The 4th of July Secret Mystery Writing Contest FINALISTS!

I hope you all had a fabulous, sparkly, red, white and blue 4th of July!

So what’s new?

How’s the family?

Read any good books lately?

I guess I don’t really have much to post about today…


Wait a second!

What was I thinking?

Today’s the day you’ve all been eagerly awaiting!

The day I tell you that…

… yesterday I got to have waffles with the one and only awesome Mike Allegra! over at his blog!! and if you haven’t had a chance to read it, you should go check out his post!!!  Click HERE and show him some love 🙂

But seriously, folks, I know what today really is.  It’s FINALIST DAY for

The Fourth Of July Secret Mystery Writing Contest!

As always, the decision as to who should make the cut was agonizing.  This contest was a particularly tricky assignment for those who chose to take it on, and everyone did such an amazing job.  I mean, a secret or mystery?  Set on 4th of July?  In 400 words or less?  What was I thinking?  That is not a challenge for the faint of heart!  So I think every single person who entered a story deserves a round of applause and a nice fat slice of apple pie (it’s American) a la mode (your choice of ice cream) 🙂  You are all winners just for participating and I thank you all for your bravery in putting your stories out there for all of us to read.  I know it’s scary.  But every single one of you should be proud of the job you did, and we are all grateful to you for providing such wonderful and enjoyable entertainment!

***APPLAUSE  APPLAUSE  APPLAUSE*** (This is the part where we’re all cheering for YOU! :))

The decision was so difficult that I roped in an extra assistant judge.  Thank you SO MUCH, Extra! (you know who you are, but I never divulge the identity of my assistants, so everyone else will just have to wonder :))

Much as I’d like to give a prize to everyone, I’m not that well off.  So we will have to content ourselves with 7 okay sorry 8 finalists.  Their stories are below, and you now have the chance to read them (or re-read them) and vote for your favorite – the one you think should be declared the winner!

Before I present the finalists, though, I’d like to give special mention to a couple of people.

First, Honorable Mention to Robyn Campbell for her wonderfully creative twist on the almost-not-signing of the Declaration Of Independence Lenny To The Rescue, Julie Rowan-Zoch for her fantastic A Puddling Mystery, Heather Dent for her dog’s eye view in BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!, and Teresa Robeson for her delightful Who’s Katy (which was my 10 year old nephew’s favorite :)).

Second, a great big fireworks display of congratulations to our two under-12 entrants, Erik (Facts Are Stubborn Things) and Brianna (Who Is In The Flag Costume)!!!  Seriously!  The adults who entered had a hard time with this contest, and these two kids showed us all up 🙂  Congratulations to you both for your terrific stories, and there will be a little something special for you if you email me 🙂

Now then.  There’s no more putting it off.  Time to read the finalists and choose a winner.  Please cast your vote by Thursday July 11 at 6 PM EDT.


#1 Birthday Presents For America

One July day, while our cousins were visiting, my mother announced we needed to plan a birthday party.
“A birthday party? For who?” asked George, my older brother.
“For America!” she said.
Mom explained that our country was turning a whopping 237 years old. She said we needed to bring presents to the party. If we didn’t know what kind of present to give America, Mom suggested we read some history books. 
The six of us got busy.
My three cousins, Madison, Adam and Jackson, headed to the library. George disappeared into the garage, and I went to the kitchen. My younger brother, Thomas, stayed in his room.
I worked all afternoon on my present. I sifted flour. I rolled out dough for a crust. I added filling and baked my pie in the oven with Mom’s help. 
My cousins returned from the library. They said their presents were ready. But I didn’t see any presents.
George skipped into the house with an empty crate. What kind of gift is that?
Thomas was still in his room. I peeked inside. But he wasn’t making anything. He was playing with his turtle.
I strutted back to the kitchen. I just knew my gift would be the best.
It was time to show our presents to the whole family.
Madison suggested we vote who would go first. We each wrote down a name. Madison tallied our votes.
“Actually,” she giggled, “I win because my present to America is preserving democracy by conducting an election!”
Adam went next. He asked us to hold hands and bow our heads. He said a prayer for America, and he gave thanks for
the right to practice a religion.
Then Jackson walked up to our grandfather and saluted him. He thanked him for protecting America during the war and for keeping us safe. Grandpa’s blue eyes shined.
George turned over his crate and stood atop. 
“That’s my soap box!” he said proudly. “My gift to America is my right to make a speech!”
I was next. I divided my apple pie into six pieces – one for each child.
“My present is the gift of equality!” I said in between bites.
Finally, it was Thomas’ turn.
He led us into the backyard and set his beloved turtle loose. 
“My gift to America is freedom,” he said. 
We took one more vote. We decided Thomas’ present was the best.

#2 Fishing Boat To Freedom

“We’re having a 4th of July party tomorrow, class,” said Mrs. Evans.  “A secret will be shared. So today, I want you to write about what freedom means to you.”
JeeSoo thought about her new freedom in America with foster parents and her own secret—to become an American.
At recess, JeeSoo asked Anna, “How do you become an American?”
“Maybe you have to recite the Pledge of Allegiance perfectly,” said Anna.
JeSoo stood tall with her hand over her heart and recited it.
“I don’t feel like an American,” she said.
JeSoo asked Isaac, “How do you become an American?”
“You have to meet the president,” he said.
JeSoo didn’t think she could travel to Washington, D.C.
“How do you become an American?” she asked Abbie.
“I think you have to be born in America.”
JeSoo sighed. She could never be an American.
Back in class, JeeSoo looked out the window. The sky became the topsy-turvy sea. She saw her small fishing boat with her parents and another family who escaped North Korea lost in the storm. Up and down, up and down. A huge wave came crashing, and they all fell into the icy water. Only JeeSoo had survived.
JeeSoo wrote: Before I came to America, I had no freedom. I worked in the rice paddies. We had little money. I ate once or twice a day.
Only two outfits hung in my closet—one for summer and one for winter.  My father worked for the Great Leader of our country until he became too sick. They fired him, and we had little choice but to escape out of North Korea. We sailed on a fishing boat to freedom.
JeeSoo remembered being lifted out of the water, so soggy and weak, onto the U.S. Navy ship. And a wonderful soldier and his wife had become her foster parents.
JeeSoo hurried home and told her foster mom about the party.
“I know, Sweetheart,” she said. “I’m helping.”
The next day JeeSoo’s eyes widened as she read the banner: Congratulations, JeeSoo! American flags hung around the room.
“On July 4th you will become an adopted American citizen,” said her foster mom. The class cheered.
Outside the sky no longer looked like a stormy sea. She saw hues of red, white, and blue.
“I’m proud to become an American,” she said.

#3 Harold’s Hat

The day was here! Finally!
Hot dogs!
Oh, and there was also The Hat.
Harold could hardly think of The Hat without saying, “Mwah-ha-ha!”
He’ll show that Betsy Lominzer, that’s for sure.
Last year Betsy wore a special Fourth of July hat to the town parade – a nice one that had flashing lights and a cup holder for her lemonade.
Harold asked if he could try it on and she said no. Not even for one teeny, tiny little milisecond.
“Fine,” thought Harold. “I’ll show you next year.”
And, well…Mwah-ha-ha!
The Hat took Harold six months to build. He kept it out of harm’s way in his closet.
At least he thought he did.
It must be out of harm’s way in his toy box.
Out of harm’s way in his dresser?
Under the bed? Behind the hamper? In the closet again, just to make sure?
“Whaaaat?” Mom was trying to light the barbecue.
“Have you seen My Hat? The one with the red, white and blue glitter, and the flashing lights, and the siren, and the cup holder?”
“No,” she replied. “Where on earth did you get…? ”
“Too loud!” Dad was pouring chlorine in the pool.
“Have you seen My Hat? The one with the battery powered waving flag action and the cannons that shoot sparks?”
“You have a hat that shoots sparks?” Dad asked. “That could be a fire haz­–”
“Ba!” Billy was sucking on his foot.
“Have you seen My Hat? The one with the megaphone and the solar powered jukebox that plays a medley of Sinatra songs when you push a red button on the brim?”
“Do-be-do-be-do,” Billy said.
Wait. That wasn’t Billy.
Harold followed the do-bes to Sparky’s doghouse and found him swooning to Sinatra’s crooning.
The hat was safe and sound.
“Good boy.”
Off to the parade! Off to find Betsy Lominzer! Mwah-ha-ha!
But…well…Betsy’s hat had improved a bit since last year.
It had improved quite a lot, actually.
“Wow! Can I try on your hat for just one teeny, tiny, little millisecond?” Harold asked.
“No,” Betsy Lominzer replied.
“Fine!” thought Harold. “I’ll show you next year.”
In an instant, Harold’s mind filled with new and exciting ideas. A bigger hat. A better hat. The Best Hat Ever.
His lips curled into a smile.
“Mwah-ha-ha!” he said.

#4 The Missing Fourth

The Fourth of July was missing.
When people in Blueville flipped their calendars to July, the 4 had been cut out.
The mayor ran out of Town Hall. “The town’s bunting has been bagged!”
The Celebrations Committee exploded, “The fireworks have all gone up in smoke!”
The bandleader cried, “Someone’s marched off with the instruments!”
“We must call a Town Meeting!” said the mayor.
“We need to collect money for more fireworks!” said the Celebrations Committee.
The band leader sang, “Seventy-six kazoos… nope, it’s just not the same.”
They ran around, tearing their hair. “What can we do?”
The kids huddled together. “What we need to do is find who did it,” said Tommy.
“And bring the Fourth back!” said Jennifer.
“Like all the Star Wars fans say, ‘May the Fourth be with us’!” said Jack.
“Not May, July!” said Debbie. She’d never seen Star Wars.
“We need to look for clues,” Jack said. “Things can’t just vanish.”
“We need to find a motive,” Tommy said. “Why would anyone steal the Fourth of July?”
“Everybody likes the Fourth of July,” Debbie said.
“Not everybody,” said Jennifer. “People who don’t like fireworks. Or parades. Or noise.”
“AHA!” They all said together.
They sneaked down the street where the band would have played. They went over the hill where the fireworks would have been.
“Look!” said Tommy, pulling a trombone case from under a bush.
“And see this!” Debbie said, waving a sparkler in the air.
“And a bag full of 4s from the calendars!” said Jack.
Jennifer put some bunting on like a cape.
“You kids get away from my stuff!” yelled Old Man Mudgeon. His cur, Snarly, grrrrred.
“It isn’t your stuff, it belongs to Blueville!” they said. “Why did you take it?”
“It’s too dang noisy. Every year those fireworks and the band just about knock my ears off.”
“I can fix that,” said Tommy. “Wait right here!”
He ran all the way to the store. “Do you sell earplugs?”
“Turnips taste better, but yup, here are earplugs.”
Tommy raced back to Old Man Mudgeon and gave him the earplugs.
So Old Man Mudgeon lived silently ever after, and Blueville turned back into Red, White and Blueville every Fourth of July.

#5 Mouse’s Missing Magic

Mouse bustled up her path and waved to her neighbor, Skunk.
She had so much to do before tonight!
Mouse threw a party every Fourth of July.
She invited her closest friends.
She served lots of yummy food.
But most of all, Mouse made her magic brew and splashed the night sky with sparkles and glitter and brilliant colors.
“This should be the best batch of magic yet.” She chuckled. “I’ve added extra sizzle to the swizzle.”
Mouse stepped into the kitchen and gasped.
“My pot of magic brew is missing!”
Mouse spotted smudges on the floor.  They glowed.
“Footprints! The thief must have spilled some brew.”
Mouse followed the glowing prints outside. They led past Mole’s burrow. 
Mouse knelt down and called, “Hellooo!”
Mole poked his head out of the hole. “Yes?”
“Have you seen my pot of brew?”
Mole blinked. “It’s gone? Oh, dear!” He climbed out. “I’ll help you search.”
Mouse and Mole continued the hunt.
“The footprints are fading,” said Mole.
Mouse’s heart pattered. They must find her magic! She could never make another batch in time for the party.
The trail wound past Squirrel’s tree.
Mouse looked up and called, “Excuse me!”
The leaves trembled and Squirrel peeked out. “Yes?”
“Have you seen my pot of brew?”
Squirrel’s tail twitched. “It’s missing? Oh, no!” He scampered down. “I’ll help you search.”
So Mouse, Mole and Squirrel continued the hunt.
But the footprints finally faded away.
Mouse sighed. “What will I do?”
Rustle. Rustle.
“What’s that?” she whispered.
Rustle. Rustle.
“It’s coming from that bush,” said Mole.
They crept forward and peered around the bush.
“The magic brew!” said Mole.
“It’s Skunk!” cried Squirrel.
“Why did you take my brew?” asked Mouse.
Skunk hung her head. “Because I’m lonely. Nobody invites me to parties. Every year I watch your Sky Show from my yard.” She sniffed. “I thought if I had the magic brew, maybe I could throw my own party.”
Mouse said, “I’m sorry I didn’t invite you, Skunk.”
“I’m sorry I took your brew,” she said. “I’ll bring it back.”
“We’ll help!” said Mole and Squirrel.
The friends carried the pot to Mouse’s home just in time for the party.
When it grew dark, Mouse splashed the night sky with sparkles and glitter and brilliant colors.
“The swizzles really sizzle,” said Skunk. “It’s the best batch yet.”
“And the best party, too!” said Mouse.

#6 Guessing Game

Maggie sat on a tall stool in her kitchen, watching her mother. She was very, very bored.
“Whatcha doing?” she asked her mom.
Her mother dropped blueberries and strawberries into cups of vanilla yogurt. “Making a treat for the picnic,” she said.
“What picnic?” asked Maggie.
“I can’t tell you,” whispered her mother. “It’s a secret.”
“A secret?” whispered Maggie. Maggie loved secrets! She was very, very good at figuring out secrets. “What if I guess it?”
“I suppose that will be all right,” said her mother.
“Is it a picnic for all of us?” asked Maggie.
“Yes,” said her mother. She picked up a baseball cap with an American flag on it. “Don’t let your brother leave without his hat.”
“Aha!” said Maggie. “So we’re going somewhere for the picnic!”
Her mother nodded.
“But why?” asked Maggie. “It must be a special picnic. Is it a party?”
Her mother smiled. She collected blue paper plates and put them in the picnic hamper. “Put these cups in there, too, please.”
Maggie stacked red plastic cups inside the hamper.
Maggie’s dad walked into the kitchen. “Is everything ready for the picnic?” he asked.
“We’ll need the extra-big blanket,” said her mother. “The one with stars and stripes on it.”
Maggie sat on her stool, thinking of the secret. What kind of party could the picnic be? Last week, her softball team had a party. But that was the last team party of the summer.
“And don’t forget the cupcakes!” called her mother.
Cupcakes! “Is it a birthday?” asked Maggie.
Her mother smiled again.
A birthday! Maggie thought of her grandparents and her best friend and even her next-door neighbors. But she did not think any of them had a birthday today. She jumped off her stool and walked to the wall calendar. “Let’s see,” said Maggie. She looked at the month. “July,” she read. She looked at the dates. “1, 2, 3, 4,” she counted. Maggie crossed her arms and thought and thought.
“Time to go,” said her dad.
But she had not figured out the secret yet! Her family started for the door with the hamper, the blanket, and the cupcakes.
Who has a birthday on the 4th of July, wondered Maggie.
“Wait,” said Maggie. She followed her family outside. “I know the secret! It’s America’sbirthday party!”
Her mother laughed. “How did you ever figure it out?”

#7 Who Ate My Hotdog

Every Fourth of July, my entire family comes over for a barbecue. Usually, it’s a lot of fun.  This year, there was a serious problem. Somebody ate my hotdog.
It was there one minute, and then it was gone. I left it to get a root beer.  When I came back, there were only some crumbs from the bun.
“Who ate my hotdog?” I asked.
Dad said he’d been grilling the whole time.
Mom said she ate too much of Aunt Rosie’s pasta salad and was already full.
It was probably Peter.  It was the sort of thing my older brother would do.
Nope, it wasn’t Peter.  He’d been helping Uncle Fred get the fireworks set up on the dock.
Could grandpa have done it?  There’s no way grandpa would steal my hot dog.  But wait, is that ketchup on the corner of his mouth?  I always eat my hotdogs with lots of ketchup.
“Grandpa did you eat my hot dog?”
He chuckled.  “No, my boy, I ate my hotdog, not yours.  But I think I might know who did.”
He pointed a long shaky finger toward the picnic table.  Who was he pointing at?  Cousin Sally?  Then something caught my eye.  A hotdog was moving across the table.  It inched its way along the red and white checkered table cloth. It went past the potato salad, past the watermelon, past the corn on the cob until it fell to the ground. 
I peered into the shadows under the table and then I saw the guilty party. Our dog, Jack, gobbled up the spoils of his sneaky theft.

Well, at least I knew who ate my hotdog.  The only thing to do now was to ask dad for another one. I made my way back to the grill.  Dad gave me another hotdog.  I covered it with ketchup.  I sat at the table and was about to enjoy my first bite when I realized something awful had happened.  
Someone drank all my root beer!

#8 Mixed Messages

Sweat rolled down Alex’s neck as he laid the blankets on the lawn. He wanted everything to be perfect for the fireworks show tonight.
“Hey Alex, I’ve got a message for you.” It was Alex’s next-door neighbor. He was carrying lawn chairs back and forth between the two yards. “If you’ve got a cold, then your mom made you itchy and your grandpop is freezing.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” asked Alex.
“No idea, but that’s what my little sister said to tell you.”
Alex went in search of little Lola. He found her parading through the grass waving her teenie American flag.
“Lola, what were you supposed to tell me? I’m feeling fine and my Pop-Pop is in the house.”
Lola wrinkled her nose, thinking hard. “If you’re hot and cold, then your mom may be itchin’ and your grandpop is freezin’. Or somethin’ like that. If you don’t believe me, ask your daddy.”
Alex left Lola looking for lightning bugs and headed for the patio. He found his dad cooking the last of the hot dogs on the grill.
“It’ll be dark soon. Ready for the fireworks?” he asked.
“Almost, Dad. The neighbors said you had a message for me?”
“Oh yeah. If you’re hot and cold, then Mom may be in the kitchen, and your Pop-Pop is freezing. It doesn’t make any sense to me, but that’s what your Grammy yelled from the porch. Maybe you should go ask her.”
Alex dragged himself up the porch steps. He was sure he must be melting. This was the hottest Fourth of July he could remember.
Grammy was sitting on the porch swing, hoping to catch a breeze. “Did you get my message, Alex? Your mom said if you’re hot, there’s cold lemonade in the kitchen, and isn’t it nice your Pop-Pop is freezing. Though how he can be, in this weather, I’ll never know.”
“Thanks, Grammy,” said Alex. “I’ll bring you a glass of lemonade when I come back.” But Alex was still confused. He shuffled through the front door, expecting to see his Pop-Pop bundled under a quilt. Instead he spied a note from Mom. It said:

Gone to the store to buy more sparklers.
If you’re hot, there’s cold lemonade in the kitchen and ice pops in the freezer.
Be back soon.

Again, please cast your vote by 6PM EDT on Thursday July 11, and thank you all so much for participating, reading, and voting!  These contests couldn’t happen without all of you!

Please tune in Wednesday for Would You Read It, and Friday for the announcement of the contest winner!!!

Have a great day, everyone 🙂

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64 thoughts on “The 4th of July Secret Mystery Writing Contest FINALISTS!

  1. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Thank you so much for reading, voting, and submitting your wonderful entry, Michele. I'm sorry not everyone can win – it's awful to have to narrow down to finalists! I hope you'll hang around – we try to have fun on a regular basis 🙂 – and the next contest will be at the end of October (the Halloweensie Contest) unless I can't restrain myself from conducting another somewhere in between 🙂


  2. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Thank YOU so much for reading, voting, and entering your wonderful story! These contests wouldn't work without everyone who participates so whole-heartedly! I hope you'll join us for the next one 🙂


  3. Vivian Kirkfield says:

    It's always so much fun to participate in your holiday writing contests, Susanna! And everyone is a winner for having the courage to put their work out there.:)

  4. This_Kid_Reviews_Books_Erik says:

    Thank you for the shout-out! 🙂 I really enjoyed trying to write a mystery! I shall be emailing you m'lady! 😉

  5. Robyn Campbell says:

    I've been so busy with Christopher I didn't see this. Or vote. 😦 I'm telling you. I'm on edge and time is short right now.

    I cannot believe I got Honorable Mention. THERESA DIDN'T TELL ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Sus, thank you for this. This means so much. I am on cloud nine. (Nice to have something writing related to celebrate. I scored a big FAT zero at PitchMAS yesterday on twitter.) Sus, I'm sorry I couldn't vote. Although my favorite story won. Love you Sus!

  6. Susanna Leonard Hill says:

    Congratulations, Robyn 🙂 And I'm sorry you didn't see this. I should have emailed you directly because I know how busy you've been with Christopher and that your mind has been necessarily elsewhere. But you did a terrific job on this story and we all loved it!

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