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By Ann Rousseau Smith, SCBWI CenCal News Liaison

This year’s SCBWI CenCal Writers’ Day Creating with Hope! was a hybrid event. Saturday, October 30, was an in-person event with several author speakers. Day two, Sunday, November 7, was a webinar featuring Megan Ilnitzki, editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, and an illustrator’s gallery. Our fabulous writing contest winners were announced at Sunday’s event.

Congratulations to all our contest participants, including our winners!


Winner: Midnight Monster Mash, by Karen Peterson

  • Midnight Monster Mash takes on a subject that would seem to have been done and re-done so many times there would be nothing more to say about it—and proves that notion wrong.
  • The writing is lovely, engaging, and will be a big draw for kids. In terms of social-emotional learning, it shows a child problem solving, figuring out how to help himself: “If monsters are real, then maybe my toys are real. And they love me.”
  • The story is also a lot of fun as it incorporates elements of play. And it makes wonderful, evocative use of language: “He dove under the covers and pulled the blankets around him making a burrito.”
  • I can easily see this on the bookshelves of every local store, with really fun illustrations. And who can resist a toy dinosaur leading the charge?

Special Mention: Ruby and Lonely, by Patrice Karst

  • Ruby and Lonely deals delicately with a subject that is universal, but often not acknowledged, especially for kids: loneliness.
  • The writing is straightforward and easy for kids to understand. Ruby is a fully fleshed character. We feel her loneliness, as well as getting a full picture of her family life, including the dog. “Even her dog, Lola, didn’t seem to have a problem like hers. Lola was always busy chasing squirrels in the backyard. … And so Ruby sat there day in and day out all alone with her problem. And her problem was just that. Ruby felt all alone!”
  • I was with Ruby all the way as she figured out how to “examine her problem from all angles,” once she figured out what that meant. 
  • With humor and skill, the author finds a way to discuss loneliness in a way that kids will relate to and understand, without being put off by what could be a very difficult topic.


Winner: Silver from the Stars, by Heather Turney Schmidt

  • Silver from the Stars had an amazing opening that both set the tone and provided a great laugh, all in two sentences – no small feat! To my great pleasure, the wonderful voice continued and I loved reading about Tasha and the upheaval of moving out of Manhattan to a small town to be with her new blended family, all while she’s still grieving the loss of her beloved father. 
  • Her character was well-drawn and her feelings and reactions were believable and spot on for this age. I was already hooked and eager to read more about her and her new life but then when I read the synopsis and saw where this story was heading I was doubly saddened that I wouldn’t be able to read the entire manuscript. 
  • This sounds like a fun and entertaining read with a lot of heart that kids will absolutely enjoy. One nit from the pages: the character of Johnny seems a little too much over the top, but that is easily fixed with a bit of tweaking. 
  • Overall, the excerpt was both funny and intriguing and I can’t wait to read the full published book one day. 

Special Mention: Out After Midnight, by Terri Roe-Cunningham

  • From the very first line of Out After Midnight, I felt the tension and angst in main character, Tracey, who is reluctant to spend the summer on her uncle’s farm.
  • These opening pages deliver just enough backstory to be intriguing without feeling like an info-dump. 
  • The descriptions are lovely and deeply sensory and I felt like I was absolutely immersed in the farm setting, from the smells in the barn to the coloring of Badger’s coat, to something as mundane as the lazy susan on the kitchen table. 
  • Characters are well-drawn and sympathetic. Accents in dialogue should be used very sparingly — they can be distracting for the reader. 
  • Overall very well done and I look forward to reading the rest of this in published form someday.


Winner: Strong Women Grow Here, by Mona Alvarado Frazier

  • The setting is intriguing and unusual: a juvenile detention facility for girls. 
  • The main character, even though she has killed someone, is written sympathetically. 
  • The opening scene was perfectly described, with enough details to make me think the writer had done their research but not too many to slow the pacing. Consequently, as a reader, I was right along for every mile of the dramatic van ride with the protagonist Juana as she was transported to juvenile hall. After Juana arrived and received upsetting news, I had gotten to know her well enough to feel upset along with her.  

Special Mention: The Crushing Weight of Ugly, by Karol Ruth Silverstein

  • This verse novel tackles a subject that many teenagers unfortunately have to grapple with: society’s value on outer appearances. 
  • The writing is lovely and the main character, Leah, seems well drawn. 
  • One memorable description is of Leah’s “fluffy” pet cat’s “beautiful ugly face.” 
  • The very first poem is impactful. The protagonist hopes to make friends with a girl who’s staring at her. When Leah stares back, the girl gives her the finger. As a reader, my heart went out to Leah. And my heart stayed with her throughout the remaining pages.  

Join us next year for Writers’ Day 2022!

For information on SCBWI CenCal events (open to all SCBWI members!), go to http://cencal.scbwi.org

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Author photos provided by the contest winners.