WINNER CIRCLE

The compositions below, submitted to various competitions such as Letters About Literature (LAL), Cricket Magazine, and others, have received critical recognition.  Congratulations one and all!

Letters About Literature

FIRST PLACE, level 1 WINNER!   Qiwen W.

Dear Thanhha Lai,

I spent my first six years of childhood in China. Almost every day my family and I would drive to a huge park, one that took about two hours to walk through. We would pick star fruit from the low branches and marvel at the wonders of nature. Besides enjoying the beautiful scenery, my extended family lived nearby, and I saw them almost every day. I recall during Chinese New Year we would watch the televised gala together while feasting on traditional hot pot. These moments were precious to me.

Then one day my dad announced that our family would migrate to the United States so I could attend school there and join his parents, who had already emigrated. I was startled and filled with anxiety, while at the same time, half looking forward to this adventure. I decided to treasure the days I had left in my homeland until the day of my voyage to the U.S. However, upon arriving in America, I suffered from realizing my Chinese childhood consisted of mere memories I would never again experience. This was very upsetting.

After reading your book Inside Out and Back Again, I suddenly realized that I was not the only child who has had to adapt to a new country. In the story, Hà departed from her home unwillingly, just like I left my friends and the place I had known my entire life. When I reached America, I didn't know anyone except for my loving family. Many people told me, "The past is past; forgive and forget," but somehow I just couldn't forget China. The moment I read your book I felt like someone finally understood my struggle. I knew what Hà experienced when she arrived and had to learn a new way of living in a foreign country.

Hà's family was adopted by a cowboy who helped them settle, similar to the way my aunt helped my family by renting a house for us. I also had to go to school and learn a new language. I had no friends and didn't know what to do, but I am more fortunate than Hà. I don't get bullied like she was by the pink boy who pulled her hair, and poked her. I also had more background about America than she did. Still we were very similar. We had to get used to new teachers and students. Hà eventually learned how to speak English, make friends, and celebrate holidays, just as I did. Reading about her trials made me feel less alone, as if I could confide in her.

Like Hà, I left my memories, friends, and my extended family. Hà missed her papaya tree, the place she loved, and the happy family they used to be before her father left. I also realized, when a family is together, they always have hope. In the future, what I am waiting for will come, like friends, and the loneliness will go away. On the golden river, Kim Ha, near which Hà once lived, life flows on like this. The river washes pollution away, bringing in fresh water once again. Your book taught me to wait patiently for blessings to come into my life. Thank you for showing me that many other people suffer as Hà and I did, yet they have learned to face the future with anticipation.

Sincerely yours,

Qiwen W.

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                                                                  Greenleaf Choice:

Dear Bette Bao Lord,

Many people experience friends moving away. Last July one of my best friends returned to China. When she first came from Beijing, during the summer of 2015, she lived in the flat below mine. At first, I thought she looked really strange and that we wouldn't be friends. But after a few weeks, I would finish my homework, leave a note for my mom, and then rush down to play with her. She usually was finished with her homework, too, and if she wasn't, I would help or wait for her. That was how our friendship began.

My mom was surprised how fast I could finish my homework when I was motivated to play with Catherine. Soon she grew used to going downstairs when it was time for dinner and finding me laughing with my friend. We would make up ridiculous stories, play hide and seek, talk, laugh, and jump on her bed until we got in trouble. We loved making crafts, and we always had a wonderful time together.

Then one day, Catherine said she was moving to another apartment ten minutes away. After she left, I felt terribly lonely; sometimes I would go downstairs, walk around her old room, and hide in the closet, remembering when my brother Daniel had screamed vigorously trying to find us there. I would sit in my favorite spot, fighting back sadness and tears. I'd even jump on her bed that she left behind, trying to cheer up. Unfortunately, it never worked.

Finally, my mom said that we could go to Catherine's house. I waited impatiently. When the time finally came, I had an amazingly, awesome time with her. After that, we visited her family once every other month. Thankfully, we went to the same church and also saw each other weekly.

But now that is all in the past. In the summer of 2016, Catherine and her family moved back to China. The night before is now known as the "Crying Night." I was super sad, at least until I read In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. In your book, Shirley moved to a new country and left her family. After a long struggle and period of adjustment, she made new friends who helped her with the American culture and language. In the end, she saw her family once again.

I plan to invite Catherine to read your book after learning that she could not bear to hear my name for days without crying, as I had done.

Shirley's story has taught me to look on the bright side. The bright side of my situation is that Catherine's family intends to visit in July, 2017 which is coming in seven months. Your book also reminded me that I have other friends for whom I should be grateful. Sadly, I haven't seen Catherine since she moved to China, but I can call her anytime. Your book has helped me wait patiently for her grand return, just like Shirley did.

Although Shirley didn't receive mail from her family when she was in America, Catherine writes to me, and we are faithful pen pals. I hope that after Catherine reads your book, she will feel comforted like I do.

Sincerely,

Rebecca C.

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Dear James Kirkup,

My name is James Mamone, and I have never known my birth mother. As an infant I was moved from family to family for a few months of my life until I went to live with relatives when I was 15 months old. My adoptive mother helped my grandparents take care of me until she decided she wanted to be my mom. Shortly after that I began living with her, but she wasn't able to obtain guardianship of me until I was seven. When she was finally able to adopt me in April of 2014, I was happy.

Your poem, "Kaleidoscope," encourages the reader to give the kaleidoscope a gentle shake, and it will turn out more beautiful than before. At first, my life was just the opposite. I went from having a home and a birth mother to being passed around among strangers in a short amount of time. I don't remember my real mom because she placed me in a foster home when I was just a baby. Many people think that being a foster kid is hard, and it is. I knew that I belonged to someone else, and that I would never see or know my biological mother. That made me depressed.

Only about a third of foster children end up having good lives. Thankfully, I was part of that lucky third who was adopted. My life grew better when I joined a good family. I now attend a prestigious school in Ohio and have wonderful friends like Andrew, Adam, and Dhyani. I have three brothers, one sister, and a mother who loves me.

Your poem taught me that everything in life changes, and mine has surely had its crazy ups, downs, twists, and turns. When I performed your poem for the school poetry show last year, I learned my life has been a kaleidoscope. Your poem showed me that life can change as quickly as the patterns change in a kaleidoscope. It helped me to realize that even when life is the most difficult, it can improve very quickly, and if I just remember to open my eyes and search, I will eventually find the silver lining among the darkest of patterns.

Sincerely,       

James M.

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Scholastic

Gold Key Award

Anxiety is Okay

(by Nadia I.)

It was something out of a movie. Everything was
in slow motion, every clap, every cry. The arena was bustling with movement, booming with noise. Zak only heard his unsteady breathing, his blood rushing in his ears like roaring waves. It was always before a challenge that he cracked and nerves overflowed his system. Anxiety was like a ghostly demon, creeping up at the worst time possible in an attempt to ruin a poor soul. The last thing Zak wanted was to botch his routine, though it was likely he would. His dreams
would crash and burn right before his eyes.

No, Zak told himself
forcefully, stop being a pessimist, you loser.

"Zaakir Yamin," an official tapped his shoulder,
"You have five minutes."

It was as though his heart really did stop. The ghostly demon laughed coldly, trying to persuade Zak into quitting yet again. He wanted to run out of the arena, hop on a plane, and blow that mega-sized popsicle stand. But a reassuring hand grabbed his own, "You can do it, bro." He could do it. Zak just didn't want to. The problem was that he was part of a team. If he let them down, the guilt would kill him more than any loss in the world.

"Alright," he mumbled shakily, getting up.

Coach clapped him in the back while every one of his teammates yelled heartening words and high-fived.  Zak's legs wobbled as he made his way up to the gymnastic floor. He'd practiced his routine a million times, but suddenly he blanked out.

"No," he said to himself quietly, "no please."

Everything in his head was out of control like papers in the wind. Though he didn't want to admit it to anyone, Zak was terrified. All that he'd worked for could amount to nothing depending on how
that routine went. He had four minutes before his routine started. Four measly minutes to figure out his life. The whole ordeal of being in the Olympics, the mother of all pitiful junior competitions, left him wondering why he deserved it, but most of all, what led him there. Zak was down to three
minutes, and he needed to answer the question. Let me tell you why you're here, buddy, a voice in his head whispered.

Three . . .

The day Zak's brother Malik was born started everything, the epitome of all anxiety-filled moments in his life. His dad, feeling overwhelmed by the growing family, left, leaving the two brothers alone
with their grieving mother. She was tired, unable to care adequately for two young children. As he grew older, Zak wondered if she ever considered giving them up. Eventually Mom got over it, she was young and needed more support. Zak couldn't imagine his life without her support.
Without his mom, he wouldn't have made it through his life. Unfortunately, it began the roller coaster ride also known as a life with anxiety. He never wanted anyone to leave him again. Then the memory of his scar came back to him. It was a laughable story. As toddler Zak climbed the shelves in his bedroom closet, searching for a board game to play, he reached for the box, stretching his stubby arms as far as they could go. He grabbed the corner of the box, overturning it. Metal pieces rained down on him, one slicing him right below the eye. Oh Zak, how'd you get that scar? people would ask. Funny story! The tiny horses attacked me. He never heard from those people again. Anyway, the trip to the hospital was awful. 

"Not the needles!" he screamed, "I don't want them to sew my face! It's too pretty!"

They still sewed his face anyway, leaving a white mark on his toned skin that stood out like a black sheep in a grey herd. A year after that, he attended his first gymnastics class at IK Gymnastics, their Toddlers Toddle™ class, despite the fact he was over four. Don't ask why, but they always made sure the trademark was there. Just the thought of being around people made him worried. Even at five years old, he still wondered what they would think about him.

"Mama, what if they don't like me. What if I can't do flips like the littler kids."

She chuckled, "Habebi, don't worry. The, ah, littler kids will love you."

So Zak went, and actually enjoyed himself. They really did love him, and so did the teachers. Two years after that, Zak won his first medal, a bronze at a local competition. His mom still had the
video, something he hoped would never see the light of day. A bowling ball with legs, also known as Zak, rolled across the floor, doing the occasional handstand and a wink to the kindergarten ladies.

Two . . .

"But I love doing gymnastics!" Zak complained to his visiting father.

"No son of mine will be doing an activity such as gymnastics!" He said the word as though it caused him pain. After being gone for eight years, the absentee had the nerve to tell his son he couldn't do the sport he loved, the one thing that made him happy in life. If he cared about Zak, he would have been there all those years. He wasn't and left the boy alone with a distraught mother and wild younger brother.

Should I? he thought. Should Zak tell his father how he really felt about his terrible words? What
if he hits you?
That happened once when Zak was only two, right before Dad left. He isn't your dad anymore. If he does anything, it's game over.

"Well, you know what," Zak growled, then composed himself, "you could probably have a say in what I do if you had actually been here. But obviously you weren't. You were somewhere getting six inches shorter, and six feet wider. So go back to where you came from. Everyone here is happy without you." Zak never saw his dad again after that, thankfully. Though he wondered what the over portly man did in his free time, he was better off not knowing.

His next memory also wasn't pleasant. It was Zak's first trip to Egypt. His mom used all her savings for that trip, leaving them nearly broke by the time they came back. The country itself was great.
The people were eccentric, the landscapes made him wonder why his parents even left their homeland. Then they reached the city. Tens of dozens of citizens swarmed the streets with tons of cars in the mix. All he wanted to do was go home. The second they arrived at his grandparent's home, his grandmother immediately scolded him for being much too American. Her hatred toward his country made him more patriotic than ever. That was the same summer the Olympics were in place. That was the summer he realized he wanted to be in the Olympics. Zak told his mom, his brother, all his cousins, even his uncle whom he despised. They all laughed at him, telling him it was a silly goal.

"Oh yeah totally," his cousin's voice dripped with sarcasm, "and I'm the king of England! Please."

"You'd make a fool out of yourself!" another shouted with a thick Egyptian accent, accentuating every letter.

"Another addition to the American team, am I right!"

Unfortunately, Zak believed them at the time. How could I, a pathetic gymnast from Chicago, be in the Olympics? he asked himself. At the time, he was really struggling with confidence issues and, of course, anxiety.

The next memory flashed into his mind, one of his most important memories that defined his life, just two years after the trip to Egypt. Simple as it was, Zak would never forget that moment: the day he broke up with his first girlfriend. Most people wouldn't think twice about that, Oh yeah her, she was my first girlfriend. We broke up through text message, never thought I'd see her again!

Not for him. Being the immature jerk he was, Zak broke up with her. He was fifteen, and didn't really feel an attraction toward her. It was in his favorite park in the city. Around them, children giggled as they blew bubbles while their parents watched with a melancholy stare, worrying about the day they grew up. He never saw his mom look at him like that.

Seconds later Eliana arrived. Zak's 'girlfriend,' had on a pouty face that made him want to get it over with sooner. Eliana was controlling, insisted she was always right, and called herself an extreme feminist by telling him what to do. Unbelievable, he knew. Also, they were both most definitely not ready to date.

"I'm breaking up with you," he told her casually. Eliana's pout, quickly disappeared replaced with a look of utter shock.

"W-What?"

"You heard me. I'm fifteen. I really don't want to worry about a girl."

"But I love you!"

Zak snorted, "You can't even multiply. How do you know what love is?"

"Zaakin-"

"I'm gay."

He never saw her again after that, thankfully. It just made him realize his priorities in life and what he really wanted for his future, even though, again, he was only fifteen.

One . . .

"I'm going to kill someone!"

"Quit being a pessimist," Malik chastised him in an attempt to be comforting.

His brother was terrible at comforting people, to say the least. All he wanted to do was pass his stupid driver's test, but no. His anxiety always ruined things for him, and his anxiety, was him.

"I'm a pessimistic loser who can't do-"

"Zak!"

"Sorry. It's just," he hesitated, "I was never really good at anything. How am I gonna do this?"

Malik sighed, "Zak you're great at a lot of things. You're just nervous."

"I'm always nervous."

"Get in the car, you dweeb."

Zak obliged, opening the side door of the old truck and hopping in. Malik jumped in beside him.

"Put the car in drive. We might die."

"Shut up. That doesn't make sense."

"Drive," he growled.

Zak drove at ninety miles per hour on an unlit street where the limit was thirty-five miles per hour.
Dear lord, was he terrified. Malik yelled beside him, though he couldn't tell if it was out of joy or fear. Eventually Zak did make it home and did get his driver's license. But that was just the beginning.

Prom.

Boy, finding a date for that was tough. His senior prom most definitely did not go as planned, but it
was a memory hard to forget. After spending so many hours at the gym training, Zak was basically a nobody at school. It was classes, practice, sleep. No hanging out, no going out, no dating. There was only a month until the Olympic Trials and Zak was determined. He wanted to make it. Unlike most of his classmates, he didn't care about prom as much. Prom was about a boy and a girl going to a school dance and fighting for the spot as the rulers of the school. The princes and princesses of petty. Zak was not like that, he would not abide by those stereotypes.

And once again, a date. The laws of social prom etiquette at his school had a silent rule: no date, no entry, no life.

"How about Lucas?" Malik suggested. "He's kinda cute."

"And also my only option," Zak muttered, "Right?"

"Yes! It's better than nothing. Plus, you've been drooling over him since you were my age."

"Two years!"

"Just hurry up and ask him out. I don't want to be known as the kid who's brother couldn't get a date to prom," Malik grumbled.

Can't wait to see you during prom, Zak thought angrily. You won't get any date, girl or guy. He knew that wasn't true. Malik had half the school swooning over him because
his hair.  The next day Zak approached Lucas. Suddenly, his palms got all sweaty, and he wanted to turn the other way. He didn't have to go to prom. He could just stay home and scream like a
miserable meme. God, he was such a meme.

"H-hey, Lucas," he began nervously.

Lucas turned and smiled, "What's up, Zak?"

"I was wondering if-"

Zak was cut off by the girl running up to Lucas and wrapping her arms around him. Well, he thought, this is a surprise. Moral of the story? Never trust Malik. He did get a date, though. With Dylan Martinez, of all people. Dylan was his best friend, his gymnastics bro, and the only guy he called bro. They had a bromance. Dylan was also his competitor at the Olympic Trials that were occurring just a month from that day.

The time passed quickly. Finals, graduation, senior prank, a trip to the police department. Such
silliness. Zak spent most of that time, you guessed it, training. Six hours every day except Sunday, countless minutes spent perfecting one routine then on to the next. It was grueling, though right by his side was Dylan. Dylan, his biggest competitor, his best friend.

Eventually the day came. The trip to St. Louis that would change everything. Would he be an unknown gymnast from Chicago or an Olympic star? Malik screamed at him the entire way while his mom tried to be encouraging, spouting random quotes from her daily calendar.

"Don't fail, you idiot! This could change everything!"

"Don't listen to him, habebi. Malik doesn't know what he is saying, just remember, 'The hard days are the best because that's where champions are made,' you know!"

"Mom, that doesn't make sense. It's completely irrelevant!"

"You're completely irrelevant!" Malik retorted.

"One more word, Malik, I swear," Zak hissed. "One more word."

"Irrelevant."

Needless to say, Malik didn't speak again after that. The silence in the car was deafening after that, and it was almost worse. Zak was close to praying Malik would crack another stupid joke, or his mom go off again with another weird quote from the calendar. He was more than nervous that time. It was worse than prom, worse than getting his driver's license, worse than Egypt, worse than his dad, worse than his scar, worse than anything he'd
ever been through. Zak fumbled for his phone,

"Dylan."

"Zak? It's three in the morning. You should be sleeping."

"That's what I said!" his mother interrupted.

He turned off speaker phone and lowered his voice, "I'm scared, dude." 

"We all are. But you can't give up, Zak. You've worked your whole life for this."

"Bro."

"Bro."

"Maybe Bro will be our Always."

Zak could hear the smile in Dylan's voice, "Go to bed, loser. John Green would want you to."

                                                                       * * *

He made it. He was going to the Olympics. The Olympics. Olympics. Oly. Mpics. Olympians. Olymp. O-L-Y-M-P-I-C-S.

Zak couldn't believe it. Sam. Jake. Alex. Zak. Dylan. The US Gymnastics Team for that year. That year. Olympics.


***


The memories were over. There
weren't any seconds left. Zak had to do it. For his team, his family, and his
friends. Everything they did was for him. He could practically hear Malik
screaming his name, most likely calling him a loser, dweeb, and whatever else
he liked to call Zak.

Floor routines seemed to be specifically made for him. He excelled at them, but his nerves always
controlled him. The Olympics were bigger than the trials. His country was counting on him. He had to do it. Had to do it. Zak moved slowly to the corner of the floor. It bounced below his feet, as though he were walking on air.

Jump twice, front aerial, and begin. Don't forget the double turn, try to forget the time you broke your leg while doing a double turn. Hands up, you're at the other corner now. Don't stress, don't show your nervous, you got this, buddy. Dismount, hand-spring, keep going, almost there. Okay, big move. Full-out across the floor. Ouch, I slipped a little. C'mon, Zak, fix this. Half in, half out, end with a roundoff. Dismount.

Dead silence. For a split second Zak wondered if it was just a daydream, then a wave of applause washed over the area. No daydream. He did it. He survived and successfully made it through his Olympic debut.

"Yeah!" he yelled, throwing his arms in the air then promptly collapsing backwards onto the floor. Around him reporters laughed, his teammates shouted, but all Zak could see was Malik. His younger brother smiled, beckoning him over. Zak sprinted over to his family by the benches where his brother and mother engulfed him in a hug.

"You loser!" Malik cried, "You did it! This is gonna get me some serious hallway cred!"

Zak rolled his eyes then remembered an important detail: his score. Immediately another round of
shrieking from the Americans erupted when Zak earned an 11.800, eighth place. His heart sank. America had moved down from silver in the all-around to bronze. Why are they cheering then? he thought.

"I know what you're thinking," his coach sighed beside him, shooing off reporters. "They shouldn't be cheering. I did bad, blah blah blah. Zaakin, they are cheering because of pride, a word you should be familiar with. An American just did a great routine, they are happy."

Zak smiled, "Thanks, Coach, and uh, sorry if I let you down."

"You didn't, kid. You most definitely didn't."

Although Zak didn't place the way he wanted, he learned that he shouldn't let his anxiety control him. That was the answer to his question. Why was he here? I'm here because I am anxious. I like my anxiety, it's a friend, but it is also a foe. When I fought my anxiety, I surpassed all the odds.

"Zaakin Yamin, why do you have to say for all aspiring male gymnasts out there?"

"Uh," Zak blushed from all the attention, "Don't act all awkward like me, first of all. Second, being anxious is okay. It can lead you to some great things, like, I don't know, the Olympics?"



Silver Key Award

Discovery

By Conner S.

The fog blankets the seaport where The Swan, a great wooden ship, looms over neighboring
vessels. Crew members scurry to gather provisions for her maiden voyage. The captain is an old gentleman with a silvery white beard. With dusk fast approaching, he bids farewell to his wife and traverses the wooden gangplank, looking back again at his wife who rushes toward him; the two hug once more wondering if it will be the last time.

The weather-beaten sea captain is immediately greeted by an eager member of the crew, the king's cartographer, Julius Quinn, who's aboard to document the voyage. With excitement the young and blithe man reminds the captain of the king's quest. His Highness, ever intent to grow his nation, searches for glory and fortune for the land by dreaming of new routes. A shorter seaway would save His Majesty's trading ships days of sea travel. Many royal vessels have sought a route for several years to no avail. Compelled by his viziers, the king orders The Swan to blaze a new course.

Quinn excitedly leaves the old captain and joins the sailors, lined up on the gangplank. Upon considering the mass wealth attached to uncovering a new sea passage, the captain drafts plans for the journey. The sailors, buff men clad in faded clothes, carry provisions into the ship's hull. Other sailors are scattered across the deck, standing ready and checking the rigging. When he emerges again, the captain's quarters open to reveal the old skipper dressed in a fineDays have passed and the boat, directed by Quinn, is approaching its final destination. In the time that
Quinn has been captain, little has changed though he has ordered the kitchen to phase out its soup in exchange for a chowder. Excitement flows through the ship after having sailed through the legendary seaway. In the log, Quinn documented the cry of "the passage" that emanated from the crow's nest when a narrow channel is spotted late during the night. With great force, the crew effectively steers the vessel into the strait. Guided by rushing water, the boat quickly navigates through the seaway leaving the crew hours from their destination. red
robe and a tricorn with neat white trim. He is followed by two officials sent from the king and queen. They prance around on deck inspecting every detail of the crew.

The ship, a beacon in the dark night, breaks free of the land. At once, the sailors join together in songs and cheer. Those brandishing stringed instruments play along. Excitement is palpable on the ship, and the night is full of singing and drinking. Lanterns, hanging from overhead rigging, illuminate the boat's deck. Even the sailor stationed in the crow's nest celebrates, though by himself. In time, the
noise dies as each sailor retreats into his resting quarters. The crew rises early the next morning with the boat isolated in the ocean. Bright sunlight greets Quinn. He tips himself out of his cloth hammock and joins the crew on deck for an
update delivered by the captain. Earlier that morning, Quinn documents the crew's party.

Upon the second day of sailing, the crew makes good progress. Sunlight reflects onto the crystal blue water of the ocean which extends for miles before the ship. Thrown off the sailors' sextants, light dashes whimsically around the vessel. Down below in his quarters, Quinn's quill pen traces the ship's location. With this new route, the King's trading ships will no longer waste days at sea!

Halfway through the voyage, the captain calls Quinn to the his quarters and asks to see his
journal. The captain flips through pages of notations, but a crashing bolt of lighting interrupts their session. Rain drenches the sails and the rigging. All hands are called on deck. Sailors lay out the wet sails to dry and bail the water that spilled onto the deck. Quinn steps out of the cabin to help his crewmates.  When the squall
subsides, the sailors make their way to the galley.

Quinn's meal sits in his plate. All around him, the crew lustily downs their food. Before he scoops up the glopping soup with his spoon, the soup's filmy veneer makes Quinn queasy. The boat's constant sway has heightened his discomfort, forcing him to retreat to his quarters. Later that night, light spills into Quinn's room, and the king's representative walks into the cramped room below the deck. In a hush voice, the official tells Quinn that the captain was found lifeless before his desk where a bowl of stew sat half eaten. Quinn stares in disbelief at the man.

"Was it the soup that did him in?"

"It does not matter," the man condescends. "Quinn, you are now the captain."

The men are lined up before Quinn, who stands by the boat's wheel. After his announcement, Quinn
retreats to his room to get the log, making his way down through the mass of crewmen to reach his quarters. He is received by the two officials who watch as the crewmen clear out the captain's quarters for his belongings. While looking for the log, Quinn is directed to his new room by the two officials.

"How was your relationship with the captain?" one of the official asks.

"He was a good man and a nationalist," starts Quinn, "always persistent in his goal to assist the
crown."

Alone in his room, Quinn is fascinated and wrapped up in thoughts of the coming days. Will the people be barbaric? Perhaps, they will not speak our language! How will we communicate? Wondering, Quinn strides outside. He commands the men to unload the boxes and baggage, which hold goods that the king hopes to trade. The men roll barrels and carry boxes up from the hull. A pile is created near the stern, towering over some of the smallest sailors. The ship gradually progresses toward the town. Soon the sea filters into smaller branches leading to the city. Up in the captain's room, Quinn excitedly describes the village. He records the ship's journey through the turbulent sea passage and the swift currents that followed.

Suddenly from the crow's nest, land is spotted. Wooden huts, pagodas, quaint bridges spanning the river's banks, and docks are connected by wooden footways that sit along the river. All around people at the seaport bargain and sell their wares. A departing vessel, loaded with clothing and jewels, passes The Swan who makes her way into the port deliberately. Finally gaining attention, the boat docks and the items to be traded are displayed to attract customers.

Before the sailors have a chance to leave the ship, a large crowd of townspeople and eager merchants gather on the dock. One of the two officials of the crown holds back the crowd, while the other leads Quinn out, who greets the villagers with delight. He tells them of The Swan's journey, careful not to divulge its discovery of the new route.

Quinn leaves the ship at midday and meanders through the picturesque village. Enchanted by the colorful thatched huts and tea houses that line the streets, Quinn finds himself in the town square where he purchases a map of the region determined to bring it back on the voyage as a souvenir. Meanwhile, crewmembers purchase the needed provisions for their return journey, scampering across the village in the early afternoon sun. The strongest men carry multiple wooden crates of vegetables that are quickly loaded in the hull. Quinn successfully acquired boxes of tea leaves and exotic spices.

The bustling town glows brightly in the night as some sailors move around the merchant stands. On the deck of the ship, Quinn toasts the crown in excitement after the discovery of the seaway passage. Sailors walk about the boat, drinking and laughing late into the night. Some sailors sit comfortably in the high rigging and gaze out at the town while others lay swinging on the hammocks, talking to their shipmates. The bright moon casts down on the merriest who, arm in arm, swing each other around on the deck.

Ordered to sell off all the goods before departing the following day, the crew awakes and gathers the remaining items. Up in his cabin overlooking the deck, Quinn dresses and makes plans for the departing journey. He sits at his desk and plots out the kingdom's location and their present location. A messenger, sent from the ruler of the land, delivers Quinn good news that fair skies and calm seas will accompany the ship on its departure. He thanks the messenger and tours the man around The Swan. Upon bringing the man to the hull, the messenger is excited by the quality of the items and offers Quinn bundles of fine silk in exchange for the remaining goods. Ordering his men to unload the last boxes sitting in the hull, Quinn agrees to the proposition. That evening the ship is loaded. The crew retreats into their cabins exhilarated about the glory they are sure to bring home.

The next morning, the sky bursts triumphantly in red. Busily preparing the boat, the crew fails to
notice however. They embark with ease the next morning, the sky still swelled in red. The Swan makes great progress even as the sky darkens, prompting a torrent of wind and rain. Drenching the ship in sea water, the storm churns up the sea and rocks the vessel. The storm persists relentlessly. Quinn gazes out of the rain-battered port-holes. Most men are camped down below in their quarters, passing time by telling stories. They tell of far-off kingdoms and adventures in their past lives. One sailor captivates the men by sharing his tale of riding with knights. Basking in the attention, he claims that he led a victorious attack against a foreign enemy the party encountered. The men around him believe the sailor, so he continues portraying himself as a chivalrous figure and creates more tales.

Severely rocking the ship, the battering winds and rains impede The Swan's progress as it lurches up and down on the growing waves. Water enters every crack and hole on the ship. A resounding bolt crashes in the sky accompanied by a crackling
shimmer of light. The water pounds the boat, breaks the mast and outer frame, and sends the bravest sailors below deck. Knocked forcefully into the heart of another wave, the boat falls below the writhing ocean's surface. When it climbs once more, its sails are in tatters and rent. Everything onboard, life and treasure, is lost. Toppled by another wave, the boat succumbs to a watery grave.

Alas, the discovery of a new passage and civilization would not bring fame and fortune to His Majesty.

3ed Place

Merceless

(by Shruthi R.)

The crowd cheered as the Dunsmuir Mumphreys walked out onto the diamond. Their opponents, the Reno Mulliniks, had marched out mere seconds ago. As the Mumphreys' pitcher Joe McAggan strolled casually onto the field, the stadium erupted in screams. The whole world seemed to be rooting for the team. Although his stride was relaxed, his heart beat rapidly, his thoughts on the game ahead of him.

In the third row of the grandstand, behind the left field fence sat eighty-four-year-old Riley Scott Davis. Her ostentatious pink Birkin bag represented only a fraction of the fortune in her bank account. Gold-framed glasses rested on the edge of her large and pointy nose, and around her neck dangled a long, pearled eyeglass chain. Even the most expensive makeup did not hide her wrinkled skin, but her thin pink lips were pursed in anticipation, echoing the excitement of the crowd around her.

The team split up as only half moved onto the field, the other half sitting in the pit. Joe McAggan made his way to the pitcher's mound, the sun moving over the seven-thirty line in the sky.

Across the field from Miss Davis was Curt Davis, her great-nephew, sitting alone in the VIP box a couple of feet above the crowd around him, just as he had planned. Pale and wilted, Curt's face had contracted into a tense shape, his eyes squinting around the stadium, and his sweaty palms fidgeting. His irascible temperament left only one thing on his mind. In his gym bag, unbeknownst to the baseball lovers below him, was a small polished rifle, perfect for long distance targets. He had slipped it past the unsuspecting security guard with a smile and a half-wave. His charismatic self, though it didn't appear often, could get almost anything he wanted.

The first inning began with the Mumphreys pitching. McAggan bent his knees and spit on the ball as Chipper Jones, batting for the Mulliniks, practiced his swings.

The previously clear skies began to cloud up, slowly blocking the sun, ominous and looming.

"Strike one!" the umpire called as Chipper grumbled to himself.

McAggan pitched again, a fast curve ball zooming past Chipper as he attempted to swing once more.

"Strike Two!" the umpire called out again. Chipper's face had contorted into a mix of anger and tension, reflecting the face which sat across the field in the VIP box.

The unlocked door leading into the VIP box clicked open, and in entered a young concession worker. He wore a white and red striped uniform and his matching hat that read "Go Mulliniks!" Curt didn't seem to hear the door open.

As the concession worker, whose name tag read "Jack," walked closer to Curt, his sneakers squeaked on the freshly mopped floors. Curt spun around and screamed at the sight of someone else in the box. Jack's cheery expression disappeared and a look of horror came to his face when he saw Curt's ghostly pale skin, stretched tautly over his features.

"Who are you? How did you get in here? Get out! Get out, get out, get out! And don't you even dare to come back. If you tell anyone what just happened, you'll really regret it," Curt roared at Jack, who looked more than ready to get out of the VIP box.

Chipper had hit the third pitch and ran through to third base, breathing heavily. Thoughts raced through Chipper's head. How could they win if he continued to hit like this? These thoughts were thrown out of his head when Jackie Dawson hit the next pitch. Chipper raced to home, his heart pounding out of his chest.

Curt was staring at Miss Davis, whose long fur coat draped over the exorbitant attire she wore. His face tightened again when he remembered the incident that happened not so long ago which had left him in this position.

With shaky hands, he carefully began to unzip the gym bag, which concealed his weapon. Was it time yet? His clammy hands slipped, and the bag fell off his lap to the ground. He snarled and this time, decisively ripped the zipper open. Lifting the rifle out, he saw his reflection in the smooth surface of the weapon.

Thunder rumbled through the stadium, and rain began to drip progressively harder.

Before the next player had a chance to bat, the rain began to pour even harder. A rain break was called, and the players from both sides slipped into their respective pits, waiting for the downpour to end. The crowd booed.

Curt struggled within. Was it worth it? He quickly reminded himself of how Miss Davis shamed him and his family a few weeks ago, sweeping out the original thoughts of remorse.

Across the field, Miss Davis was daintily consuming a box of fries and nachos, careful not to drip sauce over her expensive attire. Behind her, Abner, her butler, dressed in a black suit and tie, was holding an umbrella above her head.

Steadying his rifle, Curt eyed Miss Davis. Anger inside him surged as he remembered his purpose. How horrid he had felt when he noticed Miss Davis's will, lying on her desk. Her entire estate was being wasted on her cat and relatives outside her actual bloodline. He and his family, her direct descendants, received not even a single penny of her capital.

"The Last Will and Testament of Riley Scott Davis, widow, husband to Mark Donaldson, sister to Fernando Davis, no children.

I, Riley Scott Davis, resident of Dunsmuir, California, Siskiyou County, declare that this is my will. I revoke all wills that I have previously made. I married Mark Donaldson, who died of natural causes ten years prior to the writing of this will. I leave behind no children, only my Burmese cat, Purry. I leave $10,000 to Miss Jenny Winston, Purry's caretaker, for Purry's care and maintenance. I leave Abner, my butler, with $8,000 for his faithful services. I leave my sister-in-law, Lindsey Donaldson, sister of my husband, $8,000 of my fortune. I leave my niece, Randy Donaldson, $6,500. "

The will continued, naming different heirs of the Miss Davis's fortune, but in no place did Curt find his name, his father's name, his mother's name, or any of his siblings' names. Instead, money seemed to be given to everyone else- the cat, the Donaldson family, even little baby Rona Donaldson. Never was his family even so much as mentioned. Making things worse, she had left the rest to non-family members, as if she didn't know what to do with it.

"Finally, I leave 25,000 dollars to the first player who hits a homerun in the Mumphreys v. Mulliniks game, unbiased to either team. The remainder of my fortune I leave to the Dunsmuir Mumphreys, the team of my hometown of Dunsmuir, California, with the hope that they may use it to one day make it to the World Series."

Twenty-five thousand dollars. She had not even left a penny to him-her own flesh and blood, but had left twenty-five thousand dollars to a baseball team. An intercom announcement brought Curt back to the present. His hand moved slowly up and down the smooth edges of the rifle. That was his purpose. He was going to finally get revenge on Miss Davis and he was going to do it before anyone had the chance to hit the homerun. His heart seemed to pound out of his chest, in beat with the thundering heavens.

Lifting the rifle's eyepiece closer toward his eye, the blurry lense began to focus. Fans in the grandstands were now looking around to pass time of the rain break. Curt exhaled loudly, exasperated. Why was it taking so long? In his head it had gone by so quickly. Was it a sign? Should he just let it go, rather than suffer the consequences?

The rain began to subside, so the teams returned to the field. The fourth inning began, and Curt grew more impulsive and angry than ever. Neither team had hit a home run yet, and now was his chance. He lifted the rifle once more to his eye and steadied it. His fingers danced around the trigger, and it, in return, seemed pull them towards it. As his fingers grasped the trigger, Curt had a last moment of reflection. Was it worth it? It was too late. Locating Miss Davis, he steadied the rifle one last time.

A lady in the grandstand had been hit by a bullet. An unknown gunman hit her left shoulder. The crowd around her gasped - some coming closer to see what happened, others moving away for fear of being the next victim.

Curt didn't know what to do. He hadn't thought of this part. He had very few minutes before someone figured him out. If he stood in that box, it would make it worse. With all his strength he hurled his gym bag, intact, across the field. It landed on the very edge of the grandstand in front of a middle-aged man watching the game. People around the man gasped and recoiled with surprise. Three seconds later, when they processed what happened and looked up, no one was in the VIP box anymore.

Curt ran from everything and everyone, not knowing what to do. He was alone and no one could help him this time. They would understand, right? They would have done the same thing if they were in that position, right? Deep down, Curt knew this was just wishful thinking. The world seemed merciless

Cricket Myth Contest 

1st Place

The Origin of Night and Day

(By Ehren C.)

Long ago, when Day and Night could not live in harmony, the world existed in an unpredictable order of light and darkness. Every twenty-four hours, Day and Night bickered over who would govern the sky, the winner enveloping the world in the cold blanket of night or the warming solace of day. The animals, distressed over this constant uncertainty, debated the issue. They decided to hold a competition to settle the dispute once and for all. The contest would include three challenges, the winner earning the right to dominate the heavens permanently.


The first event, judged by Mother Nature herself, challenged the contestants to grow the most beautiful flower imaginable. Night made a commendable effort but managed to nurture only a withered sprout, desperately clinging to life. Day, on the other hand, produced an abundance of magnificent flowers. The second task required Day and Night to assemble the most of one species together. Father Time would decide this event. Using her brightest star, Night guided all the lightning bugs in the world to the oak tree on the hill. What a sight it was! Thousands upon thousands of fireflies created a glowing highway for miles, blinking and flying in unison. Day wasn't so successful. He tried to gather ants. However, without clear direction, the tiny insects dispersed instead to the nearest picnic.


For the final event, animals converged from around the globe to establish the winner. The ultimate contest was to create the most beautiful image in the sky. Day filled the horizon with flaming reds, brilliant oranges, and streaks of dazzling violet, painting the most glorious sunset ever seen. Night created a grand display as well, setting ribbons of red, yellow, and green in motion across the sky, a borealis of unsurpassed beauty. The animals cast their votes and found the score even. They realized if Day were declared the winner, they would miss the stars and moon of night, and if Night won, they would miss the flowers and sunshine of day. From then on, Day and Night vowed to live peacefully together, sharing the twenty four hours equally.


                              

Honorable Mention


Why the Snowy Owl Is White

(By Jordan G.)

One day an eagle owl, which is actually an owl, was flying over the gold and orange tree that the Owl King lived in. The owl, whose name was Nycte, or Nye, circled the tree and landed on a branch at the very top, which had been painted a deep green. Nycte then glided down to the area where other owls could nest. He stayed for the night.

The next day, the Owl King, who was a wise great gray owl named Owliver, announced a coat-making contest. "Whoever makes the most elegant coat will be rewarded with one billion talos," the king said. Three talos are equal to five human cents. Nycte got to work. He collected pigeon feathers and was painting them a bright white when the Owl King said, "One minute!"

Nycte quickly painted the rest of the feathers and put them on. Other contestants put on deep black coats with silver stripes or glowing yellow and orange coats. As they reflected the sun, Nycte's feathers nearly blinded the other surprised and envious contestants with their brilliance. Just to make the coat even prettier, Nycte took stars out of the sky and rays from the moon and put them on his coat. The proud Nycte was the winner!

With his prize money, Nycte migrated to the Arctic, where the color of the white and gray snow and ice matched his white coat. Because of that, he became the Owl King there. Nycte married another owl who had happened to be up north. The female owl made a white coat with stars and moon rays and put it on. All the brown owls there got the idea and also donned white feathers and became snowy owls. Even until today, it is still the same today with these brilliant white owls.


How Mountains Were Formed

(By Calvin L.)

There once lived a giant who thought that earth was a puzzle. He picked up pieces of land and moved them around. The people did not like it at all because their homes and roads got messed up. Sometimes the roads were split in half, and the poor drivers ended up where they started from. Their houses would break into pieces, and they'd have to live outside or move to a brand new home.

One day the giant discovered that when he crushed some land together, he could create mountains. Since he was a mean giant, he called his giant friends, and together they had a mountain-making party.

Calvin went to North America and made three Rocky Mountain ranges by crushing the land together. Then he made Mount Everest in China. Bess went to Greenland and made Gunnbjorn Fjeld. Mike crushed part of the land in Europe to make the Alps. Nancy crushed some to make Fuji-San in Japan.

At the end of their party, the giants all stood back to look at the work they had done. The many mountain ranges they created still stand to this day.




How the Kangaroo Got Its Pouch

(By Ryan V.)

Once there was a hardworking kangaroo. Every day she would go down to The Goppers, which was a very beautiful water hole, despite its name. She would drink from 8:00 to 9:00, but one day her schedule did not go according to plan. When she arrived at The Goppers, she suddenly had a very painful feeling in her waist. Usually it would just go away by itself and it did, but after a minute it came again.

"I'd better just lie down and get some rest," said the kangaroo.

Just before she went to sleep, she felt a giant pain. Then after a minute she heard something. She looked down, and to her surprise she saw a baby kangaroo, a rather fat one. In fact, it was a really fat one. Right then she felt a mix of emotions; she was both overjoyed and worried.  As it turned out, her baby kangaroo was very lazy. After two years the baby kangaroo still wanted to be carried, but back in those days kangaroos didn't have pouches.

One day, when they went on their walk to The Goppers, the baby was tired halfway through the trip and just sat down. The mother came and picked him up, but after a while she got tired, too, so she put the baby down and looked around. All she found was a leather pouch. She sat down and thought for a while.

"I have an idea," shouted the kangaroo. She sewed the leather pouch to her stomach, put the baby inside, and carried him the rest of the way. The kangaroo lived so long that eventually the leather pouch became part of her, and when she had another baby girl kangaroo, she had a pouch, too. To this day, female kangaroos all over the world are born with a pouch to hold their babies.

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Cricket Poetry Contest 

                                                                          1st Place

                             Creepy Science Teacher

                                                               by Jonah N. (age 9)

                                                   My science teacher has skeletons

And skulls, and brains.

In her room, there's a

Smell that reeks of something dead.

She always carries around

A spare kidney or two.

She asks funny questions like,

"Do you have your large intestine?"

My class is under the impression

That she's about to dissect us!


2nd Place

Hurricane

by Areesha N. (age 8)

How do I see? The lights are out.

I run back and forth pacing about.

Where are the flashlights? I can't see!

There is no light for you and me.

Creepy, creepy shadows are floating around.

I bump into something and it crashes to the ground.

The wind is howling and the trees are swaying,

It's too scary to do some playing.

The doors are loudly creaking,

The roof has rain that's leaking.

The wind is blowing the trees on the lanes,

I absolutely, positively don't like hurricanes.

                                                                        

3ed place

Where Are They?

by Isabella B. (age 8)

Where are they?
Have I lost them?
Eliesha and Tzurielle were right there!
Right There!
Eliesha is only two!
And Tzurielle only four!
Right there they were! Right There!
Eliesha and Tzurielle are too cute, too cuddly to get lost!
They are my very favorite cousins!
Hey wait. Did I just hear something? Yes!
Eliesha! Tzurielle!
You guys are in so much trouble!


                                                                  Honorable mention

What is it?

by Mariana D. (age 8)

Here in my bed when it's dark

There is soon,

Something I hear in my room!

First I hear,

The pitter-patter of little feet...

But then the door

Of my room opens . . . creak!

I know I should call mom but then

I see a thing climbing up my bunk-bed ladder,

If it sees me I will be on its dinner platter!

Then I find out it's just my brother,

Why didn't I think that before calling my mother?

Ghosts         

(by Areesha N.)

Going along without being seen,

They give me the creeps-and that's what I mean.

I always have a feeling that they're in my house,

They are even creepier than a giant mouse.

Ghosts are creepy, scary and white,

Ghosts are a terribly frightening sight.

Some people like ghosts, I don't know how they do,

I do not like ghosts-how about you?