By Dale Larabee | SDUN Guest Columnist
San Diego is a wonderfully diverse city. The City Library Essay Contest winners proved so March 21 at St. Didacus Parish School. One hundred twelve students from Adams, Franklin, Normal Heights, Our Lady of Peace and St. Didacus schools wrote essays on what one book deserved saving, if all other books were to disappear, or why libraries are important to young people like them.
The writers were all sizes and colors, and sported accents from around the world. What a glorious night!
Their essays ranged from 10 sentences to three pages. Most were typed, some written in pencil, and others seemingly written and re-written. A scattering of students read their work as if dashed off immediately after the book was finished.
Judges Denise Carabet, Luis Monteagudo, Ron Powell and Peter Rowe, all professional writers and avid readers, paid little attention to any of this or where the writer went to school. The judges read the fourth, eighth and 10th grade essays, and were impressed by the writers’ creativity, expression and why their one book was important to them.
Fourth-grader Abbie Wauson got the nod for her discussion of civil war and death in “The Lost Boys of Sudan” and her sense of fear and dread when her father was deployed to Afghanistan. First place eighth-grader Anyah St. Pierre wrote of Jack London’s classic “White Fang,” a powerful story of “an animal that is part wolf and part dog, and how his personality is altered by his surroundings … and multiple cruel owners.”
Repeat winner, 10th-grader Gabriela Ashnafi, chose “The Samurai Garden,” a story of a Chinese man recovering from tuberculosis in Japan who learns his first impressions of people and places are often very wrong.
The over 80 spectators, teachers and administrators would also remember two second-place finishers. Fourth-grader Binta Hidra wrote of “Four Feet, Two Sandals,” the story of two girls who meet and become friends in a Pakistani refugee camp driven there by a raging war in neighboring Afghanistan. Hidra wrote, “I would save this book because the two girls had war in their country and in my country Gambia, there were soldiers with guns. … I didn’t know if my family and I would make it.” She escaped, but Hidra also wrote of sadness for when she came to America: “I left without my little brother.” Hidra finished reading her essay and was prompted by her teacher to tell if her brother emigrated. He was with us in the back of the St. Didacus meeting hall.
Fourth-grader Kyle Wyborney also chose “Four Feet, Two Sandals,” because of the friendship between the two refugee girls. Wyborney has a close friend, Lance, and they’ve “known each other for a long time,” he said. For, Wyborney writes, “an important thing you should know about Lance and me is that we have the same disability called arthrogryposis. … No other child my age in San Diego has arthrogryposis.” Wyborney was very sad when Lance moved to Rhode Island, because he “wouldn’t get to share and talk with him about what my disability was like.”
The Friends of the Library presented all writers with handcrafted certificates. First-, second- and third-place winners from each school received $25 Barnes & Noble gift certificates. Essays in hand, Wauson, St. Pierre and Ashnafi will travel to Balboa Park on May 2 at 6 p.m. to compete for first place in San Diego County. The three could win laptop computers and $500 if chosen to have written the best essay.
No matter what happens, all the Uptown writers are winners to us. May 2 needs to be a great night to beat our magical one March 21.
—Dale Larabee is a 40-year resident of Kensington, who is an occasional writer for local newspapers.