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Amaris didn't want to enter the challenge, but took top prize

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Amaris Munya, winner of the Extraordinary Book Report Competition (Photograph supplied)

The last thing Amaris Munya wanted to do was enter a reading contest.

At school, where she initially heard about Marli Spriggs' Extraordinary Book Report Competition, she wrote it off as "a waste of time".

"But my mom encouraged me to do it," said the 12-year-old Warwick Academy student who walked away with the top prize.

She was one of 20 middle school students who took up the challenge of presenting a report on three books: Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen, A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park and Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly.

Marli, 15, was pleased with the response she got from her inaugural competition.

“I had 20 applications from middle schoolers with so many different ideas and writing styles – I really enjoyed reading them and giving feedback. Though I am very happy with this competition's turnout, I aim to double and triple that number in future EBRCs.

"I am to hold the second EBRC in the next few weeks as learning to balance school, my extracurriculars, business and the EBRC has been strenuous, but very rewarding and empowering."

Amaris agreed to sign up on discovering $250 was up for grabs.

"I wanted to put the money to buy my mum a Christmas gift but she didn’t want it so it went to my college fund, Amaris said.

"At first I felt it was a waste of time but then when I started reading the [first] book and I learnt a bit about it, I really grew interested in it."

Amaris Munya, winner of the Extraordinary Book Report Competition (Photograph supplied)

A Long Walk to Water was her favourite.

The short novel is based on the true story of Salva Dut who, in 1985, was separated from his family during a civil war in South Sudan. He walked barefoot, searching for his relatives, for weeks, ultimately leading 1,500 "lost boys" to the Gilo River in Ethiopia. Seven years later he makes his way to New York and is eventually reunited with his father. On hearing that most of his family survived, he started Water for South Sudan, a volunteer group that built wells so that everyone in the African nation had access to clean water. At the end of the tale he meets Nya, an 11-year-old girl he unknowingly helped, who had been walking eight hours a day to collect water for her family.

"He had to travel through a really harsh environment to get to safety, to the first refugee camp in Ethiopia," Amaris said. "They let him stay there for a couple of years but then they kicked him out and they [forced] everybody in the refugee camp into a river [filled with] crocodiles."

She hadn’t heard of Salva or his organisation before signing up for the competition.

"I like reading [but] I normally read fiction books," said Amaris, who loves all of Adam Gidwitz's books but especially The Inquisitor's Tale, as well as anything by Katherine Applegate.

She was most impressed by Salva's character.

"I enjoyed reading A Long Walk to Water because it showed the importance of perseverance and appreciation. Salva showed determination throughout his journey. He travelled through killer lion territory in Ethiopia, an endless sizzling hot desert called Akobo, and a lake crammed with deadly crocodiles. Salva witnessed associates of his group drop dead from dehydration, and he saw a man murder his uncle. Although heartbroken and mournful, Salva kept walking," Amaris wrote in her EBRC report.

"One of the most significant, heart-wrenching moments Salva had to endure was not knowing if his family was dead or alive. In addition, the water they acquired was scarce and it had to be stretched and shared among the group when they got it. This gave the group members more appreciation of the water since it was rare to come by. Water symbolises wisdom, satisfaction, power and dignity but it also represents war, dysfunction and death."

Naina Seth took second place in teenager Marli Spriggs's inaugural Extraordinary Book Report Competition (Photograph supplied)

Christian Botelho, Namazio Dill, Naina Seth and Will Spriggs rounded out the winning entries.

Amaris said she wasn’t absolutely certain why the judges awarded her the top prize but it likely came down to a number of reasons.

"They said it was my vocabulary and that I [mentioned] different points about how the book made me appreciate water. And also because I talked about Salva's TEDx Talk that he did. It was called I Kept Walking and I think that’s what made me stand out because nobody else mentioned it."

Naina takes second place in inaugural EBRC

Marli Spriggs’s Extraordinary Book Report Competition got 20 middle school students excited about books. Warwick Academy student Naina Seth, 13, was one of them.

Q: Why did you enter the competition?

A: I entered because I love to read books and write about them. When I found out that I could compete for a prize by doing something I love, I had to enter

Q: What was your favourite book?

A: My favourite was Hidden Figures because I learnt so much and found it so fascinating and interesting.

Q: Did you expect to win a prize? What did you win?

A: I didn't expect to win but I remember hoping to make it to the finals. I ended up coming second and winning $200.

Q: What do you think made your report stand out?

A: I think my answer to the question where they ask you if the book changed you or your view, was what may have made me get into the finals.

Marli said the panel was impressed by Amaris's "clear enthusiasm" and "inspiring ideas".

"She had some really refreshing points when answering the questions, and I especially liked how she analysed aspects of the book that might have been overlooked. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her speak so articulately, and so thought it very appropriate to award her first place.“

The EBRC competition was the first of its kind for Amaris.

"I play violin with the Bermuda School of Music and in 2019 I went on tour with them to Chicago. I also run for Pacers [Track Club] and we would generally every summer go away to Canada and North Carolina for track meets but it's been cancelled because of Covid. I also play football for PHC."

The reading challenge made her more appreciative of all that she has.

"It made me want to never give up – because all the books were about people never giving up. It inspired me."

For more information on the Extraordinary Book Report Competition: bookspacebda@gmail.com. Follow on Instagram @bookspacebda

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Published January 24, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated January 25, 2022 at 8:04 am)

Amaris didn't want to enter the challenge, but took top prize

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