Read the Winning Essays From BL’s 2019 Reading Contest


With thousands of fantastic entries in the Boys’ Life 2019 “Say Yes to Reading!” contest, choosing the winners was tough. Here are the winners from each age group:


First Place: Sundiata Abdunafi

Sundiata Abdunafi, 7, Palmyra, New Jersey, read about a rude Monster with a big appetite and a caring teacher who became an inspiring duo in Mrs. Mo’s Monster by Paul Beavis. It was the best book of the year for Sundiata, who read it more than 50 times! When Monster arrives at Mrs. Mo’s house, he only knows how to “Crunch! Munch! And Chew!” Mrs. Mo tries, again and again, to introduce Monster to new activities with little success, as he continues to eat his way through them all. When they finally discover the one new activity Monster enjoys, he uses his new-found skills as a baker to make Mrs. Mo a birthday cake. Sundiata admired Mrs. Mo’s patience with the naughty Monster. “Mrs. Mo reminds me of good Scout leaders who help Scouts like me become better Scouts,” he said. “Thanks to Mrs. Mo, Monster learns important Scout values such as how to be helpful, courteous and respectful.”

Second Place: Jonathan Lambertsen, 6, Garwin, Iowa (Duncan the Story Dragon by Amanda Driscoll)

Third Place: Samihan Shaligram, 7, Portola Hills, California (The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown)


First Place: John Powers

John Powers, 10, San Diego, California, found a reflection of his own life in Rules by Cynthia Lord and a reminder that standing up for others is always the right thing to do. Each chapter of the book begins with one of Catherine’s rules. However, a complete list of the rules is on the last page of Catherine’s sketchbook. They’re reminders and examples that help her autistic younger brother David learn to interact with others. John said, “The rules that Catherine makes for her brother can be funny, and in fact, they even remind me of the Scout Law and could be useful to a lot of Scouts.” Like Catherine, John helps explain things to his younger brother, who sometimes needs help with social skills. John also used Catherine’s inspiration to stand up to bullies at summer camp. “From my own experiences, I know standing up for someone who is different is hard,” he said. “This book helped me realize why it is important.”

Second Place: Carter Charles, 10, Rayne, Louisiana (Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak)

Third Place: Benjamin C. Stewart, 9, Colonial Heights, Virginia (Stuart Little by E.B. White)


First Place: Dennis Gavrilenko

Dennis Gavrilenko, 16, Antioch, California, was inspired, as well as entertained by Young Reader’s Edition: The Martian by Andy Weir, and found himself rooting for astronaut Mark Watney, who is stranded alone on Mars after his crewmates believe he is dead. Even though “The Martian” is a science fiction work, Dennis said of the author, “Weir creates an engaging plot, not with crazy, unlikely incidents…but rather with events that result from realistic causes.” As a series of mission logs tell Watney’s story of survival facing the worst possible odds, Dennis was captivated by the character of the astronaut – “his relatability, his funny jokes, his exciting wins, his heart-wrenching setbacks.” In Watney, he learns never to lose hope, and that ingenuity, perseverance, resilience and optimism can prevail. Dennis concluded, “Like a Boy Scout, Watney embraces the Scout ideals of cheerfulness and bravery–overcoming endless adversity to survive and live another sol until he is finally safe and sound back on Earth.”

Second Place: Gavin Plume, 11, Setauket, New York (I Survived the Nazi Invasion, 1944 by Lauren Tarshis)

Third Place: Ernest Johnson, 15, Concord, North Carolina (Southernmost by Silas House)

Find out how to enter the 2020 “Say Yes to Reading” Contest at

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