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Recall one of your favorite times from elementary school and write about it. No time limit today!


Pamela Penelope Pendergast, whom her family and friends just called Penny, took her seat at her desk and looked around the room. This was it! The long-awaited day! The day of the very big, very important second grade poetry contest. Today the class would get to read their poems out loud and Miss Smith would choose the first, second and third place winners!

Penny’s curly, reddish-blonde hair was normally more frizz than curl, but this morning her mother had fastened a little butterfly barrette at each side of her forehead to keep it from tumbling over into her face. She smiled happily, the dimples on her cheeks crowding her eyes which today shown sky blue like the paper she’d written her poem on, not the stormy gray of bad mood days.

No bad moods today! Penny smiled from the inside out as her hands caressed the theme book lying in front of her on her desk. Hadn’t she seen the look of surprise in her daddy’s face when she’d read him the poem she’d written? She’d gobbled up his praise, hungry, always, for his approval. And she had suddenly known, though she couldn’t have told you why, that she had written something important, something that mattered. Why, she was almost as surprised as he was!

Now here she sat in Miss Smith’s second grade class at Oakland Elementary, clutching and unclutching her notebook, her short, little legs hanging out from under the skirt of her red and green plaid taffeta dress that swish, swish, swished as she swung them back and forth under her seat. Her black patent leather shoes which couldn’t quite reach to tap on the floor, had been shined with Vaseline, and the lace on the top edge of her white socks was turned down smartly over the silver buckles. Penny pressed her lips together, the tip of her pink tongue peeking out as she looked around, wondering what kind of poems her classmates had written.

Miss Smith had asked them to rewrite their poem on a separate sheet of paper and then decorate it before turning it in. Penny had chosen a piece of light blue construction paper. Light blue like the sky, she told her mother.

little girl writingShe had tried writing in cursive, which she was learning in school this year, but she was so worried about getting the slant just right that she slanted the words nearly off the page and had to get a new piece! Then, as neatly as she could, she printed her poem in the center of the blue sheet with her fat yellow pencil.

Penny thought about using her white crayon to draw some frilly clouds around the words, but then she remembered a picture of a lamb she had made at church one Sunday and changed her mind. Scrambling down from the tall stool on which she was perched at the breakfast bar, she nearly tripped on the hem of her long pink nightgown in her excitement. The picture would be perfect! She just knew it!

She climbed the long stairway and hurried to the upstairs bathroom where she opened the vanity drawer and picked out a handful of cotton balls that were scattered in and around her mother’s tubes of lipsticks and bottles of nail polish. Then, holding her gown up with her free hand so as not to fall, Penny tromped back down the stairs.

Situated once more on the stool in the kitchen, she took her jar of paste and pulled out the little plastic brush, her nose crinkling at the gluey smell. Carefully, so as not to make sticky spots on the paper where they weren’t supposed to be, she drew several little glue circles. Next she pulled the soft cotton balls apart, stretching them out just a little as she pressed them onto the damp paste. They looked just like clouds! Penny knew Miss Smith was going to pick hers for a prize! She just knew it in her heart!

So excited was she that she hardly slept a wink last night, and this morning had insisted on wearing one of her best Sunday School dresses and good shoes to school. She wanted to look nice, she told her mother very matter-of-factly, when Miss Smith called her up to give her her prize.

Penny was nearly shaking all over as she saw her decorated poem pinned to the bulletin board behind Miss Smith’s desk. The papers would be handed back right after lunch recess. She thought she would surely die from the waiting before the bell sounded. Now here they were, all settled and hoping, eager curiosity shining cautiously from their eyes. All except, that is, for Penny who just knew her poem would be the best. She knew because she’d seen it in her daddy’s smile that she had written something important!

One by one the children came to the front, pointed to their papers on the board, and read their poems aloud from their theme books. Some were very nice. Some were even great! And some didn’t make any sense at all! Then it was Penny’s turn.

She thought about leaving her notebook on her desk. After all, she knew her poem by heart. And wouldn’t her friends think she was cool for having it memorized! She started forward then stopped. Wait! What if she got nervous and forgot it? Then she would look really stupid having to go back to her desk to get it. No. She would take it with her just in case.

In front of the class, Penny pointed to her blue picture on the board. She noticed suddenly that her shoes felt a little tight. Next she realized her mouth was dry and her hands had begun to sweat. And if that wasn’t bad enough, then she found herself thinking about all the other good poems she’d heard. The corners of her smile started to droop a little and she turned her head just enough to peek out of the corner of her eye at Miss Smith. Yep! She was waiting.

Finally, remembering her daddy’s smile and her mother’s pleasure in her artwork, which she had done all by herself, hadn’t she, she wrapped her arms around her notebook and hugged it close to her chest. Clearing her throat, because that made her feel more brave, Penny began to recite her poem — without even looking at her notebook!

“The Clouds,” she said in a loud, clear voice. “The clouds are like soft, soft pillows that I lay my head upon, that keep me warm and soft all night, until the night has gone.”

The class clapped, Miss Smith smiled, and Penny was really glad she’d had the notebook to hold on to so no one would see her shaking! Quickly she returned to her seat.

When all the poems had been read, Miss Smith congratulated everyone on their
wonderful imaginations and their excellent use of grammar. Then, as she took the papers down from the bulletin board and sorted through the pile of poems on her desk, she had Dennis Loper, the class helper this week, pass out a sucker and a new pencil to everyone in the class, so no one would feel left out..

At last the big moment had come. From the stack of writings on her desk, Miss Smith took a paper with a dark blue satin ribbon attached to it. Penny’s feet became still beneath the desk as she realized it wasn’t hers. This one was on plain white paper, not blue.

“Our Third Place ribbon goes to Tim Tackett,” announced Miss Smith, “for his poem, Snowman.

The class clapped as Tim clattered excitedly from his desk and hurried to collect his prize ribbon.

For the first time Penny began to worry. Tim’s poem had been really good. It had made the kids laugh, and his snowman covered with white tissue paper and wearing a black felt hat looked like it had been hard to make.

“Our Second Place ribbon,” said Miss Smith, pulling another white paper from her folder, “goes to Roxanne Thacker for her poem, I Like To Roller Skate.”

There was more clapping as Roxanne, who was usually quiet like a mouse, squealed and ran to get her prize, a bright red satin ribbon.

Penny didn’t mind that Roxanne had gotten a prize. After all, hadn’t Roxie let her try those very skates in the picture that was glued to the page?

Penny’s legs were so nervous now they would no longer hold still. She squeezed the notebook she still held close to her and closed her eyes, but she couldn’t bear the not knowing what color the next paper was, so she opened them again.

“Our First Place ribbon,” said Miss Smith drawing a sheet of lined paper from the folder…

Realizing it wasn’t hers, Penny’s heart sank. Her legs became still, her little hands, red from squeezing the notebook so hard, relaxed and her smile began to tremble.

“…goes to Larry Rush for his poem, My Dog, Bill.”

Larry, who was Penny’s next door neighbor and current best friend, and whose dog, Bill, Penny knew personally on a first-name basis, whooped out loud as he slipped out of his desk and took his shiny gold satin ribbon from Miss Smith while the class cheered him on.

With the First Place ribbon awarded, the kids began lifting their desk lids to put their notebooks away. Penny just sat perfectly still not wanting to draw attention to herself lest anyone see the tears in her eyes. Her heart hurt. She had tried her hardest, hadn’t she? Done her very best printing and been so careful with the glue. She should have written it in cursive! No one else had. That would have counted for something, wouldn’t it have? But her best hadn’t been good enough. I guess I’m not a very good writer, she thought. And she promised herself right then and there she’d never write another poem!

“Just a moment, class,” Miss Smith was saying as the noise from dropping desk lids quieted down. “I have one more prize to give away.”

But Penny wasn’t paying any attention. She had pulled the lid to her desk up, propped it open with a book, and sat hiding behind it, fiddling with her crayons and erasers.

“I have one more prize to give away,” Miss Smith repeated, smiling in Penny’s direction. And from the artwork on her desk she drew a piece of light blue construction paper with cotton ball clouds.

Penny didn’t see. She was too busy blinking her eyes really fast trying to make the tears go away.

“For my poetry contest each year,” explained the first grade teacher, I always choose one Grand Prize winner. I feel that this year’s winner wrote not only the best poem, but also did the best artwork in the class.”

Penny unzipped her pencil pouch and added the new pencil to her collection. She stuck the sucker in her pocket. She sighed a deep sigh, then, determined to hide her disappointment, she removed the book and lowered the lid to her desk.

“This year’s Grand Prize,” continued Miss Smith…

Penny’s eyes spotted the familiar blue paper in her teacher’s hand.

“…goes to…”

She drew in a big, deep breath and held it expectantly not daring to breathe.

“…Pamela Penelope Pendergast for her poem, The Clouds.”

The lid on Penny’s desk made a loud bang as it dropped back into place. And the breath that she’d been holding came out in an equally loud, “Oh!.”

Rising from her desk, Penny walked slowly up the aisle to where Miss Smith stood. There, paper-clipped to her cloudy sky paper, was a pretty white satin ribbon with gold lettering. And on top lay an extra surprise, a bookmark covered in kittens and tied with a shiny green tassel.

Miss Smith smiled at the wonder and joy in her young student’s eyes and knew that Penny would never look at words the same way again.


The bell had rung and the room was filling with noisy boys and girls getting ready for their morning writing practice as Mrs. Carter blotted away the ink from her leaky pen. She picked up the pages of the children’s book she’d been working on before school, placed a worn, kitten-covered bookmark with a faded green tassel between the pages where she’d stopped, and slipped them in a folder.

When the class had settled at their tables with their writing practice journals in front of them, she walked around her desk and sat on the edge. This was one of her favorite projects of the year. From an “inbox” labeled Mrs. Carter, she picked up a faded light blue paper covered with cotton ball clouds to which was attached a white satin ribbon. “Today,” she said amidst the noise of shuffling pages and scruffling feet, “we’re going to start working on a very important second grade poetry contest.”