We proudly announce the winners of our biggest writing contest yet. Find out who won and read the poems and stories that captured the hearts of our jury.
In February and March we hosted The Ulysses Writing Contest Celebrating Disney’s Flora & Ulysses. Many writers got inspired by the self-avowed cynic Flora Belle Buckman and her furry friend Ulysses, the superhero squirrel that shares our name and our passion for writing.
Entertaining Jury Duties
The creativity of the participants blew us away. We’d like to thank all writers who shared their poem or short story with us. Be assured, we’ve enjoyed reading every single one of them. It wasn’t an easy task to decide who should be among the winners.
A special thanks goes to our pre-selection committee who have taken on this task and had to make some tough calls. Jonathan, our guest juror, has even put into words what we liked best about each winning text.
However, the final decision was not ours, but that of two very special people, who know good writing when they read it:
Fabulous Kate DiCamillo is the author of Flora & Ulysses. Kate is as beloved as the award-winning stories she writes. In 2013, her children’s novel Flora & Ulysses won the Newbery Medal, a literary award given by the Association for Library Service to Children.
Talented Brad Copeland wrote the screenplay for Disney’s adaptation of Flora & Ulysses. In 2005, Brad was nominated twice for the Emmy Award in the categories outstanding comedy series and outstanding writing for a comedy series (Arrested Development).
With no further ado, we proudly present the winners of The Ulysses Writing Contest Celebrating Disney’s Flora & Ulysses (in alphabetical order). Our congratulations go to:
A Squirrel Fan, Bill Campanali, Ellen Fishbein, Ella Woods, Grace L, Gwyneth Moir, Jason Orrill, Jayme Tanner, Jon Sharp, Katie C. Mangum, Matt Athanasiou, Matthew MacKay, Michael West, Nathan Goodroe, Nour, Penny Andrews, Rachel Stone, Randy Fournier, Simon Friedman, Winnie Khaw.
All our winners are invited to listen in when author Kate DiCamillo and screenwriter Brad Copeland discuss the movie during an exclusive chat, with the opportunity for a Q&A.
Furthermore, we'll support them in their future writing endeavours best we can: by giving them access to our award-winning writing app for free – for a whole year!
Read the Best Entries
Curious who won it big? Drumrolls for ...
Bill Campanali (winner, poem), Winnie Khaw (runner-up, poem), Rachel Stone (winner, story), Katie C. Mangum (runner-up, story).
Both first-place winners will get US$ 500 each, the second-place winners can look forward to a cash prize of US$ 250.
Read the best poems and stories today. We hope you’ll enjoy reading them as much as we did! The poems and stories who ranked among the top ten will be published in May and June on our blog.
The Budgerigar's Yes by Bill Campanali (winner, poem)
This poem is short and simple, but nonetheless very powerful. It starts with a pathetic »oh« thus resembling not only James Joyces’ first words of »Finnegan’s Wake«, but also commemorating the great poetry of Robert Frost and even—in its sound—of Dylan Thomas. In iterating the »oh«, the author reveals not only his talent for music and composition but also his certainty in style. The pictures he paints—for instance »crystalline blue / Sheeting onto anticipating sand« or »I stay hungry / An expectancy of reaching / Shores / Surely«—are of enormous power, but never ever lofty. The courage and stylistic audacity of this poem is awesome and stunning and thus makes it the just winner of our writing competition.
Inchoate Baby by Winnie Khaw (runner-up, poem)
A marker of a great poem is that you never get enough of it. It makes you change your view on the world. This poem certainly is a great one! The manifold layers interlocked in this piece—the power of giving birth, a woman’s experiences combined with landmines and asteroids and marriage proposals—opened new perspectives with each reading. Its poetic explosiveness poses the reader riddles. One could read it again and again, never deciphering it as a whole, but always staying curious: What might happen the next time one reads it? What images will be evoked? What new depth might we see? Even though some perspectives tend to be dark, we’re still intrigued!
Saturday Night at the Soundview Nursing Facility by Rachel Stone (winner, story)
This story’s the tender view on the elderly warmed our hearts. We loved the notion of a nurse using the power bestowed to her by a magical stone to bring joy to her wards. The author’s talent shines through in many aspects: The way she uses the miracle is effective. The depiction of her characters is affectionate. The story's overall construction and its dialogues are very well done. This story stayed with us long after reading.
We Are Transformed by Katie C. Mangum (runner-up, story)
This story is about the power of grandmothers. It begins with a classic reading-before-bedtime scene and the mind-boggling the question how »in one minute I was an intergalactic adventurer and the next, I was here, in bed.« The story is full of atmospheric moments narrated by a child, for instance the breakfast scene that almost made us smell the bacon and waffles. We loved the intensity of the fantastic partly fairytale-like story telling which is a fantastic meditation on the warmth and comfort one can experience staying at one’s grandma.
The Budgerigar’s Yes
by Bill Campanali
Oh, my iridescent green
Soaring over parched desert
Oh, I fly empty
A well of searching
Oh, divine crystalline blue
Sheeting onto anticipating sand
Oh, I stay hungry
An expectancy of reaching
by Winnie Khaw
Lying on my head counting the ceiling bubbles and floor tiles
I want to rattle the stars but everything shakes me
I’m drinking down a match consumed in fire and wondering
when my lungs will start to burn and I cough out scar tissue
cracked clear through by the inchoate baby teething at my soul
I realize I’m badly dead but please don’t post negative comments
on social media because really it could be worse
since the internet has an eidetic memory and no attention span
I apologize in advance for exploding all over your new kitchen
that was a really nice counter before I happened to it
I watch TV and there’s a guy kneeling down to dismantle
a bomb while the girl’s foot is still trapped in the wires
and oh yeah you just know that marriage proposal coming
up after the commercial is going to be explosive
Huh. A science article about an asteroid that nearly missed earth.
Wow, only nearly? So close! But no cigar.
If it did hit, only a giant crater and dust
and frizzled eyebrows and non seasonal ugly sweaters
would be left so basically nothing worth the Universe canceling
Saturday Night at the Soundview Nursing Facility
by Rachel Stone
The Soundview Nursing Facility didn’t face the water, but with the windows open you could sometimes smell the salt air and imagine the waves on the beaches on the other side of Route 25a. Maryanne Conklin loved to walk there during her meal break, even in the cold. She wore nylons under her scrubs, layered a couple of her son’s old sweatshirts under her windbreaker, and waited for a pause in the traffic to slip through the scrubby pines and dune grasses and down the rocky sand to the water’s pebbled edge.
Today the water was choppy, almost black; not foamy but opaque, like wine. Maryanne never drank wine or ingested any intoxicating thing. Her mother had died clamoring for a drink and believing herself too good for anyone’s company, even Maryanne’s. Maryanne wanted to see things as they were, not dream of what could have been, or might be. It was why she loved to be outside, in any weather. Cold on her cheeks and stones under her feet kept her mind squarely in her body. Here.
As she prepared to cross the road back to work, she noticed a pebble in her left clog and bent to remove it. She meant to toss it back over her shoulder but paused, turning it over between her fingers and thumb. It was a perfect sphere, no special color, round as a marble and nearly as smooth. Maryanne wasn’t much for saving objects—leave things where you found them was her philosophy—but she slipped it into the pocket of her scrubs and crossed over.
Back in the kitchen, Maryanne began making trays. She served meals to residents too sick, too old, or too sad to leave their rooms. Her mother had called this work menial, but Maryanne liked it. She knew what everyone liked and disliked and added, subtracted, and swapped items based on that: an extra vanilla pudding cup and dish of sliced peaches for Mrs. Susskind, who would eat little else; an extra cheese sandwich but no tomato soup for Mr. Fredericks, who loathed tomato in any form, and no rice of any kind, ever, for Mr. Davison, who had been a POW in the Pacific.
If her supervisor noticed Maryanne’s adjustments, she didn’t care because the residents loved Maryanne. They ate more and slept better when she was there. She capped each tray with its blue-green melamine lid and loaded it onto the metal cart and began her rounds.
“Mr. Williams!” Maryanne paused at the door and looked in. Mr. William’s milky blue eyes slowly moved from the television, which was mutely playing This Old House, to the doorway, brightening when he saw her. “It’s Saturday night,” she announced. “I’m so glad to see you.” She set his tray on the over-bed table, clasped the hand he reached toward her, and squeezed it, very gently.
“At my age, Maryanne, I’m glad to be seen,” he said, every time. “What have you got for me this evening?”
“Tomato soup, green peas, grilled cheese, sliced peaches, and vanilla pudding,” she said.
He nodded and sighed. “Saturday nights my mother made Boston Brown Bread and baked beans. The bread she baked in a tin can so it was round. The beans? Never from a can; those she baked all day while she baked two kinds of pie for Sunday dinner. I can smell it now.”
Maryanne smiled and put an extra pillow behind him. She had heard this before, but she liked hearing Mr. Williams talk about his mother. So affectionate. So respectful. She lifted the lid off his tray and they both stared. A round slice of steaming brown bread, studded with raisins; redolent of molasses. Baked beans with bits of salt pork melting into them.
“Maryanne, I’ve died and gone to heaven,” he said, his voice wavering and childlike.
“Mother?” His eyes were expectant.
Maryanne laid her hand on his shoulder. “Mr. Williams? You’re right here. I’m right here. Wanna taste?” Maryanne handed him the napkin. He tucked into his collar. He lifted a forkful to his mouth, closing his eyes, chewing slowly. He let out a long sigh and opened his eyes, now shiny with tears. Maryanne kissed the top of his head.
“You enjoy,” she said. “I’ll be back in a little bit.”
Maryanne left the cart outside the door and stepped into a restroom. She splashed her face with cold water ten times and stared hard at her reflection. She had made up the trays herself. She had put an extra packet of pepper on Mr. Williams’ tray, for the tomato soup. She felt her forehead and swallowed. She wasn’t sick. She went back to her cart, and took Mrs. Susskind’s tray into her room. Tiny Mrs. Susskind sat in the green wingback chair that had come from her home.
“Hello, darling.” Mrs. Susskind’s voice was weak. Maryanne slipped an arm around the birdlike shoulders and held her for a moment.
“It’s Saturday night. I’m glad to see you,” Maryanne said.
“Saturday nights I would always have a brisket with carrots and potatoes for Myron. He worked a long day in retail. Then he’d sit next to me on the piano bench, and we’d sing and play, two voices and four hands.”
“That sounds like fun,” Maryanne said.
“It was heaven,” Mrs. Susskind said sadly.
“Darling, I’m not hungry.”
Maryanne lifted the lid. In place of the pudding and peaches there was a steaming slice of brisket with carrots and potatoes, and a sprig of parsley. Mrs. Susskind’s eyes brightened. “Would you look at that?” she said. She picked up her fork and knife and assembled a perfect bite: a bit of potato, a bit of carrot, a bit of brisket. Her eyes filled with tears. “Delicious, darling.”
Maryanne kissed Mrs. Susskind on the head. She stepped into the hallway and felt the pebble in her pocket. She looked into the next room, and wondered.
We Are Transformed
by Katie C. Mangum
My fingers wrapped the thick wool of the creature’s back. Streaks of light surrounded us as we whizzed past planets and stars. We flew, and the wind we created became our soundtrack. Just as our destination—a planet covered in slopes of carrot-orange sand—came into view, the chapter ended.
My fingers unclenched from the fleecy blanket on my legs. The blue guest bedroom of my grandmother’s house came back into focus. She gently closed the book, scrunched her shoulders and lifted her eyebrows up in anticipation of continuing our adventure.
“Until tomorrow!” she sang, kissing the top of my head and clicking off the lamp. I shifted further into the cool sheets, and we exchanged our nightly “I love you’s” as she closed the door.
I didn’t understand how it could happen so quickly—one minute I was an intergalactic adventurer and the next, I was here, in bed, in my pink cheetah print pajamas.
The next morning, I cracked the door, and energy from the kitchen buzzed down the hallway and flooded my ears. Bacon sizzled and a stack of waffles, perfectly browned, sat on the countertop. As Grandma sipped from a mug that never seemed to empty, the coffee pot sputtered and sizzled, dripping out more fresh, dark liquid than one person should possibly consume. Was that how she did it? I wondered.
My brother was already sitting at the table working on his fourth waffle, ignorant to the drop of syrup suspended from his chin and the presence of magic in the room.
“Look who’s awake! Morning hug!” Grandma chimed as she stooped down and squeezed me tight. I took in the love and the smell of lavender, all overwhelming. If anyone had magic powers, it made sense that their hugs would feel like that.
My brain’s wheels halted for a bit while I focused on gulping down the enormous breakfast in front of me. Later on, we decided to walk over to the neighborhood park. It was a sunshiny summer day, so it seemed the natural thing to do.
From a distance, the park appeared forlorn, with lots of barren space between a set of rusty monkey bars and a couple of swings, their seats rubbed from a cherry red to a light pink. In a patch of weedy gray-brown sand, two spring ponies stuck out of the ground at impossibly tenuous angles. A bridge made of planks swung precariously in the wind from its beginning to its end at two identical wooden turrets.
My grandmother jogged ahead of us, warning us that she saw trolls underneath the wobbling bridge. We picked up our pace, and as we approached, I realized that the entire landscape was, in fact, a swampy wonderland. The turrets—two great stone castles—came into focus. The bridge between them spanned a much greater distance than I formerly thought. Green, gruesome creatures swarmed in the space below.
“Let’s get inside!” Grandma exclaimed through a whisper. In one victorious jump, she leaped the moat at the perimeter of the castles and cleared the jaws of several snapping crocodiles. My brother and I followed suit. We scaled the stony walls together, hoisting ourselves up on great lengths of green vine.
As we pulled ourselves in through the castle windows, noblemen and women surrounded us—the kingdom was under siege, and we were their last hope! Of course, we offered up our afternoon to defend them.
At every moment, we discovered a new formidable challenge. First, a townsperson was wounded in a dragon’s attack. The only medicine to save him was deep in the kingdom’s dark forest. My grandmother pointed to the ladder of branches, and I swung across them methodically—from one to the next, left hand, right hand—across the dark depths of the forest’s undergrowth to retrieve the glowing elixir.
Next, we raced across grain fields on our noble steeds to defend our armies at the frontlines of battle with ogres. We then tricked the green trolls into a deep slumber by luring them to the land of lotus-eaters just outside the kingdom walls. We flew high into the sky on griffins’ wings, surveying our work below.
Having rid the land of trolls and villains, thieves and ogres, we decided that we could safely leave it in the hands of the grateful townspeople, and we headed home for dinner. We trod toward Grandma’s house, content with our day’s accomplishments.
Glancing back over my shoulder, I was puzzled to see that all evidence of our kingdom had vanished. The only hint that we had been there at all was the leftover waggle of the two pink swings. It dawned on me that it had happened again—we had been transported to another place at our grandmother’s side.
It was true—we could go anywhere and do anything, and it seemed that the magic ingredient was just, well, her.
My cousins knew about the magic, too. Together, we remodeled Grandma’s basement into a classroom where we taught history and spelling, an animal hospital where we resuscitated dogs and giraffes. When she was in it, her kitchen appliances became state-of-the-art and all of us, world-renowned chefs.
With Grandma, we learned that we could be anything we wanted to be, anything we needed to be. With her, I became an adventurer, a doctor, a prominent scientist. She handed me a paint set, and I became Monet. She held out a hairbrush microphone, and I was an opera singer. She placed a cowboy hat upon my head, and I was a fearsome barrel rider.
Her imagination infected us with courage. Her voice stirred worlds to life. Worlds that could be seen and touched and felt. Worlds that challenged us and lifted us up.
How did it happen? Still, I do not know. I think, perhaps, it is a superpower which descends upon a person when they become a grandmother.
And by their power, we are transformed.