Books·The First Page

Where the Maple Leaf Grows by Christian A. Yiouroukis

Where the Maple Leaf Grows by Christian A. Yiouroukis is the winner of the First Page student writing challenge.

2023 winner: Grades 7 to 9 category

A portrait of a teenage boy with dark hair and a blue collared shirt smirks into the camera.
Christian A. Yiouroukis is a finalist for the 2023 First Page Student Writing Challenge in the Grades 7-9 category. (Submitted by Christian A. Yiouroukis)

Where the Maple Leaf Grows by Christian A. Yiouroukis is the winner of the First Page student writing competition in the Grades 7 to 9 category for 2023.

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 1,200 students submitted their stories.

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

Yiouroukis, 12, a student at DDSB in Oshawa, Ont., writes about climate change and Indigenous reconciliation.

Yiouroukis spoke about injecting hope into his entry.

"I am deeply honoured to have been selected for The First Page writing challenge. I am thrilled that my story resonated with esteemed judges like Courtney Summers," said Yiouroukis in an email to CBC Books.

I wrote Where The Maple Leaf Grows as a tribute to family, community, and sustainability.- Christian A. Yiouroukis

"Ms. Summers' comment captured the intention of my writing, which was to imagine a brighter tomorrow filled with hope. I wrote Where The Maple Leaf Grows as a tribute to family, community, and sustainability."

I look at the lucid glass container and the ecosystem that grows inside of it. Bulbous plants bulge out of the soil, their almost translucent roots spread throughout it. These indoor greenhouses are what sustains us; practically everyone in our village has one.

I hear my sister's hasty footsteps. She bolts into the room with grime smudged on her face. Her overalls are caked with dried mud from gardening.

"Ma asked me to collect some spices for the feast," I say.

Each year, to commemorate our revitalisation in lifestyle 150 years ago, everyone from our village gathers together and enjoys a communal feast. We decorate the community table with maple leaves freshly fallen from their trees. Maple leaves symbolise the harmony of humans and nature.

I grab hold of various plants in the garden and trim their stems just enough so that they'll grow back into new plants.

"Why don't you go collect the water from the rain barrels, I think the neighbours need some."

"Gotcha," my sister says with a spark in her eyes. Her relationship with water inspires me. We believe all things in nature are connected and deserve an equal amount of respect.

A silken voice fills my ears. "Alexander, what's taking you so long?"

"Coming," I yell.

My mother is sitting on the ground, collecting vegetation for the feast.

"Where's Father?" I ask.

"He just finished hunting, he's just thanking the animals' spirits for feeding us tonight."

I kneel to the ground and help her collect the sweetgrass and fungi that grow along this field. I look into her eyes. It seems so impossible she had experienced a time so different from how it is now. She and Dad remind us of how everyone used to look after themselves, neglecting the needs of Mother Earth; how we wasted so much material and food just because it was easier to throw away than reuse. How we disrupted ecosystems just to put needlessly large houses in their place. It seemed all we cared about was the urge to satisfy our unquenchable desires.

It was her generation, and those who came before, that strived to remedy these problems and we eventually succeeded. We returned to the ways of the First Nations of our country after long ignoring their cries for a better world — we rekindled a feeling that was once so distant in our minds — coexistence.

About The First Page student writing challenge

A cartoon astronaut with a laser sword bursting out of a book and flying through space with her cat.
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 2173. 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.

The winning entries — one from the Grades 7 to 9 category and one from the Grades 10 to 12 category — were chosen by bestselling author Courtney Summers. 

Summers has won numerous awards, including the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult literature, the 2019 Odyssey Award and the 2020 Forest of Reading White Pine Award. Her 2021 book The Project won the International Thriller Writers Award for Best Young Adult novel.

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

The winner was announced on CBC Books on May 31, 2023.

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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