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by Ann Rousseau Smith, SCBWI CenCal News Liaison

This year’s Writers’ Day consisted of three separate webinars. On Saturday, September 26, after a fabulous presentation by Erin Siu, associate editor at Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group’s imprints, Square Fish, and Feiwel & Friends, the winners of our writing contest were announced.

Thank you to all our anonymous judges, who were chosen from outside our region. The judges’ comments are included in the list of honorees below. Most Promising will receive free entry to next year’s CenCal Writers’ Day. Special Mention will receive half-off Writers’ Day admission.

Congratulations to all our contest participants, including our winners!


Most Promising: Staying Home, by Mary Malhotra

Like a warm blanket this timely picture book delivers a comforting look at the challenges of having to stay home—not just for children but something we could all use. With simple language it suggests ways of coping and ideas for connecting with others while also encouraging children to vocalize their feelings. The message at the end is one of hope. With minor tweaks, this manuscript will be ready to go.

Special Mention: June Moon, by Lynn Becker

With bouncy rhythm, sparse text, and evocative word choices, this story takes a playful and creative look at a child’s bedtime routine on a warm June night. 

“Brush moon,

Floss moon,

Peppermint typhoon moon.”

The suggestive imagery provides plenty of room for the illustrator to take this book to the next level. And although it is set in June, this story would make a lovely bedtime read-aloud for any night of the year.


Most Promising: Freyja the Mighty, by Karol Ruth Silverstein

Photo Credit: Sonya Sones

This manuscript is a perfect example of understanding a middle grade readership. The story of an adventurous purebred kitten, born small but mighty, with curiosity and eagerness is exactly the kind of story young readers, male or female, will dive into, especially when it’s written this beautifully.

The author has a strong, confident voice and a command of her topic. She understands the nature of her cat characters, both adult and kitten, and she’s captured the affection their human caretakers can have for the lovely animals.

Each of the kittens has a distinctive personality and never once was it difficult to tell which kitten was “speaking.” And while talking cats are impossible, the cat-specific behaviors made it easy to accept the fantasy premise.  

Special Mention: Luigi Flies the Coop, by Nadine Nardi Davidson

It is rare that I’m surprised by a clever premise, but Luigi Flies the Coop surprised me completely. When Michael, a young boy attempts to deliver a meal to a senior citizen named McGinty, he’s trapped in what appears to be a murder attempt by two strangers in the same bedroom.

A disembodied “ghost” scares the men away—men who have in fact shot a pillow under the covers, not their target.  But when Michael searches for the source of the ghostly warnings, he discovers a talking parrot named Luigi, who is not a gifted mimic, but a bird of human level intelligence.

I can see this book doing very well with young readers if the author can manage enough twists and turns and eventual explanations of how this bird came to be so smart, what really happened to McGinty, and why the strangers wanted him dead.

Really fun first ten pages with great promise!


Most Promising: Firstborns, by Eva Gehn

The first sentence draws the reader into a futuristic, but recognizable world where kebab shops coexist with maglev transports. We meet the main character, a wary, observant girl, as she assesses whether the stranger with blue hair is a threat. Using spare, yet potent language and well-chosen sensory details, the writer takes the reader on the protagonist’s physical and emotional journey, always staying in the moment. That magic guides the world is implied, and then shown so it feels real. Backstory and terminology are introduced gradually, allowing the reader to focus on the unfolding drama as the girl’s escape is foiled.

Special Mention: Amara Rising, by Laurel Busby

Inspired by an ancient tale and set in a world where deities offer guidance in dreams, this story draws readers with a taste for Greek mythology and epic tales. Drama and high stakes are woven into this timeless, intriguing account of a teenage widow unfairly accused of her abusive husband’s murder. With thoughtful revision, this story has the potential to be captivating. 

Join us next year for Writers’ Day 2021!

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Author photos provided by the contest winners.