I have hemmed and hawed, gone backwards and forwards and sideways, compared notes with my assistant judge, eaten some cookies, chosen, second-guessed, re-chosen, further consulted with my assistant judge (which may or may not have involved more cookies...), third-guessed, hemmed and hawed some more...
Would you just look at me this morning?!
Well, I'll tell you.
Criteria number one was tied between child-friendliness and creativity (since the contest was for a children's story about a very creative or unique birthday.) Several entries ended up not being chosen because either the topic seemed more appealing to adults, or the writing felt a little too adult, and several others ended up not being chosen because they just didn't feel quite unique enough. Criteria number two was quality of writing. A couple of entries had mistakes in basic grammar, word usage etc, and a couple others needed a bit more work on rhyme/rhythm/meter. Although there were MANY other entries we could have chosen for one reason or another, we tried to pick the ones that really did the best overall job with all three criteria.
So. Without further ado, here are the 6 finalists, listed by number and title only in case that helps you be objective :)
#1 A Gift Of Love
Kayla sat by her twin sister Kenya’s side and held her hand. It was their tenth birthday and the celebration was going to be very low key. Kenya couldn’t take too much excitement. She was very weak from the chemo treatments. Her head was covered with a soft, knitted hat because her glorious mane of red hair had fallen out. She was as pale as her hospital sheets.
Weak and sick as she was, Kenya was able to dredge up a fit of blazing anger directed at her sister. “What have you done? Why have you had your hair cut off?” she spluttered. She was simply furious. The twins crowning glory was their hair and they took care every day to style it identically. Kayla now had a short pixie style hair cut.
Kayla just smiled, offered no explanation, and simply handed her sister a gaily wrapped birthday gift. “Happy birthday Ken.” She said and slipped quietly out of her sisters hospital room.
Kenya, puzzled, opened her gift and then broke down in tears of joy and shame over having spoken to her twin so harshly.
When Kayla came back in the room Kenya was propped up in bed and her hairdo was the mirror image of her sisters. “Thank you.” She said softly. “This is the best birthday gift I have ever had or will likely ever have again. I love you.”
#2 A Present For A Pirate
Lundy the hound and Captain Saltsam
Were pirates aboard the vast ship Crusty Clam.
On Saltsam’s big birthday, he had one desire:
A colorful bird for his pirate attire.
Lundy decided to cast out their net
And catch Saltsam’s present, the best ever yet.
After sailing around, Lundy pulled in the haul:
Some driftwood, a buoy, a flattened beach ball.
Snared in the net lay a sopping sea bird,
“A parrot?” asked Lundy. “Now don’t be absurd!
I’m a puffin! Release me!” the cranky bird snapped.
“I’ve no place on a ship, and I won’t be bird-napped!”
“Hush up, pesky puffin! Behave and pipe down.
You’re a pirate’s bird now. Eat crackers and frown!
Happy birthday dear Captain!” said the gift-bearing hound,
“A bird for your shoulder! Here – wear him around!”
The bird thrashed his feet and swung with his beak,
He flapped his strong wings, smacking Sam on the cheek.
He wiggled and wobbled and shrieked in alarm,
Then lifting his tail, pooped down Saltsam’s arm.
“Yuck!” yelled the captain. “Get off me! Goodbye!”
The puffin leaned over and nipped Saltsam’s eye.
Lundy was crushed, gave a low mournful howl.
“I’m sorry I gave you that terrible fowl.”
“Oh well!” said the captain. “I don’t need a bird.
I can see now quite clearly my wish was absurd.
The present I want isn’t one we can catch.
With this nifty new boo-boo, I want an eye patch!”
#3 Not Another Birthday!
Billy hated his birthdays, every single one of them. The day was always a complete disaster. One time, on Billy’s seventh birthday, most of his party guests ended up in the emergency room! In fact, none of Billy’s friends will come to his parties anymore. Only Billy’s relatives show up because they have to.
Things usually start off pretty well. The guests arrive with smiles on their faces, carrying presents in colorful paper. There’s lots of ”Hi’s”, hugs and “How are you’s?” Everyone puts their party hats on. There’s pizza for dinner, and games like guess the wizard, and pin the drawbridge on the castle.
Then comes the cake. Billy’s dad carries it in. This year it has twelve candles on it, brightly lit with flames dancing in the air. Billy notices it is an ice cream cake, “UGH!” He says to himself. “Even WORSE!”
The cake is placed on the table in front of Billy; all the guests cower behind their chairs and under the table as they nervously sing “Happy Birthday to You” in hushed voices. As Billy listened to the song, getting ready to blow out the candles, he thought to himself, “This makes no sense for a fire-breathing dragon.”
#4 Birthday At The Beach
Mom hung up the phone just as Kara finished dinner.
“Grab your jacket,” Mom said, grinning. “We’re going to a birthday party.”
“Whose birthday? We don’t know anyone here,” said Kara. She searched for her jacket among the moving boxes that had arrived, like they had, only three days ago.
“It’s a surprise,” said Mom.
“Where’s the party?” asked Kara, climbing into the car.
“At the beach,” said Mom. “I told you it would be great to live near the beach.”
“But it’s almost dark!”
“Will there be cake?”
A birthday party at the beach, in the dark, with no cake?
At the beach, a small crowd had gathered. Coming closer, Kara saw that the crowd surrounded a rope-marked path from the dunes toward the water. For a birthday party, it sure was quiet.
“Watch that patch of sand,” whispered Mom, pointing. Kara stared through the growing darkness. She thought she saw the sand shift. Then it shifted again, slowly, and then more rapidly. To Kara, it looked like a pot of water beginning to simmer. A small black head appeared, then another, then a flipper, and suddenly the sand boiled over with tiny creatures struggling toward the surface.
“Turtles!” Mom whispered, squeezing Kara’s hand. Dozens of baby sea turtles flip-flopped their way across the sand toward the waves. A woman with a clipboard counted them. The crowd remained still, but once in a while someone stooped to gently guide a wandering baby turtle back to the path.
They’re brave, Kara thought, watching the tiny creatures make their way into the vast ocean, a place they had never been and could know nothing about.
“Happy birthday,” Kara whispered, then smiled at Mom. “I think I’m going to like living near the beach,” she said.
#5 Dan's Birthday Plan
Dan had to stop Christmas. It was the only way his birthday would be normal. Every year, he celebrated Christmas one day and on the next his birthday.
As Mom announced time for dinner, Dan jumped in.
“We can’t have Christmas. If we do, my birthday will be ruined.”
Dan knew the reason for the season, but his Christmas and birthday presents always had a part missing.
“Christmas always splits my birthday,” Dan said.
“It doesn’t,” Mom said. “That’s your special day. This is another one.”
“Why did I get arrows on Christmas Day and a bow on my birthday?” Dan asked.
“They were two separate gifts,” his sister Sue said.
“One year, I got multi-colored pencils for Christmas. I had nothing to write on until paper arrived on my birthday,” Dan said.
“You had to sharpen the pencils,” cousin Bobby said reaching for a roll.
“The leather baseball glove,” Dan said.
“What was wrong with that?” Dad asked.
“I couldn’t play catch until my birthday. That’s when you gave me a baseball.”
Grandma put her arms around Dan.
“We don’t need to cancel Christmas or your birthday. We’ll celebrate both with no missing parts — right Mom and Dad?”
His parents agreed and they all sat down to eat.
During the gift exchange, Dan tore the Christmas paper and opened the box to find one tennis shoes.
“Oops,” Mom said. She left and returned with a birthday package. Dan opened the box. He beamed holding the shoes. “A pair of shoes for Christmas!“
“Everything worked out,” Grandma said. “Now are you ready for your birthday?”
“Yes,” Dan said and noticed a jar of jelly in his stocking. “Who knows what I’ll get for my birthday.”
#6 The Biggest And The Best
Scott only wanted the biggest and best. For his fourth birthday, Scott’s parents rented a pony.
Scott asked, “No elephant?”
For his fifth birthday, his grandmother baked a five layer cake.
Scott said, “I wanted ten layers.”
For his sixth birthday, his brother bought him the all the Super-Robo-Thunder-Team figurines.
Scott asked, “Where’s the Super-Robo-Volcano–Lair play set?”
So Scott figured his seventh birthday was going to be just like all his other ones—just okay.
To his surprise, dad said, “We decided to get you something bigger and better than anything you have ever gotten!”
“What is it?”
Dad said, “You’ll find out tomorrow.”
Scott thought of all the big, best things he wanted. “They know I want an airplane, but where to put it?
“Maybe it will be my own personal movie theater.
“Maybe a submarine! I told my mom this week I wanted one!”
Scott was nearly unable to sleep. Tomorrow was going to be better than Christmas and 4th of July combined.
At the party, he passed on the games. He devoured dinner in two bites. Scott blew out the cake candles before the singing was over.
“Alright! Where are my presents?”
Dad gave him a card. “Open it, son. Congratulations.”
Inside was a certificate:
A heavenly gift from The Star Registry Society.
Your Star’s Coordinates: GSC 4628:237
“It’s something big,” said grandfather.
“The star we picked is twice as massive as the sun,” said mother.
“And you wanted the best,” said uncle.
“There’s not much better than something that spews fire and is billions of years old,” said aunt.
“I see you are speechless. So let me also show you your new telescope. It’s outside, ready to find your star,” said dad.
They went out to see the biggest and the best.
And I just have to say we had a particularly hard time finally laying aside Bailey Bear's Birthday Band (by Laura), Happy Birthday Seahorse (by Wendy), Mouse Du Jour (by Penny), The Birthday Giving (by Sabrina), and No Brother For My Birthday (by Vivian).
But really, all the entries were terrific, there were things we really liked about all of them, and you all did such a fantastic job. You are all winners by virtue of the fact that you wrote stories that met the guidelines and entered the contest. They say 90% of success is showing up (or something like that :)) - well, you all showed up! And I know I speak for everyone when I say how much we all enjoyed your work!
And now, if you could all please vote for your favorite between now and 11:59 PM EDT Wednesday May 30 (I extended it a little because I want to make sure everyone has time to vote!) I will announce the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Place Winners on Friday after the Perfect Picture Book!
I really cannot wait to see how the voting shapes up!