Winning Story (tie)
by Lisa Marguerite Mora - Los Angeles
It happened like this. Visiting my Aunt Vi's home that winter I found the book in the library. Well, there were a million books in her library. Aunt Vi had inherited the house and the garden and the library came with it, along with all the books. I think the house was like 150 years old. It creaked. The books different widths, sizes, colors lined the circular walls. And they were endless. Smell of mildew, of old book smell, like dry water or its memory was the first thing I noticed when I stepped in. Maybe it reminded me of hope. I don't know, but when I walked in that day I craned my neck, my head dipping all the way back to see the oculus ceiling – the round window through which light from the milky sky poured. At night, sometimes I sat on the floor and looked up to see if through that same window the stars would fall...I like to dream.
That winter my parents needed to go on vacation by themselves in an attempt to save their marriage. I still got to spend Christmas with them, but now it was January and I had to miss school. Okay by me. I'd rather read all day anyway, which they won't let you do in school. They make you study different subjects, always stopping and starting history or math or phys ed. So, when I found the library, you can imagine, I was pleased.
The book I mentioned, it fell on my head from the top most shelf, ten shelves up! judging on how quick it came down and how hard. “Ow!” I saw pinpoints of light and got knocked off kilter. Picking the book up from where it was flung open to a page, I read the few words there. “Darla.” And that creeped me out because that's my name. “Make a wish.” It was the only thing on the creamy thick paper. I thumbed through all the other pages and the hairs on the back of my neck rose, because all the other pages were blank. I slammed the book shut so fast and stared at its cover which was leather, all its corners were bent. Maybe it fell off the shelf a lot. Gingerly I placed it on the desk nearby and kind of backed away, turned to leave. A thunk made me whirl around. The book was on the floor again. A slant of light across the open page. I hesitated, walked over, and squinted down at the words which were in a different curly font now. “Darla, make a wish!”
The exclamation point was new too.
Okay. My heart was thumping. And, I don't know why I said this. It's the kind of thing I got in trouble for at school all the time. I said, “Don't I get three?” There was no breeze, no open window but the pages riffled by themselves, it almost sounded like someone chuckled. Now a new page presented itself. “Yes.”
So I screwed up my eyes and said the first thing I thought of. “I wish never to be bored.” And before I could think I had made a mistake I said, “I wish that my parents still loved each other.” And then because I felt silly and like these are not the kind of things you're supposed to wish for if you were ever so lucky to get the chance. But also because I wondered if maybe I was half unconscious because of the lump I could feel rising on the top of my skull, like maybe the falling book had done me some damage, I said really fast because I didn't think it mattered, “And I wish for a giraffe to help me reach the top shelves of this library.” (So that I could put the book back from where it fell and also so I could read everything, if I wanted to.)
Before I opened my eyes I was aware the air had changed, like there was another presence in the room. I started back when I saw the long limbed, sweet faced giraffe who had reached down from its long, long neck to greet me with big brown and long lashed eyes. “Oh, hel-hello.” Well, I had to admit I was definitely not bored now.
As if the giraffe had heard my thoughts, she said — it was more like words in my mind. “These books are so well made and so sturdy you can make a ladder from them up to the oculus. Would you like to see?”
That actually, did not seem like a good idea to me, to make a ladder of books. “Couldn’t I just climb up your neck?”
The giraffe blinked at me slowly as if I were some young thing she had to be patient with. She demurred, “No.”
Her idea WAS a much better one. She helped me like she said and we managed to pile one tome on top of the other. She pulled them off the shelves with her gentle teeth leaving bite marks on the leather, but oh well, that couldn’t be helped. Did you know giraffes have 32 teeth just like us? I relayed this fact to her and again she blinked at me before responding politely, “That’s interesting” and resumed constructing the book ladder. It was more like a book tower.
When we were done, and I was teetering at the very top, I quickly caught a glimpse out the round shining oculus and saw the sky, the highest feathery tree branches. I looked down to the distant verdant garden and the driveway before the whole construct swayed and toppled beneath me. The giraffe caught me on her back. I clung to her and leaned my cheek against her warm neck, my heart beating hard with happiness. Out that window, under the sky and trees, I saw my parents walking toward the house. They’d arrived early. And they were holding hands.
Winning Story (tie)
One Thousand Stories High
by Marion Canning - Springfield, Massachusetts
"I'm here," Olivia announced, matter of factly to an empty space, high up in the rotunda of Leith Hall. Midmorning light shone softly into a sparsely furnished loft. Old leaded windows rippled the sunlight like wind through spring leaves. Its golden rays shone upon Olivia and a beautiful giraffe that stood beside her. "It is hot and stuffy up here," she thought. She was a little sweaty from her climb and a strand of her dark hair had come loose. A pungent odor of herbs was pleasant after the smell of the heavy leather bound books she had stacked up to reach the top of the rotunda's slightly shabby library. Dust motes floated lazily in the sun beams. She had three large ledgers with her and was balancing on "Ancient Maps of the World", the last, of at least a thousand stories, she had used to reach the loft. Olivia waited a bit anxiously.
Across the room she saw an alcove draped with the McCullough tartan. On the floor was a faded rag rug. Piles of old yellowed papers were stacked in a dusty corner. A squat kettle and a pair of felt slippers sat on a low bench near the alcove's entrance. A wooden chair and table were set snugly under the large rotunda windows.
A movement caught Olivia's eye as a little old woman, wrapped in a woolen shawl, shuffled out from behind the curtain. She had long gray braids, warm blue eyes and a pleasant looking wrinkled face. "Lassie, you brought them to me," she said revealing a toothless smile. She beckoned to Olivia to follow her as she moved over to the table and chair.
But a gap between Olivia's great stack of teetering books and the edge of the loft was quite wide. Too wide for her to cross without falling. If she tried to leap over, the books would tumble to the floor below. Olivia didn't know how she was going to cross this fearsome space. Just then, the giraffe, she hadn't noticed before, moved a little closer to Olivia and gave her a gentle nudge. It stretched out its long neck across the space, creating a perfect bridge, so she could cross over safely to the loft. When her feet touched ground, she grinned and hugged the giraffe. She stroked its soft nose and saw that it had big dreamy eyes and velvet horns and it smelled just like, Florinda, her Welch pony.
Olivia brought the ledgers over to the woman who took them carefully from her. She said softly, "Thank you, I have missed these so!" She laid them gently, on the table, one by one. Each book was engraved with the McCullough beehive crest. She took the first book onto her lap and opened the thick cover. She seemed to have forgotten that Olivia was standing beside her. The pages were of heavy crumbling vellum. Faded drawings of wild flowers, clover, heather, and thyme filled each page. Each was labeled meticulously in crude childlike print. Olivia could smell a rich, sachet-like, scent as the old woman turned to each entry. After what seemed, to Olivia, like a long time, the old woman opened another ledger. This one contained sketches ofthe fields onGrandfather McCullough's once vastestate. The old woman nodded to herself, knowingly, as she traced the stone walls, hedges, and cart paths with her old worn fingers. She mused, " The pony and I could find the hives even, on the moor, in the fog." Olivia noticed that the honey gathered from each field had been recorded in a small McCullough beehive symbol at the bottom of each page.
With a sigh, Olivia could barely hear, the old woman brought herself back from visions of fresh air, summer fields, fogs, and moors and opened the last of the tomes. Here was listedhamlets, crossroads, and villages that sold McCullough honey on market day. The last page held an envelope of daguerreotypes tied with a faded ribbon. Sifting through them she came to a picture of a smiling young lass holding the reins of a shaggy pony with a cart filled with honey pots. Olivia caught a quick glimpse of a pretty, rosy cheeked, girl just as the luncheon gong rang out. It startled her. She said, "I must to go right now! Bess gets fuming if I am late". The old woman was still in a far away reverie. Olivia made a small, polite curtsey and left quietly. She walked quickly to the edge of the loft. The giraffe was waiting for her. It stretched out its silky neck again, and she slid safely onto the ancient book of maps, which she obediently put back, on the shelf, where it belonged. She did the same with every last book she had used to climb to the loft. As she bent down to put the last book away, she saw the word "Giraffes" on the cover. Her mother, standing, in the rotunda doorway, to collect her for lunch, said, "I see you are using your time well this morning and reading about giraffes." Olivia looked up. She rolled her eyes. She had not been reading about giraffes at all! But she knew better than to argue. Instead she said, " You know, Mother, a giraffe is so tall it can reach all the way up to that loft." She continued, "There is an old woman who lives up there." "No one lives up there Olivia. Nothing is up there but old ledgers and documents about bees." Olivia looked thoughtful, then asked, "Will we be having clover honey from the high meadow or thyme from Harrow's Crossing with lunch today?" "You will have to ask Bess. She says the honey cellar is all a jumble since, Hannah, the old beekeeper, died." Then, her mother frowned, and said, "Olivia! what have you got all over your dress?" "Oh! Just giraffe dust from the book. I guess."
Charlotte and the Forbidden Books
by Clara M. O'Leary - Connecticut 14 years old
Charlotte looked up at the everlasting wall of shelves. It was so very, very tall.
Book after book after book lived on that wall, all of which were just waiting to be read.
“Stefan,” said the little girl, turning and seeing her friend, a giraffe, standing next to her, right where she had left him. “Won’t you lift me up and take me to those book up at the top?”
Stefan shook his head. “I’m sorry Charlotte. You know as well as I do that I cannot lift you anywhere. But if I could, I would bring you to the books, I swear it.”
Charlotte nodded, disappointed. You see, Stefan truly did want to do what ever his friend asked of him, but being a figment of the girl’s imagination he found it quite hard.
“What do you suppose those books are about?” She asked, dropping down onto the wooden floor. “An adventure of a wonderful pirate? Or a garden of elves, maybe?”
“Ah, I have no way to tell,” the giraffe sighed. “But I have a feeling one day you will find out.”
Again, Charlotte nodded. Stefan was right. She would find out, because she truly wanted to.
With a newfound conviction, she marched her little self up to the bookseller across the room and stopped directly in front of him.
“Sir?” She asked. “May you please bring down one of those books for me?”
She pointed her finger in the direction of the books up at the ceiling.
The man, scratchy with unshaved hair and arrogant of eyes, chuckled down at Charlotte and turned his head back to his work.
Without looking up he said, “That section is reserved for men and boys, little girl. You should not have even been over there and I must now ask you to leave.”
Charlotte was quiet with embarrassment.
The man looked at her and pointed behind him. “We do have a lovely selection of picture books over there that would interest someone like you.”
Charlotte had read picture books and didn’t like them. They were far below her reading standard.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I’m not a fan of picture books. I would like to buy a story from the top shelf of the men’s section, please. I have money to pay.”
With a sigh, the bookseller scowled at her. “As I said, I will not assist you in reaching those items as they are not for your purchasing. Good day.”
The man rose from his chair, letting her see he was tall and thin, like a praying mantis.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she said before walked away. Angrily, he turned around.
“I have thought about it and picture books are exactly what I need.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“Could you help me reach those, instead?”
With a deep breath, the man took her to the women’s section and handed her a book about farms.
“Could I have another, sir?”
He handed her a second book about shoes and dresses.
“Could you get me a handful of them? Maybe five or six?”
“As you wish,” he said, sarcastically.
When the little girl had her arms full of books, she continued to ask for more, until she had to take all the books to a table, put them down and come back for more.
Back and forth she ran, until half of the picture books section was empty, and finally she let the man get back to his work.
“Thank you, sir,” she said. He didn’t respond, just walked back to his desk and forgot about her.
The bookseller had gotten so wrapped up in his logging and dating that he did not hear the shuffling and banging and whisperings to Stefan that the girl made.
So, when he put his papers away and looked up, he nearly fell over himself.
A stack of books, ceiling high, had been built and was swaying under the weight of a little girl who had climbed to the top and was now sitting, reading The Adventures of Robin Hood out loud, to a friend he could not see.
“What on earth are you doing?” Said the man, rushing over to the tower of picture books.
“I’m reading to Stefan,” she said, busily, peering around the corner of the book.
“Come down from here this instant, you bad little nuisance.”
“But I’ve just finished building this tower. And there are so many wonderful books I’d like to read up here! Have you read any of them?”
“You must come down at once and mark my words, you're going to be punished when you do!”
“Well, in that case,” Charlotte said, pulling out a handful of more books to read, “I think I shall just stay up here and read forever.”
Jungle of Flowers
by Holly Pharaoh - Indiana 17 years old
“That’s it, just another step,” Herman murmured as he helped his granddaughter up the next step of the book mountain he’d made. She was now much taller than he was, and he had a hard time holding her hand. The two books tied together at her side knocked against her legs, and she stumbled just slightly trying to stay on her mountain. “Careful now.”
Slowly, Herman let go of the child’s hand, making sure she was steady before taking a few steps back to look her over. “You got your map?” He asked, crossing his arms over his chest. The little girl gently shook the book in her other hand-not the one carrying her makeshift suitcase. “Good, good.” He paused a moment just to watch her stand there on the mountain of books he’d given her, her red dress standing out in the drab library. “You remember where you are?”
The little girl nodded, then shook her head. Herman smiled and sat down in a chair slowly, his knees protesting. “You’re in the jungle, and you just finished climbing the biggest mountain you could find.” He paused a moment for dramatic effect, and also to watch the girl on the stack. “It’s a hot day, and you’re very tired. Luckily, though, you know you’re almost to your campsite. In fact, if you look to your right, you can see the tents of the others already there.” The little girl turned her head to the right, a tiny smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.
“Yes, your camp is right over there, but that’s not what’s important to you, is it?” Herman asked, his voice light and teasing. The girl on the stack of books shook her head quickly, and he chuckled. “No, it isn’t. What’s really important is right above you.” The girl tilted her head up to the ceiling of the library. “It’s bigger and clearer out here in the jungle. There’s nothing hiding the sky except the green of the leaves. And luckily, today is a very clear day-the sky is so blue, and there isn’t a single cloud in the ocean of blue. Blue, like the angry crashing of waves, pounding the surface as lightning strikes. Blue, like the sadness in having a best friend leave after a fun sleepover-sad, but reassuring that you had a good time. Can you see it?”
Again, the girl nodded, and the tiny smile grew just a little more. “Alright, good. Now are the trees blocking your sight with their big leaves. They’re green, like the feeling when you hear your friend talking to someone else instead of you. They’re green, like when you put something gross in your mouth and it makes you want to throw up.” That drew a bigger smile from the child, and Herman leaned back in his chair and watched her, holding her pretend map and pretend suitcase, both made out of books.
“And, oh!” He exclaimed, leaning forward in his seat and running a hand over his moustache. “How could we have forgotten what’s right below you?” He shook his head as if disappointed. “Why, we almost forgot the flowers right there beneath your feet.” He waited just long enough for her to turn her head down to the book she was standing on. “Yes, there’s thousands of them there on that hill of yours. And they’re all sorts of colors, bright and beautiful.”
He took another pause, taking off his glasses to clean with his shirt. The little girl was smiling too widely for her face, and it made Herman’s heart swell with joy. How rare it was for her to smile, and for him to be the reason. It reminded him of the first time he’d held her in his arms while she was just a small baby. There wasn’t a thing in the world he wouldn’t do for her.
“In front of you are thousands of flowers,” he repeated, putting his glasses back onto his face. “There’s splashes of red, like the fury you feel when you put your hand in the cookie jar and it’s empty. Or when someone moves the coffee table and you find it with your shin.” He chuckled at that one, and the girl’s face flashed to a scowl before smoothing out again. “There’s yellow, like when you help mother make cakes in the kitchen, and she gives you a big hug as thank you. And there’s more of that sad blue colors, in all different lights and darks. And look! There’s a few orange colors, like when you put your hand on a pan and it’s still hot.” They both wince at that.
“Ah, yes, so many flowers.” He cleared his throat and stood up, smoothing out his wrinkle free shirt. “Anyway, perhaps it’s time to get off that hill of yours and go to your camp. I’m sure they’re waiting for you, and you don’t want to travel in the dark. Come, and let’s get you down from there.” Herman approached the girl on the top of the stack of books and held his hand out.
Clutching her books tighter, the little blind girl shook her head and spoke up for the first time in several weeks. “But papa, how tall am I?”
Herman took a step back, his face a mask of shock and joy at hearing her voice. He was so stunned, that he took a moment to respond. He took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze, his voice bellowing out and filling the library, “Eveline, my dear, you’re as tall as giraffes!”