As part of our annual Toronto Roald Dahl Day celebration, we stage a short story contest for middle-grade writers, who compose a Toronto-based variation on a classic novel by British children’s author Roald Dahl. Each year, our all-star judging panels are impressed by the number of inventive submissions. The following stories were selected as Grand Prize winners:
The Powers by Keaton Smith
“The brother gave a wave through the rear window, but the other two didn’t even look back. Miss Honey was still hugging the tiny girl in her arms and neither of them said a word as they stood there watching the big black car tearing round the corner at the end of the road and disappearing forever into the distance.”- Matilda R. Dahl
I awoke with a jolt. The visions from a book I had read when I was smaller had returned to disturb my sleep. My face was uncomfortably warm so I got up out of bed, walked to the bathroom and rubbed cold water on my cheeks and forehead. When I was satisfied that my face had cooled down I went back to bed.
That morning, as I was preparing for a school field trip, my older brother came into my room. He was not one of those brothers who annoys his siblings nor one who lets his siblings annoy him. He was a kind and gentle person.
“How did you sleep last night?” he asked.
“Not the best,” I said, “I had a dream that I haven’t had in years. When I woke up, my face was really hot.”
“How is it now? Your face,” he asked. I shrugged and said, “I washed it with cold water but my eyes are still warm.”
He started to make my bed. “Don’t think too much of it. I’m sure it was a one-time sort of thing. And besides, you have a field trip today and you don’t want to be distracted. You’re distracted enough as it is.”
He’s probably right, I thought. I came to help him fold and tuck in my thick sheets and then we went downstairs for some breakfast. We found cereal and bowls on the table and some milk in the fridge. A few minutes later, I heard the sound of the bus horn outside. I jumped up from the table, grabbed my backpack and made a run for the front door.
“See you later,” I called to my brother.
The bus was packed. My entire eighth grade history class, of over forty people, was stuffed into the thirty-seat bus. I pushed through a group of people standing in the middle of the aisle and got to the back seats where my friend Alexis Oakley was sitting.
After taking a seat next to her I said, “Any news on where we’re going?”
“No news,” she replied. The bus drove us to the school where our teacher, Miss Henderson, boarded. Miss Henderson was a small, frail old woman who would be retiring later that month.
“Good morning, class,” she said.
“Good morning, Miss Henderson,” everyone chimed. As the bus started moving again, Miss Henderson continued. “Today we are going on a field trip in the city’s downtown area.”
Eventually the bus pulled into a parking space at the Royal Ontario Museum. The students and I got off the bus and followed Miss Henderson through the museum’s front door and into the grand hall. When we got to the dinosaur room, Miss Henderson said, “I think we should take a little break here, don’t you agree?” As she said this, I felt my face getting warm again. I watched Alexis and her friends take pictures of each other. One of her friends beckoned her underneath an enormous fossilized skeleton held up by a rope tied to a hook imbedded in the ceiling. My face kept getting warmer and warmer and my eyes started to burn. Just then, there was a cracking sound. I looked up to see the blades of a ceiling fan come clean off. Two of the three blades flew and shattered against the wall while the other flew so hard and so fast that it severed the rope holding the skeleton above Alexis. I shouted as the skeleton fell. Then I fainted just as I heard the crunch of fossilized bones.
I awoke lying on my back, and my face was freezing. I saw only the colour blue. I reached up and touched my chin to find that a sack of cold, blue gel covered my face. I removed the ice pack. Miss Henderson was nearby, watching me.
“Oh, thank goodness you’re awake. You gave us all quite a scare,” she said when she noticed I was awake. I was lying in a white bed in the museum sick room.
“What happened?” I asked.
“See for your self,” she said, holding up a cell phone. I took the phone, tapped the play button, and watched the incredible video. The skeleton came to a halt just above Alexis’s head. It reversed its course and crashed on the floor a few meters away.
“How is this possible?” I asked, holding up the phone.
“It seems that you are one of the very few people in the world who can use a power known as telekinesis, which is the ability to control things with your mind.” As I stood there dumbfounded, she continued, “However, this ability is extremely rare and can only be used to a very limited extent.”
“But¾” I tried. “But¾ceiling fans don’t just explode! How did¾”
“Until now I have only known of one living phenomenon like you. Perhaps you know a certain Gregory Davidson from your class.” I recognized the name. She continued. “I’m sure this is all a lot to take in, but…”
I interrupted, “The fossil. I know how to fix it.” Miss Henderson looked at me with a confused expression on her face. “The skeleton was broken beyond repair and not even someone like you could fix it.”
“I might not be able to fix it on my own,” I said, “But two of us might. Could you please arrange a meeting for me with Gregory Davidson?”
Miss Henderson turned away and tapped a number into her phone. After a brief conversation, she walked me back to the great hall. When we got there, Gregory Davidson was waiting.
“Mr. Davidson,” Miss Henderson addressed the boy, “this is the one I told you about on the phone. The one just like you.” Turning to me she said, “Attempting such a feat could be potentially disastrous. What you did a few hours ago overloaded your brain’s capacity. That’s why you fainted.” I shrugged, determined to do something productive with my new power. Gregory and I walked to the dinosaur room. I was surprised to see that the pile of stones on the ground had not been made off-limits to the public.
“Do you know how to control your mind’s power?” Gregory asked me. I stared at the pile of rubble, willing it to move. “Yes,” I said when one of the bones shifted it position. “Then let’s begin,” said Gregory.
I began by mending the ropes that had held the stones together while my partner properly arranged the enormous fossil so it would lie on its hard chest, legs spread out on the floor. Then came the difficult part. Before we continued, I looked around to see the amassing crowd of spectators. Among them was Alexis. Then, Gregory and I began the hard and painful task, pushing the giant’s body with our minds up to the ceiling inch by inch to where it finally hooked into place. The prehistoric lizard was complete and the crowd gave a huge cheer as the two of us gasped for air. Miss Henderson joined us in the center of the crowd.
“Good job,” she said to us. To add to the excitement, I used the last of my mental energy to cause the huge head of what I thought was a Tyrannosaurus Rex to give a deafening roar.
I went home that evening and told my brother everything that had happened.
“Hogwash,” he said, when I was finished telling the story. “Total hogwash. Falling dinosaurs and roaring skulls.”
“See for yourself,” I said.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
I held up my phone with the entire day’s video footage on it.
The BFG was getting rather desperate. His magnificent elephant back home, a thank-you gift from the Ruler of India, was getting very sick. He had heard that Toronto had a rather good Reference Library in the city and had immediately set out to find a book that could help him to cure the elephant.
* * *
Chloe’s bedroom window happened to be a wide bay window facing the street. The night was warm and the glass was neither foggy nor steamy. She was kneeling on the window seat, staring out towards the full moon, when suddenly, an enormous shadow blotted out the moonlight. Chloe brushed aside the chiffon curtain and stuck her head out the wide open window.
The shadow belonged to something very tall and very black and very thin.
The BFG approached the window with as soft a tread as a twenty-four foot giant could have. Chloe peered up at him, and said, in as loud a whisper as she dared,
“Who are you?”
“I am the Big Friendly Giant! I am the BFG. What is your name?”
“My name is Chloe,” she answered. “I’m afraid I’ve never seen or heard anything about you before.”
“Ah, but that is because you are on the opposite side of the world. I come from England.”
“Do you really?” cried Chloe. “I’ve always wanted to go there!” For some strange reason, she did not feel the least bit afraid. His name was the Big Friendly Giant, after all.
“Why have you come here?” she continued.
“I have come to find a book about elephants,” he said. “My magnificent elephant back home is ill, the poor scrumplet!”
“The poor what?” Chloe repeated, rather dazzled.
The BFG blushed. As you know, his English had much improved since going to school under Sophie and reading Charles Dickens and Shakespeare and all the rest, but not quite perfect.
“She is very ill,” the BFG continued. “I could not find a book on elephants anywhere back home, so the Queen advised me to come here instead. She has heard that there is a very good library here.”
“Oh, we do!” said Chloe. “It’s called the Toronto Reference Library, and it’s not too far from here. I’m sure we could help you find a book on elephants there.”
“Ah, but we would have to go in the dead of night,” the BFG said. “The humans around here haven’t heard of me, and I would hate to end up in a locked cage among hippos and crocodiles!”
“I’ll show you the way,” Chloe said with confidence, shaking her hair back. “I’m not afraid. Let’s go right now.”
* * *
Curled up in the palm of the BFG’s hand, Chloe was very proud to be showing off her city as she gave him directions of where to turn and such to get to the library. When they got there, Chloe was lowered down. She took a nail file from her pocket and picked the lock on the doors.
There were no security guards around. Chloe turned to the BFG.
“I really think it’s best if you stay out here,” she told him. “The ceilings aren’t high enough for you anyway. I could open the window and you could watch from the outside of the building.”
The BFG agreed and Chloe walked steadily into the library. As always, the intricate architecture and lovely decor took her breath away. She found the light switch and lit the library brightly. As promised, she opened several windows so they could talk. The BFG was very curious indeed as he peered inside.
After about three quarters of an hour, Chloe managed to locate the shelf where the books on elephants were kept. She clambered onto a step ladder to reach a fat volume from the very top.
“‘Anatomy and Histology of the Indian Elephant’, by D. Mariappa,” Chloe read aloud. “Perfect!”
She waved to the BFG and hurried over to the checkout counter. After some fiddling and tapping, she managed to get into one of the computers and sign out the book under her own name. Then she shut off all the lights, replaced the ladder, and closed all the windows.
Back outside, she handed the BFG the book.
“Thank you so much! This is just the thing I need,” the BFG exclaimed, running his enormous hand over the glossy cover that, although huge in Chloe’s hands, looked so tiny in his own.
“I shall ask the Queen to send it back to you when I am done,” the BFG told Chloe.
“I suppose you’ll have to leave now,” Chloe said sadly. “It’s getting close to morning and the city workers will be here soon. What a lovely time I had with you tonight!” And she sighed.
“I’ll tell you what,” the BFG said, scooping her up in his hand and looking at her with affection. “Next morning go and look up ‘The BFG’ by Roald Dahl in your own library and read it. You will find out ever so much more about me than I could tell you now.”
This sparked Chloe’s interest, and she allowed the BFG to deliver her home. As she climbed in through the still open window and into her quiet house, where her parents and sister were still sleeping, she murmured,
“Good bye, BFG! Thank you for the lovely adventure!”
“Good bye, Chloe,” said the BFG with a twinkle in his eye. “Remember, go and find the book!”
* * *
The next morning, Chloe slept till noon to make up for the previous night. Then she set out to her own little library down the street and asked the librarian to help her find “The BFG.”
“Here you are,” the librarian smiled. “It’s one of our children’s favourites.”
Chloe thanked her, signed out the book, and sat down in her bedroom to read. She read the whole afternoon and finished the book at nightfall. Deciding she couldn’t wait any longer, she started emailing and texting and calling her friends about the BFG.
Her friends in turn passed the story on to their friends, and pretty soon the BFG was very well known in all of Canada, too. The BFG and his dreams were very welcome and there was never a fear of him being locked up anymore.
And all across Canada, libraries and bookstores everywhere were wiped out of Roald Dahl’s book about the BFG, with month-long waiting lists. Back home in England, the BFG smiled.
James Heads to The R.O.M. by Sierra McLean (aged 10)
I looked out the window of my aunt’s old one-storey apartment. The sun was just grasping the edge of the earth and the C.N. Tower sparkled in the distance. Countless buildings lined the streets of Toronto, standing tall and proud. I had always dreamed of leaping from one building to another, like a frog on lily pads.
“James! Come here!” my aunt called from the kitchen. Aunt Molly didn’t exactly volunteer to foster me when my parents died. In fact, she was forced to take me into her hands. She was forced to put up with my “silly imagination”, as she called it and she was forced to offer me a place to live my life.
I would have been happier if I could live my life somewhere else… ANYWHERE else. I wanted nothing more than to see the open road in front of me and feel the wind blowing my dark hair every which way. But it wasn’t that easy. Aunt Molly didn’t let me set a foot out of the house unless I was pulling weeds or watering her not-so-beautiful garden.
Once when I was five, I attempted sneaking out in the black of night, hoping that the darkness would swallow me up… out of my Aunt’s reach. But as I said before, it wasn’t that easy. Molly awoke when I scared away some seemingly harmless crows nibbling at the cornstalks. And before I knew it, she was whacking me with an old leather belt. The pain was such that I had never experienced before, apart from the grief and mourning I felt when my parents left me. Passed on to a new life… hopefully better than mine….
“JAMES, I SAID COME HERE!”
My day dream shattered to a million pieces and I retuned (sadly) to reality. But realizing the anger and impatience of Aunt Molly’s voice, I didn’t try to glue the pieces back together. Instead, I trudged into our tiny kitchen, just a helpless boy…
“Where were you? You were due here nearly 5 minutes ago!” Aunt Molly was usually like this. Stern, strict, and stony – otherwise known as the three S’s.
“You’re going to the R.O.M with me today,” she sighed.
My head sprang up in surprise. I had heard of the Royal Ontario Museum, but I had never dreamed of going there! But why would Aunt Molly take me? Wait… Since when have I cared?
The drive there was long and silent, but I was smiling the whole way. Strange noises erupted somewhere in the engine, but it was music to my ears. Nothing could penetrate the excitement and thrill I felt in my heart. Nothing at all.
We were still driving, but the great museum was visible in the distance. I looked out the window and laughed into the wind. Maybe the wind would carry my laugh somewhere far, far away, and another orphan would hear it. They would hear it and gain hope that a miracle might sprout somewhere in his life. After all, the wind is a powerful thing.
We pulled up in the parking lot (I had never been in a parking lot before) and climbed out of the rusty pick up truck. All of the other cars seemed to be new and sparkly, but I didn’t care. My mind was set on the inside of the museum. I wondered how high the ceilings looked from inside… I wondered how many floors there were… the questions were endless, stretching as far as the eye could see.
“Hurry it up, James.” Once again Aunt Molly had shattered my daydream, but this time I WANTED to return to reality.
I practically ran toward the museum, Aunt Molly in my wake. When I reached the huge door, my aunt caught up with me, panting.
“I didn’t want to bring you here, you know,” she said as she pushed open the door.
Ignoring Aunt Molly, I turned to face the interior of the museum. What was inside struck me like a lightning bolt…
Magnificent sculptures and artefacts lined the walls. Realistic wax figures, dinosaur skeletons, and interactive games were surrounded by tourists. People and families were scattered around like marbles, pointing to planes and parachutes that hung from the ceiling. It was beautiful. Well, beautiful for an orphan, I guess.
I glanced around. Aunt Molly seemed to have left. Maybe she went to the bathroom. I’d just have to discover the R.O.M. on my own. But what ought I do first? Everything looked so wonderful. I scanned the museum, searching for possible options. Maybe I should check out the dinosaur exhibit… or the vehicle section… Or the- wait, what was that? Out of the corner of me eye I saw the most peculiar thing – a small door. It stood alone beside a life-sized Viking. Why would there be a door there? And why so small?
I knew I shouldn’t go near the door, but it was difficult to control my curiosity. One side of me was like a green light… telling me to go forward and explore the world beyond. But the other was red… warning me to stop, not to go any further. Before I knew it, the two sides were arguing rapidly. What should I do?
You have to see what’s in there James!
But what if I’m caught?
You won’t be! Just do it!
But Aunt Molly could come back!!
Since when have you ever cared about Aunt Molly?
C’mon. Don’t be a scaredy cat!
Alright, alright. But if anything happens to me…
“I have made my decision. I’m going through that door. And no one can tell me I can’t,” I whispered to myself as I strolled to the Viking exhibit.
I pretended to read the description of the sculpture, and then sneaked swiftly through the small opening. That was easy. There were no security guards or anything!
I stood up and soaked in my surroundings. As far as I could tell, I was standing in an old storage room. There were three brooms leaning against the unpainted walls and the floors were crafted of cement. In the middle of the room stood a magnificent, twenty foot tall peach. I sprinted toward it and took a bite out of the side. It tasted promising. I ran my hand along the fuzz. It felt promising.
“Did you hear that guys?” somebody whispered.
I whirled around. Surprisingly, no one was there.
“Yeah! Do you think someone found us?”
There it was again. I put my ear up to the peach. It seemed to be coming from the inside of it! Who (or what) could be in there? I had to find out…
Using my bite mark as a starting point, I scrambled up the side of the peach. A small hole was carved where the stem should be, revealing a tunnel of some sort. Curious, I ducked into the hole and began crawling through the tunnel ahead.
Eventually, I reached a huge room. Inside it there was a table, three wooden chairs, and a sofa. On the sofa sat the strangest creature I had ever seen. It was a bluish gray color with huge eyes, six arms, and red shoes.
The thing smiled, “Hello young fellow! I’m Fred. Welcome to our peach!”
“Our?” I asked.
“Oh yes. Would you like to meet my friends?”
“Larry, Gary, come out and meet our new friend!”
Two more strange creatures came into view. One was bright yellow with orange spots and one was purple. They both had swirly antennae, plaid shirts, and little stubby arms.
“You don’t know how long we’ve been waiting for you!”
I was confused, “Why?”
The one called Larry pointed to a small remote on the table, “We’ve waited years for a child to discover us. That’s why we made the door so small. Now that you’re here, we can finally be set free!”
“But how can I set you free?” I wondered.
“The button on that remote can only be pressed by a kid.”
“What will happen when it’s pressed?
“The roof will open and allow the peach to fly out of it.”
“Wow!” I jogged over to the table and jabbed the little button.
“Thank you so much!” said Gary.
“No problem… I’d better get back, though,”
“Wait!” Fred yelped, “You can’t go! We’re already floating!”
“Sorry kid,” Gary patted me on the back.
I looked up at him and smiled, “I want to come,” I replied truthfully.
No more chores, no more Aunt Molly, no more sorrow. I was entering a new life, full of exploring and wonders – my two favourite things.
The Test Pilot session for The Volume One Project was held at Humber College on Sun Nov 22, 2009. Four young scribes Bronwyn Cragg, Noam Flear, Sophia Jantzi and Sophie Chase worked with Illustrator Evan Munday and YA Author Natalie Ghent to devise the story below. They then wrote a conclusion to the tale by themselves. We put the two parts together to create their own books.