December 15, 2015

The 5th Annual Holiday Contest Finalists - Vote For Your Favorite!!!


The 5th Annual Holiday Contest!!!!
FINALISTS!!!
Darlings!

I must apologize!

Just look what I've done to you!

You look haggard!

Bags under your eyes!

Hair in a disarray!

Nervous tics and twitches popping up at every turn!

And chocolate of all kinds being consumed in an uncontrolled fashion!!!

(Well, okay, I admit that around here the chocolate thing is pretty much par for the course, not confined to anxiety over waiting for contest finalists to be posted... uncontrolled chocolate consumption is a good thing :))

But I do sympathize!

Bad enough that I always make you wait the weekend to find out who the contest finalists are, but this time I made you wait a WHOLE EXTRA DAY!  I'm so sorry!

Is that a jam stain on your blouse?

Please.

Go take a shower and put on clean clothes.

We'll wait. . . 

. . .

. . .

. . .

There now.

Isn't that better?

And now, at long last, the waiting is over!

Almost :)

Because as always, we must begin with a few words from the people in charge around here.

First, I want to thank EVERYONE who found time in their busy holiday season schedule to write an entry for this contest - all 96 of you!  The overall quality of the entries was amazing!  There were no easy cuts.  My assistant judges and I found something to like in every story and hated having to cut anyone!

Second, I want to thank EVERYONE who took the time to go around to as many of the 48 different blogs as you could, as well as the 48 entries posted in the comments here, and read and leave supportive comments for the writers who worked so hard on these stories.  In this business where rejection is a common and unavoidable part of the process, it means a great deal to writers to know that their work was read and enjoyed, and to receive a few kind words about their writing.  It is one of the best things about this community - that people are so generous and kind to each other.

Third, before I list the finalists, I want to say again how really difficult it was to choose.  There were so many fabulous entries.  The sheer volume meant that many great stories had to be cut.  So if yours didn't make the final cut please don't feel bad.  There was a huge amount of competition.  Judging, no matter how hard we try to be objective, is always subjective at a certain point - we all have our own preferences for what makes a great story.  And the fact that you didn't make the final cut DOES NOT mean you didn't write a great story.  Everyone who plonked their butt in a chair and worked hard to write a story for this contest is a winner!  You showed up.  You did your best work.  You practiced your craft.  You wrote to specifications.  You bravely shared your writing with the world.  And you have a brand new story that is now yours to hone and tweak if you like and maybe submit at some point to a magazine or as a PB manuscript.  So bravo to everyone who entered!

Finally, I'd like to be very clear about the voting process.  Due to the large number of entries, there are 12 finalists listed below.  I have deliberately listed them by title only, so as to help with objectivity.  Please read through them and choose the one you feel is best and vote.  You are MOST welcome to share a link to this post on FB, twitter, or wherever you like to hang out and encourage people to come read ALL the finalists and vote for the one they think is best.  Please do that.  The more people who read and enjoy these stories the better, and the more objective votes we get the better.  HOWEVER (and I want to be very clear on this) please do not ask people to vote for a specific number or title, or for the story about Mrs. Claus dancing the makaraina with Rudolph or whatever.  Trolling for votes or trying to influence the outcome is counter to the spirit of this competition which is supposed to be based on merit.  I thank you in advance for respecting this.

Now, without further ado, here are your finalists.  There is a mix of poetry and prose, funny, cute, and poignant - quite a spread!

Remember that the judging criteria were:

1. Kid-appeal! - These stories are intended for a young audience, so entries that were well-written but lacked child-friendliness or whose humor or content felt more appropriate for an older or adult audience did not make the cut.
2.  It (hopefully) goes without saying that you must follow the contest rules - there were very specific instructions about the opening line which almost all of you followed to the letter... but a couple of strong entries did not.  I thought the instructions were clear because of the multiple examples given... but one entry in particular caused serious debate among the judges as to whether the rules had been followed or not - the opening line was clearly modeled on the song but did not follow the pattern spelled out.  In the end, we did not add that entry to the finalist list because some people who weren't sure emailed for clarification and this author did not, and about 90 of the 96 entries followed the correct pattern flawlessly.  So... executive decision... although we weren't entirely happy about it.
3. Quality of story - the rules stated that entries were to tell a story, so if they appeared to be more of a description or mood piece, they didn't make the cut.  We looked for a true story arc, and unfortunately there were quite a few lovely, well-written entries that failed to meet this criteria.
4. Quality of writing - use of language, correctness of tense, spelling and grammar, quality of rhyme and meter for the poetry entries, and overall impression of writing were factored in.
5. Originality and creativity - because that is often what sets one story above another.

We cut 84 entries to leave you with these 12.  It was very hard!  We did the best we could.  T
here were a number of stories where the judges loved the concept, but the rhyme/meter needed too much work to make the finals.  And there were some that modeled the song beautifully with perfect meter and rhyme that failed to tell a story.  In any case, I hope you'll all find at least one of your favorites on the list below.

#1 CITY CRITTER CHRISTMAS


Soaring over skaters at the Rockefeller Rink,
Pigeon spies a Christmas tree and stops to have a think.
Perched upon a frosty branch that twinkles red and blue,
he wishes that the holidays were meant for critters, too.

Dashing through the Christmas tree in front of 30 Rock,
Squirrel bumps into Pigeon and he stops to have a talk.
"Why so sad?" he asks the bird. "It's Christmas Eve, you know."
"Not for critters," Pigeon says. "Hey, look who's right below!"

Trudging home from Macy's (where he worked a double shift)...
it's Santa Claus! He slips, he slides, he winds up in a drift!
Squirrel and Pigeon watch him fall—it's not a jolly sight.
They scurry down the Christmas tree to see if he's all right.

Twisting on the sidewalk while the critters yank his boot,
Santa Claus begins to yell, "Lay off my Santa suit!"
"We'll help you up," the critters say. "We know you're in a rush!
You should be heading to your sleigh, not stuck here in the slush!"

Getting to his feet as shoppers shop and skaters twirl,
Santa grins at Pigeon, then he turns and grins at Squirrel.
"Thanks," he tells the critters, gently wringing out his hat.
"I'll give you both a Christmas gift!" They like the sound of that.

Sharing roasted chestnuts Santa purchased on the street,
Squirrel and Pigeon sit upon their Christmas tree and eat.
They look out at the city, filled with angels, while they chew,
agreeing that the holidays are meant for critters, too.

#2 Red Berries in the Snow


Hopping along the twisty trail in the quiet, wintry woods,
Rabbit spied red berries poking through the snow. “The Giver will be here
soon,” he squealed. Then a heavy branch dropped snow on his head. Rabbit’s
whiskers froze into tiny icicles.
He hopped to Mole’s house and thumped his foot on the cold
ground near the door. Thump, Thumpity-Thump, Thump. “I saw red berries in the
snow!” Rabbit hollered down the hole. “Please tell the Giver that I’d like a warm
scarf this year. I’m going home to thaw my whiskers.”
Mole was dizzy from Rabbit’s wild thumping, but he clawed
his way through his dark tunnel and popped out next to Mouse’s tidy nest. “Red
berries in the snow,” Mole announced. “Kindly tell the Giver that Rabbit would
like a scarf to keep his whiskers warm. And I would like a lamp for my tunnel. I’m
going to sit in my favorite chair until my aching head feels better.”
“Oh dear, oh dear,” stammered Mouse as she pulled on her boots.
“Rabbit and Mole are so impatient. Red Berries in the snow! Scarves and lamps!
I’ve no time to waste.” She scurried up an oak tree and teetered on a tiny
branch. “Good evening Owl,” she said. “It’s the sharing season and we must send
the Giver a message. Tell him that Rabbit would like a warm scarf and Mole would
like a bright lamp. Since I never seem to have enough time, I would like a
watch.”
Owl listened carefully, then he lifted his strong wings and
flew North until he saw the tallest evergreen in the woods. He circled it three
times and landed deep within its boughs.
In the warmth of the morning, Rabbit found his scarf. Mole
switched on his lamp and Mouse admired her watch. Beside each present lay a
note that read: Your greatest gift will be found just outside your door. “Hooray!”
said Rabbit, and he threw open his door. Mole and Mouse were staring back at
him, and he knew the Giver’s words were true.
#3 The Incident

Fleeting through the crowded aisles 
Of the mall - both hands held tight,
'Cause Mom and Dad are really mad 
About "the incident" tonight.
It all started with a fun-filled trip 
To sit on Santa's knee
So I could tell him all the things 
I hoped he'd bring for me.
But when I saw the line of kids 
Went far past Santa's sleigh,
I knew somewhere, someway, somehow, 
I had to get away.
So I thought up an escape route,
'Cause I think it's so unfair, 
For kids to wait instead of play
When toys are everywhere.
Quick - I bolted up the steps,
Down aisles, and through a store.
I figured it was better than 
that long line - what a bore!
But the store was NOT a fun one. 
It was filled with frilly things,
Stuff that grown-up ladies wear, 
NO TOYS like Santa brings.
And then . . . my parents found me.
I knew it wasn't good.
So I hid inside a clothes rack 
Like any smart kid would.
Then without so much as looking, 
Mom reached in and grabbed my collar
While Dad stood with his lips pinched tight, 
trying not to holler.
They yanked me from that clothes rack, 
Past holiday displays,
Down the escalator, 
And 'round people like a maze.
And as we fled past Santa, 
I thought I saw him grin -
I guess I'll send a letter 
About how good I've been.
#4 The Hanukkah Elf

Tapping on the window pane at the Klein family home was Max, Santa’s hungriest elf.  He was waving a jar and a letter.  It read:

Dear Santa,
Potato pancakes, jelly donuts, games and light.  Please come to my house on Hanukkah.
Love, Joe

“Santa has to deliver presents tonight,” the elf stepped inside.  “So he sent me, Max.  And this oil.  When do we eat?”

“After we light the menorah,” Joe said.  “Bring the jar.”

Max filled each of the eight cups with Santa’s gift.  The boy and the elf lit the wicks.

The menorah glowed bright, but Santa’s oil was gone.

Joe frowned.  “We need more to make the latkes and sufganiyot.”

Max’s stomach growled.  “Time for a little elf magic.”

Twinkle.  Wiggle.  Clap.

The jar refilled.  “Okay, Joe.  Let’s get cooking.”

Max flipped the potato pancakes.  Joe fried the donuts.

The boy and the elf devoured their feast.

Bellies full, faces sticky with applesauce and jam, Max and Joe settled their stomachs with a game of dreidel.

“I think I’ll save my chocolate winnings for the ride home,” Max said.

Joe read the letters on the top.  “Nun.  Gimel.  He.  Shin.  In Hebrew that stands for A Great Miracle Happened There.  Thank you for the oil.”

“I came for the food and made friend,” Max smiled.  “I hope we can celebrate Hanukkah together again.  Santa will be flying by soon.  I should get to the roof.”

But Max didn’t move.

“What’s wrong?” asked Joe.

“How will Santa know where to find me?  This isn’t one of his usual stops.”

“Yes it is.”  Joe grinned and pointed to the stockings on the mantle.  “We celebrate Christmas too.  Merry Christmas, Max!”

“Happy Everything, Joe!”

#5 The Christmas Seed


Circling round the planet Mars on their space craft RV-3,
the children begged and pleaded for a real live Christmas tree.
“There is no way,” cried Maw and Paw, “for that to come about.”
So Sue and Lou and Baby Boo would have to do without.
No Christmas tree? That cannot be…they vowed to find a way.
Sue climbed up high and searched the sky, but only saw a sleigh.
And Lou got tangled in the lights while looking in a drawer.
And Baby Boo picked up a seed as he crawled on the floor.
“Take that away,” cried Maw and Paw, “that’s not for Boo to eat”
But Boo skedaddled like a flash to the ejection seat.
Maw screamed! Lou tripped! Sue scrambled down! Paw reached to
save his kid.
They heard a BOOM! It shook the room! The spaceship blew its lid!
They watched as Boo flew through the air; it was a fearful sight.
This wasn’t quite the way they’d planned to spend this Christmas
night.
And Maw, she moaned, and Paw, he groaned, and Sue and Lou,
they cried.
But then they heard a HO! HO! HO! and Santa slid inside.
He opened up his big red sack – plucked out a doll for Sue,
a watch for Paw, a book for Maw, a bat and ball for Lou.
But Maw and Paw, their faces drooped, and Sue and Lou, they
frowned,
until they heard, deep in the sack, a most familiar sound.
Then Santa reached way down inside and pulled out Baby Boo.
“I saved the best for last,” he said. “This one’s for all of you!”
And scrambling up onto his sleigh, he pointed straight at Mars
The seed Boo found had grown into a Christmas tree with stars.
And Santa’s booming voice rang out as he rode out of sight,
“May peace and love and joy be yours on this and every night.”
So if you get a telescope, please aim the lens towards Mars,
and you might see Boo’s Christmas tree, adorned with twinkling
stars.

#6 Randolph, Not A Reindeer


“Packing up the presents at the North Pole workshop.” The elves and reindeer sang the traditional Christmas song. But Randolph couldn’t sing. Tears made the words stick in his throat.
Randolph was thinking about when Santa had told him that Randolph had not been chosen to pull the sleigh. “It’s not that you’re not fast enough, Randolph,” Santa had said, his eyes sad. “It’s…”
“Yes, I know, Santa,” Randolph had said, blinking back the tears. He had heard the rumours already. How all the children had cried, because Randolph had melted all the snow as he flew by.
Because Randolph was not a reindeer, but a raindeer, it rained wherever he went.
So instead of singing with the elves and reindeer, Randolph was doing what he did best: cleaning.
The elves started to chatter about the snowstorm that had taken place the night before in Canada.
“I’ve heard the snow is all the way to the rooftops,” said one elf.
“Santa is bringing extra food along,” said another.
The Christmas sleigh flew off , and everyone listened to the radio as it gave updates on Santa’s progress. All was well.
Then Santa hit Canada. The radio crackled, “Santa here, over. We’ve got an emergency, over. Send over everyone, over.”
Santa wanted everyone? Even Randolph?
Randolph flew high in the sky. Faster, faster, faster until he reached Santa and his sleigh.
Snow was not only up to the rooftops, but it was also covering the chimneys. That meant that Santa could not deliver the presents and food!
Elves were digging out the chimneys as fast as they could, but it was not fast enough. Randolph knew what he must do.
He flew over a house. The rain from the raindeer’s clouds melted the snow from the roof. Soon the chimney was exposed.
“Ho ho ho, well done, Randolph,” laughed Santa.
Santa went down the chimney, and then Randolph flew to the next house. And the next one.
“Packing up the presents at the North Pole workshop.” The elves and reindeer sang as they worked, and this time Randolph sang along.

#7 No Peeking!

Sneakin’ around the present stash
At the bottom of the tree,
In stealth mode, got my ninja on,
Look how black-ops I can be!

I shouldn’t look, but too late now,
Hey, I think this one’s for me!
Later I might regret this choice,
But right now I’ve got to see.

Santa, please forgive me sir, it’s awfully hard to wait.
Voices saying, “It’s not Christmas – put that present down right now, Miss!”

Sneakin’ around the present stash
Is the most fun thing to do.
Parents are at their office bash,
If you were me, you’d peek too!

Here I go, I’m gonna open just one little gift.
Peel the tape slow, careful – don’t tear…
Jokes on me now, I got UNDERWEAR!

Wrap it back up, no time to waste
Hide this sneaky thing I did.
I’ll call St. Nick and plead my case,
“Please remember, I’m a kid!”

#8 The Gift Of The Magpie (And Friends)


Flitting around the birdfeeder at the tiny woodland house, birds of all kinds shared the feast that appeared like magic when winter arrived. Chickadee dipped and swooped while spreading his dee dee dee cheer. Goldfinch called po-ta-to-chip. Titmouse tap-tapped his seed. Magpie noticed Sparrow whose feathers slumped as she stared in the window.
“What’s wrong dear friend? In this season of chill, these people feed us from their goodwill. You should chirp, you should sing, you should eat your fill.”
“It’s the boy,” Sparrow cried.
The birds loved the boy. He watched them whenever he was home, and he spent his allowance on birdseed.
“His mom said there isn’t enough money to buy a Christmas tree this year.”
Magpie peered into the house. The boy was drawing birds, but Magpie saw him wipe his eyes.
“We’ll help him smile, I do decree. We’ll get our friend a Christmas tree.”
The closest trees to the house were maples and oaks whose leaves had fallen for the winter. Squirrel nibbled the stem of a young cedar tree so they could take it to the boy. But the whole flock of birds couldn’t lift one tree.
“Plan B is better, this I know. You’ll still need your muscles though,” Magpie enthused.
They practiced making tree-shaped pyramids, but the bottom birds got tired or hungry before the star-bird could settle on top. On their third attempt the neighbor’s cat almost got her own Christmas treat! Feathers flew; Cat missed, but Magpie got an idea!
“Who says we need an evergreen? Come all my friends, it’s time to preen!”
On the dawn-quiet of Christmas morning, the boy donned boots and a coat. He went to the closest maple by his window to hang birdseed ornaments for his friends. He gasped and smiled. From it’s naked branches hung colorful, delicate feathers gleaming with the new day’s light. He sang out loud as he added his ornaments. “Merry Christmas my woodland friends!” The morning air filled with bird song in reply.
#9 A New Classic?


Waiting in line for Santa’s knee
At the mall we always shop.
Suddenly, someone nudges me.
It’s an undercover cop!
You will not believe this crazy story when you hear…
He’s dressed like an elf, by golly!
In my shock, I drop my dolly.
The cop asks for my help, you see.
This is what he has to say:
“Three bullies have been on a spree.
For their stunts they now must pay!”
“They must be stopped,” I do agree
“What kind of help can I bring?”
He replies, “Teamwork is the key.
We will organize a sting.
“Those creeps are smashing candy canes swiped from little kids.
Wait ‘til you get to Santa’s chair.
Then get your cane, and I’ll be there.
“They’ll grab your treat and try to flee.
It will really make my day
To catch them in the act—all three—
And propel them on their way.”
Our plan works out just perfectly.
We make an unlikely team:
An elf cop and a little girl.
Sounds just like a wacky dream!
The mall’s now very safe, you’ll find;
So hop up on Santa’s lap.
Watch out if mischief’s on your mind,
For we’ll set another trap!

#10 Clucking Christmas

Sneezing around the reindeer pen on the night before Christmas… AAAAACHOOOO! HOOONK! Santa blew his nose for the 50th time that Christmas Eve. “You’re done with your bath, Donner. Now you’re sparkling clean for our big… ACHOOO! HONK! …night.”
Mrs. Claus, with Agnes, her favorite backyard chicken, clucking behind her, said, “Santa dear, you’re allergic to those reindeer. There’s no way they can lead your sleigh tonight.”
A triple sneeze shot out of Santa and onto Donner. “Hogwash,” Santa muttered weakly.
Agnes scurried back to the henhouse. “Santa’s allergic to the reindeer. We have to help him!”
“Poor Santa! He’s a good egg,” Beaker moaned.
“Should we buy him allergy pills?” Lovey asked.
“This is our big chance!” Dixie flapped.
“Everyone in favor say ‘squawk,’ ” said Agnes.
“Squawk!” It was unanimous.
The chickens bustled outside and took a place in front of the sleigh.
Santa sighed. “I guess I have no choice. Reindeer, you get the night off.” He grabbed the reins. “On Agnes! On Bertha!”
The chickens weren’t listening. “Agnes! Why did he call your name first?!” Dixie clucked.
“Jiminy Christmas! You chickens don’t rule the roost,” Santa sputtered. “On Lovey! On Beaker!”
The chickens frantically flapped their wings. The sleigh crept forward, then moved faster and faster. It lifted a foot off the ground and Santa breathed a sigh of relief.
But CRASH it fell back to the ground.
“On Dixie! On Betty!” The chickens started flapping, and again the sleigh gained speed. Faster and faster it went, until—
“To the left! To the left!” Santa shouted as Mrs. Claus rolled out of the way.
And THUD, a bottle of Reindeer Wash that Santa left in the sleigh fell over and spilled.
“ACHOO!” he sneezed.
“Why, Santa,” Mrs. Claus said, “you must be allergic to the Reindeer Wash, not the reindeer!”
“Whew! Chickens, thanks for your service, but...On Donner! On Blitzen!”
The chickens watched the sleigh glide off into the sky. “Well, it looks like they flew the coop,” Agnes said. She turned on their favorite song. “Squawking around the Christmas tree in the Clauses’ chicken coop.”
#11 JUGGLIN' HIGH FOR PUMPKIN PIE


Glidin' aside this luscious grub 
at the festive Christmas Feast.
I'll indulge in every dish. 
One small bite, at least.
I love stuffing, beans, and squash,
but treats are always last.
Pumpkin pie's my favorite prize. 
I'd better get there fast.
Stacking food up tall and wide, 
I'm hoping it won't slop.
Ham and yams and tators mashed,
it's one big goopy glop.
The massive mound slants, slopes,
and slides, the situation's bleak.
Guess it's time to pull off my best
juggling technique.
Swivel left and sway back right, 
can't let this mountain slip.
The butter in my pocket's warm,
it's just about to drip.
Seems I'll need another plate, 
can't manage one more crumb.
I'll balance it atop my head, 
an olive on each thumb.
Berries slide right down my nose
and plop on my new shoe.
Deviled eggs are in my hair 
with greasy gravy goo.
A drumstick's safe beneath my arm. 
Rolls are in my shirt.
Thought I'd never make it but, 
at last, I spot dessert.
Almost there. I'm getting close. 
There 's lusciousness in sight...
lick my lips and take a whiff, a
holiday delight.
Slow and steady, grab the last 
of Nana's pumpkin pie.
Trap it tight between my chin 
and snazzy blue bow-tie.
I sneak beneath the food buffet, 
can't make it to my seat.
Got my pie, but now I'm simply 
too wiped out to eat.

#12 NED’S CHRISTMAS WISH


Chipping through the ice of the glistening forest pond, Ned the turtle finally breaks through and inhales deeply. This is the year, he thinks. Timmy Elf will finally call my name for the sleigh loading.
Ned arrives at the clearing as Timmy says, “And that’s it. Thank you for helping us each Christmas Eve. We couldn’t load the sleigh in time without you.”
Ned inches closer and sees the usual foxes, hares and bobcats high-fiving each other as they wait in Vixen’s sled. Timmy takes the reins and Ned cries,
“WAAAIITTTT!”
“Not again,” Timmy mutters.
Ned gasps,
“You didn’t call my name? Please give me a chance.”
Timmy considers.
“OK - if you promise to stay put, you can finally come see for yourself why this is no job for a turtle.”
When they land at the North Pole, Ned stays in Vixen’s sled while the others spring into action. He watches as a flurry of hands, paws and hooves stack presents in the sleigh. Suddenly, it’s jostled and a small doll flies through the air and lands right below Ned. The tag says,
For Mary: Next year will be better. Love, Santa
“Two minutes to take off!” cries Timmy.
Ned raises his claw.
“Excuse me? There’s a doll here.”
In their frantic rush, nobody hears him. Ned knows this doll is important. Carefully he climbs off the sled.
I can do this, he thinks.
Ned reaches the doll and gently nudges her onto his back. He keeps his eyes on the sleigh and plods with determination.
Timmy calls, “Hooves up in one minute!”
Ned surges forward and bumps smack into Santa’s boot. He looks up.
“Wow,” says a stunned Ned.
Santa smiles and takes the doll.
“Thank you, my friend. This one is special.”
They take off and Ned beams as he watches the sleigh glide across the sky.
Timmy rushes over and snaps,
“I told you to stay on the sled.”
Then he sighs.
“Now do you understand why turtles could never help with this job?”
Ned doesn’t listen. He did help tonight. His Christmas wish came true.


*  *  *  *  *  



PHEW!  Now that you've had a chance to read through the finalists, please vote below for the one you think deserves to win by Thursday December 17 at 5 PM EST.  Winners of all kinds will be announced on Friday December 18!  (Possibly a bit late, I forewarn you, as I will be out of office all day on the 17th!)  I know.  That gives you a little less voting time than usual (because I took up an extra day with judging) but I want to be able to announce the winners on Friday so we can then all go off happily to our holiday celebrations :)

Thank you all so much for taking the time to write (if you did), read, and vote!  These contests simply wouldn't be what they are without all of you!

I can't wait to see who the winners will be!

Tune in Friday (no PPBF!)... same bat time, same bat station :)



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