Mount Si freshmen win story contest

SNOQUALMIE - Mount Si High School freshmen Daniel Barnes and Eric Hickam have the write stuff.

The two students of English teacher Bill Dillon recently had their short stories selected by the Half Price Books chain of bookstores as two of 20 that will be published in the seventh edition of the company's bedtime book, "Say Good Night To Illiteracy."

It was the first time Barnes and Hickam had ever entered, let alone won, a writing contest.

Barnes wrote a story called, "Why the Oak Holds Onto Her Leaves." It is about a Native American chief who makes a deal with a spirit in the forest to restore his sick daughter's health.

Julie Stafford, community relations manager for Half Price Books, said Barnes' story was so well written that she and her staff of readers checked every Native American folk-tale book they could find to make sure Barnes' story was original.

Stories were judged on style, content and originality, with the goal that they are to be read to, and by, young children. The Bedtime Story Book Contest was open to both children and adults around the country. More than 1,000 entries were received this year.

Dillon said the students had to write a story as part of a class assignment last quarter. He even entered the contest with his own story about a rain drop breaking granite rocks, but it was not chosen among the final 20.

The quality of stories from Dillon's students made them difficult to whittle down.

"Mr. Dillon sent in entries from two of his classes. Never before have we gotten so many great stories from one source," said James Crates, assistant district manager for Half Price Books.

Hickam wrote about a game of chess. He said it was based on a project he did last year that had to have an ironic ending.

Half Price Books Creative Director Allyson Bradley said it was the first time in memory that two students from one class won the contest.

"We were thrilled to have two winners from one class," Bradley said. "We would like to clone Mr. Dillon and send him around the country to teach creative writing."

Dillon has been teaching for 28 years. Boxes filled with stories his students have written line the classroom. Many of his previous students have won other writing contests before. The walls of his classroom are decorated with their winning submissions.

The students only had one day of class time to work on their stories, and the rest was up to them, unless they needed a second set of eyes. Dillon said he was available to look at the stories and make suggestions, but he would not make changes to them.

"As you go, you'll find your story," Dillon said about his students' writing process. "It shouldn't be about what I want."

Bradley and her staff read all the stories submitted and weeded them down to approximately 80 before handing them over to librarians, teachers and writers, who picked the final 20.

Artists also donate their time to design pictures for the stories. Barnes and Hickam got a sneak peek at a couple of illustrations on storyboards the artists had prepared for their stories.

"Say Good Night To Illiteracy" will be available for sale in hardcover beginning in July. Proceeds from the book will benefit local literacy programs within cities where Half Price Books locations are located.

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