2023 About Kids Books Short Story Prize
There were 55 entries in the 2023 inaugural About Kids Books’ short story competition.
First placed story was ‘Amish and The Lost Money Pouch’ by Steve Heron who wins $500. Second place was ‘Veejay’s Billycart’ by Lynne Phillips who wins $250.
There were four entries which were highly commended: ‘Margo Takes Flight!’ By Danielle Cerin, ‘Burclan’s Broken Leg’ by Alby Colbert, ‘Rainbow’s End’ by Anna J Quinlan, and ‘A Shoebox of Silkworms’ by Adam Byatt.
Commended entries were ‘Too Much Screen Time’ and ‘Wishbone’, both by Buzz Words’ reviewer, Susan Hancy.
Here are the top two stories:
‘Amish and the Lost Money Pouch’ by Stephen Heron
For Raj and Bihm
As weary trekkers made their way down the winding trails from the majestic Himalayan peaks, they caught sight of Amish’s humble stone cottage. With a beaming smile and a posy of wilted flowers in hand, Amish greeted the travellers with a warm ‘Namaste’, eager to welcome them into the village.
‘Namaste,’ the trekkers replied.
Inside Amish’s modest bedroom, the walls were adorned with pictures of Nepal’s greatest footballers. He dreamt of one day joining their ranks and representing his country on the national team. But he knew that attending school in the larger town at the end of the valley was the key to realising his dream. His family struggled to make ends meet and could barely afford the fees, let alone new football boots for the aspiring star. Despite the financial hardships, Amish refused to beg for money.
Every week, the track leading past his home was transformed into a bustling thoroughfare. Jingles, jangles, and clunking bells on trains of mules, obedient yak, and laden cows meandered through the mountains, carrying vegetables and all manner of goods to the markets.
With the family cow too old to bear loads, Amish pitched in by carrying heavy bags of potatoes and other home-grown vegetables to sell. As he made his way to the market, he could hardly contain his excitement. ‘I’m looking forward to playing football with my friends after the market,’ he said.
‘It will be a fitting reward for all your help,’ said Father.
The family’s journey to the market was always filled with its fair share of challenges, but today’s events proved more difficult. As they made their way down the steep track, Mother stumbled on a rock, and her bag of potatoes spilled onto the ground. Father rushed to help her up while Amish scampered to save as many potatoes as he could before they rolled down the cliffs and disappeared into the ravine.
With a sense of dread, they reached the market, fearing that their profits would be down. The vibrant colours, the spicy smells, and the familiar hubbub of the market were a welcome respite from the difficult journey.
‘If only we hadn’t lost some potatoes,’ said Mother.
‘Never mind,’ said Father. ‘You are safe. That is more important.’
Despite the setback of losing some potatoes, Amish’s family sold all their vegetables.
After the market, Amish rushed to join the children in the dusty horse field to play football. The youngest chased the horses away so the older children could play without disruption. Amish was the first choice for the team’s goalkeeper. He dashed and dived to prevent a score every time the ball headed toward the makeshift goals.
Amish couldn’t wait to tell his parents how many goals he saved. On his way home, something caught Amish’s eye in the dirt on the side of the steep track. At first, he thought it was a potato. He reached down and grasped a small, well-worn leather pouch. To check the contents, he pulled the drawcord.
His eyes were as large as footballs, as the pouch revealed rolls of money, more than Amish had ever seen. As he imagined what he could do with the wealth, he looked down at his boots.
Real football boots and a new football would be good.
Amish tugged on his ragged jacket. Maybe I could buy new clothes for the family?
He licked his lips. Or every cake at the bakery? Maybe I could use the money to buy a new cow for Father.
Amish closed his eyes and dreamt. Or pay for me to go to school in the town at the end of the valley.
Although Amish had many ideas, he knew the temptation to keep the money was not the right choice. A trekker might have lost it on their travels. Amish set out on a quest to find the owner, asking at every corner of the village.
As he visited the lodges, many trekkers recognised Amish from his warm greeting, but none knew the owner of the money pouch.
The adventure store manager stocking the shelves with new supplies didn’t know.
Fresh trays of cakes at the bakery tempted Amish with their scrumptious aroma, but the baker didn’t know. A mother holding her red-cheeked baby and the old man ploughing the fields with his faithful horse didn’t know. A lone girl playing knucklebones with rocks shook her head as she flipped the rocks in the air and caught them on her knuckles. Children playing marbles in the dirt didn’t know, nor did the children playing badminton on the dusty track, nor did the boys playing cricket with a box and a stick.
Despite all his efforts, no one knew to whom the money belonged, and Amish’s spirits sank.
The sun’s last rays painted the village in golden sunset colours before creeping behind the jagged mountains. Amish headed for home, eager to tell his parents about his day and his find. As he arrived, he spotted Father and Mother sitting on the steps. At first, Amish thought they are waiting for him, but he noticed his father’s face buried in his hands, sobbing.
‘What’s wrong, Father?’ Amish asked.
Father didn’t speak, but mother answered, ‘Something terrible has happened. Now is not a good time to talk to your father.’
Amish tried to imagine what could be so terrible. Has the family cow died? Is Father sad they didn’t make enough money at the markets because of the lost potatoes? He decided to wait until his father was in a better mood to ask.
After washing and changing, Amish lay on his bedroll holding the pouch to his chest.
I could tell them about the money pouch at the evening meal. Maybe when Father’s not so upset.
At the dinner table, a half-smile returned to Father’s face. ‘How was your day, son?’ he asked.
‘I met many friends at the markets, and I saved eight goals.’ Amish puffed out his chest. ‘And…’ He placed the money pouch on the table. ‘I found this on the side of the track on the way home.’
Father’s jaw dropped. Mother clutched Father’s hand.
‘I went through the village to find the owner, but no luck,’ Amish explained.
Tears welled in Father’s eyes and trickled over his rumpled cheeks.
‘Why are you so sad, Father?’ Amish asked.
Father took a deep breath. ‘I’m not sad,’ he chuckled, ‘I’m pleased.’
‘Do you know who owns the money pouch?’ Amish asked.
‘Yes.’ Father nodded with a satisfied smile.
‘That’s good because I’d like to give it back.’
‘The people who lost this pouch are proud folks, trying their best to feed their family.’ Father took another deep breath. ‘They are saving to send their son to school at the end of the valley. Today, the father dropped this pouch on his way to the village bank.’
‘I’d like to meet these wonderful people,’ said Amish.
‘You already know them,’ Mother answered. ‘Your father is the one who dropped the pouch.’
Amish stood frozen in disbelief. He handed the money pouch to his father, noticing something different about him. Father’s rough exterior softened, and his eyes glistened with gratitude.
‘Thank you, Amish,’ Father said, with a tight grip on the pouch. ‘You have shown the true meaning of honesty and integrity. I am proud of you, my son.’
Overwhelmed with joy, Amish wrapped his arms around his father and mother, feeling a deep sense of love and connection.
As the family sat down to dinner, and the sun disappeared behind the jagged mountains, Amish felt at peace knowing he found something more precious than money.
Judges’ comments: We really liked this story, and both agreed it was worthy of first prize. It had a nice surprise at the end, as well as containing a valuable life lesson for kids. We believe it would have a great chance of being accepted by publication, perhaps in the NSW School Magazine.
‘Veejay’s Billycart’ by Lynne Phillips
Arthur Wilson sat on the bench overlooking the ocean watching a boy walk slowly up the hill towards him. He recognised the boy as Veejay Singh whose parents owned the fruit shop in town. A bent back and misshapen legs made the last section of the climb difficult for the boy. Arthur found that part hard too. His was because of old age and arthritis. The lad was too young for such a struggle, but the Arthur’s wife, Margie, said Veejay had muscular dystrophy and would need a wheelchair soon.
“Good morning, Mr Wilson,” the boy said as he eased himself onto the bench beside Arthur.
They sat in silence, watching the waves crash on the beach.
A cheer from the left turned both heads. Half a dozen boys were preparing to ride their billycarts down the grassy incline.
Veejay sighed. “Did you ever have a billycart? Mr Wilson?”
“I had the best one in the street. Rode down that hill many times; no brakes, just hanging on for grim death and glad the sand at the bottom was a soft fall. Building billycarts led to me becoming an engineer.”
Veejay sighed again. “It looks like so much fun, but with my legs, I’ll never ride one.”
Arthur didn’t know how to reply to that. He wished Margie was with him. She would know what to say, but she was lunching with friends.
They watched in silence as the boys raced their billycarts down onto the sand, and dragged them back up again and again, until exhausted. Veejay and Arthur watched them leave, laughing and promising to come back the next day.
Veejay used his arms to stand. “I’d better go,” he said.
“I’m going to get an ice-cream on my way home,” Arthur said. “Do you want to join me? My treat.”
Veejay’s grin gave him the answer. They walked slowly back into town.
“I’d like to be an engineer,” Veejay said. “Is it hard to be one?”
“It’s six years at university, but if you love designing and making things, it’s worthwhile.”
“Could you do it in a wheelchair?”
“You could specialise in the design side.”
Veejay forgot all talk about engineering as he decided which ice-cream to choose, but Arthur kept thinking about their conversation.
As they walked towards the greengrocers, licking the ice-creams before they melted in the hot Australian summer sun, Arthur said, “I have a small workshop in my back shed where I make things. If your parents agree, perhaps you can come and visit and try your hand at designing something.”
“I’d like that, but I’m not sure my parents will allow it. I have to help in the shop after school,” Veejay said.
“We’ll discuss it,” Sanyay Singh said, ignoring his son’s pleading eyes.
Meera Singh smiled shyly.
When Arthur didn’t see Veejay for a week, he thought the Singhs had decided against the idea, but when he and Margie went to buy their fruit and vegetables, Sanyay pulled Arthur aside.
“We have decided Veejay can visit you in your workshop on Wednesdays after school and sometime over the weekend if that is suitable for you. I have never seen my son so eager before. He is a good boy and works hard to get decent grades. He is always drawing things.”
“Fantastic,” Arthur said. “My Saturdays are free. I play bowls on Sundays.”
On the way home Margie said, “You know it’s a big thing to trust their only son in your care.”
Arthur hadn’t considered that.
Veejay arrived early on Saturday. He walked with a cane.
“I had a fall at school yesterday,” he said in explanation.
His eyes opened wide as Arthur showed him his workshop. There were several half-finished and finished projects on the bench.
“What’s this?” Veejay asked.
“Margie is having difficulty opening jars. I’ve finished that one.”
He grabbed a jar of lollies sitting on the bench, demonstrated how it worked, and offered Veejay a sweet.
“Thanks. My gran could use one of those gadgets,” Veejay said with a mouth full of caramel. Arthur took one too, and they chewed as he showed Veejay around the rest of the workshop.
“I’ve been thinking we might design a billycart,” Arthur said.
Veejay’s response was unexpected. Tears filled his eyes. Arthur realised his mistake in not explaining further.
“We’ll motorise it so you could ride it and get it back up the hill.” Veejay grinned.
“Where do we start?”
“You need to design one first.”
Arthur handed Veejay a large sheet of paper and pulled out a stool next to the workbench. “There’s a ruler, pencil and rubber.”
“What will I include?”
“That’s up to you. If you can draw it. I can make it. When Veejay put down the pencil, Arthur realised the boy was a brilliant artist. A streamline vehicle filled the page; no basic wooden billycart. This one would require metal and welding, but he’d promised the lad he could build anything.
Veejay rolled up his drawing and took it with him.
“I want to show my parents,” he explained.
By Wednesday, Arthur had acquired the materials they needed. Some he already had, a few pieces he scavenged off friends and the rest he purchased from the local hardware store.
Margie wanted to fuss providing afternoon tea, but Arthur and Veejay were excited to get started. They accepted cold drinks.
“Give me another look at that design, Veejay. I need to get the body shape right.”
Veejay unrolled the drawing. He had added more detail, especially around the steering.
“I realised I’d need this extra bit so I could control it with my good arm,” he explained. Arthur nodded. It impressed him. Veejay would make a brilliant engineer if he was thinking at this level when he was only twelve.
The leaves were turning yellow and orange before they finished building the billycart. With large pram wheels at the back and smaller ones at the front, it looked like a racer.
“Wow, that’s the best-looking billycart I’ve ever seen,” Margie said when she brought them mugs of hot chocolate.
“It needs an engine,” Arthur said.
Margie’s eyes followed Arthur’s towards the corner of the shed.
“Don’t even think about using our mower, Arthur Wilson,” she said with a laugh.
“I looked on Marketplace. Mrs Harris has her old Victa for sale. It still runs okay.
The lad next door mows her lawns now. She only wants twenty dollars.
True to Mrs Harris’ word, the old Victa fired up and ran smoothly. Arthur attached a hand-activated throttle, but he knew the billycart needed brakes. An able-bodied boy could run a billycart into the sand, but Veejay needed a brake; one which he could control with his arm.
“I’ll have to think of a solution for the brake,” he told Veejay.
Arthur couldn’t sleep. He tossed and turned, his head full of ideas, but none solved his problem.
Over breakfast, he explained his dilemma to Margie.
“I saw a podcast on Tuesday where engineers were using 3D printers. Maybe they could help,” she said.
“They were local. I could look up the details.”
Craig Davis answered the phone on the first ring. Arthur explained about Veejay, the muscular dystrophy, and the need for a hand brake for the billycart.
“That’s intriguing. I think I can help you,” he said. “What’s your address?”
When Veejay arrived on Saturday, a man was talking to Arthur.
“Veejay, this is Mr Davis,” Arthur said.
Veejay nodded shyly. “He is going to make an imprint of your arm to create a 3D brake for the billycart.”
The following Wednesday, the brake arrived by courier and Arthur connected it. When Veejay arrived after school, the billycart was ready for a trial run Arthur filled the tank with petrol and pulled the rope. The engine started, Veejay activated the throttle, and the billycart bumped across the uneven grass. He whooped with delight as he whizzed past the chook pen and under the Hill’s clothes’ hoist. It was heading straight for Margie’s vegetable patch when he applied the brake. The billycart slid to a stop. They all laughed.
The next Saturday, Craig Davis, Mr and Mrs Singh, with Veejay, were already at the at the top of the hill when Arthur and Margie arrived with the billycart. The other boys were already racing their billycarts down the hill.
Arthur handed Veejay a helmet. “Just in case,” he said.
Veejay climbed in. Meera Singh clung to her husband’s arm. With a pull on the rope the motor started. Veejay took off, overtaking the startled boys. He applied the brakes before he hit the sand, turned the wheels, and raced back up the hill.
A grin filled his face, and his eyes shone as the onlookers clapped and cheered.
“I’m definitely going to be an engineer when I grow up,” he said.
“I’ll specialise in adapting things for people with disabilities.”
Arthur’s eyes weren’t the only ones full of happy tears.
Judges’ comments: This is a good, heart-warming story, and one that kids are bound to like. The author seemed to have a lot of knowledge about engineering, and it all rang true. It was great too, to read a story about a child with a disability. Unfortunately, we thought there were several places that needed tighter editing, and it lost points because of this.