Here are the winning essays from the 2010 Boys’ Life reading contest.
11 YEARS OLD AND OLDER
First Place: Devin MacGoy, 12, Potomac Falls, Va. (“The Red Badge of Courage”)
“The Red Badge of Courage” by Stephen Crane tells the story of Henry Fleming undergoing the horrors of the Civil War while having an inner struggle that changes his life. Set in the 1860s during the Civil War, this book gives a strong impression of how terrible war is and how it takes a toll on a boy’s mind. Through the struggles that Henry endured, one can realize how one event can change a person’s life forever.
This story takes the reader through several encounters one would expect in the Civil War. Henry Fleming decided to join the war for the excitement and glory that it would bring. He was swept into army life: the boredom of camp life and the thrill and horrific danger of war. In his first battle, Henry ran away because he was terrified and feared for his life, and then it turned out that his regiment won the battle. Ashamed, he fled, and during his wanderings he tried to blame all his problems on other people such as the government, his comrades and even his friend. His mind was clouded. These emotions of feeling sorry for himself recurred many times throughout the book. He learned from his past mistakes and had courage as he fought really hard. During his battles, he saw his fellow soldiers die and the misery war gave its victims, but these things contributed to him believing that he had become a man. He had found himself.
Henry changed throughout the story. He went through many events that would change him forever. The main theme that this story gives is the fact that one event can change the way one looks at the world forever. During soldier life, Henry is exposed to the terribleness of war. He witnesses unbearable suffering and horrible deaths such as that of a friend. It is difficult for a reader to experience the theme of the novel, because it is relentless and terrifying. He was finally healed through courage. The author does an excellent job of expressing this theme and supporting it in the experience of Henry Fleming: boy, soldier, man.
Henry Fleming grew old too quickly because he thought war would be “fun.” All the events that he conquered throughout the story can give the reader an impression of loyalty, courage and honor. A reader can take away many lessons from “The Red Badge of Courage,” but the most important is how terrible experiences like war can change one’s life forever. I enjoyed this story and how it shows the way a life changes in the blink of an eye with serious consequences. Henry was only a boy, but he became a man through his sweat and blood: his own red badge of courage.
2nd Place: Harrison Becker, 15, Gilbert, Ariz. (“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”)
My very favorite books take me out of my own world and plop me into someone else’s shoes. The books that are really good have the ability to make me enjoy book reports, even a 10-page novel analysis! My favorite book of this year did all of the above to me, and that’s why I enjoyed reading “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” written by Mark Twain. I select this book as my favorite of the year.
The adventures that Tom had were the main reason I enjoyed the book so much, and I suppose that’s why it is in the title! Tom is a master of trickery. He can play with people’s thoughts and emotions to get himself out of any trouble, or sometimes to get him even deeper. The constant adventures and victories Tom has are what kept me on the edge of my seat. One of my favorite adventures was when Tom and his friend, Huckleberry Finn, went to the cemetery to cure warts and ended up revealing a murderer, Injun Joe. The suspense got even greater when Injun Joe jumped out the window of the courthouse to avoid being punished. I also liked it when Tom tricked his friends into whitewashing the fence for him and ended up getting toys with it!
Tom Sawyer’s adventures bring back memories and dreams from my early childhood. When I got my first metal detector, I dreamed of finding buried treasures, and I actually got to experience that when Tom and Huck found treasure in the haunted house! Another example, although it’s not really a good thing, is that I would sometimes imagine running away and reappearing to make people “love me more,” just like when Tom and Huck ran away to play pirates and then ended up walking right into their own funeral!
Tom reminds me a lot of a Boy Scout many times in the novel. He and Huck have many traits of the Scout Law. They are both extremely loyal to each other, even when it comes down to discovering thousands of dollars hidden inside the cave! Tom could have very easily kept it all to himself, but he shared it with his best friend instead. Along with this they are friendly and cheerful to each other and the rest of their friends. They are both also tremendously brave. It would take a lot of courage to go into a haunted house to look for treasure, or to stand up against robbers and reveal a murderer who may want to get revenge on them.
This book is the best I have read this year. It took me on adventures I had only dreamed of up to that point. It really pulls the reader into the story, and I absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for a fun book to read. It’s no wonder it’s considered a novel!
3rd Place: Scott Finney, 13, Lutherville, Md. (“To Kill a Mockingbird”)
“To Kill a Mockingbird” is a great American classic novel. I love to read, but normally the books I have to read in school don’t interest me. However, after the first 30 pages or so, I really started to enjoy “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Atticus Finch, the father of two children, Jem and Scout Finch, has his hands full. He is the best lawyer and shooter in the county and he has no wife. Jem and Scout are adventurous and love to be outside. Every day they run around with their friend Dill and have the kind of fun I can relate to. Atticus is faced with a serious problem when he is asked to defend an innocent man in a court case that he knows he can never win. However, even though he knows he can’t win, he keeps trying. I thought that Atticus was a great character and influence in his kids’ lives and mine. I recently was faced with a two-sided problem, and I thought of Atticus and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and in the long run I made the right decision using the kind of judgment Atticus used.
I liked “To Kill a Mockingbird” because I loved the way that Jem and Scout’s father, Atticus, acts and behaves. I also enjoyed the story line because there was never a dull moment and it was a book that I could really relate to. I could relate to “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and more specifically the older brother Jem because I am adventurous and like a challenge. And I have a younger sister who is not always cooperative like Scout. In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Jem, Scout and Dill have many adventures that I thoroughly enjoyed reading about to a point where I couldn’t wait to get to English class to read more and sometimes read ahead for fun.
9 AND 10 YEARS OLD
1st place: Nathaniel Griffis, 10, Hernando, Fl. (“The Maze of Bones” Book One of The 39 Clues)
“The Maze of Bones” is book one in a series following the adventures of Amy and Dan Cahill as they search for unimaginable power. These books were awesome because of the excitement, education and enjoyment of collecting clues and solving puzzles along with the main characters.
The book opens with Amy and Dan having to make an exciting choice: to either take a million dollars and leave, or join the race with the other branches of the family to find the 39 clues. These clues lead to the components needed to make the Philosopher’s Stone and restore the balance of the world. They accept the challenge and find their first clue in a hidden library just as the mansion bursts into flames and they barely escape by crawling out an air duct. This clue leads them to board a plane for Paris where they break into a family stronghold to steal items that will help them continue their search. They are chased by distant family members from there into the catacombs under Paris and exit the tunnels only to find themselves in the underground subway system facing an oncoming train. Narrowly avoiding death again, they track the next clue to a church where their next discovery is stolen from them. With only a slip of paper to go on, they head to Vienna, Austria, for the adventure to continue in the next book.
The book is packed with educational and factual information. As the children travel around the globe to places such as Europe, Egypt, Russia, Japan, China and Australia, they use geography and history to discover the locations of possible new clues. The clues were hidden many centuries ago, and the children have to investigate the lives of distant relatives, such as Ben Franklin and Wolfgang Mozart, to find them.
Each book in the series is like a riddle inside an overall riddle. The reader can enjoy solving the smaller puzzles along with the children and collecting the pieces necessary to make the Philosopher’s Stone to solve the overall puzzle. The story is powered by the need to continue following the trail of facts and the enjoyment of collecting all the parts to make the whole.
This was the best book I read this year because of the excitement of the never-ending action and the hunt for a just-out-of-reach power. As I read, I learned about places I have never been, people I have never met and things I have only imagined. I was driven by the need to read all the books, collect all the clues and solve all the puzzles. “The Maze of Bones” was only the start of my quest full of adventure and travel to find 39 Clues and regain the balance of the world.
2nd Place: Ethan Ong, 10, Stuttgart, Germany (“Candy Bombers”)
My favorite book that I read this year was “Candy Bombers” by Michael O. Tunnell. It is about the end of World War II during the years 1948-49.
At the end of the war, the Soviet Union blockaded the city of Berlin. No food could get in by car, truck, train or boat. The only way to get food in was by air, and the Soviets thought it would be very difficult to feed all the Germans in Berlin. So the British and Americans flew planes over the city, and when they landed, the pilots unloaded milk, flour, potatoes, vegetables and coal.
Even though the Americans and British fought against the Germans in the war, they still brought food into Berlin. But one pilot, Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen, dropped candy and chocolate by parachute into Berlin. But some kids, such as Peter Zimmerman and Mercedes Simon, were too small to get candy because bigger kids got it first. So Gail Halvorsen mailed chocolate to them. Eventually the Soviets opened up the blockades so Germany could get food again. But the Americans still brought food just in case the Soviets changed their minds. Even though America fought against Germany they went and gave them food and coal because Germans needed it. People would have starved and died if the Americans didn’t bring food. They did the right thing, even though it was something for their enemies. I learned that it takes more courage helping someone who hates you than helping your friends. A Scout should act the way the British and Americans acted. Now, Germany and America are friends.
3rd Place: Hunter Courtney, 9, West Chester, Pa.
My favorite book I read this year is “39 Clues: The Maze of Bones” by Rick Riordan. In the beginning, Amy and Dan Cahill’s grandmother dies, and in her will she leaves either one million dollars or a chance to enter the quest of 39 clues. Amy and Dan decide to enter the quest and the first clue is “The fine print to guess, seek out Richard S __________.” This leads them to Philadelphia and to study Benjamin Franklin. They learn that he was a Cahill. In one of his writings it says, “Soon must I leave this place of wonder but leave behind what hath driven my clan asunder.” This leads Amy and Dan to Paris, which is where the next book picks up.
I liked this book because it taught me how to help people, like when Amy and Dan helped a man named Alistair get the next clue. They didn’t have to help him, and it turned out to be a dangerous situation, but they did it anyway. It is just like how I try to be. I try to do good deeds and to help people. That is what Cub Scouts and my parents teach me. I also like the book because they didn’t just take the money. Instead they entered the quest, which gave them the chance to win the quest and to civilize the world forever and get rid of all of the bad things in the world. I would also want to take the quest because it would be an adventure, much like Cub Scouts, and I could make the world a better place for everyone.
If I compare it to Cub Scouts, when you get to the end of one book and one journey you get a clue just like in Cub Scouts—at the end of the year’s journey I get a badge and the opportunity to move on to the next level in Scouts. 39 Clues is much like Cub Scouts; it is a journey but also an adventure with great rewards.
I liked this book so much and the series 39 Clues, that I am already on the sixth book. I just can’t stop reading them. Sometimes my mom and dad want me to go to bed and I can’t because I am in the middle of a chapter. I love 39 Clues so much that I hope they keep writing more because the stories are really good, Amy and Dan travel to different places and they teach me to always try my best and to do good things.
8 YEARS AND YOUNGER
1st Place: Tyler Bergmann, 8, Fort Collins, Co. (“Can You Keep a Secret”)
In the Cub Scout Handbook, it talks about honesty and that it is very important to keep a promise and be trustworthy. I chose to read “Can You Keep a Secret” by P.J. Peterson.
There are many characters in this book, including Amy, Mike, Sam, Fred and Greg. They are all friends and they tell each other many secrets because they trust each other. Mike has a hard time deciding not telling other people the secrets.
In chapter one, Mike kicks a ball over the building and tries to keep it a secret because he doesn’t want to get in trouble with Mr. Warren. He decides not to tell anyone, but he ends up getting caught and having to stay after school in the classroom. If he had told Mr. Warren when it happened, he might not have gotten in as much trouble as he did by not telling. The class is planning a surprise party for Mr. Warren, and it is very hard for Mike not to blurt the secret out loud. He does a really good job of keeping it a secret. He knows that if he told it would ruin the surprise and then everybody would be mad at him, so he works hard at keeping his mouth closed. Mike notices that Greg is wearing two different colored shoes. Greg is embarrassed about it and asks Mike not to tell anyone. Mike does a good job of being a good friend and not telling anyone because he knows that it would embarrass his friend. Amy knows that Sam is keeping a snake inside a box in his desk. Mike knows that Sam brought a snake to school and has it inside his desk. He tries to keep that a secret, too, but the snake gets loose inside the classroom. Amy wanted to know what was in Sam’s desk, so during recess she snuck in to look. She opened the box that the snake was in and forgot to close it. The snake got loose in the classroom, and Amy didn’t tell that it was because of her.
I liked this book because I think it is important to be a trustworthy person. There are some times when you should tell an adult the secret. My mom and I have talked about this, and you should always tell a grown-up if someone is getting hurt. It is important to be a trustworthy friend though. If my friend tells me a secret like a girl he has a crush on, then it is important for me not to tell anyone else because he trusts me. If I told, then he would not trust me anymore. I want people to be able to trust me. My mom always reminds me of the story “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” and I would not want to be that boy!
2nd Place: Keifer Haradon, 6, Fairfax, Va. (“Adventures of Riley: Safari in South Africa.”)
I like all kinds of animals. That’s why one of my favorite books is “Adventures of Riley: Safari in South Africa.” Riley is a boy who flew on an airplane to meet his Uncle Max, Aunt Martha and Cousin Alice in South Africa. Uncle Max took them on a safari to see all kinds of animals. The book is a story about their trip and also gives lots of information about the different animals.
Uncle Max was there to count the animals in the African bush to make sure they were not decreasing. There needs to be a balance between predator and prey to make sure everything stays balanced. There needs to be the same amount of herbivores and the same amount of carnivores. If there were too many herbivores without predators, they would eat up all the plants and then they would all get hungry.
I learned you can tell the difference between black rhinos and white rhinos by looking at their lips. Black rhinos are endangered, which means they have been killed and there aren’t many left. I don’t like poachers because they hurt animals.
I also learned that a Galago has big eyes and big ears because it is nocturnal. They’re also called bush babies and they pee on their hands and feet to help them climb trees!
I like this book because it has many different animals, like birds, nyala, wild dogs, monkeys, giraffes, hippos, buffalo and zebras. It has leopards and lions, too.
I learned that you should never litter because the animals might hurt themselves and get clogged up if they tried to eat litter. It’s important for people to take care of our world because if we don’t it will be so trashy people will have to live in space.
If you like animals you might like this book too.
3rd Place: Casey Dinkel, 8, Mobile, Ala. (“My Monster Mama Loves Me So”)
The best book I read this year was “My Monster Mama Loves Me So” written by Laura Leuck and illustrated by Mark Buehner. “My Monster Mama Loves Me So” is about a little monster’s mama and how she loves him. While reading, I compared it to things my mother does that show me that she loves me.
It starts out like this. The little monster’s mama makes sure he brushes his fangs. In my world, my mother makes sure I brush my teeth, not fangs. Next, it says she bakes him cookies filled with bugs. In my world, my mother bakes me chocolate chip cookies, with no bugs. Next, it says when the little monster is sick, his mama gives him lizard juice. In my world, my mother gives me Sprite when I’m sick. Next, it says she takes him to the swamp to swim. In my world, my mother takes me to my aunt’s house to go swimming, not in a swamp. Next, the book says she comes to all of his beast ball games and she claps and roars his name. In my world, my mother comes to my soccer games and she claps and cheers me on. Next, the book says she tucks him into bed and asks if his spider has been fed. In my world, my mother tucks me into bed and asks if my dog has been fed. Lastly, the book says your mother loves you, too.
I liked this book, because the pictures were very creative. Plus, the book had things like my mother does for me. It also added funny details, like she gives me lizard juice with ice. Another reason I liked this book is because it is written with such good descriptions that you could imagine all of the things the writer wrote even if it didn’t have pictures.