Each August, we put out a call to all 4th and 5th graders in Austin and surrounding areas to submit an original piece of writing based on a prompt. This year, kids were asked to contemplate the scenario, “The Day I Found a Magic Hat.” Imaginations ran wild, and we received entries from young writers from all over the city. Our judges looked for use of language, characters, setting, and, above all, imagination! We named winners and runners-up in each grade who all received plaques and signed copies of judge Carmen Oliver’s picture book, A Voice for the Spirit Bears: How One Boy Inspired Millions to Save a Rare Animals. The winners in each grade also received a party for ten from Austin’s Park n’ Pizza. We thoroughly enjoyed reading each entry and marveled at the creativity that emerged.

4th Grade Winner Gavin Hoffmeyer Serene Hills Elementary

 Once upon a time there were two kids named Jake and Mike who were best friends. Jake was at Mike’s house when something surprising happened. Jake heard a thud outside. PLOW! They rushed down the stairs to see what had happened.  

Outside, they saw a black hat on the ground. As they looked more closely, they spotted a snowman! Jake and Mike thought the hat probably belonged to it, so they put the hat back on him.  

Suddenly the snowman turned and said, “Hello, my name is Frosty. Thanks for getting my magic hat.” They were shocked to see a snowman that could talk and move. Frosty said he was headed north to see his family but got lost. They decided to help Frosty find his way.  

They walked on a trail through the woods. As they traveled farther, it got hotter and hotter. Frosty felt the heat on his body and told them that he would melt if it got too hot. Jake said, “Don’t worry, Frosty. You are fine.”

Mike was not happy at all. He tried to convince Jake that they were going the wrong way. As they are walking, they saw a hunter and asked for directions. The hunter told them they were going south. By this time, Frosty had almost completely melted. It was too late for Frosty. His last words were, “Take care of my magic hat. You can bring me back to life when you return to the snow.”  

Mike and Jake finished the journey north and found Frosty’s family. They built a snowman and placed the hat back on him. Frosty came to life and was thankful to be back with his family. Jake and Mike were his heroes.

4th Grade Runner-up Sofia Ladogana Cactus Ranch Elementary  

I am riding the bus from school. When I get home I am going to…Ding ding! It’s time for me to get out of the bus! I get out of the bus and start walking home. Soon I am at my doorstep. I open the door and start doing my pile of homework. One hour later, I get ready to go for a walk. I start walking into the woods. While walking, I find a glittery hat that smells like cotton candy! I look at it and put it on. All of a sudden, I open my eyes into a whole different place! I gasp! It’s so pretty. Suddenly a fairy with a yellow dress zooms down from the sky! She lands on the ground in front of me! 

“Where am I?” I ask. 

“You are in the magical land of Unitopia!” she answers. “And my name is Daffodil.”

“Can I explore?”


So, I start running until I am standing in front of a beautiful, big, white and lavender-colored pegasus!

“What’s her name?” I ask.


I walk about twelve yards and see mermaids in the water! I watch them for some time.

“You probably need to get home soon. You can always come back.”

“How will I get home?” I ask.

“Stormflash!” At the call, the pegasus I saw earlier lands in front of Daffodill and me!

“She will get you home. Get on,” Daffodil says.

So, I get on and she takes flight! As we rise higher, a big rainbow-colored portal opens in the sky!

“Bye!” I call.

Then I open my eyes and see the forest again. I know I will go back soon, and then I head home.

5th Grade Winner Zachary Borja Barton Hills Elementary

  It was an uneventful Sunday, so I decided to explore the forest. As I ventured deeper into the forest, I encountered a dead end. Disappointed, I started to turn around until a wall of vines got my attention. I moved them out of the way, and it revealed a secret path! Walking through I found another dead end. However, this time there was a single tree stump laying there. When I walked closer, I found a snazzy looking top hat resting on the stump. Grinning, I snatched the hat and placed it on my head when I started to feel queasy. I closed my eyes for a second and when I opened them you wouldn’t believe what I saw. I was in an old timey town. I ran to an older looking gentleman asking him, “What year is this?” “Why, it’s 1843!” The words echo through my head. “1843.” I frantically began to race down the street until I found a hat shop. I rushed in looking for a modern hat. The best I could find was a baseball cap, so I snatched it up and placed it on my head. The next thing I knew, I’m at the bat of a Chicago Cubs game. Panicking, I dashed out of the stadium with mobs of people following me. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man with a sombrero. I dashed up to him yelling “I’m sorry for this!” I grabbed his hat and put it on my head. Then I groaned when I realized I was in Mexico! Then, I had an idea. I put my hands on the hat and lifted off it off and closed my eyes. When I opened them, I was relieved at the fact that I was home.

5th Grade Runner-up Athena Metzger Sunset Valley Elementary

  I hate pasta. Every Friday, the school serves pasta for breakfast and lunch. One Friday, while I was looking at my tray of pasta in disgust, the “mysterious girl” dropped a note on my tray. You see, I’m kind of weird and also new, so I give everyone labels.  I label Ryan “crazy,” Maddie “weird,” and Sally “eccentric.”  I also labeled Jack a “genius.”  Not that that means anything though.

Anyway, the letter M.G. (Mysterious Girl) gave me, said: “Anne, you are in great danger of pasta! Find the magic hat.  You’ll be safe. -Unknown” I don’t know why she put unknown.  I guess the answer is unknown… Heh.

I started looking for that hat right away. I assumed it to be a top hat, but no, it was a drop-dead gorgeous Coco Chanel original hat! Nestled between earth and sky, I picked it up and placed it upon my head and shrunk into it.

Inside, it was a parallel dimension, the exact same, except everyone was more cheerful and the school NEVER served pasta.  But everything was so strange.  Every day, my desk was covered in cards that said things like:

“Your eyes are toadstools Your ears are spores I know you snore!”

It was so embarrassing!  Also, my mom always said, “dear.”  I can’t stand that.  Finally, I thought it’d suffocate me, so I jumped out of the sky and learned to love pasta.


Carmen Oliver is the author of picture books A Voice for the Spirit Bears: How One Boy Inspired Millions to Save a Rare Animal, a Junior Library Guild spring 2019 pick, Bears Make the Best Reading Buddies, Bears Make the Best Math Buddies and Bears Make the Best Writing Buddies (Jan, 2020). She’s also the author of the forthcoming picture books Bears Make the Best Science Buddies (Fall 2020), The Twilight Library (NorthSouth Books, 2022) and The Favio Chavez Story (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers).  

Carmen’s work has been shortlisted for the Rainforest of Reading Award, The Writers’ League of Texas Awards and the CLEL Bell Picture Book Awards for Early Literacy. In 2014, she founded the Booking Biz, a boutique style agency that brings award-winning children’s authors and illustrators to schools, libraries, and special events. She also teaches writing at the Writing Barn and The Highlights Foundation and loves speaking at schools, conferences, and festivals.   

connect or learn more about Carmen and her books,visit www.carmenoliver.com.

Bethany Hegedus picture books include the award-winning Grandfather Gandhi and Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story, both co-written with Arun Gandhi (grandson of Mahatma Gandhi), as well as Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird, Rise!: From Caged Bird to Poet of the People: Dr. Maya Angelou, and the forthcoming Hard Work But It’s Worth It: The Life of Jimmy Carter. Her books have been included in numerous “best of” lists such as A Mighty Girl’s Best Books of 2018 and Kirkus’ Best Books of the Year. A former educator, Bethany is an in-demand speaker and mentor who speaks and teaches across the country about writing, creativity, resilience, and privilege. She is also the Founder and Creative Director of The Writing Barn in Austin, TX and host of The Porchlight podcast, which includes writing craft and creativity interviews, as well as the popular Courage to Create series. She graduated from the Vermont College of Fine Arts with an MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults.
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