The name of the contest attracted my attention. Sydney Taylor was author of the All-of-a-Kind Family books about a Jewish family living on New York's lower East Side. My daughter had loved those books. I believe she organized a dramatization of the story in her early elementary school classroom.
What made this competition priceless for me was that the judges sent to entrants their observations about the stories--the strengths and the weaknesses. The first opinion I read: "Bad title." Since the title at that time was The Chicken-Cheater, Duck Disasters (2), and the Rocky Road to Freedom, I couldn't disagree.
Then someone wrote: "Both boys and girls should like this but it might be too old-fashioned."
"Would like to see more creative chapter-titles." Hmmm...do I need chapter titles? was my reaction to that and out they went! Someone else thought a glossary for Yiddish terms was needed, which was definitely a good idea. I added one.
The compliments kept me from giving up on this book:
- "Writing is simple, clear, well-organized."
- "Writing is superior."
- "Characters are realistic and appealing."
- "Sweet simple story about a family settling in America. Subject matter is very creative."
- "The Jewish content, while present, is not dominant in this story. [the reviewer] has some reservations about giving the award to this book when other entrants of equal caliber present stronger Jewish themes." [This comment is a mixture of positive and negative but conveys that I was a contender, which made me very happy.]
- "Nice storyline with different problems and great solutions. Author did a great job integrating the themes of immigration, making friendships and dealing with being different, as well as the farm story."
Not winning truly didn't bother me. I hadn't expected to. The experience was as valuable as a semester's course--perhaps more, as it was specific to this work.
As one judge noted, the story was old-fashioned. More than one editor replied to my submission of this story something like: "strong writing but not for our list." I guessed that their list would welcome a dystopian young adult series that would sell a ton of copies. Duck Dreams wasn't that which is what made me turn to self-publishing. Never made a better decision, I think.