Books·The First Page

Death of a Tree by Denise Howatt

Death of a Tree by Denise Howatt is a finalist for The First Page student writing challenge of 2022.

2022 finalist: Grades 7 to 9 category

Denise Howatt, 13, is a finalist in the Grades 7 to 9 category of The First Page student writing challenge 2022. (Submitted by Denise Howatt)

Death of a Tree by Denise Howatt is one of 13 stories shortlisted for The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 7 to 9 category for 2022.

Students across Canada wrote the first page of a novel set 150 years in the future, imagining how a current-day trend or issue has played out. More than 1,800 students submitted their stories.

The shortlist was selected by a team of writers across Canada. The winners will be selected by bestselling YA writer Sarah Raughley and be announced on May 31.

Howatt, 13, a student at Nellie McClung Collegiate in Manitou, Man., writes about forest fires.


'Maybe this is for the best,' the redwood tree thought. 'Maybe they'll finally learn.'

It was really beginning to burn now. It could feel its bark falling away from the base of its many-ringed trunk. Hundreds of years of growth, burnt in minutes. Its needles turned a scorched brown and fell to the ground, sticky sap running down its sides.

Maybe it was morbid that the fire raging across the last redwood forest on earth was beautiful.

The great redwood tree did not lament its own death.

It could symbolize something. Maybe the human race would smarten up and save the remains of their rapidly receding forests. But people hadn't given a thought about the dying species for the past hundreds of years. It was unlikely that they would change now.

The redwood tree clung to that hope for the last few minutes of its life, though. It only had so long left to live, why not live it optimistically?

Yet the charred wooden bodies of many of the great redwood's tree-mates lay burning on the ground around him. That was what the tree lamented. The death of so many others.

If the tree had had a mouth, it would have laughed. It didn't, though, so no sound was heard.

The fire's cause was unknown. Perhaps lightning, failure to clean a fire's remains, or just a great amount of divine congestion that happened to give right at this moment — the great culmination of scenarios that would have this fire destroying this forest.

The great redwood tree was one of the last of its kind. This fire would likely burn away the remains of its species, and they would die out. Officials would mark another name on the growing list of extinct species. "Of the family sequoioideae—"

If the tree had had a mouth, it would have laughed. It didn't, though, so no sound was heard.

'Oh, humans,' it chuckled to itself, 'never appreciating what they have. Never appreciated the great redwood tree, for its beauty, its history, its existence.'

The great redwood tree would die in laughter, laughter that no one could hear. Its ashes would fly up, up, and away, to join the pollution of the cities, and the disgruntled people would breathe in the lifeblood of the tree, not realizing its importance, and make a face. The air was always smoky, but there was a difference between the typical unbreathable smog of the city, and different smog.

No one would mourn the loss of the redwood tree.


About The First Page student writing challenge

The First Page student writing challenge asks students in Grades 7 to 12 to write the first page of a novel from 150 years in the future. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

CBC Books asked students to give us a glimpse of the great Canadian novel of the year 2172. They wrote the first page of a book set 150 years in the future, with the protagonist facing an issue that's topical today and set the scene for how it's all playing out in a century and a half.

Two winning entries — one from the Grades 7 to 9 category and one from the Grades 10 to 12 category — will be chosen by bestselling author Sarah Raughley. 

A writer and lecturer from Southern Ontario, Raughley is the author of the YA Effigies series — which includes Fate of FlamesSiege of Shadows and Legacy of Light — and the fantasy historical novel The Bones of Ruinfor ages 14 and up.

The shortlist was selected by a team of writers across Canada:

The winner will be announced on CBC Books on May 31, 2022.

Both winners will receive a one-year subscription to OwlCrate, which sends fresh boxes of books to young readers across Canada on a monthly basis. In addition, each of the winners' schools will receive 50 free YA books. Special thanks to Penguin Random House, Raincoast Books, Scholastic Canada, Annick Press, KidsCan Press, Groundwood Books, Orca Books and Simon & Schuster for donating books for the prize.

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