Writing Contest Winners


We're excited to present the first-place stories from fourth, fifth, and sixth grade for the 2018 Duke TIP Writing and Illustration Contest. Congratulations to the winning authors and illustrators!

Fourth Grade: Alaska



“That's us!” my brother Leo stated.

“Wow, who knew.” I said sarcastically.

We boarded the plane and made our way to our seats...

“Well this is our row.”

“Alex be nice to Leo.” mom said. “He’s really nervous.”

Like I’m not.” I thought.


As I stepped off the aircraft i was immersed in a frigid breeze.

“Mom It’s so…” I shivered. “COLD!”


Suddenly I wasn’t so sure.


3 hours later…

After we had arrived and stowed our luggage, we headed out for dog sledding.

“Welcome!” The instructor greeted us.

“This is Emmie,” He pointed to a white dog with black paws.

“This is Trout,” He pointed to a big brown dog.

“This is Autumn,” He pointed to a black dog.

“And this is Keiko.” He pointed to an old, gray dog.

“Kiki do you love me? Are you riding-” I sang.

“KEIKO not Kiki.”

I felt the red of embarrassment crawl up my cheeks.

“You sure got dad’s singing!” Leo joked.

When he mentioned my dad, everyone got silent for a moment.

My dad had died when I was 3.

“I-I didn't mean it.” Leo said with regret.

My mom grasped his hand firmly.

“It’s ok.”

After dog sledding, we headed back to the cabin. In the kitchen my brother sat on a small stool. His eyes were red and puffy as if he’d been crying.

“You ok?” I asked quietly.

“That was a stupid thing for me to say wasn’t it?”

“Kinda.” I murmured.

“Look, I’m sorry.”

The next day…….

We headed out to the hiking trail.

“Welcome to the Denali hiking group!” A man in a ranger uniform greeted us with a crisp British accent.

“I’m Ranger Jonathan, Ranger Jon for short. Let’s begin!”

We walked through grounds embroidered with frost and into a forest covered in towering pine trees.

Hours later the ranger called for a break. “Don’t wander too far.”

“Yes sir.” My brother snickered.

We sipped water as we strolled deeper into the woods.

“So, mom what was your favorite part of the hike so far?” I asked.

“Maybe the part when Leo fell into the stream!”

“Leo what was your favorite part?”

“Maybe the part when you started singing!”

“I mean on the hike.”


“Um kids where is the group?” Mom interrupted.

“OK FUNNY JOKE!” I laughed.

We heard a twig break and we all turned sharply.

A deer sprang from cover.

“I wish that was the group.” I murmured.

A blast of cold air swam through my hair.

“It's getting cold.”

“Mom what are we gonna do?” Leo questioned.

“We’re gonna...” She paused.

“I GOT IT!” I suddenly had an idea, an AMAZING idea.

“Leo do you have that book dad gave you?”

Leo slowly pulled a worn, paperback copy of “My Side of the Mountain” from his pack.

I took the book and flipped through the pages.

“What are you doing Alex?”

“HERE!” I stopped at a page with a small diagram of a tepee.

“Look, this book has diagrams for shelters, hunting traps and more!”

“But it's freezing!” My mom said doubtfully.

“We still have our coats and we still might find someone who could help.”

“I never thought I’d say this, but I'm with Alex. We should have a backup plan.” Leo agreed.

“Ok, Leo and I will stay back to build a shelter while mom tries to find the group.”

“Ok.” Mom saluted.

We set up on the edge of the forest that was lining the trail so we could see anyone coming or going.

Two hour later…….

We had created the tepee out of long sticks and moss.

We had lined up the sticks in a circle and had secured them with my hairband. Then we had draped long pieces of moss on the outside for insulation.

“This tepee is amazing!” My mom said after her failed attempt to find the group.

We had a bag of trail mix, three apples, and 2 bottles of water.

“I think it's gonna be enough for one night.”

Just then, soft flakes of snow began to fall.

“What do we do now” Leo asked.

I pulled a deck of cards from my pocket and grinned. Leo groaned.

We spent the next 2 hours playing gin rummy.

“I'm bored of cards.” Leo complained. ”and freezing. Let's build a fire!”

“What are we gonna light it with?” I asked.

Leo pulled out dad’s old camping knife. It had a fire starter.

“YOU'RE A GENIUS!” I shouted.

We gathered wood and then using the pages of mom’s magazine, we struck the steel rod against the knife and a spark fell. Soon we had a merry little fire burning.

My mom dropped some rocks into the fire and let them warm up before putting them into the tepee.

“What was that for?”

“It will keep the tepee warm.” My mom replied.

We climbed into the tepee and snuggled close.

I woke up to a terrible noise echoing through the woods. I shook Leo.

“It sounds like a kid screaming!” I cried.

“Wait here.” said Leo as he climbed out of the teepee.

He was only gone a minute.

“A bobcat.”


“We are in a bobcat territory.”

“Is that bad?”

“Not really.” He said. “I will build the fire back up.”

 I woke up the next morning after little sleep.

Leo yawned from across the fire. He had kept it going through the night.

He was placing green pine boughs into the fire which put off a thick column of smoke.

“Someone's bound to see the smoke!”

We sat waiting for about an hour until we heard footsteps approaching our tepee.

“Ranger Jon!” I jumped up.

“We’ve been looking all over for you mates!” He smiled. “I saw the smoke from your fire! Very smart thinking!”

Mom looked at Leo and me with a smile. “Your Dad would be proud.”

Sally Halso Image (1st Place-4th Grade).jpg

Writer Sally Halso is in the fourth grade at Club Boulevard Elementary School. Her interests include writing, art, reading, slime, aerial silks, and nature. She's been writing stories since she could read.



TristanPark-First Place 4th Grade_2019.jpg

Illustrator Tristan Park is fourth grader who is in the Advanced Academic Program at Oakton Elementary School, Virginia. He won the first place (K-3rd grade) in Virginia from the Federal Junior Duck Stamp Contest 2018 and honorable mention in 2019. He also enjoys playing piano, reading, and swimming.

Fifth Grade: The Lost Pet



“This is the best surprise vacation ever!” I shout as I scramble up on a rocky ledge with my cousin, DJ.

We both stop to listen to my voice echo in the giant cavern and laugh. Yesterday morning, my mom and dad woke me up early to tell me they had a surprise. I was so excited I jumped right out of bed.

“You’ll need to pack jeans, a long sleeve shirt, and your hiking boots, kiddo,” my mom said.

“Where are we hiking?” I asked.

My mom just smiled. “Wait and see.”

I love hiking and was super excited, but the best surprise came when we arrived at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. My cousins, DJ and Ileana, as well as my Aunt Rachel and Uncle Domenique were waiting at the hotel. The next morning the grownups handed me and my cousins a back pack, then told us our tour would be starting soon.

“I didn’t even know wild caving was a thing. Isn’t this awesome?” I say to DJ as I continue climbing along the ledge and see a cave covered in shiny crystals. “How cool! Let’s take one home.”

I pull the small set of emergency digging tools from my pack. The tiny ice pick and the edge of the shovel will be perfect for breaking off one of the crystals.

“Didn’t they tell us that was illegal?” DJ asked

“Boys, it’s time to go,” my Aunt Rachel yells.

“Oh, yeah. You’re right.” I pulled out my magnifying glass and my extra flashlight. “I’ll just get a closer look then.”

I bent closer to the crystal as DJ walked away, my back to the tunnel where my family rested.

“Just another minute,” I mutter as I studied the way my light reflected inside the crystal.

“I’m definitely buying one in the gift shop,” I turn to tell DJ, but he and the rest of my group is nowhere to be seen. My heart pounds and I start to shake. I swing my flashlight around the cave, looking for any sign of my family.

“Mom? Dad? Anyone?”

I hear an ominous scraping from the crystal cave behind me. I spin around.

“Who’s there?”

Loose rocks hit the cave floor and I jerk my light toward the sound. In the beam is the weirdest looking boy I’ve ever seen. With red hair, pointed ears, and overly large eyes, he looks like no one I’ve ever seen before, but it’s his pale greenish-gray skin that really freaks me out.

“Who are you?” I ask cautiously. “What are you?”

The frightened boy, his hands shielding his eyes, says in a shaky voice, “If you’d stop blinding me, I’d tell ya.”

I lower my light and he drops his hands. “Thanks,” he says with a sigh.

“This is when you tell me who you are,” I say sarcastically.

“You’re the one invading my home. Why should I tell ya anything?” he responds with a smirk.

I look around the dark cave skeptically. “You live here?”

“Yeah, and a thief just pet-napped my pet crawfish, Crawly.”

I can’t help a startled laugh. “You have a pet crawfish and you named it Crawly?” I shake my head. “Now you really have to tell me your name. My name is Aidan, by the way.”

“The name is Havyk, but that’s not important. I have to find Crawly before the thief eats him.”

“Well, I just lost my family. How about I help you find your pet, then you help me find my family?”

“Deal,” Havyk says. “It’s nice to meet you, Aidan.”

I move my flashlight beam around the cave, looking for a stray crawfish among the crystals. “We need to look for clues. What have you found so far?”

“I found the thief’s tracks near Crawly’s favorite swimming hole and followed them here,” he said, crouching down to look at the cave floor.

I swing my flashlight to see what he’s looking at and see wet raccoon tracks making a trail across the cave floor. Following the tracks, we leave the crystal cave and enter a tunnel too low for us to walk. We crawl through the steep, upward-climbing tunnel for what seems like forever until sunlight appears ahead of us. Near the opening, a raccoon stands holding something in its hands.

Thinking fast, I pick up a rock and throw it at the raccoon as Havyk yells, “Crawly! Let him go, you fiend!”

The rock hits the raccoon, making it drop Crawly, and it runs out of the opening.

Havyk scrambles forward and picks up his pet. “Oh, Crawly, I missed you. I’m glad you’re okay.”

The crawfish lifts up on its tiny legs and makes a popping sound like when I squeeze bubble wrap.

“I’ve never heard crawfish sounds before.”

“He’s just happy to see me,” Havyk says. “Thanks for helping rescue him.”

Suddenly, I hear my family’s voices coming through the opening. I poke my head out to see my mom gesturing frantically to a tour guide.

I turn to face Havyk. “And it looks like you helped me find my family.” I hold out my hand, which he looks at with a confused expression before reaching out to grab my hand. “It was really nice meeting you, Havyk. Will I ever see you again?”

Havyk shrugs and kicks the ground. “Dwarves aren’t supposed to reveal ourselves to humans, but if you ever come back you may find me playing with Crawly in the crystal cave.”

I nod and shake his hand. “Your secret is safe with me. I’ll come back soon.”

Havyk nods then disappears back into the dark tunnel. I crawl out of the tunnel and run over to my worried family.

My mom sees me and strangles me in a tight hug. “Oh my gosh, I’ve been so worried. Where have you been?”

“I helped someone find his lost pet. Can we come back this summer?”

My mom just squeezes me tighter. “We’ll see.”

Aidan Fish Image (1st Place-5th Grade).jpg

Writer Aidan Fish lives in Oklahoma with his parents and two cats. He plays piano, loves to sing, draw, and read, and is known to crack up over really bad puns. He’ll never turn down cherry coke or Hershey’s milk chocolate. Someday he wants to either be a rock star or an expert in cyber security...but at only twelve years old, hasn’t quite made up his mind which yet.


Ruslana Hatch-1st Place 5th Grade.jpg

Illustrator Ruslana Hatch attends McLeansville Elementary in North Carolina. She enjoys horses, unicorns, and crafts. She has two hermit crabs, adores animals, and is interested in becoming a veterinarian. One of her art pieces was recently chosen to represent her school in the Superintendent’s Choice Art Awards this year.

Sixth Grade: Facing Fear


No one likes to be lost, especially if you happen to be lost in Olympic National Park.

I was surprised when my parents announced that we would be taking a trip to Olympic. We hadn’t planned the trip beforehand, and it was my first time to hike in the park. We hiked along the Ozette Triangle Loop with our group all morning, laughing as the ocean rushed to meet our feet and then retreated. By the time we got to the forest part of the trail, we were all exhausted. Our group took a break, stopping to share stories as we chewed granola bars. We excitedly discussed the ocean and enormous trees that surrounded us. I remembered a large shell I had picked up on the beach that I wanted to show everyone. My parents helped me dig through my bag, trying to find the shell, and when I looked up, the group was gone. They must have wandered off while we were looking for the shell.    

We are now alone, with no clue where the rest of our group is.

We consider our options. We could call for help, or we could continue walking on the trail in hopes that we will catch up to the group. I convince my parents that we don’t need to wait, when we could find the group on our own.

Walking down the trail I start to feel queasy. The trees seem to reach to the sky, and I feel tiny in comparison. Their leaves seem to whisper sympathetically to each other, their branches hugging their trunks tight as if they are glad that we are the ones who are lost, not them.

As I’m walking, I have an idea. If I climb to the top of one of these trees, then I could look out across the trail and try to find our group. I explain my idea to my parents, and hoist myself up the tree. After many attempts, I am at the top of the tree. I steady myself on a sturdy branch and sit down. I sit there, cool leaves brushing my shoulders, and I take in the view. The forest goes on forever. You can clearly see the trails, peeking out from the ocean of green. The wind plays a game of tag between the branches, messing with my hair. From the ground the forest seems so dark, the deep green of the moss and the dull brown trunks of trees shading the forest gloomily. Up here, the sun plays on the leaves of the tallest trees, and the air is crisp. I look around for the group. I can see them, not too far into the distance. Excited to share this with my parents, I begin to climb down, carefully setting my feet on the sturdiest of the tree’s branches. Keeping my hand on a branch above me, I put my foot down on a thick branch right beneath me and hear a loud crack that echoes through the empty forest.

My feet are no longer resting on a branch. Instead, they are dangling above the forest floor as I cling to the limb above me that stopped my fall.

My grip slips, and I grasp the branch tighter. I attempt to swing my legs around the trunk of the tree. The tree’s trunk is very wide, and I cannot wrap my legs all the way around.

This movement causes the branch I was holding onto to fall away from the tree, and I fall toward the forest floor with the limb in my hand. I remember closing my eyes and hugging the branch close, as if hoping it could prevent the fate I knew awaited me at the end of this plunge. What I wasn’t prepared for was my dad’s strong arms catching me and gently laying me down.

Dad’s worried eyes meet mine. “Are you okay?” He asks. I nod and sit up uneasily, still lightheaded from the fall. “Do you want to take a break?” He hands me his water bottle, but I push it away.

“I am not scared,” I mumble. Dad looks doubtful, so I sit up straighter. “I saw the group,” I announce, standing up despite my dizziness. “If we hurry, we can catch up to them.” Mom and Dad still look uncertain, but I ignore them, heading in the direction of where I saw the group. My legs shake, still in shock from the plummet. We walk in silence. Once every so often we see an animal, but other than that the forest feels deserted. Goosebumps crawl up my arm, and I attempt to brush them away. I’m not scared, I tell the quiet voices in the back of my mind. I am not scared.

“I see them!” Mom’s loud exclamation startles me, and I jump. We look at each other, and begin to run. The group crowds around us, happy to have us back.

“Were you scared?” They all ask. I roll my eyes. Only wimps get scared!

“No. It wasn’t scary,” I mutter.

“You weren’t scared at all?” One person asks, her eyes wide.

“No.” In truth I feel like I’m about to pass out, but I don’t want anyone to know.

“It’s okay to be scared,” my mother whispers in my ear. “There’s no shame in being afraid and asking for help when you need it.”

I consider her words. If I had taken a break after my fall from the tree, we still would have been able to catch up with the group, and I wouldn’t feel so faint with fear and shock. I clear my throat, and I turn to the girl who had spoken.

“Actually, I was very scared, especially after I fell from the tree,” I say quietly.

“You fell from a tree?” Everyone turns towards me. I tell them the entire story, no longer afraid to tell them how terrified I was, because I feel safe, surrounded by people who care.

Gwendolyn Butler (1st place-6th grade).jpg

Writer Gwendolyn Butler lives in The Woodlands, Texas. She enjoys reading, writing, playing her violin, and drawing. She can often be found making movies with her sister. She loves cuddling up with her cat, Dixie, and listening to musicals. She also swims competitively and likes to bike with friends.


Ruby Feng-ILL Contest-6th Grade-First Place Winner.jpg

Illustrator Ruby Feng is a sixth-grade girl who lives in Lake Mary, Florida, currently. Her favorite activities including reading, drawing, and playing piano and the clarinet. She really likes animals, especially reptiles. Ruby wants to be a dentist when she grows up.