Persistence Pays Off for Longfellow Elementary

School Wins Grand Prize in Kids Are Authors Competition

It took more than a few tries and plenty of persistence, but the second-grade students and their teacher at Longfellow Elementary School in West Allis, Wis., finally walked away with the $5,000 grand prize for fiction in this year’s Kids are Authors competition sponsored by Scholastic Book Fairs.

"I've entered my classes in the competition every year for the last 10 years. We'd won four honorable mentions and $1,700 in prize money, but never the grand prize. We were thrilled beyond belief to finally win," said second-grade teacher and Kids are Authors mentor Margaret Wandsneider.

In addition to the grand prize money, Longfellow Elementary was awarded 100 copies of its published book, "What Does the X-Ray Say?" The book hit the stands at school Book Fairs across the nation this fall.

Over the last decade, Wandsneider's young authors had turned out various creative works – books like "Dirty Desks," "What If Elephants Were Allergic to Peanuts?" "Guts and Gallbladders," "If you Give a Whale a Whistle," "Stitches and Scratches," and "Slurping and Burping." Four of those went on to win honorable mentions.

So this year's second-grade authors had to follow in some big footsteps. Were they up for the challenge?

The answer was not long in coming.

"The idea for 'What Does the X-Ray Say?' came out of nowhere during a class brainstorming session. My students wanted to write and illustrate a story in black and white, so they started looking at a lot of black and white pictures. Someone mentioned X-rays being black and white, and it all took off from there. It was a completely serendipitous experience," she recalls.

While researching X-rays, the kids discovered some remarkable stories – for example, a dog whose X-ray revealed a rubber ducky in his tummy. That sparked the idea for a rhyming and guessing-game book about X-rays.

Thus was born "What Does the X-Ray Say?" – a tale about a little girl with a sore neck who goes to the doctor for an X-ray. To calm his nervous young patient, the doctor shows her an album of funny X-rays, including one revealing a rubber ducky in a dog's belly and another showing two light bulbs in a snake's innards.

To grab the reader's attention, students created illustrations for each animal or human in the doctor's album – with one page showing a normal animal or human, and the next page showing an X-ray view of the same animal or human, but with something strange or funny exposed in the X-ray picture. The students also created a guessing game, which gives the reader clues about what the next X-ray would reveal.

The kids then created witty rhymes like these to go with each picture: "A slithering snake was not so bright. The X-ray revealed he swallowed two lights!" And "A hungry turtle should have taken a second look. The X-ray revealed he swallowed a fish hook."

After the work was complete, Wandsneider took the finished novel to Kinko's to make copies. When she returned with the finished product, the kids were elated. So was their teacher.

"I couldn't wait to send the book to Scholastic. After 10 years of participating in the Kids are Authors program, the springtime ritual of producing, printing and submitting a book had become routine. But this time I had a feeling we were going to win. And, sure enough, we did.”

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