I’ve been beyond late getting to our writing contest winners this year — for which I apologize yet again. I’m attempting to get caught up in the next week or so, and today that means I am delighted to FINALLY bring you the winners of our Middle Grade March Writing Contest.
For this contest, we asked you to submit either your own attempt at writing middle grade fiction, or tell us about your favorite middle grade book/reading experience.
Click after the jump to see our five winners!
Grand Prize Winner: Scott Lininger
The corpse fell like a rotten rope, its little limbs flopping as the merchant kicked it from the cart. It slapped hard into the furrows behind the wheels, settling face-down into the slop and manure of Queen Street. Its charcoal skin showed it was a Maori child, maybe seven years old, wrapped in nothing but rags.
Jacqueline watched from her post in the alley, fascinated, momentarily forgetful of Billy’s job and the rumble in her belly. She thought that someone should drag the thing out of the way of traffic, at least. It wasn’t right to just leave a babe in the stinking road filth, even if it was dead. But if she split her post the job would go twist, Billy would be furious, and the crew would face another night of crust and water.
Jaq stayed where she was.
A gentleman on horseback flicked his wrist, moving his mount sideways through the busy jangle of tramps and taxis leading from the wharf. He was a rich one, local. A silver watch, she thought. A leather wallet under that silk vest, too. Jacqueline’s fingers itched for them… even Billy agreed she was the best pickpocket in the crew.
The gentleman glanced down at the child’s corpse with distaste beneath his moustaches, and Jaq had the sudden impression that if he’d had a stick, he’d have poked its belly to see if it popped. He raised his voice at the merchant who’d kicked the body from his cart. “Do you intend to just leave that on the street?”
The merchant shrugged dramatically from the back of his wagon as it lumbered away. “E’s not mine, sir! Just found ‘im midst the cargo. Stowaways hunger out, ‘ardly my fault.”
“The police could fine you for littering!”
“Well, they’s ‘ardly nearby, now is they?”
They disappeared into the noise and bustle of the evening, the cart soon hidden by the ever-marching traffic. They’d left the corpse behind them, just lying there. Jaq knew that the dogs would find the body in the morning, would drag it off to their garbage dens. The scrounge had been hard over the winter. Billy had forbade food to the littlest ones, and Jaq had seen it happen many times.
Jaq stared mistily at the slender limbs of the corpse, and saw a twitch in its knee. Bodies did that sometimes. But then it twitched again. One leg began straining against the muck. Its face lifted, mouth letting go a whimper. He was alive! Jaq’s heart climbed into her throat as a cargo flat turned the corner from Quay street, led by a team of eight horses. In seconds the boy would be crushed under hoof and wheel.
Jacqueline cursed, thoughts of Billy’s punishment chasing her as she ran in front of the heavy chimes of the tackle. She reached the boy at the last second and wrapped her arms around his chest. The horses neighed and reared up in surprise, their wet horseshoes gleaming over her head.
Second-Place Winner: Paul Murphy
After the police had driven away, Roy remembered what Uncle Gary’s Guide to the Aspiring Ninja said about gaining access to locked buildings.
“There are many ways to get into a locked building. You might find an unlocked window and slip in that way. You could locate a spare key hidden under a doormat or in a potted plant. You could use your ninja tools to pick the lock. You can dress up like Santa Claus and slide down the chimney. Or you could get a job as a window installer, stick your business sign in the front yard, and use window installer tools to remove a window. The goal is to gain access without attracting attention.”
Roy thought of his own way. Mr. Grandy’s garage door was the kind that could be opened with a keypad. He just had to hope Councilman Grandy was as lazy as his parents and never changed the code. He used his tiny flashlight to see the numbers. It was just as he had hoped. The numbers 1, 6, 7, and 9 were faded from being pushed over and over again. Uncle Gary’s Guide to the Aspiring Ninja stressed being a good student, and Roy took his classes very seriously. This was a math problem, and one he was sure he could figure out. Can you?
How many unique 4-digit combinations can you make with the numbers 1,6,7, and 9? Roy started like this:
Here’s some white space. Don’t forget to show your work.
Did you get 24?
Roy did not, for as he began working the numbers, a memory shoved them aside as if they were nothing more substantial than numbers floating around in his head. The memory was of six shiny black shoes walking toward him as he lay under the policemen’s patrol car. He remembered how they had all arrived together. But if Councilman Grandy had stopped to relock his front door, then he would have arrived after the cops. Therefore, the door was still unlocked.
Roy walked right in.
His father had been right. Councilman Grandy was a huge fan of nature and had demonstrated that love by slaughtering animals and mounting them on his walls. Deer, rabbits, a fox, and a turkey all stared at him as he crept through the house. A giant painting of a seascape hung above a large fish tank in the living room. But it was inside Councilman Grandy’s office where Roy saw the strangest thing.
Runner-Up #1: Deserae McGlothen
Sunday, May 16th
In the women’s bathroom praying for a miracle
I know this is going to sound crazy, but I am cursed. This is a fact that can’t be ignored, despite what my mom has to say about the matter.
Before the divorce, my dad used to tell me stories about his family’s misfortune, and I used to think it was all just a joke that every Butcher since Four-Times-Great Grandpa Joe couldn’t catch a lucky break for the life of them. But it occurs to me, now, while I’m staring at the puke-colored door of the stall I’m cowering in, that something can only happen so many times for you to pass it off as coincidence. Seven generations of messed up, I think, goes far beyond chance.
My mom says I’m overreacting, but since she’s never had to live her life as a Butcher, I’m kind of convinced her opinion doesn’t count for much. Even when she married Dad, she kept her last name as some sign of womanly independence or whatever. She thinks that the only thing cursed about my life is that I, like everyone else, have to go through puberty. “Not everyone takes it well,” she’s told me on more than one occasion. “You’re just going through a phase.”
If I’m going through a phase, I’ve been going through it since birth. My mom’s side of the family— the Santiagos as they like to be called— have always considered me la oveja negra de la familia… Grandma Santiago never liked dad and has always favored my younger sister, Amanda, because she technically is one of them. Since my parents separated before she was born, Sister Dearest was christened Amanda Georgiana Santiago. The grands have never forgotten or missed a single reason to celebrate her; I guess they thought she cancelled out the disappointment that was me.
Anyway, the problem isn’t them. It’s whatever this is that’s haunting me. Today, for example, could have been perfect, if it weren’t for the fact that upon seeing the Pastor’s son, my zidiot sister smacked me in the face, trying to say hi, and sent me stumbling backward until I landed butt-first into an open trashcan. This is the kind of stuff I’m talking about. You know… the kind of stuff that doesn’t happen to just anyone… I mean, I was just trying to enter the House of God to praise His holy name when this happens. I have to ask the cosmos if they’re serious sometimes. Dear Cosmos… Seriously?!
Needless to say, I did not go into the service. I figured if God wanted me to hear the message, He would have at least waited until we were leaving to give me trash-butt. I guess I get it… I am being punished for the wrongdoings of my ancestors for something that happened over a gagillion years ago. But the Lord must know that I am not responsible for my family’s history— I’m the real victim here!
Runner-Up #2: Suzannah Kolbeck
The tears streamed down her face, without fail, every time we ended the book; you could set your watch by it. My mother read Charlotte’s Web to my brother and I four times as we grew up, the last time in sixth grade, with my then-eighth grade brother deigning to listen only occasionally. As we reached the end of the fair, following Wilbur’s frantic attempt to save Charlotte’s babies, and as the fairgrounds quieted in the gloaming, my mother’s eyes welled up. Her voice broke and was thready with emotion as Charlotte sighed and closed her eyes, and we always had to stop at that chapter for the night.
I didn’t understand the power of that book until my dog died at the end of sixth grade, and suddenly the poignancy and feeling, the power of EB White’s words, made sense. I understood then that a book could so accurately reflect your feelings that you lived in the book for a time, like my mother lived in the hush of the barn as Charlotte died, even at the fourth reading of the book.
I have held my breath and been brought to tears by writing many times since, but I will never forget the way reading Charlotte’s Web changed my understanding of the power of the written word.
Runner-Up #3: Natalie Richards
It was a wonderful day to be a Weatherworker, even a Junior Intermediate Apprentice like 11-year-old Celie Huffington. Today Celie had been assigned to oversee a small rainbow in Coventry. It had already been set up by a Senior Expert Journeyman, so all she was supposed to do was make sure it didn’t drift off or fade ahead of schedule. This task would normally be given to a Senior Intermediate Apprentice, but they were busy supplying rain drops for Scotland (they had been suffering a drought). This was the sort of task that, if performed well, might earn her a promotion that rid her of her Junior title.
Celie reveled in the sweet rain that was gently misting the city of Coventry. What she wanted most of all was to be a Master Designer. She wanted to plan days like this. She spotted her rainbow almost immediately, a delicate thing hovering on the east side of the city. She used her magic and checked all the color levels; pristine. She sighed, such beautiful work. While her magical eye kept watch over the rainbow, her physical ones admired it. She remembered another rainbow she had seen once, a double rainbow with a deep ultraviolet made especially for the Queen’s birthday. If she had made it she would have done the red a rosier shade. She could picture it so well. Her magical eye blinked. She wasn’t just seeing it in her mind, it was in the sky! Arcing overhead was a brilliant double rainbow, exactly as she had imagined it. Celie gaped, rainbows were not supposed to do this! What should she do? Celie bit her lip, her uncle would know what to do.
Twenty anxious minutes later, her uncle appeared. Followed by Master Creator Marston. Her boss. And Master Designer Bell. Her hero. They were all going to see what a mess she had made. Celie wanted to melt into the dirt. The three men inspected the rainbow, then turned to her.
“In your message, you said you were imagining a rainbow just like this one, and then it appeared?” Bell demanded.
Celie nodded nervously. They asked her several questions, then looked at the rainbow again, then back at Celie. They were staring at her in a way that made her distinctly uncomfortable. Her uncle came to her rescue, “Mr. Marston, Mr. Bell, you are frightening the child. She thinks she has done something wrong.”
“Wrong!” Marston boomed, “This isn’t wrong, this is…” Celie cringed, sure he was searching for the proper horrible term for her mistake and not finding the words. “…this is stupendous!” Celie stared at him, astonished. “What we have here is the first Engineer in fifty years!”
Bell bent a little so he could look Celie in the eye, “An Engineer is a person who can not only design but create weather patterns using only their imagination.” His voice was gentle, “Child, you have just become the most valuable employee we have.”
Celie fainted dead away.
Congrats to all our winners & thanks to everyone who entered!