Books·The First Page

Sophie McGowan, Caris Simmons win The First Page student writing challenge

Burnaby's Sophie McGowan, 12, and Calgary's Caris Simmons, 17, have won CBC's national writing competition for Grades 7 to 12 students.

Students imagined how present-day trends have played out in the year 2170

Burnaby's Sophie McGowan, 12, and Calgary's Caris Simmons, 17, have won CBC's national writing competition for Grades 7 to 12 students. (Submitted by McGowan and Simmons)

Burnaby, B.C.'s Sophie McGowan, 12, and Calgary's Caris Simmons, 17, have won The 2020 First Page student writing challenge, a national speculative fiction writing competition for Grades 7 to 12 students in Canada.

Students imagined how present-day trends — from climate change to artificial intelligence and gene manipulation — have played out in the year 2170.

The 20 finalists and two eventual winners were chosen from over 2,000 entries submitted in the fall of 2020 — 1,601 entries were collected from the Grades 7 to 9 category and 403 entries from the Grades 10 to 12 category. 

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

Award-winning YA and children's author David A. Robertson chose the two winners from 10 finalists in the Grades 7 to 9 category and 10 finalists in the Grades 10 to 12 category. 

McGowan is a student at Chaffey-Burke Elementary in Burnaby, B.C. Her story, Pollinatorimagines a futuristic world where bees have gone extinct.

"I love it when a simple concept has such complexity underneath the surface. Pollinator is at once evocative, poetic, and succinct. And thematically and structurally, this story took a different approach that was ironic, and meaningful," said Robertson. "I loved the whimsical tone and how rich the imagery was; contrasting a smear of yellow pollen against the black stripes down the drones' centres was particularly effective."

Simmons is a student at Western Canada High School in Calgary. Her story, Chasing 1%, is about the growing disparity between the upper and lower classes.

"In writing, timeliness is important, but difficult to catch. Chasing 1% is a sophisticated meditation on the division of class through a literal separation; one class above, the other below. But as with any good story, it goes deeper than that, addressing, as well, a division of age, starkly contrasting not just the "haves and have nots" but the entitlement of one generation against the "grit" of another," said Robertson.

"The literary skill was impressive; a seamless use of alliteration lent itself to one of many beautifully poetic passages, and the final image of cigarette smoke mingling with pollution was stunning." 

Both McGowan and Simmons will receive one year of OwlCrate, a monthly book subscription service, and 50 books for each of their school libraries. 

You can read both McGowan and Simmons's stories, as well as all the finalists, below.

Grades 7 to 9 category finalists

Grades 10 to 12 category finalists

The First Page student writing challenge will return in the fall of 2021. 

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