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By Brenda Scott Royce, Contest Coordinator

The event was virtual, but the excitement was still palpable as the winners for the 2021 Writers Day Contest were announced at the end of Writers Day on Saturday, June 12. First place winners in each category (Picture Book, Young Adult, Middle Grade, and Nonfiction/Other) will receive free tuition to next year’s Writer’s Day, as well as a manuscript critique from one of this year’s faculty members. Excerpts from the judges’ comments are included in the list of honorees below. If you’d like to contact any of the winners to request their manuscript or discuss publication, please let us know!


SECOND RUNNER-UP: Karen Koh, My Very Own Room: “Our heroine wishes she had a room of her own, just like all her friends do. Will she ever be able to host a sleepover, or plan a lemonade stand with her friends? Crowded in with her parents, siblings, and Korean extended family, her house is just not big enough. Young readers from all cultures will relate to the main character’s desire for privacy and a space of her own. It takes a series of shared family experiences to inspire a perspective change in the young girl. Sometimes a house filled to the brim with family togetherness is just the right size after all!”   

FIRST RUNNER-UP: Kara B. Wilson, Dad’s Planet: “Mae and Dad’s amazing adventures included going on moon rock missions, spotting aliens, and coming back in time for astronaut ice cream. Mom said they were the galaxy’s greatest team. But everything changes when Mae’s parents separate, and Dad says he has to move to another planet. Will Mae find a way to adapt to a second home? Will Mae and Dad resume their close bond and continue to explore the unknown, as the galaxy’s greatest team? Using space fun and exploration as a backdrop, this touching and hope-filled story addresses a serious topic in a very accessible and kid-friendly way. Oh, and the illustration potential here is out of this world!”  

WINNER: Erica RichCaptain Crank: “This story has it all. Humor, heart, and an adorable pirate who doesn’t want to be adorable but can’t help it. He can’t pronounce his ‘Rs.’ Every time he says, “Arrrrrr,” it comes out, “Awwwwww.” When Ms. Baker sends a message in a bottle, the treasure map inside leads Captain Crank to her class. With a little cheering on from the students, Captain Crank summons the courage to take part in a lesson on pronouncing ‘Rs.’ A boost to his confidence, this gift turns out to be more valuable than any tweasuh, I mean, treasure.”


RUNNER-UP: Laurie L. YoungTwin Curses: Ten-year-old twins Abigail and Augustus Flotsam, who’ve had their share of bad luck, make a grim discovery. Mother (who is actually their stepmother, Father’s seventh wife) seems to be dead. And they’ve killed her. Inadvertently, of course. With the absent Father’s phone having been ‘out of service’ for quite some time, Abigail and Augustus are not quite sure what to do. And Mother’s mortal remains have begun to attract flies! These opening pages do a superb job of introducing us to Abigail, our bold main character, and her less-bold brother, Augustus, as they confront their predicament and embark on a mission to devise some (mostly ineffective) solutions. Boasting first-class, fast-paced writing, flavored with a dash of Lemony Snicket, this hilarious story has great promise.”     

WINNER: Toni GallagherBattle for the Cane Toads: “As the only kid in a remote Australian village, eleven-year-old Mal (short for Malcolm) has had to make do with a cane toad for a best friend. Said best friend, named Eddie, is scaly and fat with big bulging eyes, but Mal loves him, the way he loves all the cane toads that have taken over much of his country. Turns out, though, more adults than not consider cane toads to be pests, and a movement is afoot to have them eradicated. And Mal knows that ‘eradicated’ means ‘killed.’ He’s ready to lead the charge against eradication. Which means he’ll be facing the ‘eradicated’ camp’s lead scientist: his own mom. The strong middle grade voice and engaging humor in these pages creates a vivid sense of place to unfold a story with clear stakes and great promise. It’s an enjoyable, laugh-out-loud read from beginning to end.”


SPECIAL MENTION:  Two entries received special mention in this ultra-competitive category. The judge noted that “Sweet Betty” by Margaret Mayo McGlynn “reads like a fun film noir screenplay,” and “Chaya, Daughter of Death” by Rieko Mendez is “a contemporary, seemingly realistic story but with a definite otherworldly feel.”

RUNNER-UP: Laurel Busby, Amara Rising: “With a total commitment to mood and tone and exceptional attention to detail, Amara Rising drew me in instantly,” our judge comments. “After a brief prologue explains that what we’re about to read is a recently unearthed diary of a 16-year-old Turkish girl circa mid-4th century BCE, we’re introduced to the main character as a bleeding body is laid at her feet. The author slowly and expertly unfurls details about whose body it is (the young woman’s husband) and the relationship the two have (abusive). The young woman struggles with swirling emotions—of relief, guilt and panic—all the while knowing her response and actions must appear appropriate to those around her. She also has doubts that her husband is truly dead, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. It’s not clear what challenges await this young woman after the messy business of her husband’s death is behind her, but this author’s skill at weaving an intriguing story leaves no doubt that her journey will be a worthwhile one.”

WINNER: Nicholas PonticelloSinner X: “Foreboding emanates from every syllable of this manuscript, starting with its opening line. Early clues let readers know the story takes place in an other-worldly setting—but one that includes chilling echoes of realistic fiction. It’s soon clear that 15-year-old Xen is being sent to a conversion camp of sorts by his ultra-religious father because he’s gay. However, the cattle car-like transport, manned by brutal and unfeeling robot sentinels, indicate the hellish prison Xen’s headed to is more akin to a Nazi concentration camp than a modern-day conversion camp. Considerable time is spent crammed into the transport with Xen, where he does his best to comfort a young boy and accommodate an elderly woman. Only one of his traveling companions makes it to their destination alive… It’s a chilling, devastating opening to what is likely an impossible manuscript to put down.”


WINNER: Christine Van ZandtButterfly Dreams: A Monarch’s Life Cycle: “In this lyrical and well-researched nonfiction picture book, a monarch butterfly’s life cycle is described in detail. While butterfly metamorphosis is not a story new to picture books, the author breathes fresh life into the subject with a manuscript that excels on dual levels of narrative poetry and explanatory science. Page turns reveal developments, with the final lines of original short rhyming poems and accompanying detailed scientific insights. Never dull or obligatory, the explanatory material is insightful and vital to the work—and often fascinating. This brief but thorough book will likely enchant and enlighten both kids and adults and help spark meaningful conversation about the natural world.   

Congratulations to all our honorees, and a huge thanks to our anonymous judges and everyone who entered this year’s contest! 

SCBWI Los Angeles holds several contests throughout the year. Stay up to date on our regional contests page.

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Images provided by Jill Tuckman and Brenda Scott Royce.