Califonia Bountiful

Imagination at work

September/October 2018 California Bountiful magazine

Children share insights about agriculture—and life

Children are natural storytellers, said Sheila Amaral, third-grade teacher at Gratton Elementary School in Stanislaus County.

The tricky part, she said, is linking this natural ability to the skills needed to produce a polished story—one that stands out from the hundreds of agriculture-themed tales submitted each year to the "Imagine this…" story-writing contest sponsored by the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom.

"At the beginning of the school year, I told parents and students I was forming a writing club," said Amaral, the foundation's 2018 Outstanding Educator of the Year. "It was offered as an after-school activity and students didn't get classroom credit for participating. I was surprised when so many students signed up."

Amaral said she teaches story basics: creating a beginning, middle and end. Then, students create characters, dialogue, scenes and settings. An agricultural theme is the added dimension that gets students researching and, often, excited about their subjects.

Seventh-grader Caroline Thomsen, a writing club member and "Imagine this…" statewide winner, said she started with a topic she thought she knew a lot about, but through research discovered there was much more to learn.

When asked about her story's surprise ending (her main character doesn't win the fair competition), Caroline said, "I raise rabbits and show them at the fair. That part of the story is true. Last year, I got sixth place with my rabbit. I wanted to win, but didn't. Through my story, I wanted other kids to know what I learned: It's OK to lose."

But winning has its rewards, she added, including publication of the top "Imagine this…" stories in a book illustrated by high school art students (see Book Review). There's also recognition at the state Capitol during California Agriculture Day, part of the nationwide celebration of farming and ranching during National Agriculture Week.

Caroline's advice to students interested in writing an agriculture-themed story and submitting it to the "Imagine this…" contest?

"Write what you love," she said. "Don't be afraid to lose. Even if you don't win, you make new friends, learn interesting stuff and most of all you get to teach other kids what you've learned."

Kate Campbell

Amanda's Dream

By Paisley Peterson

Third Grade, Gratton Elementary School, Stanislaus County
Teacher: Sheila Amaral
Illustrated by Jessica Urban, Jasmine Lei, Isabella Hofsdal and Emma Padilla Franklin High School, Elk Grove
Art instructor: Derek Bills

"I hope that by reading my story, people will learn a few facts about them."

A chance encounter with a praying mantis leads to a vivid dream about becoming one.

First Time Irrigating

By Dottie Davis

Fourth Grade, Flournoy Elementary School, Tehama County
Teacher: Rachel Davis
Illustrated by Megan Lacy, Lyndi Wax and Lyneah Wax Woodland High School, Woodland
Art instructor: Scott Coppenger

"My favorite part of the story is when the irrigation gate gets stuck and I had to quickly open it, and I fell backward."

A nighttime call to help bring water to a farm field leads to a deeper understanding about how water is shared between farms.

An Important Lesson

By Natalie Gonzalez

Fifth Grade, Kerman-Floyd Elementary School, Fresno County
Teacher: Falhon Ferguson
Illustrated by Emily Chavez and Johana Santillan-Meza Valley High School, Sacramento
Art instructor: Alexandra Pease

"Mixing a movie theme about a gymnast on the verge of quitting and a book theme about believing in yourself helped me write my story."

Only the best cotton bolls carry seeds good enough for future plantings. Sofi, a young boll, competes for the right to carry on her family's seed-worthy tradition.

Antony Antavious Takes on Artichokes

By Nathan Tanega

Sixth Grade, Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School, Stanislaus County
Teacher: Star Pedon
Illustrated by Emily Chavez and Johana Santillán-Meza, Valley High School, Sacramento
Art instructor: Alexandra Pease

"My favorite part of writing this story was researching names and cities that had 'ant' in the name."

Hit by drought and the death of the almond trees they called home, a resourceful ant family turns to artichokes for survival.

A Fair to Remember

By Caroline Thomsen

Seventh Grade, Gratton Elementary School, Stanislaus County
Teacher: Rexann Casteel
Illustrated by Oscar Romero, Nikki Martinez, Paty Perez, Mike Martinez, Destiny Bettencourt, Denielle Jugal, Tiffany Velazquez and Maddy Shively Delta High School, Clarksburg
Art instructor: Corrie Soderlund

"Coming up with the characters was my favorite part of writing the story."

The county fair rabbit showmanship competition comes down to two entries—littermates—vying for the top spot. Both animals earn something valuable in this story, told through the eyes of a Satin Angora rabbit.

The Himalayan Blackberry

By Joey Linane

Eighth Grade, Los Olivos Elementary School, Santa Barbara County
Teacher: Suzanne Squires
Illustrated by Diana Herrera and Anjelica Verdin Sheldon High School, Sacramento
Art instructor: Kelsey Dillard

"Placing myself in the shoes of a blackberry was my favorite part of writing this story."

A juicy blackberry accepts his fate and prepares to get juiced, but finds his future is producing strong canes with lots of fruit.

Agriculture offers a gateway to learning

The annual "Imagine this…" story-writing contest for California students in grades three to eight offers a creative way to learn about agriculture.

Winners are celebrated each spring at California Agriculture Day in Sacramento. They also receive medals and e-readers, in addition to being honored by state leaders.

At the regional level, there are 48 winners. At the state level, six winners are selected.

Deadline for entries is Nov. 1, 2018.

Details about the contest are at

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