Here are the winning essays from the 2009 Boys’ Life reading contest.
11 YEARS OLD AND OLDER
First Place: Matthew Choquette, 12, Blaine, Minn. (“Scat” by Carl Hiaasen)
I love to read. It’s one of my favorite things to do, if not my favorite. Books can teach you facts, lessons, or even blast you off to another world. I like to read stories that have adventure and suspense, and that is exactly what I hoped for and found in “Scat” by Carl Hiaasen. I read about it first in an article in a magazine. It just sounded like a really good read. The book includes messages that are important in today’s modern world and in Scouting.
Nick Waters’s dad is a soldier in Iraq, but he comes home without a right arm. Life will not be as easy for anybody in the Waters household. Nick learns from his teacher about the endangered Florida panther, which he already knows everything about, anyway, including there are less than 50 adult panthers left in the wild. I saw a picture of one, and they are really adorable, and then I remembered that there are less than 50 left today.
Toward the end of the book, he helps reunite a baby orphan panther with its mom. That reminded me of the duty a Scout should do every day: doing something well wherever or whenever you are called to do something. He also tried to be a lefty like his father will have to be for life. He found it hard, being a natural righty, and Scouts should help people who need help, like all Nick’s family and friends who helped him when he needed it, just like a Scout should do.
The book had lots of action and humor along with teaching important life lessons. The book also taught me that even when you are in doubt, just keep trying. It won’t do any good to just sit around when you can’t do something or figure something out. While I was reading the book, I thought a lot about “what is going to happen next?”, or “how is this going to end?” Those questions alone opened up a lot of discussion points and made it so I just had to keep reading. In the end I was very pleased with the story and how it ended. If you want to know how the story ends, you have to read it yourself!
Second Place: Timothy Michael Hellaby, 14, Myrtle Beach, S.C. (“Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen)
The best book I read this year has to be “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen. “Hatchet is a great book, which is about a boy name Brian Robeson. Brian is going to his father’s home to visit, and is riding in an airplane going over Alaska. The pilot has a heart attack and that leaves Brian all by himself. Brian has to fly the plane into a deep pond or crash into some trees. He crashes the plane into the pond and swims free. The only tool he has to survive is his hatchet. The hatchet was given to him by his mother. He faces many animals and wild creatures. He learns how to build a fire with a stone, and to build a bow with some arrows. He uses the bow and arrows to shoot game to eat for meat. He also builds a raft to float to the sunken plane to get the survival kit.
I enjoyed this book because it made my heart pound really fast when I read some scary parts. It was as if I was him, trying to live, trying to survive in that situation. What I thought about the book was that it was like looking into a mirror, because I’m in Boy Scouts I felt like I could do some of those things he did. He started fire with a sharp tool, and so can I. The book was like a Boy Scout handbook, but it told what to do through a boy’s thoughts. Every part was not boring it kept me along when I read it.
The book was like a video game, you fought with the character. Sometimes I would think of a way to get around something complex to Brian. Sometimes what you thought the character will do next could happen or sometimes you get a surprise. Once in a while I would get a big surprise. I would think how to keep the animals away in the story, but Brian does something completely different to what I thought. It’s pretty cool how that happens.
The book has a way to unpeel itself as you read it. The story gets stronger and stronger each page you read. When I read the book things began to make sense such as why he builds a little camp, or why he ate wild berries. You understand Brian much better when you read “Hatchet. He is just a kid surviving against the odds of dying.
I think other Scouts should read this story during their free time. The book beats TV all the time. “Hatchet” will bring enjoyment, scary feeling, worry, and more right into any person who reads it. It happens to me and it will happen to anybody. There are more Brian Roberson stories to read. It is great to read anywhere, especially in a tent at night. “Hatchet is great to read during a troop’s camp fire. It brings the mood down into a quiet feeling until the end, where Brian is safe, and brought back into the human world.
Third Place: Hunter Pearl, 13, Holmdel, N.J. (“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card)
The best book I read this year was “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. I read this book a few months ago, and I’m so glad I did. In “Ender’s Game,” mankind has had confrontations with a largely unknown alien race, known as the “Buggers” because of their insectoid appearance. Young Ender is approved by the government for training at the elite Battle School, a space station where only the most brilliant children are trained. His enormous talent becomes evident, and he quickly moves up in rank. Ender becomes a prodigy and in the end kills the Buggers once and for all.
The thing that made this book so good, in my opinion, was a video game called the “Mind Game.” It started out with a giant holding two glasses of water in front of him, while the player was instructed to drink one. However, it didn’t matter which one you drank – after drinking the water the game ended. After many tries, Ender was the first one to complete the level. He did this by thinking outside of the box, and rather than drinking the water, he kicked it at the giant. This goes along with what I believe to be the main theme of the story: in war, there are no rules.
Progressing further through the Mind Game, he realizes that the game knows his personal life. Many characters in the game look exactly like his siblings, his parents, and even the school bully. Ender can only progress through the game by learning to control his anger, and by thinking outside the box.
He almost stopped playing the game because he could never get past the castle level. In this level, he would walk in, kill a snake that was hiding under the rug, take it to the mirror, and it would reveal in the reflection that he was his older brother. This made him furious, confirming the thoughts in his mind that he was becoming like his older brother, whom he hated.
It wasn’t until later that he realized that even though the snake was ugly and looked threatening, it did not deserve to die. Realizing this, he picked it up and kissed it instead of killing it. When he went to the mirror, he instead saw his kind older sister. By doing this, he finally completed the game. For weeks I wondered what this meant. Finally, I understood the message: that you cannot be happy or successful in life if you just look at what’s in front of you. The only way Ender finished the game was by exploring possibilities outside the obvious. He became a hero by ignoring the rules of war for a final blow to end it all. Thanks to this message, I believe I am now much more creative. When faced with a challenge, I no longer think, “How should I approach this?” but rather “How should I not approach this?” That is why Ender’s Game is the best book I read this year.
9 AND 10 YEARS OLD
First Place: Alexander Rodriguez, 9, Houston, Tex. (“Swordbird” by Nancy Yi Fan)
Let me tell you about a fantastic book. It’s called “Swordbird,” and I could not put it down!! It’s a fantasy fiction book about blue jays and cardinals in a series of battles. They fight against each other until they realize there is a bigger enemy, and he is just across the forest. They unite, and recruit the robins to help them face Turrnat, the evil hawk and his crow forces.
What I liked was that there were no people at all, and the birds were the main characters in the story. They acted like real birds except for using weapons, but with the story telling, I could see their thoughts and understand their actions. I liked the beginning of each chapter where they would have a quote from one of their culture’s ancient books. It added the feel of a whole civilization, giving a bigger picture of the bird’s world. When I see birds in my backyard or when I am camping, I always wonder what they are doing. This book answers that question in an exciting story.
Another interesting thing about this book is that the author, Nancy Yi Fan, was only 12 when she wrote it. This shows that anyone can write a book at any age. I liked this book so much, I wanted to read more. I found the prequel, which is called “Sword Quest.” That book was great too. I hope there is a third!! I found out about “Swordbird” from reading a previous year’s winning essay on the Boys’ Life Web site, and now I am recommending this book to all my friends.
This book tells you that life can be really difficult sometimes, even for a bird, but there is always hope. Peace is worth working for. So read “Swordbird”!
Second Place: Siddarth Mannava, 10, Cerritos, Calif. (“Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’Dell)
Last year in fourth grade we had read aloud time and we read the book, “Island of the Blue Dolphins.” Later, I read this book several times. This book inspired me a lot as a Scout. This is an excellent book for anybody to prepare to survive in the most severe hardships.
This story is about an American Indian girl, Karana, who is 12 years old and survives on an island all alone for 18 years. Imagine there is no trace of humans; all she can be friends with is the leader of the wild dog pack, who by the way killed her little brother. Karana jumps off an evacuation ship, to be with her brother who is left behind on the island. Her brother dies in a short time and she is left alone. She finds ways to protect herself on this abandoned island, Ghalas-at. She makes her own home and finds her own food. She takes up tasks like making canoes and spears. After 18 years, Karana’s rescuers sail to the island and take her away to the Santa Barbara mission where she had to get used to this new life. Karana realizes how much she longed for a human voice.
This book is based on a true story which is why it is so much more interesting. Most importantly, when my teacher gave us a quiz and asked how I would survive if I was left alone on an island, I had no fear and said “I’m trained to survive, as I’m a Scout!” I feel really grateful to my den leader, Mr. Kadi for all that he’s been teaching us, to make us strong Scouts.
Third Place: Jacob Sorenson, 9, Salem, Va. (“Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen)
The best book I read in 2009 was “Hatchet”, by Gary Paulson. I liked it because it is about the survival of a boy named Brain Robeson that is stranded in the North Canadian woods. When his plane crashes, he becomes fully acquainted with nature.
He faces many struggles while alone in the Canadian woods. He learns how to hunt and makes a bow and arrow out of a birch stick and his shoelaces. His first kill was a sunfish and later he shoots a grouse. During one of his hunting struggles, he encounters a “cow,” which later he finds out as a moose. In this situation, he used his instincts and his head and crouched down and slowly crawled away.
One night there was a tornado that destroyed his hut he had made out of a rocks and tree bark. The tornado made the tail of the bush-plane (that he crashed in) more visible, and he then remembered that there was a survival pack in there. He made a raft to float to the plane and used his hatchet to make a hole. While he was doing that, his hatchet slipped out of his hand and fell into the “L-shaped” lake. Brian had to get it back because he had to have it to survive. The first time he swims down to get it, he can’t hold his breath long enough. He tried a second time and got it, though his lungs were about to burst.
At first it was a nightmare for Brian because he missed his family, but later he becomes more comfortable with nature and calls the woods his “home”. I thought it was amazing that he could survive for 54 days alone in the wilderness. I don’t think that most 13-year-old boys could do that.
I am glad I read Hatchet, because it helped me learn that when something bad or dangerous happens, you should always stay on top of things. I have learned through Cub Scouts that if you were to be in an accident, like a bus crash for example, you should always stay calm and not panic. Cub Scouts has also taught me to use the resources around you like Brian did.
“Hatchet” was the best book I read in 2009. I learned that even though you may be young, you can still do big things.
8 YEARS OLD AND YOUNGER
First Place: Casey Rogers, 6, Seattle, Wash. (“Harold and the Purple Crayon: The Giant Garden” by Patricia Lakin)
“Harold and the Purple Crayon: The Giant Garden” is about a boy who can’t fall asleep and he has a purple crayon, so he has an adventure and after that he falls asleep. The book begins as Harold can’t fall asleep and sees a ladybug on his window ledge. He wonders if he could be tiny. His crayon draws him to adventures.
The adventure begins in a garden. So Harold plants a patch of seeds that grows and grows and grows so he becomes as tiny as a ladybug. Soon, he leaps from one leaf to another leaf. He ends up by a pond. He jumps onto a lily pad and draws an oar and paddles away. Soon he met a frog. The frog looked very, very, hungry so Harold drew him a very big gumdrop. The frog slurped the gumdrop up and Harold paddled away.
Soon he met a ladybug. It wasn’t his ladybug friend. The new ladybug flew away. Harold drew a telescope. He spotted his ladybug friend. She was trapped in a spider web. So Harold drew a pair of scissors and cut the ladybug out. The ladybug was so happy that she invited Harold to meet her family. Soon Harold lost his ladybug friend.
Soon he met an ant. The ant was looking for food to carry to the queen. Harold helped. They spotted some bananas leaning against a bowl of fruit. So Harold drew a rope and he lassoed the banana. That hit an orange out of the bowl and the orange flipped a plate of cookies. So Harold and the ant got out of the way. The cookies cracked on the ground. Then they each grabbed a piece of food to carry to the queen ant. The queen was so happy that she made Harold her king. Harold drew a crown. The queen was so nice to Harold that she offered him some of her food. Harold began to feel sleepy, so Harold drew his bedroom window by the moon. And soon he was in his bedroom. His purple crayon dropped to the floor, and Harold fell asleep.
I liked this book because Harold has adventures and it is very creative. I wish I had a crayon like Harold’s. If I did, since I can’t fall asleep so well, I would draw adventures to make me tired. Like I could visit the zoo or the aquarium, and I could go to a gym to punch some punching bags. And I’d draw lots and lots of candy so I could make a really loud burp that would make me feel sleepy. I could go around a lake and draw candles to light them like they do in my city of Seattle. And I could draw and see what every holiday is like, including the Fourth of July. I could see what it would be like to be a principal by giving out compliments to the students, judging events, and correcting grades. I’d have much fun.
Second Place: Paul Robert DeRienzo, 6, Neward, Del. (“Danny and the Dinosaur” by Syd Hoff)
My dad gave me this book and explained to me that it was his when he was a boy about my age. I like it when Danny went to the museum and the dinosaur followed him home. We just did a project for school on dinosaurs and this was a lot of fun. Danny finds out the dinosaur is not very good at hide and seek as he is too big. This story made me feel good as I’m the smallest Scout in my pack and the smallest kid in my class at school. It was very cool the way the dinosaur could do things, though, like watch a ballgame without buying a ticket. Even though I’m the smallest, I can still run faster and have the ability to get into small spaces that other kids my age can’t.
What’s nice is that no matter how different or even how difficult it is to play with the dinosaur, they still find fun things to do together and are good friends.
Even though I’m the smallest kid in my pack, I’m still good friends with everyone in the pack and we don’t pick on anyone based on looks or skin color. We just enjoy playing and learning things together.
Third Place: Kameron Michael, 6, Brooklyn Park, Minn. (“101 Cool Science Experiments” by Glen Singleton)
I love taking things apart to see how they work, and adding stuff together to see what happens. That’s why my favorite book is “101 Cool Science Experiences” with Glen Singleton.
I also like it because there is a rat in it. One of my favorite animals is a rat. It’s funny to see the rat in the book do the experiments. Sometimes he gets covered in stuff. But it’s good to see because he shows what can happen in the experiment.
I learned a lot of cool things to do and learned how things work.
With every experiment there is a cartoon in the “Fun Fact” selection. These are funny sometimes. I really liked the magical marbles experiment, #77. This book has lots of experiments that I really love doing. The making bread experiment, #67, was really cool and yummy.
Another one of my favorite experiments was the hubble bubble #61. Mom says that I spent an hour playing with this one!
Mom says that this book is educational. I think it’s really fun and that other kids should read this book too. They will love it!