“It may have taken three hours, but we got here,” Joanne Kim said of their epic journey from Fort Irwin, California near Barstow to the Los Angeles Public Library in downtown Los Angeles. Joanne is the mother of kindergartener Ezra Kim, whose story “Friends Make Friends” was one of sixteen first, second, third and special prize winners in this year’s PBS SoCal KIDS Writers contest, locally sponsored by Compass Charter Schools. Three of these winners will also have their stories animated using their illustrations, which will air on PBS SoCal later this year.
Ezra himself was much too shy to say anything when asked how he came up with the heartwarming story of a young race car befriending a bully, but Joanne shared that his sister shed a few tears while reading Ezra’s story.
The Kims are just one of the few families celebrating amid colorful dancing balloons, light afternoon fare and a visit from Clifford the Big Red Dog that day.
Lilly-Jade Macdonald and her family were also in attendance. “I loved her story, and it reminded me a lot of our family,” said Scott Macdonald, her father. “We love eating sushi as well.” Lilly-Jade’s story was set in Japan and featured a hunt for sugar cookies using a trail of the country’s national delicacy.
Scott wasn’t surprised his daughter had won a prize. According to the proud father, his daughter was always coming up with stories, drawing and making books of her own.
These two stories are just a sampling of the wonderful tales made from the children’s imaginations. Now on its tenth year, the PBS SoCal KIDS Writers Contest kicked off in January and received 895 submissions, the most in the history of the contest. The contest is designed to promote the advancement of children’s literacy skills through hands-on, active learning. Not only that, but the stories themselves are a great reminder of how simple values such as kindness, humor and self-worth are as important as the technical skills of everyday life.
“Storytelling is more important than it has ever been,” said Kyle Stokes, education reporter for public radio station KPCC, as he hosted the awards ceremony held inside the Mark Taper Auditorium that same day, June 8. “It’s our hope that programs like these will contribute to a healthier narrative in our community. One that encourages children to build literacy skills while promoting innovation and critical thinking from our future community leaders. One that builds trust and respect for each other. And one that allows us to celebrate our unique backgrounds and shared history.”
In addition to the first, second and third place winners in each grade level and one winner each for the categories Humor, Illustration, Science Fiction and Kindness, two lucky teachers whose classrooms submitted stories were also randomly chosen to win a set of 10 PBS KIDS Playtime Pad tablets for their classrooms.
As the children finished getting to the stage to read their stories and receive their prizes, Kyle capped off the ceremony with a few important reminders for the listening budding writers, as well as the grown-up crowd.
“Don’t let anyone tell you your stories don’t matter,” Kyle said, “And keep writing. Don’t wait for a teacher to assign you or someone to pay you to write. Keep writing.”
Get a taste of what’s in the hearts and minds of a new generation of Southern California writers. Read their stories here.