Winning entries from 2020 PBS Kids Writers Contest charm readers with original tales and creative drawings

The world is filled with hidden machines that can’t be avoided. But don’t worry. These machines aren’t spying on us or causing harm. They are the essential pulleys, wheels and fulcrums illustrated in first-grader Joanna X’s “Simple Machines Everywhere,” one of the winning entries in the 2020 PBS Kids Writers Contest.

The annual contest, sponsored locally by WQED and EQT, features storybooks that are written and illustrated by the youth entrants.

“The contest provides parents and teachers with a wonderful way to engage children and promote the advancement of reading, writing and illustration skills through hands-on, active learning,” says Michelle Imler, director of the contest for WQED.

This year’s contest drew 996 entries from 16 states, including Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.

Here’s a look at some of the winning entries. (View them all here.)

Kindergarten: “Jenna the Jellyfish,” by Aubrey W., tells a tale about the nervous first day of school for a young jellyfish.

First Grade: In “The Square Story,” by Arden B. Gretta, a graham cracker gets tired of being the only square shape in a pantry filled with ABC-, teddy bear- and dog bone-shaped snacks.

Second Grade: “A Turtle’s Life for Me,” by Crystal C., features a turtle reminiscing about its life, from being bullied at birth to a mother who teachers her children lessons about being inclusive.

Third Grade: “The Real Spirit of Life,” by Arjun K., is an eco-fable about a place, Dryland, that solves its problems through a series of practices, including planting trees.

Fourth Grade: By Nissi X., “Spiders and Snakes Oh My,” illustrates how a young girl overcomes her fear of spiders by learning how arachnids are important to the ecosystem.

Fifth Grade: In “Stu Stu … Stutter,” by Safina K., a young girl transfers during the middle of a school year and overcomes her stuttering problem at a school assembly.

Since 2016, all winning entries have been collected and published in book form. These champion stories were recorded by the authors and broadcast on Saturday Light Brigade radio. Kids can read along with the stories here and find inspiration for their own storytelling.

Kids can start practicing for next year’s contest, which is scheduled to open on Jan. 4, by accessing resources and activities in English and Spanish. The activity packet includes ideas for brainstorming, illustrating and revising stories. Kids will learn how to build story structure through guides and graphic organizers in the Resource Packet.

“It is so amazing to read the stories that the children create,” Imler says, “and very rewarding to acknowledge their hard work.”

Here’s a sample of the winning stories: