Eleven students at Fireside School in Cochrane will see their short stories published in print later this year, after entering Polar Expressions Publishing’s 2020-21 Short-Story Competition.
Polar Expressions Publishing, a company based out of British Columbia, hosts an annual short-story writing contest, with a deadline of early December. Each year in November, Fireside School teacher Allyson Billings launches into a short-story writing unit with her Grade 3 students.
According to Billings, the contest builds excitement for the school year, and she and her students work towards it from September to December. She gears her writing lessons toward the contest in the lead-up, teaching her students how to write a complete sentence and use descriptive vocabulary.
Once they approach the short-story writing unit, Billings tells her students, “You’ve got an audience this time, you’re not just writing for your family, or me, or your friends. Your audience are judges working for this writing contest.”
Billings said this prospect alone makes the contest particularly special for the students.
“It’s kind of neat when you, as a writer, have an authentic audience,” she said.
Every year, her students await the contest results in February. Each of the students selected during the first round of judging receives a letter at their house, along with a bookmark.
The students will also have their stories published in a book, according to Billings. This year, the book is titled In Space. The stories are published alongside submissions from other students across Canada.
“It’s exciting because they get the letters at home a day or two before I get it usually. They come into school, they’re like ‘Guess what? I got a letter from the publishing company!’ So it’s exciting,” Billings said.
Once the book arrives – usually by June – the students flip through the pages and find the selected stories. Billings will then go through and put post-it notes on each story and for weeks, the students will pass the book around until everyone has had the chance to look at it.
“The kids get the tangible book to look at, and that’s when it really sets in that they’re published authors,” she said.
“It’s cool, too, because then you see kids from the Maritimes and Ontario – it’s not just kids from Alberta. It’s kids from all over the country.”
Of the 22 students in Billings class this year, 19 entered the contest and 11 were chosen during the first round of judging. A second round of judging will determine a first, second and third-place winner in the Canada-wide competition.
The students who make it through the final round of judging will have their stories placed at the very beginning of the book, Billings added. They will also receive a cash prize of either $60, $40, or $20, depending on their placement, and the school will receive the same.
“Money aside, even if any of these kids don’t make it through the next round, when the book arrives, that’s the most exciting piece,” Billings said.
Several years ago, Billings had a fourth-grade student in her class who won the third-place prize.
“She was a very reluctant writer and it just hadn’t clicked yet for her, but she wrote a story, we submitted it to the contest, and she ended up winning third prize out of all Grade 4 kids across Canada,” Billings said.
“From that moment, it gave her the confidence to try.”