(L-R) Maddie Rue Burke, Bob Miller, Judy Faulkner, Maria Johnson, Karol Ruth Silverstein, Toni Gallagher, Laurie Young, Judith Presnall. Not pictured: Pauline Ts’o and Julia Wasson.
We had surprisingly few entries in our young adult and middle grade categories, so we honored only two manuscripts in each.
For our runner-up in the Young Adult category, our judge fell in love with the authenticity of the brother/sister relationship in "The End of Our Parents as We Know Them". Though Tree seems to disdain her immature younger brother, Kenny, there’s an underlying bond revealed through Tree’s unmistakable voice. Writer Toni Gallagher excels in dialogue that sounds teen. The reader is hooked by the end of the first chapter, when Tree and Kenny discover their parents are missing.
Here are some of the vivid details that create the world in our winning Young Adult manuscript:
“Old bones held the scent of rotted seashells”
“My words were whispers, frail and made of the same useless stuff as the fog”
“Through my clothes, I traced the hard edges of the tracker embedded under my skin.”
Beautifully written with a superb balance between plot and character, "Dark in Nature" moves effortlessly, introducing the reader to protagonist Zoe’s devastated city and piquing our interest about her mode of survival. This is the second honor this year for Dark in Nature, which also was named the runner-up for the Sue Alexander Grant. Writer Maddie Rue Burke, this time you walk away with the top prize.
The runner-up in the Middle Grade category introduces us to Gretchen Graves, a girl navigating the usual perils of middle school, in addition to having the unfortunate problem of being immune to gravity. “It’s not as fun as it sounds,” she explains. Other than rescuing cats from tall trees, the benefits of floating around like an astronaut have yet to be revealed. But, our judge says, "Gretchen Graves Is Grounded" is a magical realism novel with promise. Congratulations to writer Laurie Young.
First place in the Middle Grade category goes to a marvelous dragon comedy by Bob Miller. Imagine a novelized cartoon that is hilarious and brilliantly written.
"A large dorsal-backed dragon sauntered into the room. He had a heavy-set jaw, a body bulging with muscles and polished blue scales that gleamed under the torchlight – the epitome of what human-people would call a ‘hunk.’"
The odd cast of characters includes an experiment-conducting she-dragon, her sympathetic red-dragon specimen, a “body-mender” in case the experiments go horribly wrong, and a saucy whistle-blowing park ranger in charge of protecting the wildlife. "The Justice Dragon: Message to a Dragon" is imaginative entertainment. Well done, Bob.
The Other category drew a range of submissions including poetry, early readers, chapter books and non-fiction! Our judge honored manuscripts that demonstrated the best understanding of their chosen genre and that have the potential to find a market.
In lyrical prose that invites illustration, our second runner-up is a picture book biography of Hans Christian Andersen that feels like a fairy tale come to life. A shoemaker’s son, Andersen was skilled with scissors and told his compelling stories to audiences as he cut out paper props. He so captivated listeners, he was invited to entertain royalty. Enchanting details and references to timeless fairy tales create a magical landscape in "Hans Told Tales Two Ways at the Same Time" by Maria Johnson.
Middle grade readers of our first runner-up, a Q&A style biography, meet a living example of how simple acts can transform a neighborhood in "Ron Finley, ‘Gansta’ Gardener: In His Own Words". When Ron Finley replaced the tiny grass parkway outside his South Central L.A. home with a fruit and vegetable garden, he did not know it would inspire and educate local children and adults, AND land him in court. Timely themes will appeal to teachers and librarians, who also will appreciate how Finley redefines what it means to be ‘gangsta.’ Congratulations to writer Julia Wasson.
Our winning entry in this category is also non-fiction. The tension builds in a true hide-and-seek story after park officials discover a fully-grown alligator in a Los Angeles neighborhood lake. "Reggie the Abandoned Alligator" will engage both young and old readers with the tale of an alligator who eludes capture for two years before finding a home at the L.A. Zoo. Thoughtful use of detail and language, along with a professional presentation, help writer Judith Presnall to claim our top prize in this category.
The picture book category drew the most entries by far and honors go to the top three.
Our judge says the second runner-up establishes a compelling story and characters in a mere 400 words. "One White Whisker" revisits classic themes of growing up with sibling rivalry but keeps things fresh with a feline perspective and fun language. Congratulations to our region’s very own Schmooze Schmizard, Karol Ruth Silverstein.
Our first runner-up is ephemeral and gently profound, according to our judge. "The Big Wind" is great for reading aloud with a series of poetic vignettes about seemingly small events.
"Clothes turn into sails.
Sails turn to fringe.
Fringe lifts up like the arms of a choir,
And sings hallelujah to be set free.
The big wind comes."
The story itself builds like a coming storm and the final stanza suggests that the narrator and possibly the world have been transformed. This engaging work is by Judy Faulkner.
The winner in the picture book category is deftly crafted by Pauline Ts’o with buoyant text.
"Mortimer Mole went for a stroll
On a very fine day in May.
No need to fear,
The sky is clear…
"Mortimer Mole (Went for a Stroll!)" balances playful poetry while delivering a delightful character-driven story. Mood and atmosphere run the gamut from happy and sunny to dark and scary. It concludes with a surprisingly silly, but sweet twist that brings us back to the start of the stroll, albeit with two new friends.