When Saline Middle School sixth grader Olivia Simon sat down to pen her short story "Ollie's Woods" in Joanna Mierkowicz's class this past fall, she had no idea she'd be months away from becoming an award-winning author.
But that's what happened in Mierkowicz's classroom during a writing workshop that Olivia participated in, during which the children were informed of the 7th Annual Write Michigan Short Story Contest.
"One of my favorite parts about teaching and the workshop model of instruction that our district so kindly and generously supports is that I really get to work with students to become lifelong readers and writings," Mierkowicz said, adding that she considered herself fortunate to have Olivia as a student.
Olivia had been crafting "Ollie's Woods," a dreamy tale of a girl seeking friendship in the woods, in a writing workshop narrative unit, when Mierkowicz pitched the kids on the idea of entering their submissions into the Write Michigan contest.
"We were able to take some of our teaching points and student narratives and twist and bend them a little bit to come up with some short stories for the contest," Mierkowicz said.
Simon said she really liked the idea of entering her writing in the contest and decided to join the few other students who entered a submission.
"It's a story about a little girl who goes into the woods and meets animals during an adventure," Olivia beamed to the Saline Area Schools Board of Education from the podium Tuesday evening.
Olivia created a video to promote her video for the readers' choice category and sent it to friends, family, and her peers at the middle school. Mierkowicz read "Ollie's Woods" to her classes and reached out to potential voters at Heritage and Harvest.
She thanked everyone who voted and said she is very happy for the fact that her story will be published in the 2019 Write Michigan anthology. There was also a $250 prize for her achievement.
The anthology will be finished by March 15 and the winners are invited to an awards ceremony on March 16.
Mierkowicz reported that Olivia has since started working with a former Saline schools teacher who is a published author to further hone her writing skills.
"They met and were able to work through some of her writing pieces and give her some feedback ... it's really cool to see what the workshop model can do for our young readers and writers."
Below is "Ollie's Woods" in its entirety with permission from Olivia and her parents:
The wind shivered and the grass waved peacefully. The faint sound of rain splashing the sleeping earth echoed like a drum. The trees stood still and peaceful, their limbs heavy with colorful leaves that looked black in the late night. Every few minutes, a cricket would chirp, or a frog would croak, but it seemed as if there were no other animals in the whole forest. No other animals in the world. Besides Ollie.
Ollie sat by a stream of dark water, staring at her reflection. A small girl, with blue eyes and dark brown hair looked back. This girl had lots of beauty, but it was kept hidden under her rags of a dress and dirt covered skin.
“Hello?” She whispered into the night. “Are you listening?”
The wind kept howling and cackling.
“Please listen! Please!” Ollie begged. She stared up into the star filled night sky. “Please listen to me.”
The wind slowed and the frogs and crickets stopped their chirps and croaks. The night was listening.
“I am lonely. There are no kids for miles and the animals of the woods are getting ready for their sleep. I only wish to have friends. I need someone to talk to.”
Lightning struck, but Ollie didn’t flinch. She knew it was the woods. The woods were telling her something, but she didn’t know what.
“What is it? What are you trying to tell me?” She asked. As the last word slipped out of her mouth, she saw the thin clouds in the sky separate. Out from the sky flew the most gorgeous bird Ollie had ever seen with long, plum colored wings that flew in a smooth and graceful way. It landed beside Ollie, nearly twice the size of her. It bent down so that it’s head was up to Ollie’s shoulders. “Am I supposed to ride you?” Ollie asked the bird. She had never even ridden a horse, so just thinking of riding a large bird, high above the ground, made her insides feel hollow.
The bird didn’t say anything, but Ollie was certain she saw it wink. Very carefully, she climbed onto the birds feathery back. Without any effort, the bird lifted from the ground. In seconds, she was high above the trees.
The wind blew Ollie’s hair in all different directions and she couldn’t help the smile spreading across her face. She had never felt so happy or worry-free in her life!
Ollie looked far into the night and saw a twinkling in the sky. At first she thought it was a shooting star, but as she got closer, she saw that it was in the shape of a human. The bird flew towards the light and Ollie could see that the shapes had wings! They were fairies! The fairies wore beautiful gold gowns, and had long, braided hair and pale, smiling faces. They looked elegant, like they were royalty. One of them reached their hand out toward Ollie. Ollie carefully reached out and grabbed it. A warm, happy feeling spread from her hand, through her arms, and to her whole body. A warm, golden light surrounded her.
Suddenly, the light faded and her body went cold again. Ollie looked around and saw that
she was back on the cold, dewy grass of the woods. There were no noises besides the faint croaking of frogs and chirping of crickets. Ollie looked around for the beautiful bird, or those bright fairies, but there were only trees and stars. “Was it only a dream?” Ollie asked herself, “Were they nothing but my imagination?” Just as Ollie was about to give up on the idea and go home, she saw something out of the corner of her eye. She turned to see something small slowly floating to the ground. It was hard to tell in the faint moonlight, but it almost looked purple! Like a plum! Ollie raced towards it as fast as her small legs could carry her. Just before it reached the ground, Ollie reached out and caught the item. It was light and soft. Ollie held it up to the light of the moon.
“A feather!” She exclaimed. There, in her hand was a plum colored feather. It waved happily in the wind as if it were saying, “Nice to see you again, Ollie!”
Ollie grinned. It wasn’t a dream after all! She gingerly placed the feather inside her pocket. As she started to take her hand out, her fingers brushed against a paper she hadn’t remembered being in there before. Ollie pulled the piece of paper out and held it up to the moonlight so she could read what it said:
“Dreams come true.”
Ollie didn’t know how she knew it, but something told her that the message was from the fairies, and somehow, she knew that night was not the last time she was would to see them. She had more adventures to come, she just had to wait and find out when.