8 Great Story Contests for Kids

Recognition for Young Writers

Writing contests can be a wonderful way to motivate budding writers to produce their very best work. Contests can also provide much-deserved recognition for a young writer's hard work.

Here are eight of my favorites.

1
Scholastic Art & Writing Awards

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards are among the most prestigious awards for student achievement in the literary and visual arts. Past winners include such short story masters as Donald Barthelme, Joyce Carol Oates, and Stephen King.

The contest offers several categories relevant to short story writers: short story, flash fiction, science fiction, humor, and writing portfolio (graduating seniors only).

Who can enter? The contest is open to students in grades 7 - 12 (including homeschoolers) in the U.S., Canada, or American schools abroad.

What do winners receive? The contest offers a variety of scholarships (some as high as $10,000) and cash awards (some as high as $1,000) at both the regional level and the national level. Winners may also receive certificates of recognition and opportunities for publication.

How are entries judged? The awards cite three judging criteria: "Originality, technical skill, and the emergence of a personal vision or voice." Be sure to read past winners to get an idea of what's been successful. The judges change every year, but they always include people who are highly accomplished in their field.

When is the deadline? Competition guidelines are updated in September, and submissions are usually accepted from September through early January.  Regional Gold Key winners will automatically advance to the national competition.

How do I enter? All students begin by entering a regional competition based on their ZIP code. See the guidelines for additional information.

2
PBS KIDS Writers Contest

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Image courtesy of PBS KIDS.

This contest is a great opportunity for our very youngest writers. The contest accepts "invented spelling" and even allows parents to take dictation from children who can't write yet.

Who can enter? The contest is open to children in grades K - 3. Entrants must be legal residents of the United States.

When is the deadline? The contest usually opens in early January and closes around July 1, but your local PBS station may have different deadlines.

How are entries judged? PBS KIDS offers clear guidelines about the content of the story. Stories must have "a beginning, middle, and end." They must have "a central event like a conflict or discovery," "characters who change or learn a lesson," and -- this is important -- "illustrations that help tell the tale."

Entries will be judged on "originality, creative expression, storytelling and integration of text and illustrations." You can take a look at some winning entries to see what's been successful in the past.

What do winners receive? National winners are published on the PBS KIDS website. Past prizes for national winners have included tablet computers, e-readers, and MP3 players.

How do I enter? Find your local PBS station to get specific guidelines.

3
Bennington Young Writers Awards

Bennington College has long distinguished itself in the literary arts, with a highly respected MFA program, exceptional faculty, and noteworthy alumni including writers such as Jonathan Lethem, Donna Tartt, and Kiran Desai.

Who can enter? The contest is open to students in grades 10 -12.

When is the deadline? The submission period usually starts in early September and runs through November 1.

How are entries judged? Stories are judged by faculty and students at Bennington College. You can read past winners to get an idea of what's been successful.

What do winners receive? The first place winner receives $500. Second place receives $250. Both are published on the Bennington College website.

How do I enter? Watch their website for guidelines. Note that every story must be sponsored by a high school teacher.

4
"It's All Write!" Short Story Contest

Sponsored by the Ann Arbor District Library (Michigan) and the Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library, this contest has won my heart because it's sponsored locally but appears to have opened its arms to entries from teens around the world. (Their website states that they've received entries from "as far away as the United Arab Emirates.")

I also love their generous list of winners and honorable mentions, and their commitment to publishing a large array of the entries. What a way to acknowledge teens' hard work!

Who can enter? The contest is open to students in grades 6 - 12.

When is the deadline? Mid-March.

How are entries judged? The entries are screened by a group of librarians, teachers, writers, and other volunteers. Final judges are all published authors.

The contest does not specify any particular criteria, but you can read past winners and finalists on their website.

What do winners receive? First place receives $250. Second receives $150. Third receives $100. All winners are published in the "It's All Write!" book and on the website. 

How do I enter? Submissions are accepted electronically. Consult the guidelines on the library website.

NOTE: No matter where you live, be sure to check your local library to find out what other children's story contests might be available. 

5
Kids Are Authors

Sponsored by Scholastic Book Fairs, Kids Are Authors gives children a chance to go through the entire process of writing, editing, and illustrating a picture book.

Who can enter? The contest is open to children in grades K - 8 in the United States or U.S. International schools. Children must work in teams of three or more, under the supervision of a project coordinator.

When is the deadline? Mid-March.

How are entries judged? The judging criteria are "originality, content, overall appeal to children, quality of artwork, and compatibility of text and illustrations." Scholastic chooses a panel of judges from "the fields of publishing, business, education, art, and literature."

What do winners receive? The grand-prize winners in fiction and nonfiction will be published and sold through Scholastic. Winning teams will receive 100 copies of their book, as well as $5,000 in Scholastic merchandise to be awarded to the school or non-profit organization of their choice. Teams winning honorable mention will receive $500 in merchandise. Students on the winning teams will receive framed certificates and gold medallions.

How do I enter? You can find entry forms and detailed formatting instructions on the contest website.

NOTE: If you want to read past winners, you have to buy the books. And Scholastic owns the rights to the entries, so they will publish the winning books and sell them.

This financial arrangement might bother some people. But unless you think your child is the next Christopher Paolini or S.E. Hinton (both of whom were actually way past 8th grade when they published their famous books, anyway), I'm not sure it matters very much. And Scholastic does offer generous prizes to the winning teams. So to me, it looks like a win-win arrangement.

6
GPS (Geek Partnership Society) Writing Contest

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Image courtesy of the Geek Partnership Society.

The GPS, as far as I can tell, is a group of civic-minded sci-fi fans from Minneapolis. It's a non-profit organization that does a lot of science-oriented volunteer work in schools and libraries by day … and seems to have a pretty heavily packed social calendar of, well, geeky activities by night.  

Their contest accepts stories in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural and alternate history fiction. They've recently added an award for the graphic novel. If your child isn't already writing in these genres, there's no reason she should have to start (and in fact, the GPS just about begs teachers not to make their contest a requirement for students).

But if your child already loves writing this type of fiction, you've found your contest.

Who can enter? Most categories in the contest are open to all ages, but it also has two specific "youth" categories: one for ages 13 and younger, and the other for ages 14 to 16.

When is the deadline? Mid-May.

How are entries judged? Entries are judged by writers and editors chosen by GPS. No other judging criteria are specified.

What do winners receive? The winner of each youth division will receive a $50 Amazon.com gift certificate. An additional $50 certificate will be awarded to the winner's school. Winning entries might be published online or in print, as the GPS sees fit.

How do I enter? Rules and formatting guidelines are available on their website.

7
Skipping Stones Youth Honor Award Program

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Art by Dhruthi Mandavilli. Image courtesy of Skipping Stones.

Skipping Stones is a nonprofit print magazine that strives to encourage "communication, cooperation, creativity and celebration of cultural and environmental richness." They publish writers -- both children and adults -- from all over the world.

Who can enter? Children from ages 7 to 17 may enter. Works may be in any language (wow!), and may even be bilingual.

When is the deadline? Late May.

How are entries judged? Though the award doesn't list specific judging criteria, Skipping Stones is clearly a magazine with a mission. They want to publish work that promotes "multicultural, international and nature awareness," so it doesn't make sense to submit stories that don't explicitly address that goal.

What do winners receive? Winners receive a subscription to Skipping Stones, five multicultural or and/or nature books, a certificate, and an invitation to join the magazine's review board. Ten winners will be published in the magazine.

How do I enter? You can find entry guidelines on the magazine's website. There is a $4 entry fee, but it is waived for subscribers and for low-income entrants. Every entrant will receive a copy of the issue that publishes the winning entries.

8
The National YoungArts Foundation

YoungArts offers generous cash awards (with over $500,000 awarded each year) and extraordinary mentorship opportunities. The entry fee is not cheap ($35), so it's really best for serious artists who've already shown some achievement in other (more affordable!) competitions. The awards are extremely competitive, and deservedly so. 

Who can enter? The contest is open to children ages 15 - 18 OR in grades 10 - 12. U.S. students and international students who are studying in the U.S. may apply.

When is the deadline? Applications usually open in June and close in October.

How are entries judged? Judges are professionals renowned in their field.

What do winners receive? In addition to very generous cash awards, winners receive unparalleled mentoring and career guidance. Winning this award is life changing.

How do I enter? Consult the awards website for their short story requirements and application information. There is a $35 entry fee, though it is possible to request a waiver.

What Next?

There are, of course, many other story contests available for kids. For example, you can find wonderful regional contests sponsored by your local library, school district, or writing festival. As you explore the possibilities, just make sure to consider the mission and qualifications of the sponsoring organization. If there are entry fees, do they seem justified? If there are no entry fees, is the sponsor trying to sell something else, like writing consultations, workshops, or his own books? And is that OK with you? If the contest seems to be a labor of love (by, say, a retired teacher), is the website up to date? (If not, the contest results might never be announced, which can be frustrating.) If your child enjoys writing for contests, I have no doubt that you will find a wealth of suitable competitions. But if the stress of deadlines or the disappointment of not winning starts to dampen your child's enthusiasm for writing, it's time to take a break. After all, your child's most valued reader is still you!