350 for 50

350 fo 50_2017We are very excited to present the winners of our annual 350 for 50 contest! This year, young writers were challenged to compose a short, 350-word story that included the sentence, “The sky opened, briefly.” Winners from our four age categories enjoyed a $50 shopping spree on Amazon. Congratulations to all!

Illustrations by Aliisa Lee


A Dragon’s Lesson
by Claire Xu, age 10

Inferno, a dragon with ruby-red scales, was a soldier in King Crimson’s army. She followed the same orders as everyone else : Work together, fight together, stay together. One day, when she was flying to the palace, something fell out of the sky, hitting her. Ouch, she thought. What could that be? Another thing fell out of the sky, but this time, Inferno caught it in her talons. It was a sapphire. Jewels falling out of the sky? That couldn’t be normal. She flew toward the palace.

“Your Majesty!Inferno flew into the palace, knocking aside several guards. “Jewels are falling from the sky!The king flared his wings.

“Are you crazy? Jewels don’t fall from the sky!” Inferno pointed out the window. The sky opened, briefly. A shower of diamonds fell out. The king went as white as a sheet. “Look at where they fell out,” he croaked. Inferno looked. She saw a flame with a star in the middle.

“Our ancestors,” she breathed. For some reason, their ancestors were doing this. Inferno and half of the army flew toward where the jewels had fallen. Several dragons were fighting over the diamonds.

“Quit that!”

“I had those first!”

“MINE!”

The general sighed and barked, “Stop!” Everyone froze. On the way back to the palace, they separated twelve more fights. In the throne room, Inferno thought about the jewels. As she thought about it, her mind drifted to the memory of how she joined the army. She had decided to go to the mountains, but she had encountered a thunderstorm. She had flown on, but at last, she fell toward the ground. The army saw her and worked together to take her to the palace and…Wait. That was it!

A month later, Inferno was explaining to some little dragonets about the jewels and how she had found out that the jewels were a test. “Our ancestors were seeing how well we could work together,” Inferno concluded. “All of you have to work together. It’s no good to fight over something for yourself. You have to learn to help others.”


The Tree and the Stars
By Aria Thorpe-Metz, age 11

Thwack, thwack. I woke up to the sound of axes. I opened my eyes and saw that the humans were back in the forest. They came every once in a while, cut down my brethren and left. They are convinced that they are the smartest creatures. I remember when I was just a sapling, I always marveled at humans. They are so changing they do not stay still for a moment and they are always trying to improve. I was impressed. Now I am old and I see that they do not notice things as they should. They just go about destroying everything in their wake. I have many times wondered why they do not notice these things. Maybe their ability to move around replaced their listening and noticing. Maybe they simply do not care. I know nothing in nature can stop them from getting what they want.

Sometimes I like to remember when I was a very young tree. I used to wish I was tall so I could look up at the stars at night. Now I’m tall and the humans have ruined everything. I will never be able to see the stars like I could then. The humans with all their skyscrapers and bright lights have stolen even that. The more lights they use the more stars disappear.  Sometimes even the moon seems dull.

When the sky was still full of stars, they would talk to me at night. They would tell me about the times when there was nothing on the earth but water. Until one day something changed. The sky opened, briefly. And in that moment all the life that is now on earth poured out of the stars. All the animals, all the trees and the flowers and the plants and all the humans. They all poured out of the stars in that moment. This is what the stars would tell me about before they started disappearing.  Now they don’t talk much. They just twinkle until they don’t anymore. This is what I was thinking about when I heard the final thwack.


They Always Come Back
by Carmen Bonner, age 13

The sky opened, briefly. Briefly, but literally. The clear, blue sky suddenly had a hole. And then, my best friend fell out of the hole. Barely a second later, the hole closed. I watched my friend plummet to the earth, then I shrugged and decided that I should probably see how she is. Because these things happen where I live. People disappear, but they always come back. In a way that no one suspects.

It started about three years ago. I was ten, in fifth grade. The first person to go was my teacher’s son, Andrew. Mrs. Fernsby came to school late one day, distraught and frightened. She told us that while she was asleep, she heard screaming. She rushed into Andrew’s room, and saw him on the ceiling. She joined in his screaming as she frantically tried to pull him down. And then poor little Andrew, who was three, floated across the ceiling and out the window. Mrs. Fernsby tried to grab him on the way out, but everyone knows she’s not the most graceful person. She missed, and Andrew drifted up into the night sky. Three months later, she came home to find him stranded and afraid on her roof.

And that was just the beginning. My elderly neighbor was swallowed by his petunias, and was spat out of the dirt three months later. My mom’s coworker’s car drove her into a river. Three months later it zoomed out of the woods. My cousin was carried away by an elephant, and brought back by a giraffe. Hundreds of disappearances in our city. But we’ve gotten used to it. Classmates are at school one day, and gone the next. No one cares. They’ll be back. There’s nothing we can do.

Three months ago, my best friend Jen was carried away by a rainbow. Today, she fell out of the sky.

“Jen? You okay?” I asked. She lay sprawled across the ground, unconscious. I was going to check for broken bones when she sat straight up and gasped.

“I know how to stop it!” she exclaimed.

“Stop what?”

“The disappearances!”


The Stars and Me
by William Cheng, age 15

The stale light seeped into my eyes as I stared at the metal ceiling. The mattress squeaked as I stood onto the cold floor. Unlike planets, there was no sunshine to wake up to every morning and, even if light reached us, there were no windows. That meant no chance of getting sucked into space. My cracked reflection stared back at me as I brushed my teeth. It may have been described as cutting-edge when I got the job, but this asteroid mining station was now in the process of dilapidation, bombarded by fragments of the very thing we were here to harvest.

I dropped into my chair, an action I instantly regretted. Bored, I clicked a couple screens — everything as usual. That’s what my job was, to sit in a hard chair and monitor things I barely understood. It was the only job I could get and I needed money. As children, we dreamed about the new frontier and adventures. I was naïve to believe living out here would be an escape. It was actually torture — alone, in a metal box, left to die. Sure, the miners lived here, too, but they spent their time out there. They might as well be ghosts.

I spun myself in the rusty chair when, suddenly, a blaring alarm bounced off the metal walls. Blinking windows appeared on the screen, foretelling an imminent collision. There was no time to close the bulkheads individually, so I closed them remotely and strapped into my life-saving chair. The pelting sounds grew louder. I looked towards the source as I heard one last loud hit: a rock piercing the hull.

The sky opened, briefly. For a moment, I saw the stars twinkling in the pitch-black darkness — as if to say hello. As the ship sealed itself, I sighed in relief. While my body recovered, the image of the stars lingered in my mind. If such beauty could exist in this void, in this death trap, then maybe my life wasn’t so bad. I would not forget what I saw. Just the stars and me.


As a precautionary measure, Princeton University closed the gallery of the Cotsen Children’s Library until further notice, and our children’s programming as been suspended during this closure. Until our library reopens, the blog will post once a week. So every Tuesday, please check in to see what we’re up to…from story time projects to awesome interviews!

350 for 50

350 fo 50_2017It is with great pleasure that I announce the winners of our annual 350 for 50 writing contest! Each writer was challenged to compose a short, 350-word story that included the sentence, “The surface began to move.” Winners from each of our 3 age categories enjoyed a $50 shopping spree at Labyrinth, our local bookstore. Congratulations to this year’s talented authors!


IMPACT
By James Bertrand, age 10

Impact artwork by Aliisa LeeI checked the clock. 11:59. One more minute until I turned eleven. Beep. I sat up, bumping my head on the concrete wall above me. Groaning, I gingerly touched my forehead with my hand. Ouch, I thought. Dragging myself out of my bed, I thumped through the hallway and down the stairs. I didn’t think about the fact it was the middle of the night. I just crept through the ghostly rooms, silent. That silence was broken by an eerie creak when I stepped on a broken floorboard.

The pure blankness of everything was pretty creepy. I could see dust particles float and twirl in the slightly chilly air. I peered at the living room table. Then the surface began to move, pieces sliding and grinding away from each other. Then I remembered. Today was the meteor shower, right on my birthday. Traversing through the hall I found my presents. I was really tempted to open them right then and there, but I didn’t.

I stepped into the kitchen to find my phone lying on the counter, buzzing. I walked over to the island and I turned it on. I had tons of texts from my friends about my birthday and the comets. Then my phone beeped again. It was happening now! Climbing out the front door, I wondered how amazing this would actually be. As my feet touched down on the wet, soft grass, I heard sirens. Nothing unusual, I thought.

People were screaming and crying, sirens were blaring and my heartbeat sounded so loud, I thought people in China could hear it. I didn’t understand what everyone was so scared about until I glanced at the sky. Sure enough, there were meteors. A large white rock was hurtling across the sky, growing larger each second as it got closer to the ground. I didn’t have time to think when someone yelled “Brace for impact!” I dropped to the pavement and curled into a tight ball as bright light and the smell of smoke enveloped me.


Taken Literally artwork by Aliisa LeeTAKEN LITERALLY
By Jieruei Chang, age 12

Don’t fly into a rage, my father always said. I never knew he
meant it literally, until now. This is the story he told me.
One day, my father tripped over a rock.
“THAT ROCK!” He yelled, kicking it over and over.
At that instant, there was a blinding flash of light. The surface
began to move. He was lifted off the ground by an invisible pair
of wings, flew through the air and landed headfirst on a
deserted island.
“That rock,” he muttered.
As he brushed himself off, he noticed a sign that said,
“Welcome to Arage, where what you say is reality.”
As he looked around, a pack of hikers flew through the air and
landed in quick succession on top of him, still arguing when
they found themselves in a much hotter climate.
“How do we get out of here?”
“The only way is to swim.”
“Yeah, right,” another hiker responded with a sarcastic tone.
“As easy as falling off a log.”
The hiker fell off a log that had somehow appeared.
“Ow!” he said. “How’d it get here? I think I have a concussion now.”
“Quit that! There’s an elephant in the room! We have to get off
of this place called Arage!”
All of a sudden, they were in a room. An elephant appeared,
smashing through the door and waving its trunk in the air.
At that moment my father understood. “Whatever we say
actually happens.”
“So that means…”
“When the cat’s away the mice will play.”
Playful mice appeared. The elephant’s eyes nervously swept
side to side for a few moments before it crashed out the door,
making another hole in the process.
“Now that’s proof. I think I know what to do. We’re all in the
same boat on this, right?”
A boat appeared and they all were thrown onto it. “Well, let’s get out of here!”
And so they rowed through the night (and a knight for good measure) back to shore.
So hold your temper, or you really might fly into Arage – but at
least now you know what to do.


I CAN’T CONCENTRATE
By Abigail Reytblat, age 14

I Can't Concentrate artwork by Aliisa Lee“The surface began to move,” she says, and then stops reading.
“What?” she asks.
She’s annoyed. I can tell because of the way her eyebrow twitches, for just a moment, before she speaks.
“Nothing. I just coughed.”
She looks at me, for one, two, three moments, and then raises the textbook to her eyes again. “ The surface-”
“But,” I interrupt, “That sentence seems very cliche. I mean, it’s not descriptive at all. It’s redundant, actually. It’s already told us before what happens during an earthquake.”
She glares at me. She knows this game. It’s a dance I play, one that she hates. “Tam, it’s a history textbook. About an earthquake from 1906. No one cares if it’s well-written. All you have to do is read it.”
“I care. I think many other people would care about it more, too, if it was well-written.”
“Tam!”
I grin. She touches her glasses, compulsively, pushing them farther up on the bridge of her nose, so that for a moment her eyes are covered. “Fine. Do you want to read?”
“No, no. No, you keep on going. I’ll be quiet, I promise.”
“No, you won’t”
“No, I won’t be.”
“Tammie, this project is due tomorrow.”
I’m just saying that, perhaps, the author should have chosen her words more carefully.”
“No. Focus.”
“Focusing, Samantha, focusing.”
There is silence as she flips the pages, trying to find the right one. “The San Andreas Fault- what? ”
“Hmm? Nothing, nothing. Nothing at all.”
She starts the sentence over again “The San Andreas-” and now she’s the one who laughs. “Is it going to be like this all day?”
“Yup, pretty much. We should take a break.”
Her mattress creaks as she rises. “I’ll be back. Just getting some water. You want to come?”
“No,” I say, watching her. “No, I think I’ll stay here.”
In a moment, the sound of her footsteps have faded from the hall. I pick up the fallen textbook, running my hand over the tattered book jacket absentmindedly, before opening it- “The surface began to move.”
I’ve finished reading by the time she returns.


Artwork by Aliisa Lee

350 for 50

350 fo 50_2017Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that I announce the winners of our annual 350 for 50 writing contest! Each writer was challenged to compose a short, 350-word story that included the sentence, “The taste was strange, but not unexpected.” Winners from each of our 3 age categories enjoyed a $50 shopping spree at Labyrinth, our local bookstore. Congratulations to this year’s authors!


A BOWL FULL OF WORDS
By Maia Ionescu, age 9

a bowl full of words artwork by aliisa lee

Penelope always bought lunch at school. She was unhappy about it and wished that her mom made food for her instead. Sometimes she saw that kids who brought lunch from home had a sandwich or a piece of cucumber cut into heart shapes, and then she felt jealous. Her parents were always too much in a hurry to make lunch for her. So Penelope would always go to the cafeteria with a sad face.

But on the last day of school, things changed. At lunchtime, instead of the usual white trays, everyone got a silver bowl. From inside each bowl came a faint noise as if a lot of people were whispering at the same time. Penelope peeked inside her bowl and saw a small heap of words. They were: probably, splendid, licorice, freckles, memory, pharaoh, brave, loneliness, merry-go-round, and admiration. They all came in different sizes and colors. Loneliness was small and grey, brave – big and vermillion, and merry-go-round – multicolored. The words smelled good too, especially licorice and admiration.

Penelope saw that other kids had already started eating, so she picked a word from the top of the pile – memory. She paused to look and listen. There was a faraway voice repeating the word memory. The first m was vivid teal, and rest of the letters were getting lighter and paler so that the y was soft blue and almost invisible. She took a bite. The taste was strange, but not unexpected. Just like its colors, lively at first, memory burst into a strong flavor (it tasted like the strawberry shortcake that her mom made one weekend), and then it started to fade until Penelope could hardly taste anything. It felt like chewing a Juicy Fruit or forgetting a memory from a long time ago. The word probably tasted uncertain, and Penelope almost choked on pharaoh (she missed that word in the Spelling Bee). After finishing up the words, there was an announcement that a new cook, the famous Lexi Plume, had been hired. Penelope couldn’t wait to find out what she would eat for lunch in fifth grade!


the legend of sir raleigh artwork by aliisa lee

THE LEGEND OF SIR RALEIGH
By Kevin Feinstein, age 11

He heard a vulture screech and watched the leaves as they blew through the forest all around him. Raleigh Christopher pulled his rapier from his sheath, eyes trained on the opponent standing before him. They circled each other. He cried out and the duel commenced. The vulture screeched again but not as loudly as the blades clashing. They fought viciously but eventually one man fell. The fallen man weakly raised his head and watched Raleigh vanish.

The man Raleigh had beaten was the “Right Hand Man” of Lord Clarke who Raleigh had sought for months. Three nights earlier he had spotted the villain at a tavern on the way to Gedwell Castle. After a long hike through green meadows and damp swamps, Raleigh finally arrived outside Gedwell. A trumpeter accompanied him to set the dramatic tone.

“Cue the dramatic music, George II!” Raleigh commanded his trumpeter.  Raleigh jumped upon his horse, and George II onto his donkey. Approaching the gates of the castle, a guard shouted “HALT!” with a haughty sense of authority.

“I am Sir Raleigh Christopher the Eighty Fifth!” announced Raleigh, proud of his heritage. The guard sneered, but was about to regret it, THUMP!! Raleigh charged, kicking down the door and dispatched the guard with his sword! Suddenly he spied Lord Clarke.

“IT IS I! RALEIGH CHRISTOPHER!”

“Hey! I’m not the sword type, how about we settle this with a classic ruse – the poisoned drink!?”

“Alright! I brought my own.” announced Raleigh, producing his own bottle.

“But who shall drink first?”

“We shall play tic-tac-toe to decide!” Raleigh cried! Clarke was very bad at tic-tac-toe, not knowing the rules. Raleigh won but his chivalrous nature compelled him to let Clarke pick first. Clarke agonized and finally chose. Raleigh picked up his glass and they drank.

“The taste was strange, but not unexpected!” blurted Clarke, “I have won!” Raleigh laughed. “Whats so funny?” he asked.

“This is just normal water!” Raleigh laughed. Clarke looked confused. “I poisoned your drink three nights ago!” said Raleigh.

“That’s why it…” Clarke thumped onto the ground.

Raleigh left, his mission over.


the kite flyers artwork by aliisa lee

THE KITE FLYERS
By Annie Wei, age 14

Miraculously, my cardboard and tinfoil kite had stayed in the air longer than Binh’s, whose kite was quite a work of art, strung with silk ribbons. It looked gorgeous on the wooden display table in front of our school, but out of place, sitting with the background of our shabby middle school.  It had all the wonderful shades of greens and blues, and shone so brightly when the sun lit on it. Mine resembled a flying shoe.

But of course, everything about Binh’s family was out of place in our rural neighborhood, for they were the only Vietnamese family for miles around.
When I walked up to him after the competition, he was sitting on the battered up tire swing hanging in front of the school. I was holding the sorry looking kite I had fashioned, its tinfoil wings flapping in the slight breeze.

“Your kite is amazing.” I stood in front of him while he stared at his shoes. “It stayed in the air for such a long time.”“

Binh looked up at me, his dark eyes wide and questioning.

“Sorry?” His accent distorted the word, and I realized he didn’t understand me.

I raised my kite above my head, and waited until a sudden gust of wind swept it from my hands. As it rose, I smiled at him and said, “Your kite,” gesturing at his which was laying on the ground. Binh stood there for a brief moment, hesitating, watching my kite flutter like a butterfly, then threw his up in a woosh of blue and green.

I laughed as his kite did a couple somersaults as it was released in the air; then it seemed to dance, curving and floating gracefully. The sight was so strange. A cardboard and tinfoil kite flying next to a blue-green silk one.  Binh laughed too, and when the kites came down, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small neatly wrapped package.

“Banh Gio,” he said, offering it to me. “Eat.”  I unwrapped it. The taste was strange but not unexpected.


Artwork by Aliisa Lee