´My First Book´

Contest for Children to Write and Illustrate their Original Story in its Seventh Year in Croatia

By Avtk. Anandarama Ac.
New Poster

My First Book is a successful national contest in Croatia for children ages 6 to 15. It challenges them to write and illustrate their own story and for seven years now an average of 300 books are received yearly. The best winning stories are published. So far 44 books have been published and a collective work by children – Pazi Mine! (Watch Out. Mines!) was commissioned and distributed to 30,000 children in Croatia and Bosnia. This year 433 books were received and 10 printed.

This contest engages children in a meaningful end-product of their own making that supports the school objectives of basic communication skills such as: reading, spelling, grammar, listening, speaking and illustrating. It encourages students to exercise rational thinking, judgment, self-expression, creativity and sustainable practices. The final products can be proudly examined, discussed, displayed and are not only inspirational to the participants but also to other children who read the books of their peers at exhibitions, in schools and libraries.

The writer and illustrator has to be the same person as this contest is primarily about supporting the creative self-expression of the individual child. They have to keep in mind that their story book is meant to be interesting and exciting for children of ages four to 10. Especially older children need to be reminded to write the book for the benefit of younger readers as usually they get lost in long texts of melodrama.

The Karlovac City Theatre “Zorin dom” hosts the colourful yearly prize-giving ceremony and exhibition of the books. Students come from other towns for an all-day excursion with sightseeing, picnic and workshops on ‘How to Improve your Book.’ This event is well attended by students, teachers and parents. We invite special needs children, children’s choir or band and the children’s ballet to participate in the performance and add more colour and pageantry.

We found that children grow with this contest; they express their thoughts, imaginations, sustainable way of life, creativity and their art. Children who see the work of other children are encouraged ‘to do even better’ in making their own book. They cherish their book as a finished product of hard work and continuous effort even if it does not get published. Good writers and illustrators were motivated and continued to submit one new book each year. Every year they improved and set a high standard for others. We gave scope for their books to be awarded special recognition and found sponsors for publishing them but we keep reserving the chance for new contestants every year to win. At times parents or their own local libraries or their schools support the publishing of their books.

With the help of the professional jury, designers and editors we have kept the standard of the books very high which helps the esteem of the contest. We have looked out for the values inherent in the stories published to be meaningful, uplifting and positive to the authors and the readers.

Popular children authors Sanja Pilic and Tito Bilopavlovic are not only on the jury but have become closely associated with the contest. Two dozen volunteers give about 40 workshops throughout the year and Vanja Kiseljak and Romana Leko manage the project on a part time basis.