Young-adult author Kate DiCamillo visited Blair Middle and High School recently to meet the first-place winner of a Scholastic Reader essay contest, sign books and speak with students.
“It was amazing to be standing next to a writer whose work I’ve admired for so long,” said Blair 6th-grader Minal Saldivar, who was awarded first place for the Scholastic Reader’s Raymie Nightingale Writing Contest.
Thousands of students participated in the contest, which required them to write an essay about a friendship that changed their lives and was based on DiCamillo’s most recent book, “Raymie Nightingale.” The first-place winner received a special visit from the author, along with copies of “Raymie Nightingale,” T-shirts and a pizza party.
English teacher Christine McLaughlin submitted 130 student essays to the contest last fall. Her students were working on narratives and had begun writing stories about their lives, drawing their houses, making heart maps — activities that sparked memories.
“I had no idea that one of our students would win first place.” said McLaughlin. “Minal’s essay is beautiful. I love the part about tolerance. Often, people don’t learn that kind of wisdom even when they’re older.”
Saldivar’s first-prize winning essay, “A Friendship Created by a Sequin,” tells the story of her experience in kindergarten, when she became best friends with another girl as both tried to pry off a sequin that was stuck to the ground in the hallway of their Houston school. More than six years later, the two girls remain best friends. In her essay, Saldivar describes how she and her friend played together — until they had a disagreement over their views about religion. The girls resolved their differences and remained friends.
During her visit, DiCamillo spoke at an assembly of all Blair Middle School students. She then visited McLaughlin’s sixth-period English class, where she signed books and hosted a pizza party.
“It was wonderful to see Minal Saldivar stand up there and take in all the applause with poise,” said Kate DiCamillo after she finished signing books. “I know she’s going to be a writer.”
“We offer a very unusual prize through Scholastic Reader,” explained Jennifer Roberts, vice president of marketing for Candlewick Press, a Boston-based publishing house. “Thousands of students submitted writings and Minal won first place.”
Scott Phelps, a parent and also a member of PUSD’s board of education, attended the class party. “This is a fabulous opportunity for the kids,” he said. “Thank you for winning the prize, Minal.” His wife, Lisa Phelps, added: “My daughter loves Ms. McLaughlin’s class — she’s enjoying every moment of her English class.”
Shirleen Thorpe, another parent, also volunteered for the afternoon. “This was very exciting for me and my daughter, Lydia, who wants to be a writer.”
Students made congratulatory signs for Minal, which they waved in the gymnasium during DiCamillo’s presentation.
“It was special to hear Kate DiCamillo’s life story and what she went through as a kid,” said 6th-grader Katie Mencken.
“I loved the assembly!” said another 6th-grader Sophia Tarampi.
At the end of the afternoon and two long months of planning, McLaughlin just shook her head. “We’ve had other authors visit us. But Kate DiCamillo is so personable. I’m in awe. That’s all I can say.”