It’s Here! Our Annual Writing Contest

350 for 50 typewriter popAre you ready for it? Yes! It’s time for the Cotsen Children’s Library’s annual 350 for 50 contest! We challenge you to write a short, 350-word tale that includes the sentence, “Every movement was in slow motion.” (just 344 words left to go!) Winning stories will be illustrated and published here on Pop Goes the Page. Additionally, winning authors will enjoy an online $50 literary shopping spree!

Open to ages 9-16.
Contest submissions are due by 3:00 pm ET on Friday, April 12, 2024.

350 for 50 Contest Submission Requirements

  • Stories must be no longer than 350 words, and MUST include the sentence, “Every movement was in slow motion.”
  • The sentence MUST stand alone in the story (not be a part of another sentence).
  • Submissions are accepted in e-mail text fields ONLY please. Attachments or files shares will NOT be accepted. No Google docs!
  • One submission per author, please. E-mail to: cotsenevents@princeton.edu
  • One winner will be selected from each of our four age categories (ages 9-10, 11-12, 13-14, 15-16).
  • The following MUST be included with your submission: Your name and age (as of April 12, 2024).
  • Your name, information, and story title are not included in the 350 word count.
  • No submissions in verse or in graphic novel format, please.
  • Literary shopping spree is limited to books and writing materials.
  • Winners will be notified via e-mail on April 26, 2024 and posted on this page.
  • Questions? Email: danas@princeton.edu

Amazing Author: Saanvi Singal

May I introduce someone wonderful, marvelous, dedicated, and talented?

Quick backstory: during the pandemic, my library launched a program called First Draft. Young writers would email drafts of their creative works, and I would give constructive feedback and writing advice. Over the months and years, some writers sent multiple chapters of stories.

Today, we are proud to feature Saanvi Singal, a First Draft alumna who went on to publish her very own book!

Isabel Johns and the Lion of Power is the story of intrepid Isabel Johns and her friend Ashley, who embark on an epic and danger-filled quest to defeat a terrifying fur monster. Full of science, magic, action, and suspense, the two girls journey into enchanted lands to find the magical gems needed to vanquish their powerful enemy.

Saanvi submitted her manuscript to Young Inklings, a non-profit mentoring program dedicated to the support and enrichment of starting writers. And wouldn’t you know it, she was one of two writers selected for publication! I attended her book launch and was just SO proud!

Hi Saanvi! Tell us a little about yourself!

Hi Dr. Dana! I am a sixth grader, and live in Battery Park City in Lower Manhattan. I love reading, writing and spending time with my friends.

Where did the idea for this book come from?

I took a filmmaking class after school while I was in fourth grade. My two best friends were part of the same class. While looking for inspiration for characters for my first film, I thought of the costume kit that my little sister had received as a birthday present.
There were three different costumes in this kit, a gardener, a scientist and an explorer. I decided to choose these as my film characters and imagined myself as the explorer and my two friends as Ashley the gardener and Professor Bob, the scientist.

As I was working on my film, my teachers in ELA introduced a fantasy writing unit. The planning sheets and organizers in this unit helped me build on the story and I decided to continue to write this script, making it into an eleven chapter book.

What was your writing process like?

I started drafting my first chapter and shared it with my parents. They loved it and encouraged me to keep writing and plan a story line. Using the organizing tips I learnt from my teachers in ELA at school, I planned out my story and started drafting. Once I was done with my first draft, I went back and started editing and revising. I spent time thinking through how I could zoom in to specific moments and add details to ‘show not tell’. I also reached out to resources who could help me with the editing process. I found the First Draft program at Princeton University Library and shared my first few chapters with Dr. Dana, who gave me a lot of great tips and ideas on how I could make my writing stronger.

What was the most difficult scene to write and why?

The most difficult scene to write about was when Isabel encountered Scaly. This was a battle scene and I struggled to find words that could help me show the intensity of the fight. I wanted to describe the scene well so as to create a graphic image in the mind of the reader.

Can you tell us a little more about Young Inklings?

Young Inklings is a non-profit group that mentors school-age authors, guiding them through the revision process, while also helping them talk about and publish their work. As a non-profit, they donate all royalties from the works they publish to charity.

What was the most surprising thing about writing a book?

The most surprising thing was that I wrote a whole book! It was amazing to me that I was able to accomplish a goal as big as that. I thought this to be a very difficult task, which needed a lot of hard work and patience.

Any words of advice for young writers?

I would tell young writers not to be afraid to express themselves. I would tell them that if they have an idea, however crazy it may seem, go ahead and write it, because if all authors were nervous of sharing their thoughts, we would never have all the wonderful books we have now. I would also tell them to not give up, even though the road may seem hard. Finally, my advice is to put all one’s imagination into one’s book, make it your own and make it BETTER!


Author images courtesy of Shonali Gupta. Book illustrations courtesy of Young Inklings. Cover art by Francie Towne, interior illustrations by Saanvi Singal.

Let’s Play!

We’re finishing 2023 with something we’re really proud of! This spring, PBS came to our library to film for Craft in America. The episode is titled “Play,” and it’s now officially streaming! Our segment of the episode is a tribute to Lloyd Cotsen, and his marvelous vision and gift that resulted in the creation of the Cotsen Children’s Library.

For those of you who are not familiar, Craft in America is an non-profit that is “dedicated to the exploration, preservation and celebration of craft, the work of the hand, and their impact on our nation’s cultural heritage.” The episode also features artists Roberto Benavidez, Schroeder Cherry, Calder Kamin, Lorena Robletto, as well as the Noah’s Ark installation at the Skirball Cultural Center.

This link will take you to the episode. Cotsen’s section begins at 37:24 (and Katie’s chin has a cameo at 41:47), but we highly encourage you to check out the entire “Play” episode, it’s simply wonderful!

The Cotsen Library would like to thank PBS, Craft in America, and the awesome crew that came to our library to showcase our little world so perfectly. We appreciate you so much!