350 for 50

350 for 50 typewriter popWe are delighted to announce the winners of our annual 350 for 50 writing contest! This year, we challenged young writers from 3 different age categories to pen a 350-word story that included the sentence “It unfurled slowly, then settled.” The prize? Publication, of course, and a $50 shopping spree at Labyrinth Books, Princeton’s local bookstore! Warmest congratulations to this year’s winners.

Creepy Night_artwork by Aliisa LeeCreepy Night

Rachel Glantzberg, age 9

The old man peered at his clock. It read 11:54 PM. The wind howled through a small crack in the window. He saw a swarm of bats glide across the bright full moon. A loud groan escaped his mouth. Oh the pain he had! His back was badly injured after the horrible fall he took yesterday in the garden.

This old man had such extensive pain, he pushed himself up with his thin, aching bones while reaching for his cane to take an extra dose of medicine. Finally out of bed, he waddled to the living room.

Suddenly, he heard a strange noise. No, it wasn’t the wind. It was, it was… he didn’t exactly know what it was. With mysterious thoughts in his mind, the man continued on his journey to take an extra pill. As he reached for the window pane to gain some desperately needed balance, he caught sight of his newly planted rose bush.

What only 24 hours ago was a lifeless, dormant collection of clenched buds appeared to be awakening. Or was it? Suddenly from the middle of the bush a single red rose began to rise. One inch. Two inches. Then three and four. Before long it was a full foot above the rest. Then it just stopped. It unfurled slowly, then settled.

The old man was so astounded he forgot all about his aches and pains. He dropped his cane as he scurried back to his bedroom. Quickly shutting the door behind him he jumped back into his bed. He didn’t sleep a wink that night. He just laid there counting the minutes ‘til daylight.

Word_artwork by Aliisa LeeWord
By Grant Weingaertner, age 11

“Stop playing video games. You’re going to go blind!” shouts Mom. “Do something productive. You have to enter the Picture Book Press 350 for 50 contest this year. It has to include the sentence, ‘it unfurled slowly, then settled’.”

“NOOOOOOO!” I shout.How am I supposed to think of something for that sentence and make it interesting? After a week I haven’t thought of anything. Maybe Mom forgot about it. Now it is spring break and I’m playing Pokémon on my 3DS.

“You can’t spend your spring break playing video games. Your thumbs will fall off.”
I pace around worried that I can’t think of anything. But being the forgetful person that I am, I start to play Pokémon again. I catch a Shuckle, a Noibat, a Skrelp, and a Metagross.

“You have to practice your piano and then write your story.”

This is horrid! Now, not only do I have to write but also I have to practice piano. I sulk to the piano and flail around on the keyboard.

Mom shouts, “Now write.”

Slinking over to the desk, I flop on the chair and lay down my head. Suddenly, an idea hits me. Why haven’t I thought of this before? I smile and type furiously. My story is about me trying to figure out what to write about. I’m typing so fast, my laptop might burst into flame.

Soon, I am bored.

I wander off and pace around for a while, and then I am drawn to my 3DS like a moth to a flame. I crushed the Elite Four with my Xerneas. I am declared the league champion. This is psychedelic!

Oops, Mom is walking past. I’m supposed to be writing. I hurry back to my laptop.
I finally reach the present in my story and I have run out of material. Maybe I should check the rules. It says “Stories must be no longer than 350 words.” Man! 350 words! That’s a lot for me. How many words do I have left? I check the word count.

I have 351! Guess I have to delete a…

Corrupted_artword by Aliisa LeeCORRUPTED
By Rennie DiLorenzo, age 13

Space. In the old days, everyone thought that there were lots of galaxies, full of wonder and hope. But being the patrol in the small quadrant of Aster-Delta 6, I found that looking at a galaxy for hours on end really doesn’t fill you with excitement. Or anything close to that. Instead, you begin to question your existence and the existence of others.

On my small, four-roomed ship (plus cockpit) called “Determination,” the most fun activity was releasing the air lock. Or playing Merio – a virtual-reality game. But seriously, after awhile, beating Browser again and again gets boring quickly. This is a lonely job.

One day, in the middle of one of my “questioning life and existence” sessions, my monitor
showed me that there was an incoming ship. The ship was small and Class 5, which was good because only Class 3 and up were allowed to dock here. My ship is a class 5.5c. I messaged him and said “What is your business in this zone?” The response I got sent chills down my spine: “CORRUPTED.”

This never happens. This would take an insane amount of damage/hacking to get this message typed. To put this in perspective, you would need a whole country of hackers on that ship to create half of the letter “c.” This message had only been managed once by a crew of 2 trillion and a space ship made from three small planets. The craft I was looking at couldn’t fit two people.

I stumbled and slapped myself to see if this was some cruel nightmare. It was not. I
messaged again: “WHAT?!” The response came from the snake like blaster hose at the top of the ship. It unfurled slowly then settled. Another message: “ CORRUPTED.”

I started shaking. I tried to contact Aster-6 headquarters. The message I got back terrified me to the bone: “CORRUPTED.” For the first time, I was truly alone. The blaster on the ship was charging up.

There was a blinding light and then sudden and utter darkness.

Artwork by Aliisa Lee

350 for 50

350 for 50 typewriter popWe are delighted to announce the winners of this year’s 350 for 50 contest! An author from three age categories was challenged to write a 350-word story that included the sentence, “There was a rattling noise.” Enjoy!

Sleepless, the Squirrel
By Samantha Gunton, age 10

Sleepless the Squirrel_artwork by Aliisa Lee My eyelids open. I look out the window to see what’s making the noise; three kids in a snowball fight. I get out of bed and put on my slippers. Groggily, I walk down the hallway and out my front door.

“Hey! You’re trespassing!”

The kids don’t even glance my way. I watch as a boy with bad aim throws a snowball at MY tree, which doubles as my house. Grr – how am I going to get rid of them? You know, I wouldn’t have to deal with this if it weren’t for my real estate agent, Larry…

“It’s a great deal!” Larry had exclaimed, “No human beings will bother you!” Regretfully, I had believed him.  Now, I was awake during hibernation. I needed to visit Professor LeNut, the genius, to see whether he could help. I hopped to Professor LeNut’s house and knocked on his bedroom door.

“Hello? You awake?”
There was a rattling noise. What was that?

“Ughh…is it spring yet?” the professor moaned.

“You’re awake! Good. I need your help.” Professor LeNut finished putting his retainer back in its case (that was the rattling sound) and turned to me. “You see those humans out there? I can’t get them to leave.  I need to hibernate.”

“First of all, WHY IN THE NAME OF WALNUTS DID YOU WAKE ME UP?!! Second, just pretend you have rabies. And lastly, how were you able to wake me?? It’s physically impossible to be awoken during hibernation. So either this is a dream or -”

Cutting him off, I said “Thanks!” and ran out. Once outside, I squeaked my way to the smallest kid and started foaming at the mouth.

The little humans got it, shouting, “Rabid squirrel!” They dashed away. I ran like my tail was on fire back to my tree house bedroom. I collapsed on the bed, closed my eyes and thought, “When I wake up, it better be Spring. If not…Larry, you’re going to get it!”

The Last Cabin_artwork by Aliisa LeeThe Last Cabin
By Hugo Kim, age 11

There was a rattling noise. The sound appeared to come from the front door, thought the last man on earth. Two months earlier, the man came to this remote cabin up state to shut the world out and finish his first novel. The cabin didn’t have an address for mail, TV, telephone, or any connection to the civilized world. Disconnected to civilization, he busily typed away on his manual typewriter. He was almost done. Tomorrow, he planned to drive forty miles the nearest post office to drop off his manuscript to a publisher.

What this man didn’t know was that a terrible epidemic had swept around the world. Somehow, a virulent strain of avian flu had combined with a lethal swine flu, mutating into a deadly pandemic. Scientists who discovered this flu called it N8H9 and it was spread through tiny droplets when people coughed.  The incubation period lasted a week. N8H9 was highly contagious and completely resistant to all types of antivirals. In just forty-three days, the entire world’s population had ceased to exist.

He heard the sound again. This time, he could hear someone turning the doorknob. The man got up and walked to his front door. No one knew about this place, so how could he have a visitor? He unlocked the door and opened it. Standing outside was a beautiful woman. She looked very pale and tired. The man asked if he could help the woman. She came closer as if to say something very important. The man leaned close to her face to hear what the last woman on earth had to say. He felt it was going to be something very, very important. That’s when the woman coughed.

The Dragon Princess
By Angelina Han, age 14

The Dragon Princess_artwork by Aliisa LeeThere was a rattling noise beginning somewhere deep inside the dragon’s chest, softening into a delighted clicking sounds and a low purr as the girl tickled the soft skin underneath his chin. The dragon rolled onto his back, spraying green fire from his nostrils for the girl’s amusement. The girl clapped and chortled, running around on her short legs. “Dragon!” The girl babbled, laughing. “Good dragon!” Her tightly curled hair bobbed in tandem with her small white dress. The dragon tilted his head to the side, pondering the strange little creature. He’d never seen anything like this before, and what were those noises she was making? It didn’t matter. He liked her already, and with a swoop of his great golden wings, he picked her up. She squealed with happiness as she flew for the first time, oblivious to the shouts below and the crown that had fallen off of her head into the dewy grass. The dragon carried her to his nest, and she stayed there with him.

Fourteen summers had tumbled by with laughing footsteps and constellation-filled nights when the girl and the dragon returned again to the spot where they had first met so long ago, though neither knew it. The girl had grown into lovely young lady with golden ringlets looping down her back, and she had all but forgotten her brief time with the humans. The dragon was her father now, and they communicated in sounds that dragons used. As they walked silently through the field still hung with morning dew, the girl tripped over an object that lay half sunken and long forgotten in the mud. She picked it up curiously, and it glinted in the rising sun like the dragon’s scales. A silver crown, bent and tarnished with moss crawling over it in spongy strands. A memory came to port on the foggy sea of her consciousness, and the girl slowly lifted the crown to her head.

“Dragon,” she whispered, her lips struggling to form the once-familiar words. She smiled at the dragon, who looked at her with large iridescent eyes. “Good dragon.”

Artwork by Aliisa Lee

Eggs, Glorious Eggs

eggs glorious eggsSquare eggs with unique, artisanal patterning? A beauty contest? Princess chickens? Yes, there is a book that brings all these elements together!

We read The Most Wonderful Egg in the World, by Helme Heine (Margaret K. McElderry imprint, 1983). In a kingdom, long ago, three hens got in an argument. Which hen was the most beautiful? Could it be Dotty, with her beautiful feathers? Stalky, with her beautiful legs? Or Plumy, with her beautiful crest? They decide to take matters to the king. Being a practical man (“What you can do is more important than what you look like”), he decreed that whoever laid the most wonderful egg would become a princess. Dotty laid the most perfect, shimmering, spotless egg the kingdom had even seen. Stalky laid the biggest egg the kingdom had ever seen. And Plumy…laid a square egg with a different color on each side! Since the king could not decide which egg was the most wonderful, he made all three hens princesses. And they lived happily ever after.

You’ll need:

  • A strip of white poster board (approximately 2.25″ x 22″)
  • A sturdy, 7″ paper plate
  • Nest making materials (brown construction paper, raffia, and paper crinkle)
  • A small box (mine was 4″ x 4″ x 4″)
  • Egg decorating materials (complete list a little later in the post!)
  • A couple of name tag stickers
  • 2 pieces of gold ribbon (approximately 2.25″ each)
  • Stapler, scissors, tape, and glue stick for construction
  • Hot glue

For this project, we made a nest, decorated a “square” egg, and then held an egg-tastic beauty contest in which everyone took home a prize!

egg in nestWe’ll begin with the nest. Circle a strip of white poster board around the outside of a paper plate and staple it securely (you’ll need to remove the circle from around the plate to staple it properly).

nest step 1Slide the paper plate back inside the circle, pushing it all the way to the bottom.

nest step 2Now flip the “nest” over and use tape to reinforce the connection between the plate and the circle. I used at least 4 pieces of tape:

nest step 3I also reinforced the inside connection with a ring of hot glue.

nest step 4Time to decorate! I offered strips of brown construction paper, raffia, and paper crinkle. Kids attached these materials to their nests with tape and/or glue.

finished nestNow for the egg! We used dot stickers, craft ties, ribbon, tissue paper, small feathers, sparkle stems, self-adhesive foam shapes, drinking straws, cotton balls, patterned paper, and colored masking tape to jazz thing up. You can also forgo all these things and simply use markers to fancy your egg up.

eggWhile the kids were decorating their eggs, Miss Joani and I circled around, making note of who was putting the most dot stickers on his/her egg, who was doing lots of stripes, who was going to town with the sparkly materials. Later, we used our notes to award the beauty contest prizes.

In my story time contests, everyone is awarded a prize ribbon, and no 2 categories are the same! Here are some of the “categories” from our egg beauty contest:

  1. Best spots
  2. Best stripes
  3. Most colorful
  4. Best use of red
  5. Best use of blue
  6. Best use of pink
  7. Best use of purple
  8. Best use of sparkle stems
  9. Best pattern
  10. Most original
  11. Fluffiest egg
  12. Most imaginative
  13. Most mysterious
  14. Best nest
  15. Most cheerful
  16. Best feathers
  17. Most shiny

You can make up a few prize categories on the spot, but I’d recommend having some ready-made ones handy. The contest’s “parade” only lasts a few minutes, and I find it difficult to come up with prize categories quickly, especially if you’re awarding ribbons to 22 kids at once!

Making the prize ribbons is super easy. I purchased some gold-bordered name tag stickers from Office Max, and used a gold metallic Sharpie pen to write the category on each sticker. Next, I peeled back the sticker and placed two, 2.25″ pieces of gold ribbon near the bottom. Then I lowered the sticker gently back in place. During the award ceremony, all you have to do is peel and stick the ribbon on the nest!

prize ribbonsWhen it was time for the contest, everyone placed their eggs in their nests and followed “Judge Joani” out to the lobby of the library.

judge joaniOnce in the lobby, the contestants circled, reversed directions twice, and stood in line while the judge examined their eggs. Then everyone sat down while I announced the prizes, to the hearty applause and cheers of the grown-ups!