Palo Alto Weekly 19th Annual Short Story Contest
Child First Place

Anna's Bugs

by Sarah Jacobs Younker

About Sarah Jacobs Younker

Sarah Jacobs, 12, started working on her first-place winning story "Anna's Bugs" while in fifth grade at Ohlone Elementary School.

"I had to write a story for my school and I really like science and insects," she said. "I thought it would make an interesting story because it is a realistic situation."

Now a sixth-grader at Keys Middle School, Jacobs said she modeled the main character after herself, and tried to make a point.

"I guess I'm trying to say that you can't judge people even if you don't like something. You should try it and look at things from other points of view," she said.

Jacobs, whose father used to be a journalist, was exposed to writing from an early age. While not sure whether she'd like to pursue a career in writing, the Palo Alto resident said she hopes to have a book published one day.

In her free time Jacobs enjoys all kinds of artwork, creating horses with clay, playing soccer, horseback riding, playing the cello, and listening to books on tape.

" I listen to a lot of good literature that I wouldn't otherwise be able to read," she said.

The science enthusiast, who has long cared for her own bug collection, also belongs to the "Bug of the Month Club," a group that meets once a month.

"I just think it's cool and fun (taking care of insects)," she said. "Every little thing has its own personality."

-- Erin Pursell

Anna was a normal New York City 6th grader in nearly every way. She had brown hair and hazel eyes, and she was about as tall as everyone else. Only in one way was Anna different. Anna loved bugs. She thought about bugs constantly. But even though Anna learned a lot about entomology, ecology, and genetics, there was one bad thing about Anna's great love of bugs. No one else in East 23rd Street Middle School, New York, liked bugs. In Anna's school, bugs were considered "icky" and "UN-cool".

One hot spring day in class, Anna's teacher, Mrs. Christonberry, came to the front of the class and called for attention. Mrs. Christonberry was tall, with a sharp nose. She had gray hair that suggested that she was old. If she was, that didn't stop her from being very strict.

Mrs. Christonberry obviously had a big announcement to make. "Class, I have decided that for the remainder of the year, we will study plants."

Anna sadly looked back down at her desk. She had been hoping that Mrs. Christonberry would say they would study insects.

Anna heard cheering from the rest of the room. A lot of the other girls in the room loved flowers.

"Yippy!" Lily, another girl in Anna's class had leaped off her seat and was dancing around the room.

Lily's shoulder length, strawberry blonde hair caught the light coming in through the school's large windows. No wonder she was the most popular girl in the class.

"We're going to study plants!

We're going to study flowers!"

Rosemary, Lily's best friend, who also happened to be one of the popular girls in the class, with all her cool girl clothes and attitude, stood up and pulled her back down.

"Sshh! Mrs. Christonberry was talking again. "A test will be given near the end of the year to see how much you have learned."

Whispers broke out in the classroom. The end of school bell rang. "Your homework is to find facts about plants. Tomorrow we will share them with the class."

That night after dinner, Anna went on the internet in search of facts about plants. She learned some interesting things, including that plants use photosynthesis to change sunlight into food, and that if you take a leaf off a tree, the pattern of the veins will be the same formation of the tree's branches. But the most interesting fact that Anna learned, was that most plants could not survive without bugs. Bugs help to pollinate flowers, make room for roots, and protect plants from other bugs.

The next day in school, people shared the things that they had learned. Most of the facts were very interesting, but when Anna announced her fact about plants, they laughed at her and called her names. Hemlock, one of the most obnoxious boys in the class, yelled out: "Hey bug lady! Why do you always bring everything back to bugs? We're studying plants here, not bugs."

"That's enough now Hemlock! Anna, next time, please direct your studies accordingly. We are studying plants here, not bugs."

Anna's face reddened. When Mrs. Christonberry's back was turned, Rosemary sneered at Anna. Tears silently rolled down Anna's cheeks. No one noticed, and even if they had, she didn't think anyone would have cared. The reason being of course, that Anna didn't have a single friend.

For the next few months, Anna studied very hard. Then one day, Mrs. Christonberry announced they would soon start the test. She explained that the test would be this: She would pair them up, and each group would be assigned a different plant to grow. At the end, they would be graded on how healthy their plants were.

To Anna's great surprise and chagrin, she was paired with Lily! How would they work together? Would Lily work hard, or would she just sit and giggle like she did with her friends?

The students were assigned their plants. Anna and Lily were assigned a small ficus tree. Anna had heard some about ficus trees. She knew that they needed very careful watering, and that they needed the exact right amount of sun and shade.

That afternoon, they got together at Anna's house to make plans for their scraggly little ficus tree.

They got an old clay flower pot out of the garage, cleaned it, and put clean fresh potting soil in it. Carefully, they transferred the tree from its small plastic shipping pot to the larger clay pot.

"Yuck! There's a bug on our plant!" Lily squealed. She started to flick off a little lady bug that was crawling up the branch, but Anna stopped her.

"Don't!" cried Anna. "Lady Bugs help keep aphids off the plant. Come to think of it, maybe we should put all my plant-friendly bugs on our tree."

"No way! I'm not letting creepy crawly things ruin the experiment."

"They won't ruin it. They'll help it."

"But how do you know they'll help it?"

"Because I've seen it happen for myself, and I've read it."

"Fine! Just fine! You can put your dirty bugs on it, but don't blame me if the experiment is ruined."

That evening, Anna emptied nearly all of her multitude of plant-friendly bugs on to the precious ficus tree.

During the next weeks, Anna and Lily did their best to put their differences aside and tried hard to work together. They tried to learn as much as they could about their new plant. They worked hard to bring their plant to health, and after a matter of weeks, the tree's leaves began to shine green and strong.

Finally, a week from the end of school, the day came for them to bring their plants to class for Mrs. Christonberry's inspection and their final grade.

Anna and Lily brought their plant to school in Lily's father's car. When they stepped out of the car, they began to realize their plant was one of the healthiest plants there! Rosemary's had dropped all of its leaves, while Hemlock's had died altogether.

The next day, Mrs. Christonberry handed out grades. With trembling fingers, Anna opened hers. With a jolt, she realized that her grade was an A! A grin split her face from ear to ear. She glanced across the room at Lily, who smiled, and gave her the thumbs up.

After school, Lily beckoned Anna over. "Um, Anna, I think I owe you an
apology. I'm really sorry about teasing you about your bugs. In fact, do you think you could teach me how to take care of Praying Mantises? They're kinda cute."

"Sure," Anna said, amazed.

"And do you maybe want to come over for ice cream?" asked Lily nervously.

A smile slowly broke over Anna's face. "I would love to."