What is the Young Writers’ Award?

If you’re looking for ways to build a love of writing in your child or in your class, then you’ve come to the right place.  Our Young Writers’ Award is an annual, short-story writing competition which aims to discover the most talented young authors in North Texas.  Students between the ages of 5 and 14 are invited to write a story of no more than 500 words on a given theme, to be judged by a top children’s author. Previous judges have included Lauren Child, award-winning author of the ‘Charlie and Lola’ books, and Cressida Cowell, best-selling author of the popular ‘How to Train your Dragon’ books.

At Explore Horizons, we believe that finding the fun in writing is essential to developing the confidence and motivation to become a skilled and fearless writer.

That’s why this year we were honored to have Polly Holyoke judging our competition.  Our Plano-based author of the Texas Bluebonnet listed ‘The Neptune Project’ was the perfect choice to judge our 2017 theme of ‘The Future’.

Whether your child is gifted and talented or lacking in motivation, our competition is designed to build creative writing skills and inspire children to develop a love of writing.

Our 2017 competition has now come to an end.  Watch this space for more details on our 2018 contest.



And the Winner of Young Writers’ Awards 2017 is…..

Young Writers' Award winning story illustration

Carl Hu, grade 5, Alvis C. Story Elementary, Allen ISD

Huge congratulations to our fantastic winner Carl, who competed against hundreds of other students from schools and districts throughout Dallas/Fort Worth to take the top prize.  We were honored to be invited to attend his end of year celebration assembly to congratulate Carl in front of his friends, teachers and family.  Alongside all of the glory, Carl also won:

  • A Kindle Fire HD
  • A trophy, medal & certificate
  • $500 worth of books for his school
  • A professional illustration of his story


“Carl’s entry dropped me straight into the action.  He used sensory detail and dialogue well to create a sense of urgency.  I loved his premise that we become human-robots in the future and therefore circuit destroying nanobots could become a threat to our existence.  He developed a sympathetic protagonist and included similes that supported his world building and the technology in his future.  Carl also left us with a great cliffhanger.  I felt like this story could be the start of a novel I’d very much like to read.” Polly Holyoke, author and competition judge

“We received a great response to our contest from students across DFW and we are so proud of all these students who put their creativity to the test. All the winners did a fantastic job taking our celebrity judge on a journey through different worlds.”   Liz Wilson Head of Curriculum at Explore Horizons

“It’s truly been a pleasure for me to serve as the judge for Explore Horizon’s 2017 Young Writers’ Award contest. I was so impressed by the variety, creativity and talent I saw in the entries I read on the topic of The Future. I believe educators, writers and parents all need to do what we can to make writing more cool for kids, and contests like this one is an effective way to accomplish that goal.”  Polly Holyoke, author and competition judge

Runners-up in this year’s competition are Julie Kluthe from Lewisville ISD and Morgan Connor from Frisco ISD, who should be very proud of themselves, and have prizes coming their way too.

If you weren’t successful this year, don’t give up.  Practice makes perfect when it comes to writing.  Keep trying and maybe you could win our 2018 writing competition!

*Illustration by Frances Southgate






About Our Judge


Polly Holyoke Young Writers' Awards judge 2017

Meet Polly

We were extremely lucky to have Texas Bluebonnet listed, Polly Holyoke as our judge this year.  Once a young writer herself, she was the perfect judge for our competition.

“I’ve always LOVED reading and wrote my first book, Rustlers of the High Country, with my best friend when I was in fifth grade. This remarkable tale about two little girls outwitting horse thieves never was published, but it did get me hooked on writing stories.”

Following her first book, Polly went on to have a career as a middle school teacher, before leaving teaching to concentrate on her writing career full time.  This proved to be a fantastic move for her, achieving great success for her ‘Neptune’ series of children’s books, which explore the underwater world of teens adapting beneath the ocean’s surface as war and famine rage onshore.  The Neptune Project, an award winning novel for middle grade readers, was published by Disney Hyperion in 2013, and its sequel, The Neptune Challenge, is now available in paperback.

We were very pleased to have Polly on board as she was just as excited about our writing competition as we were.

“I’m thrilled to be partaking in the Explore Horizon’s Young Writers’ Award as I am a firm believer in fostering creativity in young students and encouraging them to write their own stories.”


Polly’s Top Tips for Young Writers

  • First of all, they need to read as much as they can. Every time a young person reads a book, he or she learns new words, and words are the building blocks of vivid stories. Reading also exposes young people to fundamental aspects of writing including plot structure, characterization and setting.
  • Secondly, I urge young people to write as much as they can. They can keep journals and diaries or post articles about their passions and hobbies on their blogs. Young writers can also share their stories and novels through online writing sites or have their work published in magazines and journals. There are even writing camps now for teens around the country. I wrote my first novel with my best friend in fifth grade, and I had blast doing it!
  • Finally, young writers need to unplug from all their enticing and distracting electronic gadgets like cellphones, games and computers to spend time daydreaming each day. Daydreaming is an undervalued skill in our society, but emptying one’s mind and letting one’s thoughts drift is a wonderful way to practice creativity.

  Award Winning Judge – Polly Holyoke

  Win Kindle Fire HD & $500 of books

  Winning story brought to life by an illustrator

Take a look at our previous winning stories


2014 theme – Myths and Legends

A Fairy Tale, by Catherine Krummenacher, age 12, St Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School

It was a world devastated by war.  The only remnants of the past are the metal ruins of skyscrapers and buildings, their scaffolding the only things left, with the rubble of pavement that used to be roads and highways.  But sometimes, in the wake of destruction, new things bud, grow and evolve.  The world is now inhabited by magical, beautiful creatures.  Fairies have made homes out of old ships by riversides, using their magic to bring life to the water and plants around them.  Elves have made their residence in old coffee shops because of the calming aroma that has never left the place.  Trolls and Goblins, the misunderstood creatures, tend to settle down in the long dead groves of green houses and farmers’ lands due to the memories of abundant life that still linger there.

Now, because the world of the past is long gone, creatures may devote their entire lives to the searching of Collectables. Collectables are rare things that people left behind, like a teddy bear of a light bulb not shattered.  These things are considered to be valuable and sought after, but only few have the courage to go out and look for them because these things are found in areas that are dangerous and uninhabitable.  There is one item, though, that seems extremely valuable, an item that is coveted by all creatures.  It is a book of the complete history of the world.  It contains all the inventions, species, stories; everything the world has ever known.  It is an invaluable resource to a species who has just begun to thrive in a world where they have only been considered a myth for thousands of years.

Of the creatures, the fairies are the ones who are least likely to go searching for Collectables.  They are content to simply lounge around all day, staring at their reflections in the water.  But because of their vain personalities, the fairies that do go out and look for Collectables are almost obsessive about it.  And this is the story of one such fairy.  Her name is Auriella.

Not knowing where her first destination lies, seeing as the map she acquired is unclear where to begin, she heads towards the fairies.  Here, she will replenish her supply of fairy dust.  Suddenly, she’s stopped short by a loud thump and a huge club swung right in front of her face.  As she looks up, she sees Gorge, an ugly green troll and one of her dearest friends.  Knowing he can’t stop her and her resolve, Gorge instead gives her something that will help her on her journey, and as a clue as to where she should start.

And so, Auriella’s adventure begins.  It is surprisingly easy when you know where to look.  Though she will find it isn’t without difficulty.

2016 theme – The Mammoth Mash-up

The Last Goodbye, by Bailey Vinson, age 12, Firewheel Christian Academy

It was a rainy day when I was called to serve again.  They called when me and my wife were eating.  I had finally gotten a break.  A chance to see her beautiful face again.  Then I had to tell her.

First came the crying, then the yelling.  Deep down in my heart I knew she would be ok, but I didn’t like seeing her this way.

“I’ll be ok.  Just go pack,” Pamela said.

She was shutting me out again.  She did it every time I left.  I had promised her a month and she got 3 days, so I couldn’t blame her.

I went to our room and started packing.  She came to bed and layed down.  I couldn’t fall asleep because of the tears I could see on her face.

——5 days later——

I stepped into my room at the Barracks in Afghanistan.  My drill sergeant started giving me orders.  I went to my bunk and put a picture of Pamela in my pillow.

It was lunchtime and as soon as I tasted the food, I knew I had missed her cooking.  My sergeant came to me and told me they needed me a few towns away for a kidnapping.  A bad one apparently.  We went out to the trucks and loaded in.  We got to the town and got our guns locked and loaded.

Me and my men sneaked to the building and split up.  I could sense the danger.  We walked past a dead body his chest covered in red velvet blood.

And then, BAM! One of my men fell to the ground his head swarming with blood.  There was nothing to do.

“You guys take cover and I’ll wrap his head,” I said.

They rushed off and I wrapped up his head.  I heard more shots and more cries for help.  I heard someone coming up behind me…but I didn’t move fast enough.

I felt the bullet pushing its way through my chest.  All I could think of was Pamela’s face.  Her beautiful eyes and luscious brown hair.  My heart slowly stopped, but I knew I would see her again.  Not in this world, but someday, in a much better place.


2015 theme – Strange Events and Peculiar Happenings

Mireya Campos, 8th grade, Watauga Middle School

I wait patiently sitting on the couch. For some off reason I always have the need to wait until a certain time. I feel as if I don’t, something bad will happen. It gets lonely here often. I get up from the couch and start to pace back and forth as I usually do. You might say it’s sort of a habit of mine. I walk around my living room when I notice the mirror.

It kind of gives me an off feeling. It’s a round, rusted mirror that has beautiful antique designs on it. As I pace closer to it I think I can hear muffled voices. The sounds gets louder when I pass it. I can’t help being attracted to it and I turn back around and start to approach it again, seeing my reflection come into view as I get closer.

I walk past it once again but I notice something this time. I stand in front of it and I wave my hand as the other side mimics me. My arm goes up at the same time the reflection does, and goes down in perfect unison. However when my head turns right, the other side turns the wrong way.

I get nervous and both of us jump back. The reflection looks worried or afraid, the same expression as my face. We both stand closer to the mirror again. When she begins to talk I move my lips in synch with hers not actually speaking. “Hey mom can you come over here? I think something is wrong.”

I wait patiently and the mother appears in front of me, standing behind her. I look behind my own shoulder and see no one there. “Okay what’s the problem honey?” Her mother asked. She begins to speak again as I move my lips with hers. “I don’t know. I think there is something wrong with our mirror.” She said with concern evident in her tone.

The mother spoke again. “Oh you’re just seeing things honey. There is nothing there, so stop worrying.” Then the mother walked away. She eventually walked away as well. I stood there not saying anything. I was just staring into the mirror waiting for her to come once again. Like I said it gets lonely here.


How do I get my school involved?

As part of our 5th annual Young Writers’ Awards, starting in January 2018, we will be visiting elementary and middle schools across Dallas / Fort Worth, to deliver engaging writing workshops, and show students just how exciting writing can be.

At Explore Horizons, we believe that finding the fun in writing is essential to developing the confidence and motivation to become a skilled and fearless writer, and so next year we are planning to work with more schools than ever.  We would love for your school to be one of them!

  So whether you’d like us to provide your whole school with an entry form, or you’d like to schedule one of our FREE writing workshops, there is still plenty of time to get involved.

Our FREE, writing workshops and assemblies are available exclusively to schools that are within a 5 mile radius of one of our education centers.  Our events are designed to develop creative writing skills, inspiring students to find pleasure in producing their own extended writing pieces, which can be entered into the Young Writers’ Award.  Whether your students need stretching beyond the state curriculum, are lacking in motivation, or are finding writing challenging, our events are the ideal way to get their creative juices flowing.

Spaces fill up quickly for our workshops, so if you are a teacher or a district coordinator, and interested in getting your school/s involved, please contact your nearest center as soon as possible. You can do this by calling or emailing us, or registering your interest online.

Please note, although we aren’t able to provide story-writing workshops for every school, we are happy to provide all interested schools with entry forms.

Schedule Free Workshop

Could you be the TOP NORTH texas young writer for 2018?

The 2017 competition has now closed – but check back in next January to enter the Young Writers’ Award 2018!

Helping children become fearless writers all year round

At Explore Horizons, we are passionate about helping students to develop their writing skills, and become fearless learners, ready to take on the challenges of elementary, middle, high school and beyond.

Every week, we hold 2 specialist writing classes; Enhanced Writing for 3rd through 6th grade students, and Advanced Writing and Study Skills for students in 6th grade and up.  These classes are designed to develop skills, confidence and motivation for writing.  We want to ensure that every student can not only succeed with the STAAR tests, and prepare for high school, but also to instill a passion for writing that will last them a lifetime.

We would love to invite any aspiring young authors to try an Enhanced Writing, or Advanced Writing and Study Skills class for FREE.  Just contact your nearest enrichment and tutoring center, or fill out a free assessment form online, to reserve your space.

enHANCED writing    ADVanced writing & study skills

We believe delivering the best standard of education shouldn’t cost the world.

That’s why we offer our award-winning service at a price that’s accessible for everyone.

As well as building writing skills, our inspiring tutors work with children on personalized math and reading courses, that are aligned to the Texas curriculum. This means that we can support your child’s work at school, help prepare for the STAAR tests, and challenge gifted students. What’s more, we help students become hungry for information, believe in themselves, and pursue knowledge with the spirit of a fearless learner.

Our membership is simple and a great value. We offer a sibling discount so that your whole family can benefit, and we’re proud to offer a needs-based scholarship program, with a 50% discount for a limited number of qualifying lower income families.  What’s more, with our ‘Refer A Friend’ program you can reduce your monthly membership, simply by successfully introducing other members to Explore Horizons.  For every child that joins as a result of your recommendation, you will save $10 per month, every month, and so will your friend!

If you haven’t had a chance yet, schedule your free in-person assessment today and find out how Explore Horizons can discover the fearless learner in your child.

Free Assessment