Meet Toby Andersen, playwright and autobiographer.
Toby's only 8, so his autobiography is understandably short -- seven fundamental sentences:
I was born on September 8, 1977. I don't like fighting or criticism. I like to play all board games and I enjoy watching television, playing soccer, eating, playing video games and buying toys. I have been in one play and I'm in another right now. I hope to grow up and be famous. I collect rocks, posters, and G.I. Joe action figures. I am a member of the Cub Scouts.
Well, he is growing up, and as for the fame, Toby thinks that's pretty definite. He and his schoolmates, known collectively as the Crackerjacks, are the authors of "Mercury, the Fastest Kid in Town," one of four winning plays in the Eighth Annual Henny Penny Playwriting Contest sponsored by Children's Radio Theatre. This year, the contest drew almost 2,000 submissions from young authors in 47 states, Canada and Europe.
This morning "Mercury" and the three other Henny Penny radio plays will be broadcast live from the Kennedy Center on National Public Radio (WPFW-FM, 89.3). The performance, presented by the Children's Radio Theatre troupe, launches the center's 10th annual Imagination Celebration -- a national children's arts festival that runs through April 29.
The inspiration for "Mercury" was pretty standard. The Crackerjack dramatists (a cluster of second- and third-graders) were studying mythology at P.E. Williams Elementary School in Upper Marlboro. They seized the opportunity to wrestle those gods and goddesses down to their own, peewee size. "What were the gods like when they were kids?" the Crackerjacks wondered.
Toby and his codramatists (Joshua Miller, Aleeza Kersey, Evelyn Gilmore, Darrell Peters, Kimberly Walker and Ashley Lumpkins) filled in Mercury's missing childhood. In their version, Mercury's mother Zeusette calls him "a real little speedster," puts him in Pampers, weights down his booties with sandbags and, for his birthday, sews him a pair of "special racing shoes" -- with little wings.
This is the imaginative stuff Henny Penny fame is made of.
Toby, his fellow Crackerjacks and the other winning playwrights (Marisa Kantor, 13, of Matawan, N.J.; Cecily Schoen, 15, of Chicago; Anne Barthel, 16, of New York City), fielded questions at a Henny Penny press conference yesterday.
"Are you famous now, Toby?"
"Yes," he answered, bluntly.
"How do you know you're famous?"
Toby drew his shoulders up above his ears in a tremendous shrug.
"I don't know."
Finally, he guessed that he's famous because of "this" -- the Henny Penny contest.