Posted in fabo story, The Winner

FABO Story report for competition 11 judged by Melinda Szymanik

Well, that was a wild and crazy ride. There were 58 entries and so many dinosaurs and skeletons, and ‘it was all a dream’s, it was incredible!!

Some stories kind of forgot about the story starter and went off in totally unrelated directions. Some of you forgot to check your stories for spelling mistakes. Some of you had one big chunk of writing instead of dividing your story into paragraphs. These made some stories a challenge to read. It is really worth fixing these issues before pressing send.

But there was also a lot to like. I loved this descriptive line in Cathy Zhang’s (Campbell’s Bay School) story – “This farm’s too quiet, I could almost hear my blood running through my veins.” This one from Indigo Tomlinson (Whakatane Intermediate) – The girls suddenly became aware of an ominous yet discordant ticking, like a group of old ladies all knitting at once. And this one – “If mum was here, she would have found it in an instant” added Isla. They both laughed – from Siena Hays (Campbell’s Bay School). Mothers are indeed famous for finding things when no one else can. I loved the name William Kelly (Brooklyn Primary in Wellington) came up with for the bone whistle – a bazoothesizer!

I really enjoyed this last bit in Vicki Murdoch’s story (Point Chevalier Primary), which made the most of Willow’s comments in the starter –

“Willow. You were so rude to me, and made me feel insecure in myself. Although I wasn’t the prettiest person ever, does that matter? No! I don’t accept your apology.” Willow’s crying features hardened immediately.

“You…” she seethed defiantly. But Isla was having none of it.

“Goodbye. And it’s foraging, NOT fossicking.”

And I laughed out loud at Jessica Alexander’s opening line (Matamata Intermediate) – “Maybe if we ignore the problem it will go away?” Willow said in a shaky voice. If only!

Some writers came up with surprising and entertaining reasons for why the bone whistle changed everything, including Michael Jackson and the song Thriller in one case ( Elena Louise McCrossan from Berkley Normal Middle School), and penguins in another (Yuki Nishimura from Campbell’s Bay School). Grace Downie (Clearview Primary) did some great work continuing to develop the characters of Isla and Willow, building on the story starter. Taylor Goddard’s story (Lincoln Primary) created a new riff on Greek mythology involving Apollo and Orpheus. I enjoyed the stories written by Lyndey Jiang (West Park School), and William Kelly (Brooklyn Primary), and the twist at the end of Carys Silva’s story was chilling (Stonefield’s School). Vanessa Leong (Remuera Primary) drew on Alice in Wonderland in an interesting way for her story, and Indigo Tomlinson (Whakatane Intermediate) wrote a beautifully crafted Dali-esque tale.

It was difficult to pick a winner. A bunch of stories had fun clever ideas that I really liked. There was some wonderful strong writing. There were some cool twists. But these didn’t always occur in the same entry. Ultimately though, I loved mythology when I was at primary school myself, and the one story that stood out to me as having an interesting idea based on the starter, a well thought through story structure, and good writing was the entry from Taylor Goddard (Lincoln Primary). Congratulations Taylor!!

Our guest Penguin author, Chris Mousdale, award winning illustrator of picture book, Brodie and writer of the novel, A Place of Stone and Darkness, had this to say:

Some lovely words to roll around the mouth: “Fossicking”, “Foraging”, “Galumphed”. Melinda’s story starter begins with the mundane and ordinary; a day out, playing in the woods. But – as is so often the case – from play comes the unexpected and the extraordinary.

Taylor installs a cast of Greek monsters and demons and we’re instantly amongst them. There’s a chase and nail-biting action. Our protagonists are in a tight spot – how will they react? The two girls fall back on their education. Knowing who Apollo was and what he represented they formulate a plan – to communicate, in a language the enemy will understand.

In this case the language is music and, to paraphrase Congreve, “the savage breast is soothed”.

Taylor’s story is brisk with an exciting momentum. The music is evoked with a water simile: it “flowed over them…like a stream bubbling in a forest,” bringing us along for the action with the characters, then delivering us back home, safe in a peaceful resolution.

The dialogue is truthful, the interaction between Willow and Isla well observed. This is good writing – a story based on truthful character allows us to travel into far-fetched and fantastic worlds and to believe them.

Melinda’s Story Starter: The Wrong Note

Willow and Isla had been mucking around in the woods on the hill above their town all day.

Willow called it fossicking.

Isla called it foraging.

“It’s only foraging if we can eat it,” said Willow.

“Humph,” Isla replied.

“This is definitely a fossick,” Willow went on, holding up the bone she’d just pulled from a hole at the base of a tree trunk.

“That’s disgusting,” Isla said.

“It’s NOT!” Willow insisted. “It’s super old. It probably hasn’t been alive for like a hundred years. I mean look at it.”

They both peered at the bone, almost like a shin but not quite.

“There are holes in it,” breathed Willow. And before either of them could think, she raised the bone to her mouth and blew in to the largest hole at the top. A single long note.

The noise was sweeter and deeper than they expected. A shiver crawled down their spines. The ground seemed to hiccup, the sunlight swelling in a terrible, brilliant way, and then everything was normal again. Nearly.

“I think we should go home,” Isla said.

“Yes, lets,” Willow agreed. She let the bone drop to the ground.

They held hands as they galumphed down the path between the trees, hopping over the twisty vines and slippery rocks in their way. They emerged out of the bush near the bottom of the hill, just as the sun began to pull the horizon up over itself.

“My goodness!” Willow gasped.

“Oh Willow, what did you do?!” Isla squeaked, her eyes wide at the sight before them.

Where had everybody gone? And what were those frightening things that had taken their place?

Taylor Goddard’s Story

Terrifying creatures replaced the humans. One looked like a dragon, except it had thousands of necks leading to heads that spewed poison. Others looked like demons with flames for hair and blood-red eyes that seemed to whisper “death, horror and despair.” Thousands of the creatures were too horrible to describe. Isla stared at them, her eyes wide with terror.

“Those,” she said her voice trembling, “are from Greek mythology.”

“Don’t be crazy,” Willow whispered.


There was a blinding flash of light and a figure appeared, it towered over them, casting shadows across the fields.


In a flash, the figure was gone. Willow and Isla had no time to contemplate what happened, a monster that was half man and half bull had noticed their presence. The creature roared and charged at them.

“RUN!!!” Willow screamed.

They sprinted away, they knew they wouldn’t outrun the monster, then Willow had an idea.

“The tree!” Willow pointed to a large, old eucalyptus.

Isla reached it first, she scrambled up it, grabbing onto bits of bark that sometimes ripped off under her weight. Willow came after her, she could hear the monster’s feet thudding heavily against the ground. Isla grabbed onto a branch, pulled herself onto it then bent down to help Willow. Suddenly, the tree shook, Isla looked past Willow and saw the creature ramming its horns into the tree and roaring up at them. Finally Willow was beside Isla, they were both breathing in small, difficult gasps.

“That… was too… close,” Willow panted.

All Isla could do to reply was nod.

The girls waited for the monster to leave.

“That was Apollo,” Isla said.

“Don’t be silly.”

“It was.”

They were silent for a while, finally the monster lost interest and left.

“How do we escape this… whatever this place is,” Willow said quietly.

“I don’t know, Apollo is the god of music right?”

Willow nodded.

“When Orpheus played Apollo’s lyre, Apollo was going to punish him.”

“But he didn’t,” Willow smiled, remembering the story of how the musician got his lyre, “because Orpheus played so beautifully, Apollo spared him, and gave him his lyre.”

“Exactly,” Isla said.

“So you want me to play that instrument? What if it makes Apollo angrier?”

“D’you have a better idea?”

“Well… no.”

So Isla and Willow timidly got down from the eucalyptus and found their way to the instrument. Willow picked it up and put one of the holes to her lips, she gently blew out and music flowed over them. It sounded like a stream bubbling in a forest, and made them feel like they were in a sunlit field of flowers. Willow started to play and after a few minutes Apollo appeared and listened. When Willow was finished Apollo sighed,

“Keep it.” He smiled and nodded at the instrument, “I can make another one someday. You can go home now.”

The ground shuddered and the world was normal again. Isla fell down to the ground, exhausted. Willow smiled then continued to play her new instrument.

Posted in fabo story, The Winner

FABO Story report for competition 9 judged by Kyle Mewburn

It’s always very exciting to be the judge of a Fabo round. It’s also a bit nerve-wracking because it’s generally so hard to decide on just one winner. This round we were absolutely inundated with lots of great stories with imaginative plots, clever characterisations and some fantastic writing.

So many entries were brimming with imagination. Rutendo of Tokoroa had Lucy battling an evil puffin group. While Harman of Ormiston went one step further with a puffin CEO of a secret world government.

Lucy of Balmoral had the fictional Lucy meeting a wizened old woman with a weird collection of stones. Her story was full of lovely similes – the stone was warm, like hot chocolate on a winter’s morning.

Khloe of Highlands decided to go to Narnia with some great descriptive writing – She glanced up, to see a white tree, covered in crystalline snow, with a kiss of falling leaves, slanted in between the parted hedge.

Juno of St Dominic’s had many wonderful descriptions as Lucy was given a tour of the monster zoo by a man with “a fluffy moustache, like a storm cloud” and met the neanderthal giant whose “face was like a big map, with wrinkles as routes, joining everywhere across it, and a chin like an upside-down mountain.”

Indigo of Whakatane took us to Fantasia with some very clever scene setting and characterisation – Ignoring dotty Mrs. Plummer pottering around the hedge, muttering to it as though it were an old friend come to tea.

Evelyn of Clearview had a scary encounter with zombies. Anika of Thorndon had an eerie encounter with the Grim Reaper. And in William of Brooklyn’s story, Lucy met the fabulously eccentric Sir Albert Von Albatross.

It was almost impossible to choose a winner. It was SOOOOOO close. But if you’ve been paying attention during the competitions, you might have realised every judge has a different set of judging criteria – things which especially tickle our fancies.

The winning story ticked so many of my personal judging boxes. A storyline sparkling with originality, a strong writing voice and loads of fantastic similes. This was also a story with a lot of heart.

This week’s winner is Juno Ireland of St Dominic’s Primary School.

And this is what our special guest Puffin judge, Heather Haylock – author of the wonderful Granny McFlitter series – had to say about Juno’s winning story.

“This story holds some powerful imagery. I love the idea of the monster’s face being like a map, with wrinkles as routes and a chin like an upside-down mountain. The writing flows naturally and cleverly packs a lot of information about the setting and the characters into a small space. I like Lucy’s immediate emotional connection with the captive creatures (“their eyes said it all”), and the light dusting of humour (I wonder what a Monster Vanquisher 2000 does?). Juno’s story certainly gave Lucy the beginnings of the exceptional day of her dreams. I want to know what happens next!”

CONGRATULATIONS! If you message us we’ll tell you how to claim your special prize.

To everyone else, keep on sending in those entries!

Kyle’s Story Starter

As Lucy heaved her way through the dark hedge, her imagination whirled like an out-of-control merry-go-round. There could be anything waiting on the other side. A TOP SECRET government spy base patrolled by snarling watchdogs. An evil puffin’s secret hideaway rimmed with laser detectors and booby traps. Or even a whole other world, like in the Narnia stories she’d just finished reading.

Not that she really, truly expected to find anything exciting on the other side. Stuff like that didn’t happen in real life. But after a week of boring school holidays she was desperate for just a scrap of adventure. It didn’t even have to be an actual adventure. If she found anything even mildly interesting, her imagination could do the rest. Then the day would be exceptional.

Lucy barged ahead in a fury of flailing arms like she was swimming against a twiggy tide. Or wrestling a woody sea serpent. When the hedge suddenly parted, she sprawled forward into sunshine.

But the sun quickly vanished as a shadowy shape loomed over her…

Juno Ireland’s winning story

Lucy peered up at a tall, bulky man. He had a fluffy moustache, like a storm cloud, a cream shirt, sunhat and a nametag reading: Paul. Complete with his kind smile, Paul had the resemblance of a zoo keeper.

“What brings you here today?” he asked, blowing his moutache upwards as he spoke. Lucy hesitated, but before she could reply, Paul said “Ah yes, a free tour of the Italian dragons, deadly kitties and the Neanderthal giant. Right this way”. He beckoned towards a high iron gate, almost as unpleasant as the idea of giants.

Lucy shuffled backwards, alarmed. “What’s in there?”. The man looked astonished, then confused, and then chuckled. “Why, the Zoo of Monsters” he said. And with that, he began walking forward, gently guiding Lucy to the heavily armed threshold.

Desperately thinking, Lucy imagined escaping, but then the reassuring sun reappeared, brightening her mood. She was curious after all. Slowing to a halt at the gate, she noticed that it was flanked with burly guards, each possessing an enormous gun with the words: MONSTER VANQUISHER 2000.

Lucy shuddered. Surely monsters weren’t real? However, as the guards swung open the gates, terrifying monsters stared back at her. In fact, their captivating gazes were so utterly hard and sad that she found herself looking away to avoid their monstrous expressions.

Spiky, scaly, fluffy creatures were sprawled over scorched terrain. Some monsters’ main features were sharp, jagged teeth, or great bundles of fur, or sleek glimmering scales, which made them look content and simple, but their eyes said it all. They missed their homes and the discouraging brick walls between them weren’t helping.

Lucy turned to protest on their behalf to Paul, except he handed her a map. A path with enclosures on either side snaked through the zoo. “This way to see the Neanderthal giant” he announced, strolling down the path. Eventually they reached the enclosure which absolutely stunned Lucy.

The most immense, caveman-like figure towered over them. His face was like a big map, with wrinkles as routes, joining everywhere across it, and a chin like an upside-down mountain. His heavy brow gave him the ultimate Neanderthal effect, forming a ridge over his eyes.

Lucy’s breathing turned shallow. Many unanswered questions swam in her head. Suddenly a huge gnarled hand gently grabbed Lucy’s waist and lifted her up and up. Her map fluttered down like a dove. She had second thoughts about the giant. He was probably just as lonely and desperate as the others. Still, it was so nerve-wracking being whisked into the air as Paul turned ant-sized below.

Soon Lucy was face-to-face with the giant. She tried a soft approach, touching his face. Hi grinned impishly, which looked terrible with his wrinkles and eyebrows. Then he turned and lowered her into another enclosure next to his. Lucy lay dazed on a rocky surface, and looked around.

The enclosure was barren with heaps of barbed wire around the edges. Hearing an abrupt rustle, Lucy turned. An exquisite thing stepped forward. With gleaming feathers the shades of sunset, a powerful orange-scarlet glow, and graceful legs the colour of golden wheat, the creature of myths stood before her. The phoenix!

Posted in fabo story, The Winner

FABO Story report for competition 8 judged by Weng Wai Chan

This is my first time as a judge for the FABO Story Competition and I am extremely impressed by the enthusiasm, originality, talent and hard work shown by the 140 young Kiwi writers who sent their stories in. I loved reading all the entries—it was like getting to open a present every time another story arrived in my inbox!

All the stories were special in some way and it is a shame that I can’t name all of them.

There were stories with wonderful sentences such as Olivia Morriss’s: Something about this man wants me to stay far away from him. Like, football field far away. He stops, and frowns down at me, making every fold and wrinkle in his face enlarge, so they look more like canyons and mountains to me.

Emily F told us a lot about the main character’s father with this great sentence: Funny how dad can be such a great guy, yet a guy with a very risky temper.

Some of you wrote what felt like the start of some very exciting longer stories and had me curious as to what was going to happen next, like Aisha G with Auntie Antoinette, her mysterious The B.U.T.T.O.N. Organization and a chilling poem:

…Thanks to our government’s secret:
Our lives have been corrupted.
Now we will stop this, led by the one and only Queen Antoinette.

Sarah P’s work had a great style, which made me want to keep reading because it was so engaging to read: My mind whirls so much, trying to think up some smart words to be my last ones, that I barely notice I had accidentally pushed a tiny, hidden button…

Anna’s story used many of the five senses, so that I felt that I was really in the story: THUMP! I open my eyes. I’m lying on the floor beside my bed. My chest is heaving. My whole body is covered in freezing cold sweat.

Meriania’s story was wonderfully original and told of inherited loss and family trauma: The box is a family heirloom that my great great grandfather lost and bad luck had come upon every generation.

Aleece’s story had a terrific simile: My hands were sweaty and I was shaking like a wet dog. I could visualise the shaking clearly!

Lincey had a great descriptive sentence: My mouth drops to the ground, eyes as big as pizzas, and I am like a muted ipad.

I loved Ruby A’s story, which contained an Ed Sheeran look-alike, as well as drama, sadness, action and humour: I felt awfully awkward as Mr Gee and this customer had invested themselves in a stare off.

The following people gave us wonderful images with their words:

Elena: He’s wearing a blue top hat, a ring made out of metal, a bracelet of blue bowstring strapped tight around his wrist, and a black cane with a red snake wrapping around it and the head as the grip.

Gemini: The bullies were dressed in ripped shorts and t-shirts with sweat dripping down their foreheads and gold chains wrapped around their neck so tight it looked like they were trying to strangle themselves.

Angus : Crocodiles came swimming out of a pristine blue-as-the-ocean river revealing stitches and stuffing pouring out of their stomach. Plastic babies playing with what looked like kites that had flown too far.

Eleanor D: The stranger disappeared, leaving behind green dust.

Arshiya showed us a beautiful room: Flaming orange tiles lined the wall. Emeralds, rubies and sapphires ornamented the strange pillars and sculptures that dotted the room.

Freya B gave us the story of a threatening man and an unexpected outcome: The man couldn’t even finish his next sentence , next thing you know the man was lying on the ground with blood on his head and Mr Gee still with the lamp high in the air.

I liked Jack R’s description: …then they heard a BOOM!!! and it scared the bones out of them!! and also Freya B-T’s image: …and in an instant we were far, far away from the tsunami of shadows.

Georgia W gave us a touching story of a father and child bond, forged in mutual loss: They have no idea what dad and I have been through. He is an amazing person who lost a loved one.

Alfie gave us a great story of a wizard who takes away negativity: …the wizard casted the spell and everything was fun and not boring… EXCEPT Rough Man McGee the king of being negative. It all ends well, though: … they fought hard but Rough Man McGee pulled out an IPhone and said “lets be friend and make a Tik Tok”
So they became good friends and made loads of videos.

I loved Daniel L’s original take on what is in the box. Three balaclava-clad men chase the main character for the box but he runs to his neighbour’s house with it: Mrs Wong will know how to open the box. After all she is the one that told me about it. It is the box with that house’s best sweet n sour pork recipe in the world! I can’t wait for dinner.

Milsy gave us a story of a car chase and ends with the irresistible sentences: “Good news dad, we’ve lost them.” “chur son, but where exactly are we?”

Brenna told us about a magnifying glass that shows you 100 years into the past when you look through it. A golden dragon rampages out of it, and I want to know what happens after this fantastic last sentence, which feels like the start of an epic fantasy: There is a massive dragon in this world now, and it’s all my fault.

Taylor gave us this delightful exchange, about dragons fighting in the sky: “Wait, cats?” I thought. “I didn’t brace myself for flying cats. I’m not sure cats are the best weapons.”
“They seem to work,” the dragon replied.

Caitlin made me laugh, as she wondered about a lady who came into the shop. She was wearing a skin-tight, leather crop top and leather jeans. ‘ Why on earth would a lady in her early 50’s wear a crop top and leather jeans?’ I thought to myself.

Alina’s story had drama, originality and humour: Panicking, I seize the first thing I can get hold of- a plastic baby- and hurl it desperately at the vampire woman. As I throw it, the dress lifts up and sadly, I get a great view of the fake nappy.

Many others deserve honourable mentions, such as James, with a tale of exploding toilets; Brooke and the fabulously named organisation Dark Mayhem; Charlotte and the identical triplet fathers; Indigo and the dangerous Wish-Granter; Miller and the massive swordfish trap; Lucy and her wonderfully chilling horror story of identical twins; Aranui and the scary happenings that turn out (luckily) to be a joke; Lexi with her story of Mr Fedo who helps to keep a garden glowing; Olivia F’s story about taming a dragon; Isla H about being able to see into the future; and Juno, who gave us a compelling story of the theft of the dragon box, with an unpleasant twist at the end.

Special mention must go to Lyndey and William (both 8 years old) whose stories were utterly delightful: Lyndey’s shouty, shiny dragon was hilarious and made me happy; William’s story was vigorous and funny: “Take Zat”, screams Mr Gee jumping out from behind the life-size Spiderman model and knocks him out with a mint condition Star Wars Republic cruiser.”

Many of these wonderful stories came very close to winning, but I have to choose one, and the winner for my story starter is Olivia Whale. Her story had terrific description and humour, and it also had a great theme and was an excellent short story. Well done Olivia W!

I sent it to Penguin author Fleur Beale, the author of many award-winning books for children and young adults. She is the only writer to have twice won the Storylines Gaelyn Gordon Award for a Much-Loved Book: with Slide the Corner in 2007, and I Am Not Esther in 2009. This is what Fleur Beale said about Olivia Whale’s story:

“Olivia’s story is beautifully creepy! Making the dragon the focus rather than continuing with who or what comes through the opening door from the starter is the true writerly trick of not taking the obvious route. I love how the characters of Mr Gee and Ron are fleshed out and made real in a very few words. They give the story depth.

Another excellent aspect of the writing is that the descriptions move the plot forward. Thus while we’re reading about the beauty of the marble we’re also wondering what will happen next. And something exploding with a ‘satisfying POP’ is a great image. Explosions normally mean a huge bang, but a satisfying pop is so much more interesting.
I wanted to eat that hamburger. . .

This is a well-crafted story with good, ‘crunchy’ language and a twisty plot that reaches a satisfying conclusion and all within the word limit which isn’t the easiest thing to do.
Happy writing Olivia, and my very best wishes for your future writing explorations.”
– Fleur

Weng Wai Chan’s Story Starter

My favourite place in the world is the second-hand shop in Main Street. It’s crammed to the ceiling with all sorts of stuff. In fact, things hang from the ceiling too, like paper lanterns and the stuffed crocodile that always seems to be staring at me no matter where I am in the shop.

Mr Gee sits behind the counter, reading a newspaper and ignoring me. That’s one of the best things about this place—Mr Gee never talks to me unless I talk to him first, even on the days when I’ve spent hours here, reading or touching objects, while waiting for my dad to come and get me. The other thing I like is that there’s always something new to find.

Today, I walk past the old comics, the bin of plastic babies and the display of Star Wars toys, some of which are still ‘mint in box’—at least, that’s what it says on the sign beneath it.
Just past the musical penguins section is an old red wooden box that I’ve never seen before. A dragon is carved into the lid. Just as I touch it, I hear the front door of the shop open…

Olivia Whale’s Winning Entry

I glance up, before recentering my focus on the box. I trace my finger over the etched dragon’s patterns and features, its stomach, tail, and finally it’s multicolored eye of violet, ruby and silver, then flip it open. My jaw drops.

A marble. The small marble is nestled amongst the layers of black velvets, hidden. I flinch, and sweep the fuzzy blankets over. It’s a clouded grey, with mixes of smokey indigo and faded crimson. Amazing. Breathtaking. And… Changing?

The marbles sides strain, and with a satisfying little POP the marble explodes, leaving behind a hamburger. Huh?

The smooth tomatoes are diced thin and a vibrant glossy red; the crinkly green lettuce is finely chopped, crisp and cool; the moist Swiss cheese slices smell warm and homey; the thick meat patty is beefy and juicy dark; and the warm crusty buns hold the culinary perfection altogether, crafting my favorite meal.

Licking my lips, leaning for the burger, outstretching my finger…

“Ow!” I cry, as a sharp jolt of pain dances up and along to my shoulder, lunging for my neck. I brace myself, but it fades away as quickly as it came. What’s that old saying? Ah, yes, curiosity killed the cat.

The small pearl has rolled onto the ground.

I turn to leave, but…

“Meow,” It’s Ron.

Ron is Mr Gee’s cat. He’s sleek, white and small, about as big as my arm, with ginger patches – the biggest is on his head – and big, cinnamon colour eyes, filled with understanding and of course curiosity. But my favorite part about Ron is this: when I see him, he never fails to make me giggle, because I imagine him at the wheel of a rusty blue car with big, feathery angel wings, flying over acres of native bush and billowing blue waterfalls.

“Meow,” he repeats. Then he notices the marble.

His eyes grow large and longing as he takes in the marble, which morphs into a salmon in a snap, lying limp and disgustingly stinky on the wooden floorboards. Ron doesn’t seem to mind the pong ad he trots forward, and before I have time to stop him… he licks the fish.

“REOW!” Screeches Ron, flopping onto his back like a fly in a spasm of seizures. Then suddenly he is still, looking like some kind of sick, furry omelet. I place my hand on his chest: dead.

Curiosity killed the cat.

I use the Star Wars figurines to scoop up the colourful pearl, drop it into its wooden cocoon, then walk to the counter.

“Uh, Mr Gee? Is this yours?” I stutter.

He glares at me, looking suddenly reptilian. I can see swirls of grey, indigo, and crimson within them; his pasty skin gives of a scaly texture. “Ah yes…” He slurs, his melodic voice soft, sadistic. Then he smiles, with pointy, too-white teeth. “It seems curiosity truly did kill the cat…”

Posted in fabo story, The Winner

FABO Story report for competition 7 judged by Elena De Roo

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)

Best endings:

“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.

Pamela says:

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.

Posted in fabo story, The Winner

FABO Story report for competition 6 judged by Sue Copsey

Hey everyone! Well you’ve made my life very difficult, having to choose between all these amazing stories! All 154 of them. One thing’s for sure – you may have been locked down, but your imaginations haven’t been! The standard of these stories has blown me away. This is my third or fourth time as FABO judge and usually I quickly whittle it down to a shortlist of about ten. Guys, this time I have FIFTY-ONE on my long list. (Help me! )

OK, just going to get myself a fortifying cup of tea then I’ll settle down to read my favourites again, and choose a winner.


Right. So I asked you to finish the story about the mysterious yellow flash in the trees. What was it? It was (are you ready?): a wolf, a phoenix (3 of those), a tui, huia (x 4), dragon (many), a puppy, a mind-reading golden-feathered super-powerful kiwi, various reptiles both friendly and fierce, a silvereye, a fairy, a diplodocus, a portal to another dimension, a griffin, a kakapo, a yellow octopus, an orphaned boy, a tiger (x 2), a grosbeak, a Covid-19-infected wild beast; there were talking lemons and talking bananas; a butterfly, lightning, lemur, golden owl, troll, golden-dragon-owl, a little gold box, scorpion, deer, baby in a crashed plane, an android tomtit, a yellow cat in a spaceship, the rare yellow head (x2), a horse, a toad, a fairy tern, a moa, gecko and buttercup.

Some stories had me snorting with laughter (especially the talking lemons and bananas), while others gave me the shivers; some of your description was so beautiful it made me sigh.

I liked how many of you paid attention to the detail in the story starter and brought that through – the sandwiches, the kauri dieback, and the patupaiarehe. Thumbs up to those of you who knew, or looked up, the meaning of patupaiarehe. Monty Parr wrote: “A little pale-skinned, red-haired person stands there. It looks just as at home in the maze of branches as we humans are in a house. I give a little gasp as an old legend comes back to me. In Maori mythology there are little creatures like this one called Patupaiarehe that live in the deep forest and the mountains … I realise that Patupaiarehe Bush has been left alone for five months, so you could easily call it deep forest. Maybe the bush is living up to its name.”

And Denzel Grevers-Smith wrote: “… standing around me are human-like creatures in the shadows of the dark forest. They have pale white skin. Some have flaming red hair, some have blond. They have dark blue eyes and they are wearing red flax garments. Some men are playing slow enchanting music on flutes and some women are weaving kete.”

This from Zoe Bedford: “The music weaves around me, swirling and twisting. Every fibre of my body wants to follow the Patupaiarehe – for I am now sure that is what it is – as it hops away into the underbrush.”

Before I announce the winner, here are my honourable mentions. I have so many, but I’ll try not to break the internet …

I loved the stories that featured an extinct bird returning to the forest. Maytal Noy wrote: “Huias are a symbol of love because they can’t survive without each other … I want to protect these two beautiful birds with every last atom of my body.”

Frida Peltzer wrote about little yellow birds that helped to save the endangered fairy tern. This was the twist at the end of Frida’s story: “There are heaps of little yellow birds dancing in the trees … Perhaps they are the Patupaiarehe … ‘Thank you’ I whisper, saluting them.”

Caitlyn Young had the forest spirits helping to save the kauri: “‘We are the Forest Spirits,’ she says, ‘and we look after this bit of bush. When the kauri disease came, we protected the forest … I gawp at her. ‘So you’re the one getting rid of kauri dieback?’ I say, shocked.”

There was some superb scary writing that had me looking over my shoulder. Olive Evans wrote about signs appearing in the forest, with messages like: THEY’RE COMING TO GET YOU; NO-ONE IS SAFE ANY MORE; and how about this … THE BIRDS DON’T SING ANYMORE. THEY SCREAM.

Olivia Whale wrote a brilliant ghost story. It was beautifully set out (thank you to those of you who took the time to think about your paragraphs and punctuation). This from Olivia: “I crawl under a fern and behind a kauri tree, reaching for the golden wisp, but it dissolves into thin air. Whoosh! It’s further up the trail, I can hear its hummed lullaby, like an ancient chant.”

Mia Fraser also wrote a superb ghost story with great atmosphere.

Big thumbs up to eight-year-old William Kelly, who wrote about a boy and a baby velociraptor. Well done for picking up the reference to caramel in the story starter: “It stares back at me with big blue watery eyes with a sliver of green through them – the colour of those green fruit bursts (not the yellow ones they’re disgusting). When it blinks, I smell a waft, something sweet, like caramel.”

Plot twists – surprises at the end – are always clever; they give your story the ‘wow factor’. Well done to Ayla for: “Ma’am, we don’t have a Burmese python.”
Bethany Scott-Donelan told an intriguing story that made the reader think hard about what was going on. I loved this line: “My sandlike mouth drops open, eyes gaping, trying to chase fact from fiction.”

Originality is important – how can you make your story stand out from everyone else’s? Kiri Clendon wrote a fun, quirky and surprising story about the Great Pet Revolution: ‘… the cats said that humans shouldn’t take other animals as pets and that they would take humans as pets if they didn’t stop. So after a bit of fighting a treaty was signed.”

Many of you wrote beautiful, rich descriptions of the forest and its inhabitants. Words that had me smelling, seeing, sensing … this from Dawn Rattanong: “A bird emitting warmth from each and every feather … It’s radiance shines throughout the trees, out-snazzing every possible competitor.”

And from Connie Wiles, “The tiny ball of light waltzes past the trees, spinning around in circles, heading off the track, deeper into the bush. A beautiful, yet haunting melody following closely behind.”

Lucy Kennedy wrote, “a pair of neatly-folded glittering wings, tinted yellow like stained glass with condensation on a winter’s morning”, and Fiamma Pyne’s story began: “It’s a portal. The cheery yellow darkens and morphs into a deeper, more dangerous colour; a deep blood red one that sends your mind to treacherous places where danger occurs …”

There were some great similes, like this from Jessica Rankin: “… that possibility flies out of my mind faster than a peregrine falcon at top speed.”

William Phoon’s story was funny and action packed and told with lots of bounce, and I loved Archibald Button’s story featuring a brave ecowarrior who took on the men in yellow vests.
More honourable mentions: Sophie Norris (such a clever idea!), Arvin Bhuiyan (a nice mystical vibe), Amber Henry (clever and gruesome), Sam Smith (I love your powers of observation – “there’s a couple in matching fitness outfits”), Samantha Muirhead (nice plot twist), Aisha Gemala (future fantasy writer), Isobel Knowles (I liked how the Patupaiarehe were dismayed that people had come back to the forest); Grace Moodie (lovely description and a nice twist); Ivanka Singh – I absolutely loved your tale of trolls; Indigo Tomlinson ¬– superb writing (“Its feathers are the colour of sunshine on butter”).

Casey Mackintosh – what can I say? A giant talking banana called Jill. I salute your wonderful imagination, and thanks so much for putting a big smile on my face. More thumbs up, to: Pearl from Lincoln Heights School (lovely writing), Clara Stupples (great suspense), Neve Overend (future horror story writer), Leo Jordan (a flying yellow octopus in the forest – well, these are strange times so why not!), Emelie Wissel (“you have no idea what two months of lockdown does to a kid”); Juliet Young (sinister lemons – loved it!), Nelima (whose wonderful imagination took me all the way to Pennsylvania); Meghan Benefield (nice mention of Jacinda); Lois from Bucklands Beach Primary – loved how the trip to the forest made your narrator think about the good things to have come out of lockdown; Isaac Ketchmark – your story was very cool, I love your imagination and you have a unique voice; Cate Neal – lovely description.

Victoria Murdoch – your story was a close runner up, I love your imagination and your powers of description.

And now (drum roll) … my second place goes to Maddie McDowell for her story about a little gold box that turned out to be a time travel machine. Congratulations on lovely writing, and please enter again (and again!).

But my winner this week is Malia Denny from Mapua School. Malia’s story had everything I was looking for. It was original (it had that extra something that really made it stand out), good pace (no boring bits), great description, tension, humour, a plot twist, and it rounded off with a clever poem. Congratulations Malia on a wonderful story!

And here is what one of my favourite writers, the multi-award-winning Mandy Hager, has to say about Malia’s story. Mandy is the author of many fantastic books, including Singing Home the Whale, Dear Vincent, and The Nature of Ash, so praise from Mandy is a precious thing – Malia, you should print this off and frame it!

Mandy says:

“I love this story. It’s inventive and playful, while still managing to create a sense of dread, with a fascinating twist at the end. The language is rich and original, and the metaphors strong and unexpected, and the poem at the end is so unique it will stay with me for a long time. Congratulations to Malia – I hope this is the start of a long writing career!”

Sue Copsey’s Story Starter

This is the first time we’ve been to the forest since lockdown. In fact since way before that, because of the whole kauri dieback business. Only one walking track has been open in the whole regional park since forever. You have to disinfect your feet as you go in, just like you have to disinfect your hands when you go to the pharmacy or whatever now.

Seems to have been all about diseases, recently.

But now, lockdown is over (yay and double yay!) and they’ve reopened two more tracks where the trees are getting better too, and so we’ve driven over to Patupaiarehe Bush and brought a picnic. Just like old times! But of course, the parentals want to make us work for our sammys. So we’re yomping through the trees, but it’s tough going. Plants have grown across the path; there’s a mad tangle of rata vines on the forest floor trying to trip us up.

It feels different to before. Denser. Greener. It smells of rain and earth and something sweet, like caramel. It’s quieter – a deeper kind of silence – but there’s more birdsong. I hear rustling in the bushes.

“Nature’s really reclaimed this, eh?” says Mum.

A flash of something yellow to my left catches my eye, and I stop. Perhaps it’s a tomtit. Such a cute little bird. “I’ll catch you up,” I call. I peer into the shadows, and I see it again. But it isn’t a tomtit …

Here is Malia’s tale:

The golden scales glow in the pale light. My eyes slowly adjust as I realize what I see. A shiver runs down my spine, I cower in fear, an urge to call to Mum boils in my mouth. I’m tempted to run and never come back, but my feet are dug into the squidgy mud, cemented like concrete.

Something stops me though … I realize this is the only chance I might get to ever see something as beautiful yet deadly in my entire life.

It swaggers forward – almost gloating over my naiveness, my innocent eagerness to see more.

Beadily, its eyes swivel, examining me – I am reminded of a dartboard and a player; he is the thrower and I am the board, pinned to a wall, flinching in fear of what was to come.

It makes a sudden lunge at my shoulder, I jump to the left, feeling like a dancer imitating my partner’s moves. I imagine the pianist’s fingers weaving about the soft keys, music sputtering out the majestic instrument.

In my head, I hear the music rising, getting louder, as we follow the dance, I step back as it does a jeté reaching out to snatch me up. I glance behind me and the truth slowly dawns on me … I’m trapped! The dark forest lays behind me and a still clearing lies ahead. Mum has disappeared and I’m alone with this beast!

It smirks, laughing at my desperate efforts to fend it off. Slowly it comes around me, its breath gently blowing down my back just enough to know it’s there, I writhe and squirm, fighting with all my strength.

Just when I think I’m knocking on death’s door, I feel a sudden peck at the hair on my head. Startled, I squeeze my eyes tight anticipating the pain to come.

A sudden stillness spreads around the forest floor, my breathing calms almost automatically, my eyes are still shut but I muster the courage to peep through one eyelid. To my surprise and delight I see the silhouette of Mum glowering down. Shocked, I pinch myself, determined it’s all been a dream, but … my skin’s turning a pinkish colour – the mark from my self-imposed suffering.

Scrambling up, I mutter something about getting a tad distracted. She winks, and says with a sly smile, “Only a tad? I’ve been waiting for half an hour!”

Sheepishly, I suddenly take a deep interest in the old knotted shoe-lace on my sneaker, wanting to look at anything apart from Mum.

“A-are you sure there was nothing here when you came Mum?” I ask, trying to sound normal.

“Definite! I just saw you taking a wee nap when I arrived!” She chuckles.

I frown, and place my hands on my shoulder, a line wriggles across my brow as, to my utter surprise I feel a leaflet stuck to my clothing. Opening it quickly, I read:

All I ever wanted was the bug upon your shoulder,
However I was in vain, It only smirked and grew bolder.
I shall forever remember this day,
The day, I met a walking, talking meal and I say,
“Some time, some day, I shall be back,
To meet you again in the proper way.”

See you again for a nice handshake,
Master Blake, the yellow snake.

Posted in fabo story, The Winner

FABO Story report for competition 5 judged by Kathy White

You guys are fabulous. I had so much fun this week reading your stories – perhaps not so much fun trying to figure out who was going to win the prize this week, because there were so many people who wrote well – but thank you, thank you, thank you for putting so much thought into our 5th writing competition, The Oak Tree Gang.

There were 134 entries this time – from all over New Zealand, and even from children in the UK, Taiwan and Malaysia. One thing was certain, no matter how old you were (three amazing entries were from four-year-olds), or where you were from, you were all keen writers, making the most of your spare time in Lockdown. Awesome.

THE STORY STARTER – I’ve been a judge with Fabo for more than ten years, and it constantly amazes me how many different ideas, genres and styles can come from a single story-starter. Every single one of you sounded different, as if you have your own unique writing fingerprint.

Some of you didn’t use the story starter, and just wrote your own story, saying it wasn’t your style. Just remember that it’s good practice to experiment with writing in all genres and styles, because it helps you to figure out what you DO like, and it hones your writing skills. I also can’t give prizes to people who write a story that’s not connected to the story starter, no matter how good your writing is, so PLEASE always use the story starter and find a way to add your own flavour to it.

YOUR IDEAS – On the surface, this story starter was about a few kids who came home to a street with no oak trees and a monolithic tower outside their home. But what was it REALLY about? You sent me sinister plots of mind control and surveillance, rival gangs, Russian spy agencies and people stealing data and cats. Neighbours disappeared at the same rate as the trees, factories pumped out grey fumes into the air, and birds were killed by radiation from the towers. There were killer power poles and drones, evil household appliances and automated houses. I have to say, you really liked the drones 😊 and poor Tyler seemed to bear the brunt of them.

There were also heroes going into battle, bamboozling and destroying drones, infiltrating factories, rescuing kidnapped cats, taking on the lead role in a fight to protect the world against alien invaders, investigating the law around protecting 100-year-old oak trees, and protesting at the council office and in Oak Tree Lane. You had some very innovative solutions to protecting that last oak tree. It took on symbolic significance for a lot of you, as it should. I particularly liked Hannah Tait’s story about an old man, a Valiant, just before he died, passing a magical weapon to the Oak Tree Gang, to protect the last of the ancient trees that are vital to our world’s survival.

Of course, where there’s action and argument, there’s also sometimes failure and despair. Zahra was especially good at writing with emotion, as were Alex, Summer and Anna.

Will, Angus, Theo , Harry, Juno, Frida, Hannah, Alexander and Molly wrote great action sequences. I also enjoyed reading good dialogue (conversations between people), with the best examples building on the personalities of the characters. Indigo, Cora, Olivia, Holly, Theo, Taylor, Emily, Hannah, Sadra, Emelie, Bethany and Victoria were all good at this.

Here’s an example from Victoria Murdoch, whose character was a little sinister:

“I wasn’t expecting a crowd. That was simply your choice. I thought perhaps there would be a tagger-on, but young people do tend to stick to one another like magic potion gone wrong ….” His words slipped from his mouth like an eel moving through water.

And one from Theo Parks, building on the character Deano’s superior vocabulary skills:

“We’ve just come back from school camp. Do you have anything to do with this …” I wave my hand around the forest of stumps. “M-er …” I can’t think of anything to say. “Deforestation,” Deano said. I shot Deano a glare.

And from Bethany Scott-Donelan, showing the distinctive dialogue of an older sister:

My older sister Kim then bounded in, looking strangely joyful. “Ügh stop with your frowny faces, boys. I have an idea.”

Treasure in language – The best thing about your stories was the words that you used and how you put them together, whether it was to create a scene, a mood, or to show something about the characters and the relationships between them.

Here are some of my favourite lines from your writing this week –

“Then we will just have to say our goodbyes, and not only to our tree, but also to our gang.” It was the stinging truth, you can’t have an Oak Tree Gang without oak trees. (Emelie Wissel)

Everything around me became a blur, like this whole event was just a nightmare. But it wasn’t, this is the grim reality, and not even some kids that fell in love with their little forest could stop the buried truth. (Emelie Wissel)

I didn’t even care that I had missed crumpets. I don’t know what had gotten into me. I love crumpets. (Arshiya Tuli)

The driver was a huge brick of a man (Seb Gibbs)

The drone’s light examined us. It saw our imploring looks. With a grunt, it whirred away into the orange sky, and the sky’s colour began to change again. The whispers of the breeze rose to a roar. (Arshiya Tuli)

My mind was so much like the ocean, calm on the surface with so many deep undercurrents, all of them with their own purpose. (Samantha Muirhead)

One by one, the cats jumped, their parachutes floating like coloured jellyfish out behind them. (Ben Parker)

It was hell to see the last oak tree also bend down into saw dust. (Zahra Parker)


My overlong shortlist included Emelie, Indigo, Arshiya, Taylor, Seb, Finn, Zahra, Taylor, Theo, Angela, Juno, Karina, Will, Juliet, Amadeia, Emily, Lucia, Evie, Bethany, Hannah, Olivia and Samantha.

You all had moments of brilliance. Please don’t despair if I haven’t mentioned you in my report. Every week is a new competition and a new judge. This week is Sue Copsey, who has both a quirky sense of humour and a love of things ghostly. Don’t delay. Get writing and enter the 6th writing competition.

But now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for ….

The 5th writing competition winner is 12 year-old Indigo Tomlinson from Whakatane Intermediate. Her story is particularly strong in dialogue and imagery.

Here are some of my favourite lines –

There was an air of menace about him, as though we were dancing on the edge of an icicle.

… the red light gleamed like vampire eyes ëven in the hazy afternoon sun.

His smile was like barbed wire.

That’s how he was looking at us. Like we were unwanted gifts.

David Hill, author of various books including Kiwi Bites and picture books about Edmund Hillary, Joan Wiffen, Peter Blake, and Jacinda Ardern also said

“Congratulations to Indigo on her success. I’m impressed by the tightness of her story – the way she’s managed to fit so many events into a small space. Things move briskly, clearly, and it’s a clever, unsettling ending. I very much like her use of dialogue, which is such a good way of showing mood, characters, relationships. The people in her story are authentic, and there’s a nice range of feelings among them. A good layout also, with a variety of paragraph and sentence lengths. The story looks interesting on the page. Congratulations to a writer from whom I hope we’ll hear more in the future.”

And that pretty much says it all. Kia kaha, Indigo. We’ll be in touch about your prize, a book from our fabulous sponsor, Puffin Books, soon.

– Kathy

Kathy White’s Story Starter: The Oak Tree Gang

“So how was it?” Mum asked as she drove through the Heu Heu Street intersection. “You boys weren’t too happy about going on your first school camp.”

Deano leaned forward through the gap in the front seat. “It wasn’t too bad, Mrs G, apart from the horrific river run …”

Wills groaned.

” … and Wills getting called Puffin’ Billy because of his asthma,” I added. Wills coughed as if on cue.

“And the over-salted rabbit stew on toast was disgusting.” Deano pulled a face. “Please don’t add it to your fine culinary repertoire, Mrs G.”

Mum smiled at him.

I sighed. Deano always impressed my mum with his vocabulary. I just wished he didn’t manage to make me look quite so stupid in comparison.

I yawned and pressed my face against the window as we turned the corner into Oak Tree Lane. Suddenly I was more awake than I’d been all week. “What’s happened to all the trees?”

Last week the street had been full of magnificent 100-year-old oak trees, one on every grass verge. Now they were stumps in the ground smothered in a fine layer of sawdust. I felt sick.

“As long as they haven’t cut ours down,” Wills wheezed. “You can’t have an Oak Tree Gang without an oak tree.”

I knew the news was bad as soon as I saw Mum’s face in the rear-view mirror.

“A phone company cut them down yesterday,” she said. “I came home from work to find it looking like this.” She pointed ahead of the car.

Holy macaroni. Right where our tree used to be, outside number 14, was an enormous tower made of concrete and steel. On the top were three antennae, and a platform full of dark grey boxes with LED lights.
What had they done with our club-house? And where was the flying fox that went into the gully?

“No way! ” Deano yelled, stumbling out of the car before it had pulled into the driveway. “There must be a law against this.”

“Apparently not,” Mum sighed, slamming the door. “I called them and they said the tree wasn’t on our land. There’s just one tree left and they’re coming to cut that down tomorrow.”

“Oh woe is me,” Deano said, sinking to his knees.

I heard a sound behind me and turned to see my beautiful cat, Tyler, running toward me, the bell on his collar jangling, and his big belly swaying. He started rubbing himself against my jeans, a big smile on his whiskery grey face. He obviously didn’t understand that this was mega.

“Hang on a minute,” said Wills, squinting. He pointed to a grey box at the top of the tower. “That looks like a mammoth drone.”

That’s when the light came on. A red laser light. And its sights were focused on ….

Indigo Tomlinson’s Winning Entry

I was still fuming, but the red light gleamed like vampire eyes even in the hazy afternoon sun. It rotated slowly till the tip was focused directly on Wills, Deano and me. Wills took a step back, waxy skin pale and cheekbones pulled into sharp relief as he took hasty little puffs on his inhaler. Deano glowered at the structure.
‘’What is that drone thing?’’ I asked, Mum sighed and shrugged,

‘’I don’t know but I’m going to cook dinner. You boys must be starving!’’ she pulled a silly face, ‘’Fancy any more rabbit stew on toast?’’

‘’Muuuum!’’ I groaned. She made her way inside the house, and we were left alone with the towering monolith. The gigantic drone lifted off into the air and whirred towards the ground, with a sound like a ferocious wasp’s nest. I shivered. An ashy black bird it landed on the ground next to us and I was reminded of my Grandfather’s funeral, and the way everything felt heavy and smelled of plastic flowers from the dollar shop. It was a funeral really. The funeral of our Clubhouse. The funeral of the Oak Tree Gang.

‘’I can’t believe anyone could commit such vicious sacrilege!’’ Deano declared theatrically. Neither could I. Anger bubbled like a lava lamp inside me.

‘’Wait!’’ Wills cried, ‘’Jo, didn’t your Mum say there was one tree left?’’ I nodded slowly,

‘’But they’re cutting it down tomorrow’’ I replied, Deano narrowed his eyes,

‘’We can stop them!’’ he cried, ‘’Tie ourselves to the branches! Y’know, like those environmental thingys!’’

‘’I’m afraid you can’t.’’ a frozen voice like an alpine lake said from behind us. We whirled around. A businessman in a crisp blue suit stood waiting. He reminded me of a glacier. Polished, yet hard and cold. There was an air of menace about him, as though we were dancing on the knife edge of an icicle. He smiled. A perfect celebrity smile. Fake, and shiny the way you are when you get a birthday present you really don’t like. That’s how he was looking at us. Like we were unwanted gifts. Fear bloomed in my stomach like poisonous spores.

‘’My name is Arnold Blunderbuss.’’ he said, ‘’I work for a multi-million dollar company.’’ his smile was like barbed wire, ‘’People pay us to, discover things. I suppose you could call us the ‘’gossips.’’ We give them the information. They give us the money. ’’ He clearly had no practice talking to pre-adolescents.

‘’What he’s saying,’ Wills explained adjusting his round glasses, ‘’Is that his company is invading peoples privacy then selling their personal data, using the tower and the drone! They’re not telephone people at all!’’

‘’Gah!!’’ screamed Arnold Blunderbuss. He lunged for Wills, but with the hiss of an exploding kettle, Tyler (whom I had completely forgotten about) landed on Mr. Blunderbusses perfectly gelled hair and clawed viciously at his face. He worked as a very good pair of head cuffs until the police arrived.

A few weeks later I woke up and looked out the window. A glacial looking man in neon orange community service overalls was digging a hole down by the road. Next to him was a baby oak tree. I smiled.

Posted in fabo story, The Winner

FABO Story report for competition 4 judged by Helen Vivienne Fletcher!

Wow! Judging Fabo Story is never an easy task, with so many talented young writers sending in their work, but this round there were a whopping 277 entries which made picking just one winner a particularly difficult job.

I was so impressed with the fantastic stories, and the range of ideas and styles of writing presented, especially as many of you are only just beginning to explore storytelling, and are already so talented. Our youngest entrant was just four years old, which is an amazing effort, and I think might be a record for youngest ever entrant to Fabo (thanks Harlyn and Harlyn’s helper!)

We had bookshelves falling down like dominoes, staircases made of books, Uncle Toby appearing with a ladder, and one story where Marco climbed a stuffed giraffe to reach the top shelf. There were many fantastical stories. Julia Moffitt’s library-eating book and sugar-and-spice-stew cure was a great adventure that had me on the edge of my seat. But I also enjoyed the real-world tales. I was always happy when Marco finally found a cosy armchair, or spot sitting in a tree, to curl up and read, like in Amy Cordwell’s entry where Marco had to outwit his uncle, with a cup of tea, to finally get the chance to read.

There were flying books, talking books, blank books Marco had to write himself, and books that were portals to Candyland, Booktopia, Wonderland and many other fantastical worlds. There were hidden jewels, secret tunnels, magical buttons, and keys, lockets, whistles and notes hidden between the pages.

There were pixies, fairies, trolls, narwhals, and robot dog librarians; evil and imposter versions of Uncle Toby, and missing parents being returned or coming back to life. I also enjoyed the cameos from book and fairy tale characters, from Harry Potter to Tweedle Dum and Dee, Cinderella to Toothless, Red Riding Hood and many more. We also had a few real life “characters” appearing, including Donald Trump, Bear Grylls, and I even found myself popping up in a few stories. I also loved the original characters created by entrants – Amy Dillon’s Bookeaters and Lilly Griffiths’ character “Charli” were some that stood out.

Some stories had stories within the story, poems, secret messages or riddles, and a few had powerful morals. Maytal Noy’s cleverly rhyming poem was one particularly notable example, and Ishel of Te Miro School and Jesse Richards had great stories with lessons woven into them. I was also very impressed with Molly Sherriff, who included an original blurb for a book in her story. Ask any author and they’ll tell you writing the blurb can sometimes be harder than writing the book itself, so Molly did very well to create a convincing one.

With so many entries, it’s impossible to mention everyone, but please know that every story was carefully read and considered. There were so many stories I loved, so please don’t be discouraged if you don’t find your name or idea mentioned here. A huge number of the ideas were strong enough to be developed into much longer stories or even novels. I know many of you will go on to do great things with your writing.

Before I announce the winning entry, I’d like to mention a few runners up.

Abigail of Royal Oak Intermediate and Cassia Wallace. These were stories that had me thinking about them later. Making a story creepy without being over the top takes a lot of skill, and both of these entries did this very well.

Evie Haughton had some great imagery. I particularly liked the moment where Marco saw his own reflection in the crystal wall, and it made him rethink the consequences of sharing his discovery.

Indigo Tomlinson – Great writing makes you want to share it with other people. I really wanted to tell all my writer friend’s about the writing residency in Indigo’s story, and the evil uncle stealing ideas. A very imaginative plot – Uncle Toby clearly hasn’t stolen Indigo’s ideas!

And now, on to the winner…

Congratulations, 12-year-old, Ariana Kralicek.

One of my criteria for a winning story is one that stays with me after I finish reading. Ariana had such vivid imagery in her story, it was easy to picture the strange world she described, and I found myself thinking about it long after I had put it down.

Ariana’s writing was full of carefully built tension. Lines like:

“It felt heavy and rough, brimming with secrets threatening to spill”
drew me into the story and made me want to know more. I just had to find out the English translation of the Czech phrase, and I wanted to know what was beyond the strange archway. I even dreamt about Ariana’s story, which told me it had certainly had a powerful effect!

Chris Mousdale, author of A Place of Stone and Darkness also read Ariana’s story and had this to say:

This is a lovely, poetic image: “A rainstorm of books had flooded the room, a dull haze of colours.”

The story passage builds very effectively as we follow Marco through the bookshelf ‘portal’ device that brings him to the doorway.

Good use of simile: “…like a spear through a tree trunk.” Of course, I had to google translate the Czech phrase – ‘The land of miracles, the fate of death’!

It seems the journey will be dangerous. Will the miracles evade the inevitability of fate or will they offer surprises that we never saw coming?

Ariana delivers a gripping prelude and her writing is assured and evocative. Terrific!

Congratulations again, Ariana! We’ll be in touch about your prize, a book from our fabulous sponsor, Puffin Books.

Helen Vivienne Fletcher xx

Helen Vivienne Fletcher’s Story Starter

Marco had never met anyone who had a whole library in their house before. Bookshelves, sure, maybe even a wall covered in books, but never a whole room. His uncle had just that, and it was a BIG room. The towering shelves stretched up, up, up in front of Marco, each containing hundreds, if not thousands of tomes. He spotted Alice in Wonderland on one shelf, The Wizard of Oz on another. He’d enjoyed those books, but today he wanted to read something new.

He wandered between the shelves, reading the spines. Something was calling to him, he could feel it. Like a little whispering voice, it was as if he could “hear” that the perfect story was in this room, just waiting for him.

Finally, he saw it. At the very top of one of the shelves, a single book seemed to stand out. The title, The Book of the Missing, was written in gold lettering, which caught the light. It was practically glowing! Marco knew he had to read it.

There was just one small problem. The book was near the ceiling, and that was at least three metres out of his reach.

“How on earth does Uncle Toby get books down?” he said aloud.

The books didn’t answer.

“Well,” said Marco, “there’s only one thing for it.”

He got a foot up onto the bottom shelf, and started to climb …

Ariana’s Winning Story

Marco gripped the sturdy shelves as he carefully made his way up. His knuckles were turning white from clinging on, and his feet ached with every step he took.

Finally, he found himself at the very top of the bookshelf. The Book of the Missing was right in front of him. He warily glanced down and was hit with a wave of vertigo. The floor of the library seemed so far away. How had he even made it up this far?

Marco shook off the dizzy feeling and pulled himself together. This was his one chance to prove to himself that he was brave.

He reached out one hand, and closed his exhausted fingers around the Book of the Missing’s spine. It felt heavy and rough, brimming with secrets threatening to spill. But just as he was about to climb down, his left foot slipped off one shelf and in his panic, he fell, bringing the bookshelf down with him.

When Marco finally opened his eyes, he was surrounded by darkness. A heavy weight was crushing him. He gasped for air, and in one swift move, lifted the heavy shelf off himself just enough to wriggle out.

A rainstorm of books had flooded the room, a dull haze of colours.

Marco rubbed his eyes. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted The Book of the Missing. It lay open, a thick black block of words scrawled on each page.

Marco limped over to the book and picked it up. He read aloud the first words he saw.

“Země zázraků, osud smrti.” He recognized the words as Czech, a language from Eastern Europe.

Then, without warning, the book’s pages started flipping rapidly. A thick cloud of dust appeared, enveloping Marco. A swirling sensation made his stomach flip, and his feet couldn’t find hard ground. His eyes screamed for moisture.

And then suddenly, the swirling stopped.

Marco’s feet hit dry soil and a wave of ground shock travelled up his legs, like a spear through a tree trunk.

Marco gazed at his surroundings. Hundreds of piles of metal junk towered above him, rusty and sharp. The sky was a deep grey, and with horror, he realised that the soil he was standing on was a dirty shade of black.

But the one thing that caught his eye was an old-looking wooden archway, with peeling white paint. At the top of the archway was a crooked sign with red letters hastily painted on, as if the person who had made it didn’t care about what it would end up looking like.

As he read the sign, Marco gasped, and arrows of adrenaline shot through his body.

For the words on the sign were Land of the Missing.

Posted in fabo story, The Winner

FABO Story report for competition 3 judged by Michele Powles!

Wow. The tale of Briony and Jeremy’s online zoo visit really got some imagination juice flowing this week. There were close to 250 entries, and every time I thought I’d found the winner, another fantastic story appeared on my screen. To say choosing who to select was as difficult as grabbing a penguin by its shadow is an understatement!

You came up with a HUGE range of possible intruders into the penguin and puffin enclosure. There were a lot of bad-dads, supervillain-mums and dodgy uncles, robots, aliens and deadly ninjas, but there were also spies, teachers and a dastardly famous author, giraffes, gorillas and tigers, an elephant, a rival zoo owner and hypnotised guinea pigs! I also particularly liked Floyd Palmer’s giant evil marshmallow! The police were very busy in the majority of stories.

There was a lot of thought, creativity and skill in every single one of the stories and you all impressed me with your descriptive powers, understanding of metaphor, simile, dialogue and punctuation. Well done. A small note that might be useful for next time is to think about tense. If you start your story in past tense: he went, she was, they thought, stay in the past tense unless there is a clear time change in your story. There were quite a few stories that leapt into present tense: he goes, she is, they think, part way through an otherwise truly excellent story. Sometimes I could tell that you’d just got so involved with the story telling that you’d simply forgotten what tense you were in (I do this too!) so remember to read your story through a few times before you submit. This last proof read will pick up lots of these sorts of annoying details. Because the entries are JUST SO GOOD though, little things like this make a difference to who is named the winner in the end.

Also remember to read the details of the story carefully. Jeremy and Briony were watching the online live stream of the penguins and puffins at Saint Louis zoo. The zoo is in Missouri in the United States of America so unless you located your characters in America (which some of you did, well done particularly to Anika Myers for her descriptions of the endless streets of Missouri) it was going to be pretty difficult for them to pop down the road to the zoo. But there were plenty of ingenious ways you got around this issue: magic spears, teleportation potions and shapeshifting laptop screens, even magic crystals and a lightning fairy.

There is a long list of honourable mentions this week because, well, so many of you deserve it.

For cracking dialogue Ria Nielsen from Albany Junior High School, Frida Peltzer from Springston School, Aisha Gemala from Parnell District School, Olivia Morriss from Oamaru Intermediate (who also managed to showcase her ability in French), and to Surina Ranchhodji from Ponsonby Intermediate for her lovely penguin lullaby.

For great descriptions, a wow to William Kelly of Wellington, Charlotte Howell from Island Bay School, Samantha Muirhead from Kenakena School, with great lines like, “Glowing saggy skin was surrounding small opening on its face”, and also Isobel Knowles from Glen Eden Intermediate School, with lines like “The man’s face was distorted, with an ugly scar running from his nose to his chin.

For lively onomatopoeia and disco drones, a huge shout out to Cate Ambury, and to her younger brother Tom for his brilliant and very current lockdown story complete with the cancellation of the Animalympics.

For wonderful action sequences, well done to Taylor O’Reilly from Carmel College, Madeleine Lucas who is homeschooling (even before lockdown), to Megan from Bohally Intermediate School for making a great anti-villain who made an antidote to a deadly virus, and to Chiara Hogan-Seijo from Huirangi, who’s hero rescuing the penguins and released them back into the wild.

I also have to give a special mention to seven-year-old Elise de Moulin from Bethlehem College, this week’s youngest competitor, who gave the older writers a serious run for their money with her story.

But we have to choose the top stories, so, to the runners up. Molly McAra from Raumati South School, only just missed out with descriptions like: “Gaunt and waxy, his skin was pale and his dark hair fell over his eyes, which were black pools of menace.” You also had a strong narrative and great grasp of characterisation, how are you only 11 Molly?

Cecilia Lin from Kristin Middle School, was also tantalisingly close with her cracking action sequences, well structured story and ending with a great twist. This was a really great story, Cecila, you should be super proud.
Arshiya Tuli from Queen Margaret College you also deserve huge praise and to recognise what a great writer you are. Great dialogue and pacing in your story.

There can, however only be one and this week’s winner had not only great skill with descriptions, pacing and dialogue, but also created a story that kept me excited all the way to the end. A huge congratulations to Chloe Morrison-Clarke from Papanui High School.

Eileen Merriman, Penguin author of A Trio of Sophies read Chloe’s entry and commented “This week’s winning entry had me hanging on the edge of my seat. Great imagery and a masterful way out of a sticky situation – loved that last line too.

Well done everyone! Thanks for entering and we hope to see more entries from all of you this week!

X Michele Powles

FaboStory starter – Michele Powles

Jeremy Walker reached for the laptop. “It’s my turn to choose, and I say tigers.”

His twin sister Briony was too quick and pulled the computer into her lap. “We watched the tigers at San Diego Zoo yesterday. All they do is sleep or stalk about. It’s depressing. I want to see more Penguins.”

“Birds? Boring,” said Jeremy.

Briony ignored him, her brown eyes already darting over the screen. “Saint Louis,” she said triumphantly. “They’ve got a Penguin and Puffin live stream.” The twins were going on an online tour of the world’s zoos each morning. Mum had complained they were spending too much time online but Briony had argued this was educational and if they did it at ten o’clock, they’d be quiet for mum’s Zoom meeting. Briony was excellent at getting her way, which was annoying, but sometimes very useful.

CLICK. The screen was suddenly full of birds. Black and white, yellow and orange, beady little eyes and snapping beaks. Jeremy sat back as the noise spewed out of the speakers. It was a clattering, raucous muddle as the Puffins and Penguins chatted, argued and maybe even sang to each other. They were all on the rocks of the enclosure, the water an empty blue pool below them. Jeremy waited for something to happen. Something. Anything.

He yawned. “At least tigers roar every now and then.”

SPLASH. As if it had heard him, a penguin dived into the water. And another and another. Like living torpedoes, the penguins and a solitary puffin arced through the water leaving long lines of bubbles in their wake. Jeremy wasn’t about to admit it, but it was cool. Underwater, the birds stopped being kooky and became graceful dancers.

“Hey, that’s not allowed.”

Jeremy tore his gaze away from the underwater disco and looked up to the top of the screen where Briony was pointing. A figure, dressed in black and holding a giant bag, was clambering over the enclosure wall. The intruder’s face was out of shot. “Maybe it’s a keeper?” suggested Jeremy. But as he said it, the shadowy figure bent over, and Jeremy’s breath rushed out of him in a startled gasp. That was no zoo keeper…

Chloe’s ending

The wizened face seemed to stare right into the camera. Jeremy’s scream pierced the air. Briony flung her hand to her lips, as though clamping a wound.

Where the woman’s eyes should have been were sunken holes, covered by thin, dry patches of skin that stretched over the sockets. They both sat in stunned silence as the woman swept the bag over a little blue penguin which squawked in innocent surprise, having waddled up to her in hope of snaffling food before the others.
Jeremy was the first to recover.

“See Briony, that’s what happens when you’re too greedy.” He tried to laugh unconcernedly, but all that came out was a high pitched squeak.

“What are we going to do!?,” said Briony. “The alarms must have been turned off, but surely someone will come? ” She stared, transfixed in horror at the screen as the woman bagged another penguin with apparent ease.

A hailstorm of feathers was whirling the enclosure into a cyclone that blotted the camera, but they could still hear the cries and angry snaps of the penguin’s steely sharp beaks. Jeremy pounded at the volume control.

“Okay, Briony, calm down. I have a plan.” Briony tore her gaze from the screen to give him a look of scorn.

“And when have your plans ever worked before?” she snapped.

“Just listen. Okay? You could hack into the zoo’s system and set off the alarms. The penguins are in a soundproof enclosure, which is why no one has come running yet.”


“Look, those penguins are being stolen! Don’t think I don’t know how many awards you’ve won for your hacking and coding. It’s the first thing mum tells everyone, how amazing you are.” He took a deep breath.

The woman was now extracting pocketfuls of fish from her baggy sweatpants and laying them on the ground.

“No,” groaned Briony, her head in her hands. A few seconds passed in silence. Finally, she twisted around to look at Jeremy, giving a small nod, before bringing up her code.

Her fingers tap danced on the keyboard, language exploding into the screen. Jeremy watched with the fascination of an amatuer seeing a master at work. Ribbons of meaningless symbols fluttered, settling into something apparently comprehensible.

Briony muttered to herself, her lips curling around the instructions she was writing, groaning whenever the word ‘error’ appeared in bright red. Jeremy fought the rising wave of panic in his stomach.

“I’ve done it!” Briony shouted after several long minutes.

“3, 2, 1…” She tapped the enter button. Jeremy crossed his fingers. On the zoo cam, the woman froze. Beams of red light circled the enclosure and a wail ripped the air apart. Penguins voiced their distress as keepers came running, caught sight of the woman, and started frantically talking into their radio’s.

Jeremy and Briony smiled at each other. The silent truce hanging in the air, Briony clicked off the zoo cam and deleted her code.

“So, Jeremy. Do you still want to see the tigers?”

Posted in fabo story, The Winner

FABO Story Report for the second competition judged by Maureen Crisp!

When I wrote the story starter, I deliberately left a few ideas hanging to see what everyone would do. One of the tricks for following on with a story starter is to try and keep the setting the same, at least at the beginning. I put Rona into the backyard on a very stormy night. I was looking for stories that could continue the storm theme.

Lots of ideas came flooding in right at the beginning from Penguin Plagues, vampires in the storm, Owlbears, lost dogs, lost penguins from the zoo, zombies and witches. Then the flood slowed down to a trickle as if the writers knew that they had to take some time to think about what they were writing about.

Sean got off to a great start… and then finished with: it was all a dream. Many other writers also had their main characters waking up the next day.

When writers run out of ideas it can be very tempting to finish with the words ‘it was all a dream.’ Readers are left feeling cheated from a strong story ending that matched the strong story beginning. Endings are tricky… but if you look at the beginning, sometimes there is an idea for the end that will tie up the story nicely.

Many writers turned to horror stories for inspiration. That is fine but you have to be as creative with the ending as with the beginning. Horror always has a thread of hope in it. The main character must survive.

There were many creative creatures and themes in the stories with alien chickens, wild fires, the electrochicken monster, the golden dragons, evil chicken overlords and Chicken Evolution Clinics. Many writers decided that the penguin would be the main event so there were many zoo escapes. A penguin turning into a pegasus was an interesting idea along with a cockatrice. If you ever discover purple penguins you must feed them popcorn.

Many of you seem to be living with Mad Scientists. Your lives are filled with explosions, I know as resourceful Kiwi kids you will always triumph. As writers, if you mix in a little bit of real life you can make the stories much stronger.

Many stories ended on cliff hangers… which left me wanting to know what happened next. Unfortunately, we need complete stories with a satisfying ending.

Stories that impressed me came from all ages. Zoe, Oscar, Lincoln, India, Cartier, Evie, Salila, Madeleine, Victoria, Piper, Charlie, Maria, Hannah, Monte, Ecclesia, Evie, Margot, Serene, and Emma all had wonderfully creative stories that needed just a little more editing and a stronger ending.

There were some great lines written that really stood out. These people can be very pleased with the way they can convey emotion, action and humour in a story:

You could only hear the slow beating of their hearts and hard slapping rain pounding onto Rona’s wet jacket. – Cate

The shadow of truth is a special shadow that only comes when things are unfair and miserable. – Cartier

Suddenly the nightmarish storm grew furious. Her torch flickered in the darkness of the inky night. – Olivia

The penguin somehow had a fine coat of feathers, but he smelled like he was eating garbage for a week, which might have been the case, considering he was a penguin in the suburbs. – Thomas

Rona shivered, the chilly air flapping through her coat, thoroughly freezing her body. – Victoria

Splat! “Oof!”. Rona slipped, landing on her stomach face smooshed up against the squelchy mud. -Juno

Rona’s torch light illuminated a green, slimy, putrid crocodile with razor sharp gnashing teeth as well as a devious and sinister grin. – Samantha

Heading inside boots crunching along the path she took one last glance at the coop. – Emily

Out from the shadows emerged a cockatrice, a serpent-like creature with the head of a chicken, with the wings of a dragon from its shoulders. Everyone knows that you don’t look a cockatrice in the eye, or there are unforgivable consequences. – Sophie

Some of the only things I inherited from my father was his messy loose curls which with the addition of my brown hair, It looked like dying palm fronds had been dropped upon my head. – Kardelen

… a gust of wind made her ponytail stick to her face like a lolly wrapper to a child’s sticky fingers. – Kayla

Rona knew exactly what to do. Appear brave and better than her opponent, as then it might be not so confident, even if she was cowering with fear on the inside. She squared her shoulders and emitted a war cry as loud she could. – Grace

Rona realised the only chance of turning her feathery friends back into normal chickens was to get them struck by lightening again. – Cassie

The chickens could now be wild and live their dreams. – Megan

Mya, Juno, Olivia, Indie, Samantha, Florence, Theodora, Ria, Natasha, Victoria, Amelie, Denzel, Jenny, Hannah and Imogen wrote super stories with a lot of attention to detail. A special shout out to brother and sister writers – Cate and Tom Ambury who have great imaginations, and Milla for her impressive website research. (My cackle of glee woke up the family.)

In the end the winner popped out of 159 entries with impressive style. Well done Indigo Tomlinson for continuing the drama of the setting adding in some nice touches, a toy penguin and an Easter egg and the frustration and love of living with a special needs sibling.

Heather Haylock, Penguin author of the Granny McFlitter series of picture books said of the winning entry:
“Brilliant use of similes to tell a tale of rising tension against the backdrop of the rising storm. And I love the tender ending. Well done!”

– Maureen Crisp, Fabo Story Judge Round 2, 2020.

Maureen’s Story Starter

It was a dark and stormy night, so Rona made sure her torch worked before she stepped off the deck into the long wet grass.

‘It isn’t fair,’ she grumbled. Why did she have to check on the chickens?

Ever since last week’s explosion her mother hadn’t trusted her brother to do anything. Rona squelched through puddles, her gumboots making a squish suck sound until she found the path.

She flicked the torch around, the light was feeble in the gloom of the back yard. Wind whipped the branches so they clattered and crunched into each other making a brawl of sound. Rona’s hair was now getting plastered to her face with the torrents of rain.

‘I give up.’ Any chicken still outside the coop was going to be as brainless as her brother. She turned to head back to the house. The crack of lightening lit up the back yard. In the flash Rona saw the veggie garden, the washing line and a stray penguin.

Thunder rolled and faded. The dark gloom raced back into the yard. Rona stood frozen staring into the dark. She was looking right at a mountain of trouble for someone.

‘It’s not fair,’ she muttered as she went forward knowing that she was all that stood between her family and chaos. ‘Why me?’ …

Indigo’s Winning Story

As Rona made her way forwards her torch flickered and gave out, plunging her into blackness. Rona swore under her breath and fumbled with the switch, but her fingers were numb; slippery with water, and the torch fell away from her hands, lost to the dark regions of the grass. The wind lashed the tree tops and they danced like puppets under it’s unstoppable power. They looked exactly like her mother before she went out to a fancy dinner; runnning around chaotically, scrabbling in vain at pots and creams. Rona winced as lightning again illuminated the scene. The toy penguin lolled sideways, stuffing exploding from it’s plump, white stomach. Next to it her brother Bobby was kneeling in the vegetable patch, with his curly hair plastered to his face. He was digging frantically at the dirt and making agitated noises. Rona sighed. Sometimes it was really hard having a big brother with Down Syndrome. Last week, Mum had tried letting him help with the cooking. It hadn’t ended well. Bobby had got in a lot of trouble and he hadn’t even been allowed to check on the chooks – his favorite responsibility. Worse, Rona was supposed to be watching him. If Mum found out that Rona had accidentlay let Bobby outside in a thunder storm……

‘’Bobby!’’ Rona screamed, but he paid no attention.

‘’Find.’’ he said,

‘’What?”’ Rona yelled above the gale.

‘’Find.’’ Rona reached Bobby and heaved on his arm.

‘’Bobby, we need to go inside. Come on!’’ Bobby’s face was streaked with dirt and tears,


‘’Find what, Bobby?”’ Rona asked, dropping to her knees and tossing through the earth.

‘’Easter egg.’’ Bobby replied. Rona exhaled. Bobby loved Easter, but he didn’t realise that it wasn’t coming till next Sunday. This happened every year.

‘’Bobby, we have to go inside!’’ Rona heaved on Bobby’s arm.

‘’Easter Egg.’’ Bobby repeated. The thunderous gale was growing stronger, and Rona’s jeans were streaked with dirt. The rain fell like arrows to pierce through her wet clothes plastering them to her skin.

‘’Bobby!’’ Suddenly Rona lost it. ‘’Think about others for once, you selfish thing! Who cares about stupid Easter or chocolate eggs or whatever. Why can’t you just be normal?’’ Rona exhaled, embarrassed by her violent outburst. But Bobby wasn’t even listening. In the soil Rona saw a flash of gold. Bobby had seen it too. He gasped and scrabbled madly in the ground. The egg emerged and even though there was hardly any light to see by it seemed to glisten like buried treasure. Bobby was ecstatic.

‘’Easter Egg!’’ he cried.

‘’That’s right.’’ Rona said, ‘’Easter egg!’’ Bobby unwrapped the foil reverently and slowly brought the chocolate to his lips. His eyes shone with happiness. Rona grinned. As the rain poured down, brother and sister huddled close and shared the chocolate between them. Easter eggs never tasted so good. Sweet, creamy and perfect.

‘’Happy Easter!’’ Bobby exclaimed. Rona smiled. Chaos had been adverted. She loved her brother just the way he was.

‘’Happy Easter indeed Bobby.’’

Posted in fabo story, The Winner

Melinda Szymanik’s FABO Story Competition Report: The Winner of the first FABO Challenge!

I was blown away by the response to our first Fabo challenge for the year. I received just over 200 entries, with many wonderful examples of good writing and fantastic imaginations. Many of you had me laughing out loud. I want to acknowledge everyone who entered and say Good Work!! All of you!! All writers know that the more writing practice you get in, the better your writing becomes. Just remember though, only ONE ENTRY per person please. If you do hit enter by accident on a half-finished story let us know and we’ll read your preferred entry only.

There were some incredible transformations that poor Mrs Jamie endured – from monsters, goblins, werewolves, dragons, witches, and rabbits, to yeti, orangutan and even a chihuahua. Many of you gave her red eyes and facial warts. There was often a lot of magic involved, or the decision to cook the opposite of the first meal to effect a cure. Having the food reveal ‘Mum’s true form’ was also popular. There was some great writing but a number of you had undercooked plots. Remember to figure out what the problem is in your story and how it should be solved, and include these in your story.

Please make sure, before you press enter, to read through your story one last time. Some of you switched point of view which was confusing, and there were some missing full stops and tricky spellings which always makes things harder to read. With so many entries the judges will love your stories even more if they have good punctuation, good spelling and consistent point of view. I also find it easier to read stories with paragraphs. Start a new paragraph a) when someone new starts speaking, b) when you change to a new location or, c) when something new happens.

I want to give a shout out to some excellent lines that caught my eye.

Taylor Goddard (Lincoln Primary) had strong writing and this great line – She turned the tap on with her teeth, lifted her hoof up and pushed Oliver’s head under the cold water to clear his thoughts.

Evelyn Darwall (Moanataiari School) – Oliver was down stairs playing with his favourite cooking spoon when he heard a big noise.

Isabella Bwayo (Little River School) had some terrific writing – Oliver stood there in the kitchen, his mouth open so far you could fit a tennis ball inside. “Do I have something on my face Oliver? Are you staring at my face because of my good looks? I get that a lot with the ladies, but then you’re not a lady”. “Or are you?” Grylls looked at Oliver suspiciously.

Charlotte Hogg (Witherlea) – he turned back and there sitting in the sink was his mum, with her bed head hair all covered in the slimy mess. “Oh Oliver, what happened?” she said. “Oh Mum, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Shall I just say we had a go at cleaning out the pantry” said Oliver.

I loved this from Sofia Stojko (Tighes Hill Public School) – seconds folded into minutes.

Niamh Murray (Churton Park School) – had some great writing in general but I especially loved the line – Oliver was stunned into silence. “Man,” he murmured. “I was hoping for some really dramatic solution with me as the hero.”

I loved Caitlin Collins (Carmel College) simile …jumped back like a cat next to a cucumber.

Emily Feng Yi Ng’s (St. Joseph’s Papanui) idea was very appealing – a tiny bottle of taniwha tears. (Which were very tricky to obtain, and the quest Oliver had to go on to collect them was very long, so he had to take frequent pavlova breaks).

Livy Urquhart (Silverstream South) had this cool description – It looked like a hairy, slimy slug, its eyes poked out of its head like baseball bats sticking out of mud.

And this line from David Akuhata (Nelson Intermediate) made me laugh – You’re the Huia bird! That’s the rarest bird in New Zealand. If I turn you in we will get 10,000 dollars, well mostly me but I’ll buy you a better kitchen” laughed Oliver.

Special mentions for great writing in general – Nadia Isaacs (St Kentigern College), Pippa Rogers (Tawa Intermediate), Sylvia Kingston, Nelima Bwayo (Duvauchelle Primary), Neve Overend (Queenspark Primary), Freddie Read (Middleton Grange School), Grace Tomson (Hobsonville Point Primary), Peta Byers (Westshore School), Timothy Hall (Bellevue School), Ariana Miller (Saints Peter and Paul School), Caitlin Lees, and Kardelen (Gordonton School), Cate Crutchley (Cambridge Middle School). Charlotte Cook (Matua School), Nathan Lu (Knighton Normal), and Tali Whiteridge (Kelburn Normal).

Kerala Beard had a cool twist, as did Olivia Morris (Oamaru Intermediate). Hana Smith (Dunedin North Intermediate) had a very original take as did Aisha Gemala (Parnell District School) and Juliet Grey (Selwyn House School). Drew Kenny (Maungatapu Primary)had some great writing and a very fun idea. Kiki Timlin (Stella Maris) had the best ingredient list. I liked Kate Pointer’s (Maraekakaho School) tiger idea. Olive Aitken Gunner’s (Parawai School) ending was fab. Mattie Lang (Nelson Central) wrote a very original tale with Weka’s, and Charlie Bint’s (Loburn School) included pirates.

And jeepers people, in the end you all made it very, very hard for me to pick a winner. My finalists were – Evie Drazevic, 11 (Nelson Intermediate), Rita Treadgold, 9 (Newtown School), Brenna Johnson, 12 (Hawera High School), Juliet, 9 (Queen Margaret College), Indigo Tomlinson, 12 (Whakatane Intermediate), and Adele Stack, 9 (Geraldine Primary).
And my winner is Juliet from Queen Margaret College. This story is a clever, surprise take on the story starter, with an unexpected ending. It does a lot in just a few words, and it made me laugh every time I read it. Wonderful work Juliet.

– Melinda Szymanik.

Melinda’s Story Starter: A Very Unexpected Experiment

Oliver Jamie had been keen on cooking from an early age. Perhaps it was the fun of making Yuck Soup as a toddler, with water from the hose, dirt from the garden, daisies plucked from the lawn, and all kinds of date-expired pantry items provided by his mother.

Now he loved to experiment, and unusual ingredients were his specialty.

‘What’s on the menu today?’ Mrs. Jamie asked her son as she padded into the kitchen, wearing bed hair and her fluorescent pink dressing gown. It was the first day of the school holidays and yet Oliver had been up since the crack of dawn. In the kitchen. Measuring, sifting, and mixing.

‘It’s a secret,’ he said. ‘But it’s nearly done. And you can be the first person to taste it.’

His right arm was a blur as he whisked a thick, orange fluid in the mixing bowl.

‘It’s an interesting … colour,’ Mum said. She didn’t comment on the smell. Partly because she had no words to describe it.

Oliver bustled around the kitchen. Pinching spices and chopping herbs his mum didn’t recognize. Stirring and straining. Opening and closing the oven door. Mrs. Jamie poured herself a coffee.

The oven timer went ding.

‘Voila,’ Oliver said, handing his mum a plate filled with knobbly orange blobs, flecked with green. He handed her a fork. ‘I’ll be back in a jiffy,’ he said. ‘Start without me.’

Mrs. Jamie scooped some of the food with her fork, and pinching her nose closed, opened her mouth and took a bite.

Oliver didn’t notice the flash of white light in the kitchen behind him as he dried his hands in the bathroom. He didn’t notice the deep silence as he made his way back to his favourite room in the house. And nothing could have prepared him for what he found sitting where his mum had sat only a few minutes earlier.

‘Mum,’ he croaked, trembling. ‘Is that you?’ …

Juliet’s story

There she was. Sitting on the chair where his mum should’ve been was…. a toad. It gave a feeble croak and hopped off the chair. Oliver noticed her dressing gown, draped on the floor. Though he had never liked the colour, he felt a pang of sadness for his mother as he looked sorrowfully at it. The toad had now hopped over to the kitchen bench.

‘Well, at least she doesn’t have to do her hair any more’, Oliver thought. The toad hopped up onto the marble bench and, with ‘her’ long tongue, caught a fly that had been buzzing around the kitchen. Oliver had a sudden idea. This could be the perfect time to set up his own restaurant- Mum had always frowned upon this and exclaimed, “You’re too young! You need to get a proper job, like your father, and have a proper family!” Even better, Mum the toad could catch the flies that were buzzing around his restaurant- and he wouldn’t have to pay her! The temptation was so great, he ran to the phone and rang the government. “Do you have any spare plots of land?” he asked. “I’m looking to set up a restaurant!”

“Yes,” came the reply. “Only there is a lot of bugs in that area, due to the fruit trading that goes on around there. I wouldn’t advise it if I were you”.

“Perfect!” replied Oliver. The official on the other end of the line pulled the phone away from his ear, confused. “I’ll buy it tomorrow!” And so he did. Over the next few years, Oliver’s Restaurant became very famous for its absence of bugs. And it was all down to Oliver’s love for cooking, his Yucky Soup, and his amphibian mum.