Writing & Illustration Contest Winners

We're excited to present the first-place stories and illustrations from fourth, fifth, and sixth grade for the 2019–20 Duke TIP Writing and Illustration Contest. Congratulations to the winning authors and illustrators! Here is the prompt on which these winners based their stories:

A feeling of excitement washed over me as I prepared to open the enormous box. At first glance, the box seemed ordinary, the words “Handle with care” carefully stamped in bold black letters on the side. The tape was dry and cracked, tearing away easily as I pried back the lid. What I saw inside the box made me jump up with excitement, and I knew it was just what my community needed.

The winning illustrators based their illustrations on the first place story from their grade.

Fourth Grade

Meadow's Garden

Story by Sarah Pincus

Illustration by Nicholas Zaharewicz

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Meadow heard the doorbell ring and she ran to the front door. “Hi Meadow!” said the postman. “This big box is for you!” “Oh wow, cool! Thank you!” Meadow said as she helped pull the box inside the house. She said goodbye to the postman, closed the door, and looked down at the big box. Underneath the big “HANDLE WITH CARE” stamp there was a note written in red marker “Use this wisely. From Gramps.” 

She was so excited to see what her grandfather had sent. Meadow always had a very close relationship with her grandpa. He was the one who taught her that being a hippie is cool. When she was born, he gave her a gold flower hair clip and she has worn it every day since for the past twelve years. She knew that this box had to be the best thing ever so she quickly ripped off the tape and opened the flaps of the box. Her expression faded a little. “Wood? Why would he send me wood?” she wondered. Wait! Another note! It said “This ain't just wood. It’s Texas wood left over from my garden in Texas.” Meadow took out the wood and at the very bottom of the box there were ten packets of assorted flower seeds and twelve vegetable and fruit seeds. Meadow’s sparkly blue eyes went big and the biggest smile came on her face. She jumped up and down with excitement and her brown curls bounced with her. She always admired her grandpa’s ways especially when he went to Texas to build a community garden. She knew exactly what to do.

Meadow strapped on her helmet and rode her pink glitter bike straight to City Hall, bell-bottoms flowing in the wind. Once she got there, she told the secretary “I need to see the mayor immediately” almost out of breath because her house was ten blocks away! The secretary said “Take a seat and he’ll be with you as soon as he can.” She sat there for five minutes before Meadow was told that the mayor could see her now. The doors opened to the mayor's office. “Meadow, my favorite person in town! How can I help you?” Meadow excitedly said “Well, my grandpa sent me this big box with wood and seeds so I was thinking, why don’t we build a community garden here in Tampa, Florida?” He paused for a minute to think. “Of course, Meadow! What a wonderful idea! Yes, you may build a garden! There is some land down by the river that would be perfect for this project!” Meadow jumped for joy, her brown curls bouncing like never before! “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! How can I repay you?” she said. “Keep doing what you love which always ends up benefiting our community,” he said.

Meadow raced home as fast as she could on her bike! When she got home she loaded the wood into a big, red wagon and attached it to the back of her bike. She rode down to the river, stopping at every house along the way. She knocked on every person’s door and asked them to help build the garden with her. Almost everyone agreed! Some people brought sets of tools, some brought soil, and some even brought more seeds. But one thing was for sure, they were all excited about helping their community more than ever.

It took two whole days to build the wooden border and plant the seeds. Everyone pitched in every single day for six months and it was finally time to harvest their fruit and vegetables! They planned to do a Farmer’s Market every month when the fruit and vegetables were ripe and ready, and the flowers had bloomed. They decided to sell everything at a very low cost to make sure everyone could get their hands on some healthy food and beautiful flowers. The money would go to buying more supplies to keep the garden running. Meadow felt so proud of herself!

Then, on the day of the first Farmer’s Market, someone paid a little visit. “You’ve done well, kid!,” Gramps said to Meadow. Meadow was so happy when she saw him! She ran up and gave him a giant hug. “Pretty groovy huh?” she said. “Are you proud of me?” “Totally groovy!” he said. “I have always been proud of you, even before you started the garden. But now I am the proudest of all to be your grandpa.”

Meadow looked around at what she had built. It wasn’t just a garden, it was a place for everyone to come together with their families and friends in the fresh air. She saw neighbors who had become friends, and families spending time with their children. Even the mayor got dirty helping them out! But one thing was for sure, everyone was putting TV aside to get out into nature, and she loved that! Meadow felt so proud of herself. She knew that this would go on to inspire other people to help their communities for many years to come... one carrot at a time!

Sarah Pincus attends Corbett Prep in Tampa, Florida. When she is not using her incredible imagination to come up with amazing stories or games to play with her younger brother, she can be found on a basketball court, doing artwork, reading, or singing along to musicals.

Nicholas Zaharewicz lives in Coral Gables, Florida, and attends St. Theresa Catholic School. He spends most of his free time drawing, playing soccer, and hanging out with his twin brother. Nicholas also enjoys swimming, fishing, and playing the violin.



Fifth Grade

Grandpa's Gift

Story by Seunghoon Ryan Pi

Illustration by Tristan Park

illustration of grandfather looking over landscape where grandchild is planting a tree

“Ugh... do we have to do this?” Aiden complained to Liam as they climbed up the rickety attic ladder. A musty stench hit them when they reached the top, and layers of dust enveloped them as the two brothers stepped onto the wooden floor.

“I know,” Liam sympathized, lugging a cardboard box over to the stairs, “but Mom told us to clean out Grandpa’s attic, and the faster we get it done, the better.”

Liam’s grandpa had passed away a month ago, but the emptiness still hung in the air like a storm cloud. His grandfather had been his best friend, encourager, and hero, but when he fell trying to prune a tree’s branches, he didn’t make it. Liam’s world had seemed upside down since then, and even though his dad was doing his best to make up for his loss, it just wasn’t the same.

While Liam and Aiden were dragging boxes in the attic down the ladder, one of the labels caught Liam’s eye.

“Hey! This box says, ‘For Liam and Aiden!’ Maybe Grandpa wanted to give us something!” Liam exclaimed as they huddled over the package, hands reaching for the lid.

Hundreds, no THOUSANDS of seed packets were crammed inside the box.

“Why would Grandpa want to give us all these seeds?” Aiden wondered. He peered inside to check for a note, but nothing else was there.

Their grandpa had had a dream to plant trees all over North Dakota before he died. But Liam was lost for words at the sheer number of seed packets inside. This was unreal!

“You guys done up there?”

Their mom’s face appeared at the top of the ladder, startling the two.

Aiden looked down at the box.

“Actually, there’s something we need to show you.”

“What would Grandpa want us to do with all these seeds?” Liam asked downstairs after filling in his mom on what they found in the box.

“You know, your grandpa always talked about how you guys had green thumbs, and maybe someday he’d pass his project down to you two,” their mom replied, never breaking her gaze from their faces.

“But would he really trust us to do the right thing?” Aiden asked.

“Your grandpa loved you more than anything, and would’ve trusted you with the whole world,” their mom assured.

Liam stared at the seed packets.

“Well, I guess we’re going to see a lot more of these seeds in the next few days, huh?” he remarked dejectedly. “But I’ll do it for Grandpa!”

The next week, they began to plant the seeds. At first, Liam was high-spirited, but a few days of work in the fields taught him a lesson. His whole body ached from top to bottom and his fingers wereraw and scraped up. Aiden was caked with dirt and at night, he had nightmares of seeds in his sleep.

“At this rate, we’re going to be fifty years old before we finish!” Liam scowled.

“I know, but what could we possibly do?” Aiden asked.

"We’ll think of something,” Liam sighed.

The next day at school, an idea popped into Liam’s head when he saw a poster for the school fundraiser, a bake sale. If gathering people to sell pastries worked, why wouldn’t it work for planting trees?

The following days were a whirlwind of spreading the word about their project and making posters with their unofficial slogan: ‘Don’t make trees rare, but keep them with care.’ Liam and Aiden hoped they could convince people to come with these signs.

As the big day approached, Liam put on a brave face and readied the seeds. North Dakota was the state with the least trees, but Liam knew that it wasn’t too late to change that. He wanted to let people know how trees cleaned the air and prevented climate change for our community. He hoped he’d make his grandfather proud today.

Liam and Aiden started off with the box, but they weren’t even at the field yet when they saw clusters of people already there waiting for them. “What are-” Aiden started before they were overcome by ‘heys’ and pats on the back. Even total strangers greeted them with wide smiles.

In less than a minute, the planting site had become a mini-town, bustling with people eager to help them. Apparently, a lot of people had known their grandfather and came when they saw the posters.

Liam and Aiden shouted over the clamoring noise and explained how to plant the seeds. Within seconds, all the volunteers were ready to start working.

“Ready, set, PLANT!”

With that, they squatted and began to set the seeds into the earth. Some people driving by asked what they were doing, and when they explained, several even joined them! Liam and Aiden’s backs still ached, but together with the other adults and children, it didn’t hurt as much.

“This is what it means to be a community,” Liam thought.

They were connected together by their love of nature, fun, and most important of all, their community.

As the sky grew dark, people started saying their goodbyes. When the last person had gone, Liam turned to Aiden and grinned.

“Let’s go home.”

The brothers raced each other all the way back.

Exhausted from the busy day, Aiden started snoring the moment his head hit his pillow, but Liam couldn’t seem to get to sleep and twisted this way and that in his bed. He still didn’t understand all that had happened. He hadn’t even imagined that this many people would come help them!

“Grandpa would’ve been proud of his friends,” Liam thought.

He remembered how his grandfather would always talk about taking care of nature. But he realized that he’d done something way more important today. Not only had he planted trees, he’d brought the community closer together with plants, of all things. North Dakota would someday be known as the Green State thanks to all of them.

“And he would’ve been proud of me,” Liam smiled.

Seunghoon Ryan Pi lives in Georgia with his parents and attends Greater Atlanta Christian School. He has been writing since he was 5 and loves to read. He wants to be an author like J.K. Rowling when he grows up. Ryan enjoys math, playing the cello, tennis, and watching NBA games.

Tristan Park is in the Advanced Academic Program at Oakton Elementary School, Virginia. He won the first place in Virginia from the Federal Junior Duck Stamp Contest 2018, and honorable mention in 2019. He also enjoys playing piano, reading, and swimming.



Sixth Grade

One Village Away

Story by Sehva Faulkner

Illustration by Joanne Sue Jeon

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I quickly find the serial number to check if it matches what I needed - UC59D – a wave of relief passed by me. I already know that this was worth the 4 months of waiting.  I love the feeling of the cold metal on my hands. My spine shivers in delight. Half of the village is surrounding me. Nobody ever gets packages around here – especially a twelve-year-old girl living in one of the poorest villages in India. My Papa grabbed it from me. I don’t think he knows what it is. He says,“Whatever it is, Aashi, you are not playing with it! This is not a toy for girls.” He doesn’t understand. I worked so hard to get this.

I first had to find an organization that helps build wells in India, and then I had to send them a letter (that cost two whole days of Papa’s daily wage). My anger starts pouring out, just like Mama’s big pot of tandoori chicken. Papa starts walking away and the villagers begin leaving our small hut. Then I yell, the loudest I have ever yelled, “It’s for the well! I am tired of you making me and Mama walk every day 4 miles to – to the next village’s well! Have you noticed Mama has been limping everywhere for the past few days! This is the handle for the well that broke off last winter right across from the fruit stand!” By now, my tears were rolling down my cheeks just waiting under my chin to soak into my cousin’s old shirt. The villagers froze in place and turned around slowly. Almost like they heard a gunshot. I take the handle from Papa and run to the well. My bright green kurta flowing behind me as the wind is blowing bits of rocks into the crevices of my toes. When I get to the well, I noticed that the whole village was running after me. I gently slide on the big bright yellow handle. I want to count my turns just for good luck. 1…2…3... a man just shoved me over to the side so he could turn the handle, so I shoved him back. I don’t think that he heard me ranting. 4…5…6…7…8…9…10…11…12. 12 full turns. I feel proud of myself with the whole village cheering for me. In the distance, I can see Mama walking down the road coming back from the old well. When she saw me she smiled, and then she saw me holding the new well handle. She just froze and dropped all the water letting it spill on the sand. And then she ran, she ran like she didn’t care that her sandals were almost to the point of breaking, and she ran like she didn’t bother that there was only naan and rice in the cooler, and she ran like she wasn’t annoyed that the goat didn’t produce any milk that morning. She ran, and she gave me a hug.


Today I had to walk the 12 miles to the well to get enough water for Nani. Her health hasn’t been improving lately. I think that the end is coming close for her. I don’t like to think about it because she has always been there for me. I imagine Nani, like a tightrope, close to breaking. She’s still holding on, but only strong enough to be there for me. Yesterday, I heard news that my cousin in the neighboring village had fixed her well. I’m walking there right now to stop by to see it. I can see the big bright yellow handle, and I’m so excited! This might just help Nani’s health! I walk up to my cousin’s hut, “Hi Aashi! It’s so great to see you! I was coming over to your well because Nani’s health hasn’t been doing good, and our water is not clean,” I said. Aashi exclaimed, “Oh no! Nani’s health isn’t doing well? How can I help?!”. I replied, “Many have heard about the well in our village, but it is too far for a daily trip. There were hundreds of people following me to get to the well. I suppose that all of their water is bad too. I must get back home before dark! Say hi to your family for me!”. Then I got some water for Nani.


Milen came over to my house just a few days ago saying that our Nani isn’t doing okay. I’m very worried for her. I go to the well to see how many people are there. There are about one hundred people. I ask a woman, not from our village, who looked tired, “How long have you had to walk to our village?” She responded with, “I don’t know child. Maybe 6 miles?”. Then I asked another man, “Is your well working in your village?” He said, “No, it broke off last winter”. I didn’t know their well handle broke off last winter too. I started to think, maybe Milen’s village needed the well handle more than my village needed it. I told Mama to get the bucket and fill it up. Then, after she filled up her bucket, I turned the well handle 12 times and it slid right off. I started walking to Milen’s village to put it on their well. Everybody was very confused because I just took away their source of clean water. They all started following me to see what I would do. A few of them started asking me questions, but I kept on walking because I knew that I was doing the right thing.

In the end, maybe the box was right. This handle really was a handle with care.

Sehva Faulkner lives in Austin, Texas. She enjoys reading, writing, and playing volleyball. She loves to watch Broadway musicals with her family. She also enjoys making puns at home with her dad. She is also an active competitor in Destination Imagination.

Joanne lives in Suwanee, Georgia, and attends North Gwinnett Middle. She enjoys reading, writing, swimming, math, and playing the violin. She thinks deeply and thoroughly. She is interested in human rights and aspires to provide basic human rights and educational opportunities to others in the future.