Ever wonder what happened after the tortoise beat the hare in the classic children's tale? Zara Zervos, a 9-year-old Moundsville girl, got to thinking about it, too, and decided to write a story featuring the tortoise daydreaming about how fast he would have been if he hadn't had that burdensome shell.
And just like the tortoise won first place - shell and all - in the race against the hare, Zara took a blue ribbon for her creative efforts.
A slate of judges chose Zara's five-page book, titled "Home Sweet Home," as the first-prize winner in the third-grade category of the annual PBS Kids Go! Writer's Contest sponsored by West Virginia Public Broadcasting. It's Zara's second time winning the statewide honor; she won as a second-grader for her story about a zebra that goes "quack."
"She comes up with stories all on her own. She has always loved to read and also loved to tell stories," said mom Shawna Zervos, a preschool teacher with Marshall County Schools. Zara's father, Ted, teaches in the school district, as well. He previously was a sixth-grade teacher but this school year he'll teach fifth grade.
When she was younger, Zara would tell her mom stories and have her write them down, then Zara would illustrate them.
As part of the contest, she also illustrated "Home Sweet Home," crafting each page's scene as a collage made from raw materials she found at home. She could have chosen to use photographs, markers, crayons, watercolors or other media.
"I just thought about different books I'd read and how people would use different materials to illustrate them, so they were different textures and 3D-ish," Zara said. "I knew what I wanted everything to feel like and look like so I found things to use - like we had cardboard box, so I decided that should be a tree. And Mom had some wallpaper books, so I made an umbrella with that and a pipe cleaner."
Zara said she is always writing or thinking up stories in her spare time. She sometimes reads or tells her stories to her younger sister, 3-year-old Zoe. She said she worked on the contest book for about a month.
As a first-place winner, she and her family were invited to a celebration at the WVPBS station July 15 in Morgantown, where she received a prize package that included a Nintendo DS and plenty of swag from popular children's programs, such as "Sesame Street," "Word Girl" and "Electric Company." As a state winner, she is now entered in the national competition.
In "Home Sweet Home," the main character wonders what it would be like to shed his shell. He imagines the joy of doing cartwheels and walking on two legs. But there's a moral to the story. He quickly realizes that without a shell he would be exposed to the weather: "Rain! Snow! Ice! Tornados! Hurricanes! Now I have to look inside to find a place to hide instead of pulling my head inside my shell."
He decides having a shell isn't so bad, and besides, he concludes: "It could be worse. ... Imagine being a skunk."
"I was really glad that I had won and I thought I had done a good job on my book and that I deserved it," Zara said. She especially enjoyed getting to tour the PBS station to "see where they made all the PBS shows and movies," she said.
Even though third grade is the highest grade level for the contest, Zara said she will continue to weave tales, "even if I don't enter them in a contest." When she grows up, she wants to be a teacher, but she also plans to "just keep writing stories."