Alexandra Gainous, 12, a rising eighth-grader at Ernest Everett Just Middle School in Mitchellville, has no aspirations to be a professional writer. She thinks she might try to be a fashion designer or an actress when she grows up.
But should she choose to join the ranks of William Shakespeare, Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou, she has a head start: She recently completed her first book.
"Writing my book was a great experience, even though I have no plans to be a writer," said Gainous, whose work, "The Move," won a second-place award in this year's Write-A-Book Competition in the county public schools. "Since it was my first book, I didn't expect to have such a high place. I didn't expect to get a prize. I had to write it for language arts class. It was a great feeling."
Alexandra, of Upper Marlboro, was among 215 young authors who were honored recently at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt.
The annual competition, which is open to all public school students, is jointly sponsored by the school system's Office of Library Media Services and the Educational Media Association of Prince George's County. The program was started 29 years ago to encourage students to develop their creativity through writing, officials said. Students in kindergarten through the 12th grade work on ideas with language arts and creative writing teachers, then produce their books over the course of an academic year.
This year, 701 books were submitted in five categories: illustrated fiction, short story, picture storybook, poetry and nonfiction. Organizers gave out prizes for first, second and third place, plus honorable mention. Individuals and groups at each grade level received awards.
Judges said this year's books were imaginative and well-written. They praised the students for their writing, titles, illustrations and subjects. Eric Anderson, an eighth-grader at Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, turned a field trip to Luray Caverns into a second-place non-fiction entry called "My Trip to Luray." Rachel Diamond, a second-grader at Bond Mill Elementary School in Laurel, won third place for "My Favorite Things: A Collection of Poems." LaToya Walker, a senior at Forestville Military Academy, took an honorable mention for "Tears Are Pain."
The winning books included "Shadow of the Ninja," a work of science fiction that took third place, written by eighth-graders Edward Thomas and Donte Lewis of James Madison Middle School in Upper Marlboro; "The Case of the Bus Driver Mystery," a story by Tatiana Caicedo, a fourth-grader at High Bridge Elementary School in Bowie who won a second-place award; and "Japan," a first-place non-fiction entry by Octavia Berry and Lin Chen, fourth-graders at Mount Rainier Elementary School.
At the awards ceremony last month, Marilyn Moreno, coordinating supervisor for special area programs for the Office of Library Media Services, praised the students for completing the daunting task of writing a book. Then she showed the hundreds of writers and parents gathered in the auditorium a book written by her daughter as part of the competition several years ago.
"You can see that I still have it," Moreno said, holding up a faded book. She told students that parents would keep their books and treasure them for many years as well. The books are bound with cardboard and contact paper.
In all, 56 ribbons were awarded for first place, 54 for second place, 50 for third place and 55 for honorable mention.
Bond Mill took 33 awards, students at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Beltsville won 18 and Kenilworth Elementary School in Bowie came in a close third with 17 prizes.
Alexandra said she got the idea for "The Move" after her twin close friends moved to another neighborhood. The 20-page book centers on a 14-year-old rising ninth-grader named Emma, who is devastated when her family moves from Florida to New York City the summer before she starts high school, forcing her to leave behind her best friend, Sam.
Alexandra said the experience has encouraged her to continue reading her favorite writers, Judy Blume and Lemony Snicket, author of the "A Series of Unfortunate Events" books that were made into a movie starring Jim Carrey.
It has given her confidence to know she has a talent she could fall back on someday, should she tire of fashion designing or acting.
"It's a good feeling to know that I could be a writer if I want to, but that's not really my thing," Alexandra said.