August 4, 2013

Local kindergartner feted in national writing contest


---- — SCHUYLER FALLS — At just 5 years old, Miriam Sayward’s love of animals and knack for storytelling has earned her national recognition.

The Schuyler Falls child recently won third place in the Kindergarten Division of the national PBS Kids’ Go! Writers Contest for her original story, “A Baby for Jenny,” which chronicles the true tale of a goose’s quest for motherhood.

The contest, intended to foster creative thinking and improve literacy and vocabulary among youth, invited children in kindergarten through third grade to create original books of fact, fiction, prose or poetry with five original illustrations.

Thousands of entries were first submitted to one of 62 participating PBS stations, including Mountain Lake PBS in Plattsburgh, which then selected first-place winners from each grade level to be entered in the national contest.

Choosing America’s 2013 winning entries was a panel of judges, including award-winning children’s authors Jeff Kinney and R.L. Stine and Jim Henson Co. CEO Lisa Henson.


While this was the first year Miriam was eligible to enter, her siblings, Liam, 13; Grace, 11; and Gideon, 7; have been participating in the contest for the past few years.

“Once we got into it, it was a lot of fun because they each get to write their own type of story and do their own type of art,” said their mom, Melissa Sayward, who home-schools Miriam and her siblings and has incorporated the contest into their curriculum.

Gideon has won first place in his division on the local level for the past three years, topping the second-grade division this year with his story, “A New Mouse House.”

And Grace received honorable mentions locally for her poetry books when she was in second and third grades.

In the 19 years Mountain Lake PBS has been participating in the contest, however, Miriam’s is the first of the station’s entries to place nationally.


Her story tells how Jenny, one of several geese living on the Saywards’ farm, was eager to have offspring but was unable to for lack of a male goose.

“She always wanted to have a baby because she always sits on her eggs, and they would never hatch,” Miriam said.

The family’s duck, Mocha, however, had no trouble reproducing, and after disappearing for nearly a month, returned to the farm with 15 ducklings.

“First, Mocha, she went away, and then she came back with ducklings, but some of them really didn’t keep up, and Jenny went over and got the other ones and took them back to Mocha,” Miriam said. 

From then on, Jenny aided Mocha in caring for the ducklings, finding them bugs to eat and protecting them from danger.

“I like Jenny and Mocha, and I like Jenny’s babies, and I just wanted to write about Jenny and Mocha,” Miriam said.

“Jenny used to chase everyone unmercifully around the farm,” Melissa added, “so we were actually all thrilled when she finally had something to herd.”


To illustrate her story, Miriam used mixed media, including construction paper, Easter grass and an actual photo of Jenny.

“I used cotton balls to make Mocha’s ducklings,” she added.

Jane Owens, director of Outreach and Education at Mountain Lake PBS, explained that the local judges graded entries using a writing-skills rubric that assessed things like whether the stories had a beginning, middle and end.

“In addition to that, the judges felt Miriam’s story was creative and imaginative in both the story line and the manner that she used art materials in the illustrations,” she said. 

In recognition of their success in the local portion of the contest, Miriam and Gideon, along with other contest participants, including first-grade winner Kye LaMarche and third-grade winner Harper Wolff, were invited to attend a celebration in April hosted by Mountain Lake PBS.

Miriam will also receive an MP3 player for placing in the national competition.


“It is important for area children to participate in the PBS Kids Go! Writers Contest so that they can practice their skills as young writers and also to motivate them to create stories,” Owens said.

View a digital version of Miriam’s story on the PBS Kids website at

To read the stories of the other local-level Go! Writers Contest winners, visit

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