In a spare and lyrical picture book biography of little free library creator Todd Bol, we learn of one person’s big vision to honor his schoolteacher mother’s memory and share it in a small way with the world. With an approach that feels sometimes like a sidelong glance and other times like eyes pressed firmly to glass, we are treated to this true story though mists of memory, hard handiwork, and pure heart. We come to know Todd’s early difficulty in reading and journey with him as his idea blossoms and he digs inside dumpsters to turn litter into libraries. Using varied detail and rich language, the author effectively portrays how a loving mother and son relationship becomes the foundation for the realization of a dream to share the joys of books and reading.

Runner-Up: Amy Duchene for A Portrait of Shepard Fairey, the Street Artist Who Gave Us the Word “Hope”

A well-researched and well-written picture book biography of a contemporary artist conveys how the memorable 2008 “Hope” poster of Barack Obama came to be such a surprising success. While sidestepping issues Fairey has faced over appropriating a copyrighted photograph for the work, the author does share that the artist was not responsible for the word “hope,” Obama’s campaign was. In the end, the political candidate’s portrait became not just a linchpin of a successful presidential campaign but a symbol of hope and change as well as a recognized work of art.


Winner: Cara King for Chimes At Midnight

The first thing we notice about this story is the voice: smart, wry, self-deprecating—a voice that not only introduces the heroine, but creates a sense of place and time immediately. Immaculate prose and a restrained use of detail make for a pleasurable read. But what will hook readers is the heart-pounding tension as the heroine creeps into her mistress’s library to steal a book. The scene unfolds moment by moment, each thoughtfully selected sensory detail heightening the reader’s anxiety. Chapter one ends on a cliffhanger, and the reader wants more.

Runner-up: Kathleen Piché for The Ten Thousand Mile Storm

This sci fi novel does a superb job of introducing us to the heroine as she discovers a dying bird on the sidewalk and brings it back to life. We are grounded in her humanity while we learn about her unique powers, powers she has been forced to hide from the invaders who took over her home years ago. As the author builds the brutal world which the protagonist must navigate, the character remains central to the narrative. Struggling to contain her emotions at a public execution, they break free, creating a wind that throws the ceremony into disarray, and guarantees that the trajectory of her life has changed. Exhelana’s voice comes through, distinct and well-established in this third person narrative.


Winner: Laurie L. Young for Winter’s Pale and the Order of the Obsidian Oracle

“All she wanted in this exact moment was to be reunited with her family, regardless of whether that would be accomplished by the procurement of a time machine, or her own, premature expiration.” Such is the glorious and unapologetic attitude of the unforgettable young protagonist, Winter Roush-Ravenshead, in an unforgettable ten pages that should be published immediately. The story begins with Winter, who is very small, unable to reach the knocker on the front door of the Tanglethorne Academy for Girls, so she hurls her suitcase at the door instead. Twice. A perfect way to show who this character is right out of the gate. As well as the voice jumping off the page, there is great mystery here. What happened to her home? To her family? Are they really gone? Or is there more to uncover? This is a tight, beautifully written ten pages packed with story questions that has the feel of an already published novel. This judge would not change a single, well-placed word. Readers will love this story and the young girl telling it.

Runner-up: Terri McCortney for Patience and the Pixilated Bird Brain

“Pigeons are never pushy or bossy like crows and blue jays. Not that I ever feed crows and blue jays. I threw some bits of bread to a bunch of crows once, but they returned the good deed by squawking at me.” Passages like this prompted our Middle Grade judge to declare—Pigeons and crows and rambunctious dogs, oh my! A sense of place and a well-developed main character and voice is what stood out in these action-packed first pages. Patience—who tells us she’s anything but—and her “best friend” Sabrina (who happens to be a dog) definitely have many adventures ahead, beginning with nursing an injured baby crow back to health.


Winner: Sue Schmitt for Feather by Feather

Julianna didn’t mean to be a bird. It just happened. Feather by feather. Now Julianna has to face the kids at school. Her mother tries to help with a note: “Dear Parents, my daughter, Julianna, looks like a bird. Please discuss this with your child.” But when two big kids from Room G tease her, Julianna figures out that feathers can be very helpful. Soaring above the playground, those big kids didn’t look so big, and their words sounded very small. Still, flying solo makes Julianna long for a flock of her own. That’s when she meets Daphne and Geo, who declare that they like Julianna’s feathers. It turns out that they, too, are different in their own unique ways, and a perfect friendship is formed. Told with kid-friendly humor and heart, this is a unique story about being yourself and figuring out where you belong.

First Runner-up: Diana LeBost for A Hawk in the Garden

The back garden is a peaceful paradise where everyone looks out for each other. But one morning, while the squirrel children and young mockingbirds are playing, they spot an unwanted visitor. When a nest of little hawk chicks is discovered, it becomes clear the huge bird is there to stay. As the frantic garden families prepare to move, the friends sneak outside to play. That’s when they see the cat. Dashing to the hawk’s tree, the friends swoop and peck, until the startled cat leaps out of sight. The hawk zooms down to her nest in time to realize that the garden friends have saved her babies. A new bond is forged. From then on, the garden hawk protects the garden families, who in turn, come to love the hawk as they love their garden. This is a touching story about courage and the power of family and community.

Second Runner-up: Cheryl MacAller for Little Eyes, Big World

Told in free verse, this sweet and relatable story follows a young child as she makes her way through her day. We get a fresh perspective of the world as seen through the child’s eyes. Each couplet of the spare text contrasts small details of the child’s life with a bigger picture. From the time the child wakes up until she lays down to dream, we feel the constant presence of love and wonder as each moment unfolds. Each scene provides rich possibilities for an illustrator’s interpretation. The rhythm and appealing tone make this story ideally suited to the picture book form.