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.

Totally Random

Writers! Get ready for something TOTALLY random, because this handy-dandy machine, constructed out of a simple pasta box, could house the perfect prompt for your next story. Pull the cardboard tab, and your prompt will drop out, ready to be elaborated upon!

You’ll need:

  • 1 pasta box with window
  • A box cutter
  • A bit of cardboard or poster board
  • A set of writing prompts
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

This budget-friendly pasta box project was inspired by a mini claw machine in my own house, which is also stocked with writing prompt scrolls:

Why do I have a mini claw machine in my house? The short answer is: the pandemic. The long answer is that my kids and I didn’t take our annual beach vacation last summer. We always spend a couple days in Cape May, including fun evenings at the Wildwood boardwalk. It’s our one and only vacation each year. It didn’t happen, and spirits were low. So I surprised them with a boardwalk in my studio, which we visited nightly:

I had tabletop versions of our favorite games (claw machine, air hockey, skee ball). There was a mini roller coaster, remote control mini bumper cars, and balloon darts. I also decorated the room with string bulbs, flashing party lights, and blasted three kinds of music from three different places in the room (techno, pop, and calliope classics).

To be sure, this amount of stuff was a splurge for me. However, the most expensive item (the claw machine) is currently enjoying a second life as a writing prompt dispenser. Oh, and the remote control bumper cars have resolved many a sibling fight (TRIAL BY BUMPER CARS! THIS IS THE WAY!).

To make your own random prompt generator, you’ll just need an empty pasta box with a window! Use a box cutter to cut an opening in the front of the box, close to the bottom. This is where the prompt will slide out. Above that, cut a slot with a little, folded down ledge:

Next, slide a piece of cardboard (or poster board) into the slot so it rests on top of the ledge. This is the cardboard “floor” that holds the prompts in place inside the box. Make sure the cardboard extends well past the ledge, so kids can pull and push it back easily:

You’ll also need to tape a matching ledge inside the box to hold the cardboard floor steady (otherwise, the pile of prompts will just drop out). You can see the little white cardboard ledge I taped inside my pasta box below:

Finally, make your prompt scrolls! Here’s a list Katie and I put together to get you started. Just make sure the scrolls are thin enough to be removed from the bottom of your box! Slide the cardboard floor into place, and load the scrolls into the box from the top. Done!

To operate, pull the cardboard floor slowly outward until a single scroll drops down. Then push the floor back in. Grab your prompt, unroll it, and get writing! Reload new prompts into the top of the box as needed. You can also add a facade on the front of the box…just make sure it doesn’t cover your ledge or your windows:

If you would like some feedback on that fabulous story, we have an email editing service here, as well as a one-on-one Zoom program here. And 50 zillion bonus points if you recognized the final writing prompt on our list…yup, it’s from our annual 350 for 50 writing contest, which will be happening again this spring! So stay tuned!

First Draft

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This one is for the young writers out there! Would you like some constructive feedback on your work? May we humbly suggest First Draft, our library’s writing resource for authors-to-be? Simply submit your fiction stories and personal essays via e-mail, and we’ll offer comments and suggestions via email or Zoom…your choice!

Recommended for ages 9 – 17

We accept fiction stories and personal essays…not academic works, non-fiction, school assignments, poetry, or college essays. Also, this is a resource for kids and teens (sorry, all ya’ll adult writers!).

For full submission details, please visit our website.