350 for 50

350 fo 50_2017Announcing the winners of our annual 350 for 50 writing contest!  This year, young writers were challenged to compose a short, 350-word story that included the sentence, “Each box had a story.” Winners from our four age categories enjoyed a $50 shopping spree on Amazon. Congratulations to all!

Illustrations by Aliisa Lee


THE STORY OF THE BOX
by Melody Yan, age 9, Hong Kong

The lights flickered in the tightly crammed cargo ship. I rocked back and forth, bumping into other boxes. If you haven’t already guessed, I’m a box. I won’t bother to tell you anymore. It’ll just raise more and more questions. Anyways, the ship stopped. Then a person came in. He picked up boxes and put them on a cart. We got pushed to a bigger box, and they started putting other boxes inside the big box.

“Hey kid, what’s your story?!” asked the big box I was in.

“Huh?” I asked, confused.

“Each box has a story,” said the big box. “I myself am made from many boxes, although it was quite painful,” he said, thoughtfully. Other boxes around also told their stories.

“Well kid, we’ve told you our stories, tell us yours,” said the big box, which was called Alfredo.

“I…I don’t really have a story,” I stammered.

“What?!” shouted Alfredo. “You think about that! Each box has a story!”

And then somebody opened the box and lifted me and a small box out. I was glad for that. Anyways, the person carried us to a hospital. The guy carrying us walked over to a lady sitting at a desk that read: Receptionist. He said, “Delivery!” The lady smiled and said, “Welcome! This way please!” She led him into a hallway with doors that had signs. He left us in one and after a while somebody came and took us to a room where there were two beds with girls on them. One of the girls said, “Hailey, you don’t have to do this.”

“Sarah, you know I would do anything for you. You’re my BFF,” said Hailey.

“Yeah, but a kidney transplant!” said Sarah.

“It’s okay. It’s okay,” comforted Hailey.

A man with a white coat came and said, “You girls have surgery now.” He opened up me and the small box and took out two identical, blue stuffed bunnies. All of a sudden, I knew what Alfredo meant. And I can tell you, everything was worth it for that smile.


TWISTED SCIENCE
by Sofia Lachmann, age 11, California

“G16! This is a G16 emergency!”

“What’s happening?” I yelled over the blaring loudspeaker as I ran. I was new to this company, and I still hadn’t been through all the training yet. What the heck does G16 mean?

“They’re bringing in a specimen that’s dangerous!” a man shouted.

I turned a corner and was left wandering empty halls alone. I wasn’t supposed to be here, but I was thrilled to be breaking the rules.

After a few minutes, I became uneasy. The hallways looked exactly the same: white walls, carpeted floors. There was no way I was going to be able to find my way back. Eventually though, I found a door labeled ‘DO NOT ENTER – RESTRICTED ACCESS ONLY’. I opened the door.

Inside was a balcony looking down to a huge lab. I peered over the ledge and almost fell off. This company wasn’t saving the lives of animals, they were experimenting on them! How could so many nice people be working for something so disgusting?

My thoughts were suddenly interrupted when another alarm blasted.

“777, there’s been a breach in the upper lab section. Report any suspects. 777.”

That was me, wasn’t it? I was the breach they were talking about. I heard voices and rushed, heavy footsteps coming and I ducked behind a crate, hoping they hadn’t seen me. 2 people walked passed, and I caught a bit of their conversation.

“…it was so sudden, I’m not sure if I locked the cage properly!”

When I was sure they were gone, I came out from hiding and ran to the stairs that led me to the labs down below.

The first of probably 8 or 9 glass boxes held a tiger with eagle wings. How did this mutant animal exist? Only when I got closer to the glass walls did I notice the labels. Each box had a story. A story about the animal inside. Medicines taken, surgeries performed. Scientists had made this poor creature.

I could feel my blood boiling under my skin, and I did something dangerous and impulsive.

I unlatched the lock.


THE PLAY
by Juha Lee, age 13, New Jersey

For months, Penny had excitedly awaited this day. Now, it was finally here. She stepped out of the car holding her mother’s hand. Walking toward the theater entrance, she giggled gleefully at the sight of the red carpet in the doorway. Penny strutted into the air-conditioned theater, pretending paparazzi and fans were cheering for her.

“Enough!” her mother snapped, dragging her by the elbow to the ticket window.

As her mother stood in line, Penny turned to people-watch. It was her favorite thing to do in public places; it was a fun way to pass time and it was relaxing, in a way. She smiled to herself as she imagined backstories for the strangers who passed by. This was another thing she liked to do in public places.

“Penny!” her mother hissed, gesturing for Penny to follow. “Come on! The play starts in 10 minutes!”

Eyes bright with anticipation, Penny babbled her excitement away as her mother led her down a hallway, around the corner, and into the auditorium. She was still rambling on when they sat down in their seats, asking her mother how she was staying so calm when all this was so exciting: oh, aren’t you excited, I am, this is my first play ever, oh I’m so thrilled.

“Hush now,” Penny’s mother said sternly, frowning at the way Penny was bouncing up and down in her seat. “And quit moving around so much, will you?”

Penny wasn’t the least bit dejected, and continued marveling at the huge, open space of the auditorium. Suddenly, the lights dimmed, and she let out a small squeak of surprise. Her mother shushed her again, but Penny was literally on the edge of her seat now, craning her neck to see the first actress walk onto the stage. As she opened her mouth to speak, Penny fell silent and leaned forward, eager to hear the first line: “Each box had a story.”


MAIDEN, MOTHER, CRONE
by Stuti Desai, age 15, New Jersey

The meadow was empty except for you and your painstakingly gathered boxes: one, from the waters of the Kraken; another, from the camps of the Mahabharata War; and a third, found under Salem. Each box had a story.

You, dress flowing, hands bloodied, legs aching. You were not strong that you could shove galaxies apart to find your boxes, nor were you magic that you could summon history’s darkest secrets with a few words. But you were determined, and that was enough. But you followed the Triple Goddess, and that was enough.

The Kraken box, you charmed your way into. You lied your way onto a ship, stole scuba gear, and lied your way home. You found the box of the disappeared girl, clean washed oak, meant for holding jewelry. Maiden, alone.

The box from the Mahabharata, you won from distraught mothers of sons who did the right thing and mothers of sons who did wrong, all the same in the end. You heard them and held them, and they led you to your box, locked up metal, lest any other get their hands on it. You ran your hands across the mandala and wished them peace. Mother, forgotten.

The Salem book, you fought for. Not that it was difficult. The women were brittle-boned, malnourished. If not fight, what else could women with nothing to lose do? You pried the box from their unrelenting hands. It was fraying, on the verge of broken. Crone, scorned.

You opened two boxes. First, the maiden, so she could be free. Then, the mother, so she could find home.

You hesitated before the crone, before the violence that follows a woman’s life. Should women be entitled to suffer in silence, saved from becoming a spectacle? Without the crone’s story, women would hold all they were inside until their daughters learned to hurt the same way.

Stopping that cycle of hurt was enough for you. In the spirit of the crone, you kneeled and opened the box. What did it matter to you if the world suffered? The crone suffered, and no one had listened.

Ode to the Toad

Last week, we delved into the fascinating world of alchemy at the current , “Through the Glass Darkly: Alchemy and the Ripley Scrolls 1400-1700” exhibit. In our journeys, however, we did notice one thing. Both in history and alchemy, toads get no love.

In alchemy, the toad represents the “prime matter” an alchemist would use at the start of an experiment. Prime matter was the humble, plain, basic, ugly stuff that would eventually transform into greatness. Unfortunately, the toad was chosen to represent this undesirability. As expressed in this natural history book from 1809:

A Natural History of British Quadrupeds, Foreign Quadrupeds, British Birds, Water Birds, Foreign Birds, Fishes, Reptiles, Serpents, & Insects. Alnwick, England. W. Davison. 1809.

Well, this makes us sad. Toads are great! So the Cotsen team dug into the special collections vaults to find some awesome, jolly, and sweet historical representations of toads to share with you today…

Goldsmith’s History of Fishes, Reptiles and Insects & c. Thos. Tegg & Son. ; London. ; Smith, Elder, & Co. 1838.

Sad garden toad : and other stories / by Marion Bullard. New York : E. P. Dutton & Co., c1924.

Toad / by Carol Cunningham. [Mill Valley, Calif.] : Sunflower Press, 1983.

Die Honriche : ein Märchen / von Christian Bärmann. München : Hugo Schmidt, c1923.

Bronze toad coin. Place: Luceria, Apulia, Italy. Earliest date: -300. Latest date: -280


Special thanks to Cotsen intern, Aubrey Roberts, for researching this post :)

The BiblioFiles Presents: Christine Day

Just posted! An interview with Christine Day, author of middle grade novels I Can Make this Promise, and her most recent release, The Sea in Winter. She was also a featured writer for Chelsea Clinton’s She Persisted series, specifically writing about Maria Tallchief, America’s first prima ballerina and citizen of the Osage Nation.

In I Can Make this Promise, we meet twelve year-old Edie, whose creative project with two friends leads to the discovery of a box in the attic of her house. Inside the box are photographs, postcards, a notebook, and letters that make her realize that her family has been hiding something major from her. The more she investigates, the more she learns about her mother’s past, and the complicated history of her family tree. I Can Make This Promise was listed as a best book of the year by NPR, and was a Charlotte Huck Award Honor Book, as well as an American Indian Youth Literature Award Honor Book.

The Sea in Winter is a story about Maise, who is devastated after she injures herself in ballet class. Ballet is her life, and she grapples with not only the pain of her injury, but the loss of the joy dancing brings her, as well as her connection to her friends. When Maise’s family takes a road trip, she finds herself confronting what her identity, both ballet and beyond, really means to her.

Day’s work has many layers. One layer is the story of her main characters as they struggle and overcome difficult and emotional experiences. Another layer is how these characters connect to their families for support and guidance. Yet another layer is how her characters connect to their identities as Native people. Day blends these layers together flawlessly and compassionately, allowing the reader to deeply engage and empathize. There are difficult truths in these books, but in Day’s talented hands, the reader gets through them, and, like the characters, emerges in a better, stronger place.

In addition to her novels, Day has contributed her work to two collections, Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids, and Our Stories, Our Voices: 21 YA Authors Get Real About Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing Up Female in America.

Follow this link to the BiblioFiles interview


Image courtesy of Christine Day