We received an avalanche of entries for the 20th annual Boys’ Life “Say Yes to Reading!” contest. Here are the winning essays.
8 YEARS OLD AND YOUNGER
First Place: Carson Opela, 8, Woodbridge, Va. (“The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster)
My name is Carson Opela and I am a Bear Cub Scout in Pack 1398 in Woodbridge, Va. I love to read and imagine myself having the adventures that are going on in the book that I am reading. The best book I read this year was “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster. This book is about a boy named Milo. To him everything is a bore. One day Milo receives a very unusual package, a make-believe tollbooth. When he drives through it with his electric car, he is transported to the Lands Beyond, a fantastic world of imagination. Milo encounters a dog named Tock. He is a watchdog, and he is companion on his adventures. One of his first adventures is to help release the Princesses Rhyme and Reason from the Mathemagician. He also meets a little boy named Alec Bings, who floats above the ground because he has not yet grown down to the ground. He meets many demons or bad guys in his travels, like the Wordsnatcher, who is a dirty bird who twists your sentences into his own meanings. The Demon of Insincerity, who tries to trick him into leaving his path. The Senses Taker, who demands all sorts of trivial information and bogs you down with meaningless questions. After his adventures, Milo returns home and says his goodbyes to all his adventure friends. He returns to his bedroom and finds out that only minutes have passed. The next day, the tollbooth is gone, and all that remains is a note that tells him that he has learned so much that he should be able to find fantastic lands without the help of the tollbooth. Milo realizes that there are all sorts of fantastic adventures to be had everywhere, even his own bedroom. I enjoyed this book, because it taught Milo how tot use his imagination, that he didn’t ever have to be bored, because all the time he had everything to make a fantastic adventure inside of him. I love to pretend that I am the one having the adventure when I read these books. Someday maybe these adventures will come true, but I will always have my imagination to keep me from getting bored.
Second Place: Isaiah Sorrells, 6, Dothan, Ala. (“The Value of Facing a Challenge: The Story of Terry Fox” by Ann Donegan Johnson)
The best book I read this year was “The Value of Facing a Challenge.” It was about Terry Fox. He lost his leg to cancer and had a fake leg. He ran to raise money for cancer. He taught me to never give up even when it got hard. He told other people to keep trying. He said to try your best each day even when you are sick. It is important to talk to friends and to encourage them.
Third Place: Ismael Aldana, 7, Highland, Ind. (“The Knight at Dawn” by Mary Pope Osborne)
I like this book because I like knights and horses. It is interesting to me to learn about them. The castle in this book looks really cool.
In this book, Jack and Annie go back to the tree house for the second time. They don’t know who it belongs to and are very curious. They find a book with pictures of castles and knights on the cover. Annie wishes they could go there, and the tree house takes them there. Annie is the first to climb down the ladder to explore. Then Jack has to follow her because he is the big brother and has to keep an eye on her. She had run into the castle to see what was going on. Jack and Annie get caught and they are taken to the dungeon because the guards thought they were thieves. Annie used a flashlight to fool the guards and get away. They ran around the castle for a way to get out. They found a room with a trapdoor and used it to try to get away. They followed the secret tunnel and had to jump from an opening in the wall of the castle and run back to the tree house without getting caught. Before they could make it to the tree house, Jack fell into the water. After he got out of the moat, they heard a horse and thought it was going to get them. Jack and Annie were afraid of the knight, but he helped them to escape. Jack and Annie had a great adventure.
Jack and Annie get into trouble sometimes because Annie doesn’t listen to Jack. She likes to explore and is very curious about everything. Annie thinks she can talk to animals and understand them. Jack doesn’t believe her. He just wishes she would agree with him. This book helped me to try to be a better listener and to understand that my parents know best.
My favorite part of reading is me and my mom get to spend time together. She likes to read the same kinds of books I like. She even makes funny voices and faces; we have fun when she reads to me.
9 AND 10 YEARS OLD
First Place: Noah Furby, 9, Kennett, Mo. (“Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH” by Robert C. O’Brien)
I liked this book because it was an exciting story. It begins with a mouse named Mrs. Frisby who has a sick son. She tries to get him well, but they have troubles along the way. She gets medicine, but her son has to stay inside for a few weeks. Moving season is about to begin so they have to move the cinder block they are living in. But how? She had to face her fear by going to the great owl for help. He tells her to go to the rats in the rose bush. She finds them, but they are busy with their own plans. They were moving away so they would not be stealing from the farmer. She got their attention by saying her husband’s name. They knew him very well, for he helped them escape from Nimh a long time before. So out of love for him they helped her. They moved the cinder block for her and she helped them escape from people who were coming to poison them.
The story is good and exciting with a good ending. But there are good lessons in it too. The need to face your fears is one good lesson. The willingness to work together to help each other can overcome great problems. And we need to work to support ourselves and avoid stealing is a good point in the story.
After the book, we watched the movie. It was different. The book was much better.
Second Place: Jacob Barrus, 10, Parker, Colo. (“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain)
The best book I have read this year is “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain. It is a classic! I liked the book because Tom is about the same age as me and I can relate to him in some ways. However, he had a tough life because he didn’t make very good choices which lead to some bad consequences. I have learned that when I make good choices, my life goes a lot better and I am happier.
I thought it was kind of sad because Tom lived with his Aunt because he didn’t have any parents. She didn’t seem like she liked him very much. There are a lot of children that don’t have good parents to take care of them and love them. I am lucky because I have a mom and dad and they love me. Tom had a lot of friends he played with every day. They like to sword fight, be adventurous by being pirates and discovering caves, and they talked a lot to each other. They also had a club that they created with pretend names. I like to be adventurous with my friends when we play outside. We build forts, make things with our pocketknives and pretend we are somewhere else like Tom Sawyer did.
Tom would do tricks on the little old ladies. He skipped school and didn’t do his chores when he was supposed to. One day at supper his Aunt saw that Tom’s collar was wet. He had gone swimming instead of going to school and he was in trouble. The next day was Saturday so his Aunt made him whitewash the fence. No one liked to do chores on Saturday, so that was a big punishment for Tom. I do chores every Saturday, but after I get them done, I get to play with friends or do something fun. It is part of being a member of my family.
I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a great adventure that is easy to read and you can pretend you are in the book with Tom Sawyer. Books are great! They help you to imagine different adventures in your mind like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
Third Place: Nicholas Polonio, 9, Hong Kong (“Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen)
Hatchet is an easy-to-visualize story about a boy who survives a plane crash and builds his new life step by step until he has a shelter, bow, arrow and fire with only a hatchet. He learns to survive in the wild, building things like food storage, spears, and fish storage. He is not very homesick, but ever so does love to daydream about his mother cooking juicy burgers that almost melt in your mouth. He also has nightmares about the dead pilot sitting in his seat under water. The pilot had a heart attack during the ride to Brian’s (the main character) father’s house.
After a deadly attach of a moose, a tornado came, ripping everything that Brian needed into splinters. That night Brian had the mastermind idea that the plane might have a survival kit. He got the survival kit from the plane unfortunately while seeing the pilot’s head. In the survival pack there were things that were, maybe, too good and made his life to much easier.
I liked this book because it is about a boy just like me. He survives and learns lots of stuff and becomes a hero in a way. I think this boy used his knowledge in a so perfect way that he achieved what he did. I also liked this book because it taught me how to survive. If you put me in Canada for two months, with a knife of some sort, because of this book, I could survive.
11 YEARS OLD AND OLDER
First Place: Allen King, 11, Madison, Ala. (“Dolphin Freedom” by Wayne Grover)
Last night I dreamed of dolphins, there were dolphins everywhere,
They were swimming in my bedroom, they were singing in my ear.
They were playing in my room, they were sweeping with a broom!
There were dolphins, dolphins, dolphins, for as far as I could see…
When I woke up today, I noticed there were baby dolphins on me!
This is part of a poem I wrote last year. When I read “Dolphin Freedom” I remembered it. Wayne Grover, who wrote the book, probably feels a lot like I do about dolphins. Dolphin Freedom is fiction, but Wayne makes it sound like a true story because he makes himself a character in the book. “Dolphin Freedom” describes a modern-day adventure that Wayne and his friends, Jack and Amos, experience while diving off the coast of Palm Beach, Fla. Wayne, Jack and Amos have made friends with a pod of dolphins that always find them when they are diving and play with them.
One day they were diving, and a dolphin named Baby did not arrive with the rest of the pod. Baby usually shows up every time Wayne is diving because Wayne once saved Baby’s life and Baby is devoted to him. Wayne and his friends learn that poachers are trying to catch the dolphins and sell them to marine parks in Mexico. Because of the ways the poachers try to catch the dolphins, some of them get hurt and some even die. I do not want to give away the ending, but I think most people would enjoy reading the adventures Wayne, Jack and Amos have while saving dolphins!
When I go to college I want to become a veterinarian that specializes in marine biology. I plan to become a dolphin trainer and take care of sick sea animals. This is the reason I enjoyed reading “Dolphin Freedom.” I think it is a good book that helps teach people how important it is to take care of our environment and the animals that live in the world.
I am working now to become a better swimmer so I can get my SCUBA diving certification and volunteer at the Tennessee Aquarium and learn more about how to care for sea animals. The aquarium is less that two hours from my house, and I can become a volunteer when I turn 14 years old. Wayne and his friends helped save many dolphins. It is my dream to be able to do the same thing some day. Last night I dreamed of dolphins again!
Second Place: Michael Shaw, 13, Basking Ridge, N.J. (“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card)
As soon as I read the first few pages of “Ender’s Game,” I knew it would be a book like no other. It is a science fiction adventure by Orson Scott Card. I finished the book in two days, loving it the whole way. “Ender’s Game” is about a very gifted boy named Andrew Wiggin, nicknamed Ender. In an alternate, futuristic Earth, children that are thought to be gifted are observed by devices called monitors, which show how the wearer interacts with others. The monitors are meant to find children gifted enough to go to the “Battle School,” the first phase of the training of kids for Earth’s army. However, this army isn’t an ordinary army fighting other humans; it’s fighting mysterious creatures called “buggers.” These buggers started the ongoing war between humans and themselves. The battles are also different than today’s land-and air-based skirmishes. These battles are fought in space.
Ender was accepted in the Battle School when he was 6 years old. The school is separated into many different teams that fight each other in a zero-gravity battle room. Ender is assigned to a team much earlier than his peers, who are still stuck as trainees. Ender finds leadership skills and new abilities within himself as he progresses and becomes the leader of his own army at a very young age. Little did he know, Ender was being advanced much more quickly than usual for an important reason. He was expected to be the commander of the human space fleet fighting the buggers!
I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I will talk about the metaphorical and figurative interpretations of the book. “Ender’s Game” is a story that shows how big of a difference kids can make. Ender is put through grueling challenges, each tougher than the last, when he’s younger than 12 years old! I’m 13 years old and doubt I could accomplish half the things Ender does. And he doesn’t work this hard for himself. Ender is fighting for the survival of the human race. If he succeeds in this task, he will have saved Earth, but be left an empty shell of a person. After all, a person can only take so much pressure then be expected to leave a quiet, normal life. Either way, his fate is a losing one, decided by adults.
This book also makes me think about human society today. During a normal day, we might watch TV, go to school, play video games, etc. As for Ender, he is put up to things most adults couldn’t accomplish. Maybe if we all donated just a bit more effort to improving society, Earth would be better off than it is now.
“Ender’s Game” teaches us that sometimes we fear what we don’t understand, like the conflict between the humans and buggers. Take the time to understand your fears. The monsters of our nightmares might be just as scared of us as we are of them.
Third Place: Jeffrey Wojtkowski, 12, Williamsville, N.Y. (“Honus & Me” by Dan Gutman)
The best book that I read this year would be “Honus and Me” written by Dan Gutman. It is a quick to read book about a baseball player by the name of Honus Wagner. Now I am not a big baseball fan, but this book is so much more than a sports book. The author, Dan Gutman, does an amazing job of mixing in real history facts in this fiction book about a boy named Joseph Stoshack finding a Honus Wagner baseball card.
Stoshack, whose friends call him Stosh, is a boy who collects baseball cards. The Honus Wagner card is special because besides being worth a lot of money, Stosh is able to travel back in time with it. Honus Wagner opposed smoking so much, that when his image came out on a baseball card produced by Sovereign cigarettes, he wanted the company to stop production. It did, and the few cards that did hit the market are worth a lot of money. Opposed to cigarette myself, I appreciate the fact that back in 1909 someone was wise enough to know that smoking was bad.
The book takes you on Stosh’s journey back in time, to when Honus Wagner was a baseball player with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The book is full of interesting facts from the early 1900’s and the descriptions make it easy for readers to use their imagination. It is full of suspense, and you can really put yourself in Stosh’s shoes.
Dan Gutman has continued his series about Joseph Stoshack and his ability to travel back in time with the help of a baseball card. After getting hooked on the Honus & Me book, I was able to read the other books and learn more about different baseball greats. My favorite in the series, though, is “Honus & Me.”