Oh my goodness! This was by far the most difficult Fabo Story round I have judged in all my (yikes, nine) years of being part of the Fabo Story team. The standard of writing was the highest I’ve seen yet. And the entries kept rolling in – all 120 of them. I loved the mix of all the different styles and genres. There were fairy tales gone wrong, horror stories laced with comedy, ghost stories, heist stories and even a sports story. Aurelia Lind wrote a fast paced mystery thriller:
“Jordan barely escapes, gets up and runs to the garden shed, grabs the can and runs outside. Holding the weed killer up like a gun, he yells ‘show yourself’ … and there it was at the edge of the garden. “
So what did Jordan plant?
As well as the many giant beanstalks there were money trees, lolly trees, a blue mandarin tree and a huge purple oak. There were also Venus Flytraps and plants too awful to be named:
“It was a hideous, weird, purple and yellow plant that towered up at least 6 metres in the air and it stunk like rotten cabbage!” (Leon)
Liam’s plant grew so tall Jordan had to climb back down to get a spacesuit he’d made in class:
“He hoped it would work because it was one he made and it wasn’t a real one.”
Addisen came up with some amazing hopping vegetables that hid themselves in with the normal vegetables and Freddie Read’s story had bulbs which grew legs and ate everything in sight. Dora Zhang created a rare magic ink plant, and Zoe — a crazy vine that followed Jordan everywhere:
“The thing was getting under his feet and mum would be mad, no, livid, no incandescent with rage. “
Some of the seeds grew into sea creatures — a monsterpus (Lucas Yee), a turtle egg (Lachie) and a shimmering sea-flower that lets you breathe under the sea (Lark) — or even more unusual things like dancing trolls (Lorenzo) and a giant basketball court (Hayden).
Dryads and dragons also featured prominently. I especially liked Tom Ambury’s camel-dragon who could spit water over long distances. And Neve Overend created a nice twist in her story by turning an unlikeable Jordan into a dragon:
“Jordan looked down at himself. He had talons for toes and scales for skin. He leapt to a nearby pond and checked his reflection in the water. He now had a long snout with smoke streaming out of two big nostrils, he also had leathery wings and a tail. He let out a growl.”
Another theme which emerged was portals opening to another world or time. I was impressed by Joe’s Sugrue’s concept of Jordan being stuck in an endless loop (where he keeps finding a packet of seeds and replanting them) and Millie Balsom’s nicely structured story in which the seed created a hole that took Jordan back in time.
There were also some clever stories involving wishes:
“’Well,’ he stammered ‘first of all I would love some peace and quiet!’
‘You dream, I deliver. Your wish is granted!’
All of a sudden the faint noises of his big brother screaming and his little sister crying all vanished. There was silence.
‘Also, what is your name?’ Jordan curiously asked.
‘Your wish is granted,’ the genie said smugly (Alexa Potter)
“My last wish is to have you as my friend” replied Jordan. “Your wish is useless, Jordan,” said the fairy. “You were my friend from that moment you saved me from being frozen to a fairy cube” (Mia)
I loved all the creative names that came up too — especially the cute bloodsucking zombie bear called Cuddles (Evelyn) and the caramel Cavoodle named Vickie Milickie (Esther Bond).
Some outstanding sentences that really packed a punch were:
“I am Pumpkinapple.” He boomed. “This is the Kingdom of Why, and I am the ruler.” (Maddie McDowell)
“So Jordan spat on his palms, tucked his book under his arm, took a deep breath, and started climbing. On and on he went, up and up and up, just like the marigold.” (Hana Smith)
“Questions loomed in the dark shadows. What would happen to Jordan if his Mum found out he had so carelessly planted that large vine that now rocketed up into the sky. “ (Zoe Kearns)
And there were some beautifully evocative descriptions:
“No matter how often the family saw it [the dragon] fly, arching with outstretched wings, each as brilliant as stained glass, they held their breath for a moment, eyes wide. “ (Samantha Muirhead)
“The silhouette of the moon was rising, and the sun was sneaking away on the opposite side of the sky.” (Ollie)
“Jordan finally found his alarm clock, but it felt different, rough like sandpaper. ” (Olivia Whale)
“Stars whispered words of encouragement to Jordan while passing meteorites threatened to knock him off track but Jordan continued not looking to the right or the left.“ (Pearl)
A great opening sentence can really hook the reader into your story. Here are some of my favourite beginnings:
“The plant burst out of the ground like a rocket and tangled around Jordan with its purple spikes and green roots. It squeezed him like a lemon getting squeezed into lemonade.” (Henry Peters)
“A plant the colour of blood-red dragon scales erupted from the ground. Still clutching his book, Jordan watched in awe as it grew upwards, the branches clawing at the sky.“ (Madeline Young)
I was also really impressed with the many original and well thought out similes you used (but remember to use them sparingly so that each one stands out and they don’t take away from each other).
“It was as big as the Empire State Building and as beautiful as the icy pathways, glinting in the golden sun.” (Angus Potter)
“Vines crept towards him like wildfires.” (Serena Wong)
“Its leg splattered like a pancake that had been flipped but missed the pan.” (Ollie)
“With a tearing sound, like an old top getting ripped to rags, the heaving earth split down the middle.” (Indigo Tomlinson)
“His eyelids felt like cold concrete.” (Maddie McDowell)
“As they carefully climbed down the vine it slowly disappeared until it was transformed into dust. Jordan sighed, guess it’s back to Monopoly fights while reading Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH!” (Ivy Lange)
“The flytrap had a good dinner that day and the moral of the story is don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” (Noah Hancock)
“He buried the packet in the abandoned house on the corner of his street. Jordan didn’t have any giant crazy plant problems again but that house… it never sold!” (Zoe – Glenview Primary)
There were some memorable characters created:
Grandpa Jo, whose piece of cheese he was saving in his pocket for afternoon tea, turns out to be the secret weapon against the plague of bulbs. (Freddie)
Lily the flower who looks cute, but is actually evil:
“He spotted Lily on top of the Sky Tower!
‘I have dominated the world!’ shouted Lily. (Bella Jones)
A very cute little phoenix who keeps accidentally burning his own wings:
“The little Phoenix puffed out his chest and said “Oh, I can still burn a hole through my wings, my flame can burn anything. It‘s even more powerful than this itty bitty bandage.” (Lincey Jiang)
And finally, here is my rather long shortlist:
Ava Lister whose story had a unique tone that made it sound almost like a memoir.
“The acid burnt large brown patches on their luscious green grass, and it was so strong it peeled the paint off any nearby fences. Over the past week, the plant had grown from a purplish blue colour to an orangish red color. The previous day, the large plant sent a shower of spiderlings and larvae everywhere.”
Her sweeping story about a plant called George, covers two generations and has a classic horror-comedy ending.
“Jordan and his parents soon forgot about George, although every now and then the memories would come back to haunt them. Jordan grew up, got married, and had two wonderful children. When the day came that Jordan’s eldest son was trying to read, went down to the old garden shed, and discovered a packet of seeds, Jordan had this weird feeling in his gut that something was wrong. When he saw his son crossing the yard with a bucket of water, he ran. ‘No! Don’t do it!’ he screamed. The bucket was emptied. ‘Here we go again.’”
William Kelly — I particularly liked the twist where Jordan’s dad (named Jack) and turns out to be the actual giant from Jack in the Beanstalk. I really enjoyed the clever dialogue in your story too.
“’We don’t climb beanstalks any more… times have changed’, replied Dad ‘well, since 2018, when there was an outcry because people were too tired and too fat to keep climbing beanstalks.’”
And what a great idea to make the giant talk in rhyme.
“’Fee, Fi, Fo, Fun… I smell a boy from Wellington,
I hate your smile, it’s sad and vile’ sneered the giant.
Dad leaned towards Jordan ‘that’s the trouble with giants, they speak in rhyme, but it’s pretty handy for when you need to write poems for homework’, he whispered.”
Zoe Bedford — I loved that your world was created out of the book Jordan was reading and that both the characters and setting relate to the same book. Even the food in this literary world tastes papery – a brilliant touch!
“Jordan glanced at his Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH copy. It was lying open on the ground. The strangest thing was happening to it; the words inside were being sucked out of it and they were attaching themselves to the tree! ‘A literary tree. Fantastic!’ Jordan thought. He touched the paper bark.”
Olivia Morriss — I was drawn in straight away by your story centred around the character from the nursery rhyme ‘Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary’ and impressed that you had done some research into different versions of the rhyme.
I love the way you describe Mary’s appearance “She clutched her bright orange dress tightly above the ground, careful not to dirty her frilly petticoat. She looked a bit like a pumpkin, orange and round, smiley all over.” And then slowly reveal the evil character she really is underneath her “big, fake, celebrity smile, all white teeth”.
Lyndey Jiang – you were my runner up. With very few words you wrote a fast-paced entertaining story, with a clever twist at the end. I could imagine it as a picture book. I like the way the story escalates as the tiny Venus Flytrap grows bigger and gets more and more out of control, first eating flies, then fruit, then Jordan’s dog and finally eyeing up Jordan as his ultimate snack.
“’Didn’t you say you can eat everything? Can you eat your roots?’ Jordan sneered.
‘I totally can!’ the plant bellowed. It bent down to the earth and ate its roots. Finally, it realised what was going on.
The plant shrieked with agony.
‘No! I got tricked!’ It started to crumble. Everything it ate spilled out.”
Well done Lyndey! Your story was very close to being first.
Which brings me, at last, to my winner – Sam Smith. The more I read your story, the more I liked it. Especially the way that, although the story is complete, it hints there is more to know. I’m also impressed by the way you had just the right balance of description, action and dialogue and tell us a lot about the characters with a few well-chosen words. Congratulations on a great story Sam!
Here’s what Penguin author, Pamela Morrow (Ngāti Pū) has to say about Sam’s story. Pamela is a self professed “big science nut” who often creates laser beams and explosions in her work as a visual effects artist. She has just published her first book, Hello Strange, a fast-paced futuristic YA romance about artificial emotional intelligence.
This story is full of action and rich with character, which makes it an exciting read. I’m impressed that our point of view character, Jordan, is attentive to specifics and doesn’t miss a trick. How he notices the somewhat ironic way a botany specialist’s shoes ‘clacked down the garden path, squashing a rosebud into the ground.’
And another favourite image, the mum whose slippers ‘lapped at her heels as she ran.’ The best writing is simple, yet creates a vivid impression. I can readily see in my mind’s eye, this mum efficiently dealing to an interruption in her morning routine. You nailed it Sam, great work.
Elena’s Story Starter
Jordan wanted to read the last few chapters of Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, but there was a loud argument going on over a game of Monopoly at the kitchen table. He sighed. Quiet space was hard to find, since everyone had come back home for lockdown.
Lucky no-one had claimed the garden shed yet. He opened the back door and snuck out. The shed was hidden by weeds in an overgrown patch at the end of the garden, and its old wooden workbench, under the window, was the perfect place to curl up with a book. But, this time, as Jordan clambered up onto the bench, a small packet fell out from behind a stud on the wall.
It looked like an ancient packet of seeds. The label was so worn Jordan could only make out a few letters — an M followed by an A, then a gap and then an I. Marigold seeds maybe? On the back were some faded instructions. Extra-fast growing. Water copiously then stand clear.
Jordan tore open the packet. Weird – it didn’t look like any seed he’d ever seen before. There was just one for starters. Also, it was the size of a marble and a shiny poisonous purplish-blue colour. What sort of seed was this?
There was only one way to find out. In the ground outside the shed, Jordan placed the seed into a shallow hole, covered it with earth, then sloshed a whole bucket of water over it.
Almost at once, there was a slurping sound. It was like someone trying to suck up the last of a milkshake through a straw. The loose earth around the seed began to jiggle.
The ground rumbled.
Jordan jumped back just in time.
Woah! What had he planted?
Not a marigold, that was for sure. ….
Sam’s Winning Story
The ground split open with a mighty crack, and a small plant poked its head out. To Jordan’s surprise, it was a marigold. A perfect little flower, with fierce sunset orange petals and delicate oval leaves.
“What has happened to my garden?” a sharp voice said from behind Jordan. He turned and standing on the verandah was a tall man in a pinstriped suit, the man’s flawlessly clipped moustache had positioned itself above his tight-lipped mouth.
“Well?” the man said again.
“I… I’m sorry, Father,” Jordan stammered. “I didn’t mean to!”
His Dad burst out laughing. “Hahaha,” he snorted, wiping his eyes. “Oh, you should have seen the look on your face Jordan. Come on kiddo, I don’t always lose at Monopoly.”
His father told him to come inside for dinner, and they were all sitting around the dining room table, vegges on one side, sausages and potatoes on the other. The Monopoly box sat in the corner, it looked like someone had packed away hastily. Jordan was busy eating his third sausage while the twins were eating broccoli. Suddenly, the earth beneath them started to shake.
“EARTHQUAKE!” yelled his mother. “Take cover!”
That’s no earthquake, thought Jordan to himself scurrying outside. He reached the front door and flung it open. Dodging a falling vase, he grabbed his gumboots and kept running.
The sky was dark, the moon was hiding behind the clouds. But Jordan could see the giant marigold in their back garden. Mum and Dad came running out behind him.
“I don’t think…,” said Mum, “I don’t think that was an earthquake.”
The next morning, while Jordan was eating his cornflakes,
a dark car came speeding around the corner, skidding to a stop on their gravel driveway. A man wearing a white suit and sunglasses climbed out. His midnight-black shoes clacked down the garden path, squashing a rosebud into the ground. He rapped on the front door.
“Mum, someone’s at the door,” yelled Jordan.
“Coming,” called his Mother.
She came rushing out of the bathroom in a bathrobe, with a towel wrapped around her head. Her slippers lapped at her heels as she ran. She opened the front door and frowned,
“Were we expecting you?” she asked.
“No, I’m afraid not,” he replied, “Sorry for the interruption, but this is very urgent.”
Jordan’s mother got dressed and invited the man in. He introduced himself as Dr Brian Whittleton.
“Do you want anything to drink?” she asked him.
The doctor ignored her and stared out the window. He pulled out a small sketchbook and began sketching the marigold,
“Do you mind if I could grab a few samples?” he said as he strolled outside. He pulled out some gloves, tweezers, and a small whirring machine. He plucked a small leaf from the giant stem and placed it inside the machine. It binged, and he flashed a smile.
“Perfect,” he murmured to himself. Brian turned to us and said,
“Thank you for your hospitality, but I best be going now.”
The next day Jordan woke up to find the strangest thing had happened, the giant marigold had disappeared. Only a large crater remained. Jordan walked outside in his PJ’s and something caught his eye. It was a business card for a botany specialist by the name of Dr Brian Whittleton.