With thousands of fantastic entries in the Boys’ Life 2018 “Say Yes to Reading!” contest, choosing the winners was tough. Here is the top essay from each age group:
8 AND UNDER CATEGORY
First Place: Tyce O’Donnell
The best book I’ve read this year is The Wild Robot by Peter Brown. It is filled with adventure from beginning to end, just like the things we do as a Cub Scout! This was the author’s first time writing a book for older kids. He is also the illustrator, and the book includes simple black and white drawings throughout that help tell the story of a robot named Roz.
The book begins with Roz in a crate, which falls off a ship and washes up on a deserted island. Stranded, Roz learns survival instincts by watching other animals. She slowly becomes friends with the animals and they learn to trust her. Like a Scout, Roz needs to pay attention to the weather. In the winter, Roz makes fires and huts to help the animals survive the harsh conditions. Roz is a robot, but you feel like she has feelings. She becomes a mom by adopting a baby goose. She doesn’t know how to raise a gosling, but learns. She follows many of the parts of the Scout Law including trustworthiness, loyalty, helpfulness, friendliness and especially bravery. The author explains his story by saying: “The most important lesson Roz learns is that kindness can be a survival skill. And she uses kindness to develop friends and a family and a peaceful life of herself. Until her mysterious past catches up with her.” As a Scout, we learn the importance of being kind and working together as a team with our fellow Scout members and under the guidance of our Scout leader.
I don’t want to reveal the end of the story, but it is really good and leaves you concerned for Roz and her adopted son and the other animals. If you are like me, you will want to know more. This book makes you think about technology, nature and how robots and animals are similar. I was so excited to learn there is a sequel. The sequel is titled The Wild Robot Escapes. I read it and it too is very exciting, like Scouting!
9- & 10-YEAR-OLD CATEGORY
First Place: Anderson Smith-Cote
Two Miserable Presidents: The Amazing Terrible, And Totally True Story Of The Civil War was one of the best books I have read this year. I go hiking a lot and after reading this book, now I think about how the Union troops and Confederate troops had to hike on when they were exhausted and hungry and how their families suffered during wartime. I found this book totally engaging. The author, Steve Sheinkin took stories of real people’s lives like Henry “Box” Brown, a Virginia slave who packed himself in a crate and mailed himself to abolitionists in the free state of Pennsylvania and 19 year old Canadian, Sarah Emma Edmonds who disguised herself as a man, Frank Thompson, to join the Union Army in Michigan to pull me into the real story of the Civil War.
During the Civil War, United States President, Abraham Lincoln and Confederate President, Jefferson Davis were absolutely miserable, struggling day to day with the bloody loss of human life they were ultimately responsible for to find a balance between the rights of the states to govern themselves and provide for the economy of their regions and the very basic right of human freedom. Balancing loyalty, bravery, and kindness is hard and it took a brutal and unforgettable toll on everyone involved.
After reading this book I went to visit Stone Mountain Relics, an antique shop in my home town. The owner, Charles Nash, let me hold an actual Civil War bayonet and some lead mini-balls that he found using a metal detector. I was shocked at how heavy the mini-balls, which I learned from the book, are Civil War rifle ammunition, felt in my hand. I asked Mr. Nash dozens of questions about his Civil War research. Later that day, I went to the Stone Mountain Cemetery. The old part in the front is full of Civil War graves. I walked around and read the inscriptions. I felt in my heart seeing how many people, some just teenagers died during the war. Just like in the book, this cemetery holds hundreds of people who had died from disease in war hospitals without any sanitation. Reading Two Miserable Presidents put me on a path to a deep understanding of the realities of Civil War life in my own backyard, just outside Atlanta, Georgia. Even though General Sherman burned a path through the city to cut off supplies to the Confederacy, the history of the war years is still within reach today by just stepping outside.
Sheinkin’s book inspired me to get a metal detector and go outside to discover history with my own hands. Steve Sheinkin’s many books all highlight the brave, real people who make up America’s history. I recommend his detailed and descriptive books for any Scout to find out more about United States history.
11–YEARS-OLD AND UP CATEGORY
First Place: Baird Johnson
I recommend Flowers for Algernon to all. It is a beautifully written, original, and informative. Allow Charlie to teach you about the plight of the mentally disabled, and force you to ponder philosophical questions. As you read consider this – what’s worse: “to not know what you are and be happy, or to become what you’ve always wanted to be, and feel alone?”
Flowers for Algernon is a scientific novella following the subjects of an experimental surgery meant to increase intelligence. Its author, Daniel Keyes, creatively tells the story through a series of progress reports written by the protagonist. Charlie Gordon begins the story in his early thirties; he is mentally challenged due to complications from phenylketonuria – a genetic disorder. Despite his condition, Charlie is wholly dedicated to improving himself. He works in a bakery, where he is ruthlessly mocked by his coworkers. Naïve, Charlie thinks them his friends. He also attends basic classes at the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults; despite his best efforts, no progress is made. Then his world turns upside down. When researchers Dr. Nemur and Dr. Strauss select him for an experimental surgery, Charlie’s life is forever changed. Having already successfully, and vastly, increased the intelligence of a mouse (named Algernon) with this procedure, the doctors are hopefully optimistic Charlie will respond similarly.
What follows is the ride of a lifetime – for both Charlie and the reader. Bringing both of you through massive peaks and valleys of emotion. Charlie’s journey will lead to extreme happiness, a river of tears, and even love. You’ll be beaming and hysterically crying right along with him. A host of unforgettable characters shall take up residence in your heart for years to come.
Flowers for Algernon is not only an emotional adventure, but also a lesson in morality. Charlie’s writings before the surgery illuminate a tortured soul – an interesting, kind, and hardworking man who nature conspired against. Keyes teaches us how to view mental disability. There is nothing wrong with Charlie Gordon’s character, and the way he is often treated is abominable. After publishing the book, Keyes said, “how strange is it that people of honest feelings and sensibility, who would not take advantage of a man born without arms or legs or eyes – how such people think nothing of abusing a man with low intelligence.” This is certainly a strange phenomenon, but appearing frequently throughout the book, it deserves contemplation. Why are mental challenges viewed with such stigma? Why are those suffering from them so disrespected?
I can’t answer the above questions, but hopefully we can come together to address them. As Scouts, it is our duty to “do a good turn daily,” yet our responsibilities are not so limited. We must uphold a higher standard of honor. Not only can we not insult or ignore those less fortunate, but we must also act as a shield for those who cannot defend themselves. The Scout Oath and Law demand it.