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My fellow members of the Board of Friends of Anderson Park (in Montclair, New Jersey) and I decided to run a short story contest for Montclair’s middle schoolers. The story should be 2000 words or less, and had to somehow involve Anderson Park. There were doubters—”Oh the kids are just so busy these days, they don’t have time for such things,” or “Kids can’t write these days.” Well, cross out those doubts!

The contest offered cash awards for the three winners, a ceremony that will be televised in part at least, and other gifts, but would middle schoolers respond? Would we get three entries? Three high quality entries? Would they bother to put in all the work required to compose a short story? Two weeks before the deadline, I received one entry, then another, soon there were more than three and I was so relieved. By the deadline on March 1st, we had 23 entries!

Sharon Dennis Wyeth and Pepper Springfield (both wonderful children’s authors who live locally) have agreed to be our readers. So far, we have blobs from outer space, ghosts, puppies, an aging neighbor who bakes cookies. Their literary voices are fresh, innocent, agile, and I am enjoying the heck out of being the first-line reader for their stories. Though the kids in the picture are not from Montclair, they represent my mind while reading their stories—delighted, surprised, and young again.

The awards ceremony will be from 3-5 on May 5th at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair. Come give a hand to our wonderful middle schoolers.