Children's/YA Short Story competition - Winner

Carey Powell

Virtually the Same
Children's/YA Short Story competition


Carey Powell lives in the north west of England where her day-to-day life is taken up by her part-time job as a physio, her husband, four ‘adult’ children, running/jogging and of course, writing. She writes poetry, short stories, has a novel ongoing and another tucked away on a memory stick. Apart from the odd lengthy ‘tidy your bedroom’ text, this is her first venture into writing for children.

Virtually the Same By Carey Powell

Yellow Group are the chatterboxes. Mainly girls, except for Matthew Smith and Oliver Millward. We are not cool enough for Daniel Parker’s Green Group. The brainy ones are in Blue Group, but no one says that out loud. Lily Shaw is in Blue Group and her mum is always talking to my mum outside school about how clever Lily is. My mum tries to make her mouth smile while she listens to her going on and on like the news on the radio. I sometimes wish my mum would switch her off.
If someone is clever like Lily, they really don’t have to be cool or chatty. They can just be any way they want to be and not even worry what people think. Our teacher, Mrs Croft, speaks to Lily as if she is a grown up. That annoys everyone even though it is not really Lily’s fault. Mum wants me to move into Blue Group and sit next to Lily but, at parents’ evening, Mrs Croft said that all the groups were “virtually” the same. I think “virtually” is a word that lets adults tell little fibs. Mum and Dad sat on small chairs at parents evening and their knees would not fit under the table. They looked very funny.
Purple group is different. They get helpers. They get to be naughty without really being told off. Ethan Moreton broke his pencil lead today by stabbing it into his Fun with Numbers book. Then he stood up with his hands on his ears and kicked his chair over. Ethan Moreton never speaks. He was taken to the carpet-area to build a train track with kind Miss Paxman. The rest of us had to carry on doing Fun with Numbers. If I stabbed something with my pencil, I would have to go to the headteacher. Mr Goff hides his mouth under a big moustache. Sometimes he is confusing because his moustache smiles when he is cross. Once I smiled back and he told me off for being cheeky.
 Mrs Croft says that a story must have a beginning, middle and end. This paragraph is the end of the beginning. I have not finished talking about Lily Shaw, but she can have a paragraph all to herself later. She would like that. Let me first tell you about lunch. When the lunch bell rings we are not ‘Greens’, ‘Blues’, ‘Purples’ or ‘Yellows’ anymore. We are just ‘Packed Lunches’ or ‘Hot Dinners’ and we all get mixed up together, which is very interesting really. It is sometimes impossible to sit next to your favourite person because it is very busy, and teachers say that it is rude to ‘not choose’ someone. I do agree that it is rude, but grown-ups do it all the time. There was a scruffy lady on the bus with a screechy voice and ripped carrier bags. Nobody ‘chose’ to sit near her. Mum says that if I get lost I should ‘choose’ a lady with a pram or a policeman. I think it would be hard to find a lady with a policeman.
I am going to tell you about something that happened to Lily Shaw, but first, here is a paragraph describing Lily’s lunchbox. This is now the middle part by the way. Lily’s lunchbox is flowery plastic. It has a top layer that lifts out and a bottom layer that is divided into four squares. She has a little tub of sauce and a plastic knife, fork and spoon which slot onto the lid. She has the strangest things inside her lunch box. Daniel Parker says that her mother is a witch and that her sauce is ‘potion’. She brings soggy beetroot sandwiches, black beans, curly leaves, mashed stinky fish and tiny red globules called pomegranate (I had to look that up). Lily says that her sauce is called ‘dressing’. It is definitely not ketchup and that’s the only sauce I know. Even so, if she really was a witch, I think my mum would know by now and I told Daniel Parker that.
Ethan Moreton likes Lily’s ‘dressing’ and she lets him pour some over his cheese sandwiches. Ethan Moreton sometimes holds his ears and throws his lunch if the dinner hall is too loud, but if he sits next to Lily Shaw, he is fine. Once he was made to sit with the ‘hot dinners’. He threw his banana and it knocked the dinner lady’s cap off. After that, Lily was made a prefect especially to be his ‘Special Buddy’ at lunch. She got a badge saying ‘Prefect’. Her mum told my mum and then my mum asked at parents evening if I could be a prefect but apparently being ‘Pencil Sharpening Monitor’ is ‘virtually’ the same. Strange that there is no badge for that. Mum and dad had terrible trouble standing up to shake hands at parents’ evening, after sitting on our little chairs for all that time.
Anyway, back to the story. We are coming close to the end part. You may have guessed that something bad is about to happen because when people like Daniel Parker are unkind to other people, who are a bit different from them, bad things often happen. Daniel Parker kept teasing Lily during lunch to make people laugh at her. I felt sorry for Lily but did not want Daniel Parker to know that, so I laughed too, which was not a kind thing to do. Ethan Moreton never laughed. Mostly, he just ate Lily’s sauce.
One Friday, Lily came in from outside play when the lunch bell rang. Ethan Moreton followed her inside because he follows her everywhere. She could not find her lunchbox on the packed-lunch trolley. Mrs Croft said that she must have forgotten to bring her lunch to school, but Lily was sure that she had brought her lunch and Lily never makes a mistake. Everyone sat down as usual and the teachers asked the whole hall if anyone had seen Lily Shaw’s lunchbox. Everyone shook their heads. Daniel Parker shook his head far too much and his ears went pink. Lily began to cry, and Mrs Croft went off to the trolley to have another look. She came back holding Lily’s flowery lunchbox and said that it had been tucked away on the bottom shelf. It looked grubby and the fork was missing from the slot on the lid, but Mrs Croft dusted it off. Lily pretended it didn’t matter about the fork, but I know it did.
Ethan Moreton got out his sandwiches and so everyone carried on with their lunch. Daniel Parker was watching Lily and his friends were whispering. She lifted the lid from her lunchbox. Then she screamed, and my ear drums wobbled. It was the longest, loudest noise that I have ever heard in school and the whole place went deathly quiet. Lily’s eyes were massive, and she pushed her lunchbox away. Slithering all over her food was a tangle of squirming worms. I don’t think her mum would have put those in her lunchbox still alive, so something must have happened. Daniel Parker and his friends were giggling.
Mr Goff was suddenly there, towering over everything.
‘Who did this?’ he roared.
No one owned up. He waited. No one even breathed. The dinner ladies stopped clattering. He did not stop waiting.
Then, Ethan Moreton did a surprising thing. He took his hands from his ears and stood up. His chair scraped on the floor. He reached over and carefully picked up a whole fistful of the worms. He walked around the table to behind where Daniel Parker was sitting. He then dropped the worms down the neck of Daniel Parker’s school polo shirt. Daniel Parker squealed. He stood up and ran around the table six times, shaking out his shirt. He was jumping about and waving his arms around as if he was doing a very strange dance. Everybody started laughing, except Mr Goff, who chased after him and eventually caught him. Mr Goff’s moustache looked very angry. He led Daniel Parker out by the hand as if he was a little reception boy.
Ethan Moreton sat down again next to Lily. He put her lunch box on the floor and then gave her one of his cheese sandwiches without any sauce. I suppose that is the ending, but I expect you would like to know more.
Daniel Jones and the Green Group were not so cool for a while after that. Lily Shaw still brings weird lunches, but nobody laughs at her or calls her mum a witch. Ethan Moreton is a bit of a hero, but he does not care a bit about that. I am still in Yellow Group and I am still only a ‘Pencil Sharpening Monitor’.   


Judges Comments

Carey Powell's winning entry Virtually the Same delivers a well-observed, funny story for younger readers with an endearing narrator and a fine act of poetic justice involving worms for a climax that couldn't fail to appeal to children fascinated by things that are slimy, wriggly and unpleasant.

The theme for our Writing for Children competition was 'equality', and as her story's title suggests, Carey tackles the issue of equality in the classroom with warmth and wit. Her classroom is divided into groups who are all supposed to be the equal, but inevitably there are personalities who influence the group dynamics and create the satisfying, classroom-sized drama in the story. Daniel thinks being cool gives him the right to mock other people. Lily is clever and has different food from other people. Ethan, the hero of the piece, has behavioural issues and a strong senses of right and wrong when Lily, his 'Special Buddy' is the target of Daniel's unkind practical joke. The interaction between these three core characters as Daniel tries to exploit Lily's weak spot and Ethan, her protector, takes appropriate action, creates enough energy and action to fuel a satisfying scenario. Carey brings each character to life in a few neat brushstrokes via the observations of her unnamed, but very distinctive narrator, whose voice gives Virtually the Same its winning edge.

Although this is a story that younger readers would definitely read and enjoy, the age-appropriate treatment of justice being served via Ethan's worm-wielding heroics is not the only humour. Readers of all ages will respond to the the narrator's voice, which, speaking directly to the reader, is original and full of humorous insight. They come across as a lively observer with a keen eye for the foibles of human nature, in adults as well as children, and their perspective embeds layers of extra sparkle to a story that is kind, lively, fresh and funny.



Runner-up in the Children’s Short Story Competition was Tara Girvan, Market Harborough, Leicestershire, whose story is published on
Also shortlisted were: Jodie Rose Carpenter, Birmingham; Ros Collins, Felixstowe, Suffolk; Kate Fereday Eshete, Shapinsay, Orkney; Lynne Hallett, Malvern, Worcestershire; Pam Keevil, Ruscombe, Gloucestershire; Ciarán McCabe, Belfast, Co Antrim; Lesley Middleton, Retford, Nottinghamshire; Andrea Parr, Alton, Hampshire