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Redmond girl who attends Bellevue school receives grand prize in national 'Be-A-Famous-Writer' contest

Sarah Smale, a 9-year-old from Redmond who attends Open Window School in Bellevue, admires the illustrations in
Sarah Smale, a 9-year-old from Redmond who attends Open Window School in Bellevue, admires the illustrations in 'The Treasure Decision,' a story she wrote for Mrs. P's 'Be-A-Famous-Writer' contest. As a grand prize winner, Sarah's story was turned into a book with illustrations by award-winning illustrator Robin E. Kaplan from Portland, Ore.
— image credit: Samantha Pak, Redmond Reporter

Sarah Smale was introduced to the literary world at a very young age when her father would tell her bedtime stories about a group of bunnies and their many adventures.

Eventually she began telling the bunny tales and now at age 9, her stories have evolved to feature a young girl named Rosie and have been recognized by a number of writing contests. One of her latest stories, "The Treasure Decision," was a grand prize winner in the third annual Mrs. P's "Be-A-Famous-Writer" Contest.

"It felt kind of exciting and surprising," the Redmond resident said about her recent award. "My first first place!"

The national contest is organized by MrsP.com, a free website for kids that encourages them to read and inspires them to love books, according to creator and co-president Dana Plautz. She said the contest was launched in November 2008 as a way to encourage kids' creativity and cultivate potential writers.

ONE IN A THOUSAND

Plautz said the first contest had barely 500 entrants from 23 states. This year, there were more than 1,000 entrants from 27 states. Plautz said students enter as part of a class project as well as individually. Sarah entered individually with the help of her parents.

The panel of celebrity judges for this year's contest were best-selling author of the "Mouse and Bear" picture books Bonny Becker, Los Angeles Times literary editor David L. Ulin, "A Place Where Hurricanes Happen" author Renèe Watson and Mrs. P herself -- played by actress Kathy Kinney.

The contestants could write about any topic, fiction or non-fiction, but were limited to 250 to 1,000 words. Entries were divided into two age groups: 4-8 and 9-13.

Sarah, a fourth grader at Open Window School in Bellevue, was the grand prize winner in the former as she was 8 when she wrote and submitted her story. As a winner, Sarah's story has been made into a book with illustrations by award-winning illustrator Robin E. Kaplan from Portland, Ore. She has received two copies — one for herself and one for her school's library.

Sarah said writing contests like Mrs. P's are important because they can help inspire kids to read and write. She said she hopes having her book in her school library will do the same for her classmates.

Additionally, as a winning story, Plautz said Sarah's story will also be read by Mrs. P on the website.

SETTING THE MARK AT A YOUNG AGE

Although this is the first writing contest Sarah has won, "Be-A-Famous-Writer" was the third contest she entered. She has previously entered the PBS KIDS GO! Writers Contest, in which she received an honorable mention, and The Betty Award writing contest, for which she received second place.

Each of the three stories she entered feature Rosie and they follow her on different adventures she has with her friends. In "The Treasure Decision," Rosie and her friends Stefanie and Violet follow clues from a book to find treasure on a nearby island.

"I really like following clues to get stuff," Sarah said about her inspiration for the story.

Sarah said she gets her story ideas from what she thinks would be a fun and exciting life for herself. She said she will probably write a few more Rosie stories, but has other characters she wants to write about as well.

A FUTURE IN WRITING?

While Sarah has no problem thinking up stories, she does face one challenge with writing for contests.

"Sometimes it's hard to get below the word count," she said, adding she usually has to cut out details to stay within the limits.

Angela Smale, Sarah's mother, said her daughter enters the contests on her own will. Sarah writes her stories and then asks her mother to find contests she can enter.

Angela said Sarah enters the contests just for fun and has no expectations of winning.

"There's plenty of talented children out there," Angela said, adding that Sarah understands this as well.

This being said, Plautz said Sarah is plenty talented and was impressed when she learned Sarah has placed in other writing contests and that Rosie has had more than one adventure.

"(Sarah is) obviously a great little writer," Plautz said.

Sarah really enjoys writing but doesn't know if she wants to be an author when she grows up because it can be an unstable career path.

"I haven't quite decided, but I might do it part time," she said, adding, practically, that she wants to find a career where she can earn more money.

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