2021 marked the first year we ran a Creative Writing Contest for our Youth Writers. We provided a prompt and word limit, and then separated the writers into two age group categories. The winners and finalists are published below. We are so proud to highlight and encourage our young writers, and hope you enjoy these stories.

2021 Prompt: The story must be between 150-300 words, and must include ALL THREE OBJECTS: Kite, Safety Pin, Beach.

5th-8th GRADE WINNER

 

“11:56 pm” by Matea Goldfarb

      11:56 pm, December 31

“Geez, it’s way colder than you said it would be!” Miria exclaims, wrapping herself in a blanket.

“It isn’t! It’s forty-five degrees, not cold.”

“Forty-five is cold!”

“It’s not!” I laugh, but I still pull the second blanket from my bag and dump it on her head. 

“You better share those, because this sweater isn’t gonna keep me warm all night.” I say, climbing onto the boat. Miria is huddled in a cocoon of blankets on the bottom as I steer us out from the beach. The motor whines. It’s low on fuel, but we’ll make it work. Luckily, the Pacific is in a good mood tonight, and the chilly breeze feels nice on my face. 

         11:58 pm, December 31

Once we’re in deeper waters, I throw the tiny anchor off the side, then join Miria in her nest of blankets, checking my watch.

“Two minutes to midnight,” I tell her, resting my head on her shoulder and staring at her safety-pin earring. I like that she’s taller than me. It makes me feel more like a girl.

           11:59 pm, December 31

“So, what do you want to talk about for your last minute as a sixteen-year-old?” I ask her.

“You.”

“Aww, that’s sweet.” I grin. 

“No, literally. About your new name.”

“I don’t know if I even want one. There are plenty of women named Cooper, right? Cooper, the most normal female name ever. That’s me.”

She nods, but I can tell she’s stifling her laugh.

         11:59 pm and 30 seconds, December 31

“You should do whatever you want.” She tells me.

“I will.”

         12:00 am, January 1st.

One first firework shoots into the air and explodes into a diamond-shaped starburst, and it looks like a golden kite.

“Happy birthday.” 

9th-12th GRADE WINNER

 

“Of Broken Glass” by Waverly O’Malley

There’s no proper word in your language to describe the true anguish of a destroyed culture, a shattered people, and every facet of a society being ground into crumbs before being fed to the hounds of war. However, there is one in my language. It’s a series of clicks that don’t quite make sense to the human ear, but the closest translation would be, of broken glass

We collected these shards as best we could. Humanity would have vowed revenge, sent their children forward to feed the cogs of a blood-hungry wheel. But we are not people, we read children stories instead of propaganda. We went underground—what humans considered trash, we valued as jewels. Discarded pins, buttons, and our prized possession, a kite with a painted beach scene became tools to ensure that even as we die, our tales live on forever. 

Every moon, we gather beneath the roots of a great oak tree, and we put on, in short, plays. Women sing and weep as their husbands are slaughtered by beasts, fighting giants on painted cloth sand with swords made of broken safety pins and shields made of flower petals. Their husbands wouldn’t fight, their dignity and promise of eternal peace in the beyond far more important than the life they lived now. But mothers are a different breed of warrior. 

The children in the audience always cried once it was over. Harsh, maybe, but it is all we have, and it is all we’ll ever be. Words of wind, drifting, and drifting. Constant, yet fleeting. Such a horrible fate, to be trapped with a legacy with the permeance of rain. 

And yet, we are grateful. 

After all my words, I have one last request for humanity:

Forget us. Do not mourn what you never loved.

5th-8th GRADE FINALISTS

“The Seagull and the Safety Pin” by Winter Muric

Wet sand scrapes our toes as Noa and I dash across the beach. My hands are gripping a wooden stick, my knuckles turning white. The stick connects the string and the kite above our heads. Noa says something, the wind is strong, so I tilt my head sideways, making curly, brown hair whip around, some strands sticking to my face with sea spray. “Look!” She says, her emerald eyes looking bewildered. Her straight, crimson hair is everywhere. She points to a cage coated with sand underneath the lifeguard chair. Seaweed and autumn leaves cover the top of the cage. As we peer inside, something squawks. “Willow, it’s a fledgling!” Noa exclaims.

“We can tie the kite to it and drop it on the jetty.”

“Is there anyone around us to help?” Noa replies.

“No, it’s October, nobody is here” I say. 

“Okay, let’s do it.” She says. We tie the kite to the cage and throw it in the air, and it immediately crashes, followed by a squawk. After that, I have an idea. I rush to our bags, tossed in a heap against the dunes. I dig through Noa’s bag.  I pull out her sewing kit that is buried inside. She started carrying the sewing kit after her dog chewed a hole in my gloves. I reveal a safety pin, and run back to Noa. Noa looks doubtful, when she understands what I am doing. I work to bend the end of the safety pin. As Noa holds the cage, I twist the pin, to pick the lock. I hear a “click” and the lock breaks, freeing the seagull. Noa and I cheer as we carry the fledgling to its flock. As we watch the moment unfold, we know it is time to walk back to our cozy houses.

**************

“Feed Me” by Esmae You

“Mom, mom,” Parker said. 

Parker is my owner and he’s all wet. So, I’m leaving.  I hate wet humans. 

“Oh Parker you are soaked. Take this towel,” says Sarah, his human mommy. 

“But I’m going back in the water.”

“Parker can’t you just fly the kite with Max? We’re going leave the beach soon and you wanted to fly the kite here.”

My name. I hear my name. And it comes from Sarah. It must be food time! Yes food! FOOOOD! 

“Max stop barking please!” Sarah yells at me.

I just wanted food. Maybe if I sit she’ll give me food. 

“See, even Max wants to fly the kite with you,” Sarah exclaims.

“Fine I’ll fly the kite with Max. Come on Max.”

But I want food. And only Sarah gives me food. 

“Come on Max, don’t you want to fly a kite?”

What’s a “Kite”? I wonder if it is food. I’m hungry. Maybe he has food. Fine, I’ll go.

When I lay down, hungry, I see a string and a colorful diamond in the air flying above Parker. I chase it in a circle. Parker laughs at the string won our string-dog war. When playing with the colorful diamond on a string, I smell something wonderful. It’s hot dogs! FOOD! I run to the smells as fast as I can. I run so fast I don’t see the good smelling cart and knock it over. Hot dogs fall. I eat all the stuff that tumbles from the cart, including a small metal thing.  And it is delicious. But something tastes weird.  

“Max what did you eat?” Parker says.

“He ate all of my hot dogs,” said food man. “And a safety pin too!”

***************

“Today Was the Day” by Manaya Sharma

Today was the day. The weather was perfect. And I hoped the wind would be great for flying it.

I rushed to my closet, scavenged through all my clothes, and in the back, I saw it. A brown cardboard box. I carefully took it out and placed it on my bed. I jumped up and down with excitement like I was getting ready to run a marathon.

I took it out, very carefully. Like if I dropped it, it would explode. I grinned, from ear to ear. But even though I wanted to zoom out the door as fast as lightning, I stared at the kite and walked as slow as a snail. I had been waiting all winter for this very day!

I opened the front door, and started walking up to a hill that wasn’t too far from my house. The hill was also very high, a perfect place to fly a kite. The sidewalk was covered in wet prints of flip flops and some sand. Since the weather was perfect, many people had decided to spend the day at the beach.

As I started up the hill, I started feeling a little nauseous. I wondered if the kite would get stuck in a tree or something like that. I looked up, and saw I was almost at the top. I attached a note with a safety pin that said, “Whoever is reading this, I hope you have a wonderful day. But please, write your own note on the kite, and give it to another person, and tell them to pass it on forward as well.”

I looked at the beach where people were having fun and enjoying the beautiful weather.

And let it go.

******************

“Paper Clips” by Elena Skeaff

“Good moooorning” Carla’s brother Theo said, dancing into the room with one sock on his foot, and one sock on his ear. Carla’s mama sighed.  

“Theo, please get that sock off of your ear.” Her mother said. “Do you want to go to the beach? We would have a picnic there, and then go swimming if you guys want to.” Carla looked at her mother. “YESSSSSSSS!!” She and Theo cheered. 

They all piled into the car and drove down to Emerson Beach. They got out of the car and walked across a dirt path to the picnic tables, setting down their food. 

“Mama? Can we go play while you are getting the food ready?” Theo asked. 

“Of course Theo. Come back soon!” Mama said. Theo and Carla ran into the park around the beach, spotting a couple colorful kites in the air, above the wide, leafy trees.

“OOH! Carla, can we go see the kites?” Theo asked, pulling on her sleeve.

“Sure, let’s go!” She replied, eager to see the kites. As they walked down to the sand, they noticed that someone had left a trail of shiny, rainbow paper clips down to the beach. Carla and Theo followed the trail down to an older man and his dog. He smiled at them and said; “Beautiful day isn’t it?” 

“Sure is mister!” said Theo excitedly. “But why did you leave a trail of paper clips?” He asked curiously. 

“Well, sometimes life gives you happy coincidences, and you make the best of them. I found a lot of paper clips this morning, and decided to make the park a little more colorful.” Carla looked at him and smiled.

“It was nice meeting you, but we have to go. Bye!” She was thinking, He’s right, you should make the best of things.

9TH-12TH GRADE FINALISTS

“Partner Assignment” by Thanh-Lan Nguyen

“Will you please stop flying that?”

Wils turned at his voice, gray eyes wide even from a distance. The string in his beige fingers lowered. “Huh?”

“Just-” Zane raised a palm to his forehead, grimacing as sweat slicked off. Above, neon yellow danced in the sky. It was a wonder the kite was still flying- probably a new record for Wils, though neither of them kept track.

“I’m trying to get it in front of the sun.” Wils grinned, bright teeth murder on Zane’s vision. “If I keep it up for long enough, then it’ll give us shade!”

“Shade for you. I’m still back here.” The teenager groaned, stomach churning. He still hadn’t recovered from those spoiled rations a few nights ago, the rock of the surrounding sea not helping.

“Oh.” Wils faltered. “Then… Should you try?”

He shook his head, leaning against the tarp. “Just get over here.”

Zane inwardly smiled as he perked up again, reeling in the kite eagerly. Metal glimmered from his peer’s ears, safety pins miraculously not corroded. He still remembered the night Wils actually pierced them on- and Zane, exhausted from their dire situation, hadn’t stopped him.

Well. Back in school, he’d never said no to Wils’ relentless curiosity either. Why else had they gotten stranded so far out from the sandy beach of Ms.Allister’s field trip?

“Want more water?” Wils sat down beside him, folded kite in his hands.

“I’ll survive.” He sighed. “Are you fishing later?”

“Why not?”

“You forgot to use bait four times yesterday.”

“…That’s less than the day before!”

Zane snorted, ruffling his hair with a dark hand. “Whatever you say.” Silence fell over the boat, salty air breezing past, waves lapping against the sides.

Nice to know some things didn’t change, even whilst stranded in the ocean.

*********************

“Our Last Goodbye”by Paula Flores Cevallos

The soft breeze at the seashore kisses my face and pulls my hair back. Sand tickling my toes and the smell of salt and fish are a little reminder of where I am. I can only hear the muted sound of the waves and the distant music by the hotel pool. He’s walking by my side, with his gaze lost in the night sky and the full moon is the only light guiding our way down Marari Beach. He looks like a little kid who believes the moon is made of cheese and clouds are made of cotton. Beneath that bulky uniform still lingers the skittish boy I once met. 

“Invaderrr!!!!” I yelled when I saw him climbing his way up my precarious tree house.  It wasn’t until I threw one of my cat pillows at him that I realized his kite got stuck in one of the tallest branches of the tree. 

His laughter resounds with the echo of the memory that started our great friendship that would later become a platonic love. Hesitant, I pronounce the words we’re both scared to say, “I’m gonna miss you.” Silence. Our connected gazes were enough for us to know that it was the end. The end of something that was never real. We knew this day would come, the Army would recruit him and I would have to let him go. That’s why we decided it was better for us to only be friends. But that doesn’t make it easier to say goodbye. We reached the end of the bay, and with it, the end of our time together. A piece of that colorful kite attached with a safety pin to his uniform reminds me of home. 

“Goodbye”  I whispered as the memory of his face slowly faded into my mind.

********************

“Plain Bad Lucky” by Sylvia Kelly

Worst birthday ever. 

Today was supposed to be a great day. I was going to spend the day with my boyfriend, go to the mall to buy myself something nice, and then I was going to have a nice dinner with my friends. But instead, here I am. On a beach. Following a lead. In front of a dead body. Great. “Nine-one-one. What’s your emergency?” 

“Help. I found a dead body on the shore of Lake Northbrook. Send someone fast.” When I hung up, I paced around quickly and said a prayer. He was silent when he came up behind me and everything went dark. 

When I came to, I was tied up in a dark warehouse surrounded by men and women in dark suits. They had a grim demeanor and solid gold masks. The Golden Wing Group. Damnit. When one of them came towards me, I tried to fight back but I was still weak from the blow. He stuck me with a safety pin and my skin instantly began to burn around the pin prick. When a giant of a man crawled from the shadows he asked me, “How did you find my brother?” 

“I was called into an emergency for work. When I got there, there was an anonymous note on my desk saying to look for the red kite on Lake Northbrook. That’s where I found the dead body. That’s all I know.” 

He towered over me with a steel gaze. 

“There is poison in your bloodstream now. You have one month to live unless I decide to spare you.” 

My hands were shaking. Whether from the poison or the fear, I couldn’t tell.

“What do I have to do?” 

“You follow my orders.” His stare was sharp. “And pray that you’re worth me time.”

******************

“Dark Crimson Flowers” by Lourdes Flores Hernandez

The house is still a light greenish color with white complementing it. Everything looks the same, but it isn’t because you should be here complaining about something and me half listening. I can’t seem to move from the porch. I keep staring at the white wooden door without knocking. If given a chance to leave, I would take it, but I can’t let mom shed another tear alone while having the task to pack up your room. 

As I stand on the porch, a memory that I had long forgotten creeps on me. I see my junior self trying to sneak back into the house with a safety pin that I grabbed from my pocket, which was dumb to try. I see you opening the door, scaring me as I thought it was mom or dad, but it was just you with a stupid grin as you stared down at me. You made fun of me the next day about it.

I feel mom’s arms around me as she hugs me for a while when I finally enter. I think she is pretending it’s you. When she lets go, my eyes drift to a picture frame on the wooden table at the entrance of the door. It was me and you wearing large red glasses, soda cans in hand, on the sandy beach while people swam behind us. Memories. 

When mom leads me to the room we shared, she leaves me as she can’t stand being in it since your death. The first thing my eyes recognize is the blue and pink kite in one of the boxes. We fought over choosing the colors, but in the end, we picked both. Realization of tears hits as I feel liquid down my cheeks over a stupid simple memory of you, Jess. 

Our Judge this year was James Klise. Klise’s most recent novel The Art of Secrets won an Edgar Award for Best Teen Mystery, a Nevada Young Readers Award, and a Booklist Editor’s Choice Award, among other honors. His first book, Love Drugged, was an ALA Stonewall Honor Award winner, as well as finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. A new novel for teens is forthcoming from Algonquin Young Readers. James teaches fiction writing at StoryStudio, a writing community in Chicago, and for the past two decades, he has managed a very busy high school library.