Les Avions en Papier by Irisa Rao

Irisa Rao, 13, is one of 10 finalists in the Grades 7 to 9 category of The First Page student writing challenge.

2020 finalist: Grades 7 to 9 category

Irisa Rao, 13, is one of 10 finalists in the Grades 7 to 9 category of The First Page student writing challenge. (Submitted by Irisa Rao)

Les Avions en Papier by Irisa Rao is one of 10 stories shortlisted for The First Page student writing competition in the Grades 7 to 9 category.

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 2,000 students submitted their stories.

Rao, 13, a student at Arbutus Global Middle School in Victoria, writes about climate change.

I sat, rocking in sync with the ship as we floated aimlessly on the waters. The last of the land had long gone, sitting under the waves.

"When was the last time I saw clear skies?"

The wind howled like wolves around us. Not that I've ever heard a wolf cry before: stories are all that remain of the long gone species. Dirt and dust flew in the wind like a mighty orchestra of locusts, singing with the wolves and leaving destruction in their wake.

I felt a small and frail body sit next to mine. I didn't dare speak, since there wasn't anything to speak of nowadays. Silence filled the room, my breath and white noise being the only things I heard.

"Can you tell me that story again? The one about the flying ships like the paper plane you made me?" they finally asked.

I started off, reciting the story like a piece played a thousand times. I talked about a time where there were marvelous lands that sat upon a clear blue sea, caressed by the sun's protection and skies as clear as glass. Where the people created flying ships — planes — painted a pristine white. Some flew near land, some flew above the clouds, but some flew above even that, through the void of darkness, in hopes of finding a new home.

While listening, they had fallen asleep. I tucked them in and looked out the window, hoping to see a plane piercing through the sky, bringing hope like they did all those years ago, but nothing appeared. The sky was as blank as usual.

Hope had lost its meaning. When all the hope dried away, only melancholy was left.

I — No, we — gave up hope a long, long time ago, back when the sun shone through the clouds like a path to the stars — the same stars we hoped would one day save us.

Hope had lost its meaning. When all the hope dried away, only melancholy was left.

Melancholy, like a bitter cup of black coffee with a burn that stings but satisfies, like a rare sour candy that you savour on your tongue until it bleeds.

After time has run off without you, however, you'll come to tolerate the bitterness, and acceptance is all you're left with.

Staring at ivory skies, blank like a piece of paper, I felt at peace.

Though this time, no one will be left to make a paper plane to fly away with.

About The First Page student writing challenge

David A. Robertson is a Governor General's Literary Award-winning author and judge of the 2020 First Page student writing challenge. (Amber Green)

CBC Books asked students to give us a glimpse of the great Canadian novel of the year 2170. 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 award-winning author David A. Robertson

Robertson is a Cree writer from Winnipeg who writes books for readers of all ages — including the Governor General's Literary Award-winning picture book, When We Were Alone and the Reckoner Rises graphic novel series.

The winner will be announced on CBC Books on April 16, 2021.

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.

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