Why My Kids Enter Competitions


I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous as I was this past Saturday, when My Big Helper entered her first district History Day competition.  Even though I competed myself for years, and have had kids, gotten married, and faced all sorts of other major life events, watching my daughter nervously await her interview with the judges after six months’ worth of work was hard.

So why do I make her – and, when the time comes, my son – enter these things?  Because yes, this was her first year, and it was part of her school requirements.

There are lots of reasons.  Here are some of them:

  1.  It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn how to make your work worthy of presentation.  It’s easy these days to do something and move on.  To read a biography and rush the report.  To  study something in class and hurry through the assignment.  I think that polishing our work is becoming something of a lost art; as the curriculum becomes more difficult, there’s less time for review or for real projects, and instead we hurry on to the next thing.  Even though we homeschool, and we aren’t as rushed as those in other educational situations, we have a different problem:  my kids have only family members with whom to display their work.  National History Day competitions, and others like it, provide them the opportunity to understand what it’s like to have others formally judge their work.  To know how to polish and put forth their best efforts.
  2. It’s a chance to win.  This might sound silly, but many outlets have removed all competition from their arena.  I’ve heard of kids’ sports teams not keeping score, of coaches giving trophies to the team with the most losing record, of principals requiring that every student gets an award, and of clubs where every child is an officer.  On the surface, that seems great; however, the reality is that we do sometimes receive a benefit for hard work and performing well.  Everyone wants to win sometimes, and this is the time to put your best work out there and be recognized for it.
  3. It’s a chance to lose.  Sound contradictory?  I don’t mean it to be.  If we have the chance to win sometimes, then we also should have the chance to lose, too.  The important thing to remember is that losing doesn’t make us losers – instead, it helps us to understand how to process disappointment, to look critically at our own work and analyze how to make it better, and how to move on.  I would much rather my kids face disappointment on a project like this, after all their hard work, and learn how to handle it appropriately than be blindsided by not being accepted to the college of their dreams or missing out on their dream job.  If we start processing disappointment in small ways when we’re small, then it stands to reason that we’ll be better equipped to handle life’s bigger disappointments when they come. 
  4. They’ll come to understand the value of hard work.  You can learn this in many avenues, of course, but I think that these types of academic competition can be some of the best for pushing yourself here.  It’s certainly more fun than a test, and test results can be very questionable, anyway.  Going over and over your work, correcting mistakes, finding ways to improve finding new ways to research … it’s hard, but incredibly valuable.
  5. They’ll learn determination and stick-to-it-iveness.  There comes a point in most projects when you want to quit; when you’re tired of the work, when something goes wrong, and you’re ready to throw in the towel.  Most of the time, that’s not the best course of action, and this is a great time to learn that.  You might have teammates cheering you on, teachers encouraging you , or a win waiting for you, but sticking with the project will teach valuable lessons.
  6. It’s a meaningful way to learn.  Seriously, think about it:  how much do you really remember from those textbooks you had to read in seventh grade?  From the teacher who droned on in a monotone in an overly-warm classroom? – but if you had to play the role of history detective and find the information yourself; if you took field trips to college libraries, wrote letters and received packages of information from historians and museum curators; if you took the time to develop theories and then find facts to prove your ideas, wouldn’t you have a vested interest in your project, and thereby the history behind it?  Wouldn’t you know your facts inside out and upside down?
  7. You learn how to communicate your ideas clearly.  At a National History Day competition, your historical work is worth only 60% of the judges’ score.  Clarity of presentation is another 20%.  While the historical work is obviously much higher, both have to be present to win.  I love that NHD provides the opportunity to compete in five different areas – historical paper, exhibit, documentary, website, or performance – so you can compete in the area of your strengths and talents, but no matter which one you choose, you must be able to communicate your ideas clearly.
  8. You learn how to conduct yourself in an interview.  This was the part of NHD I hated the most as a competitor, and it was hard to see just how nervous my students were when they faced their own; and yet it was situations like these that helped to prepare me for job interviews, college interviews, and other professional and business opportunities that came my way.  I’ll never forget my very first one:  although our teachers had discussed professional dress and conduct with us, one of my teammates sat in a chair with one foot behind her head while our judges interviewed us.  I was mortified!  I wouldn’t want my students to make that mistake, and so we role-played this type of scenario.  Nothing is as good as the real thing, however.
  9. You learn how to dress professionally.  What would you wear for a job interview?  This goes right along with #8, I know, but it’s an important part.  Don’t wear your t-shirt for the scholastic interview.  ‘Nuff said.
  10. You have to plan ahead.  How often do kids forget their lunches?  Lose their shoes, library books, etc?  If you forget an important part of your project, you’re out of luck.  Planning ahead is an important skill to have, if only for these big events.

So, there you have it – why my kids enter scholastic competitions.  Do yours?

Want to know exactly how My Big Helper’s first competition went?  Read about it here.

“Starring Me” by Krista McGee

Starring Me

Kara McCormick is a Long Island teen who dreams of seeing her name in lights.  She loves performing and making others laugh, so when she receives a call about auditioning for a new show in Florida, she hops on the first plane out.

Chad Beacon is a young singing sensation who’s tired of being tackled by adoring females.  Ready to transition into television and use his acting talent, he’s found the perfect show to host – but his parents won’t give him permission unless they approve of his female cohost.  Can they find a fun, talented girl – who’s also a Christian?

Starring Me is a fabulous, lighthearted read!  This book sparks with perkiness the whole way through.  Even though Kara is not a person of faith in the beginning, she is surrounded by them, and her openness to discuss new things is refreshing.  Her kindness and compassion definitely make her the star of the book, and in this regard she is held up as a shining example of how we should all behave.  The contrast between Kara’s behavior and that of her housemates is a stark reminder of how to and not to be.

McGee writes quirky scenarios and fun vignettes, all of which add to the charm of this book.  The mood of the story, even when Kara’s facing hard things, just makes the reader happy, and that’s rare today.

By far the best aspect of this story to me was the example set by the Christian characters.  Being exceptionally kind, speaking of their faith often, and sharing their beliefs without pushing are things that we can all do to live like Jesus, but one other stood out.  Chad and Kara are friends with two other teens who are attracted to each other and are considering a relationship, and that’s what’s so wonderful:  they’re teens who are considering it.  They’re going slow, getting to know each other, and deciding what they want out of a relationship before ever moving forward at all..  That’s rare in the world today, and even more so to find played out in our media today.  To see such a relationship held up as an example in a new book was wonderful.

All in all, Starring Me is a perky read that should make any teen laugh.  As a mom, it’s the kind of book I want my kids to read when they hit their teen years.  You can’t go wrong with Starring Me.

I received a free copy of Starring Me from the BookSneeze Program in exchange for an honest review.

“The Machine” by Bill Myers

The Machine: A Truth Seekers Novel

Book Summary:  When their mother dies, twin siblings Jake and Jennifer are forced to move to Israel with their seldom seen archaeologist dad. When their father creates a machine that points to the truth, the twins are in for the adventure of a lifetime. They soon discover how all things will work together for good to all those who love God.

I absolutely LOVE the premise of this story.    The idea that the very rocks will call out and praise God is Biblical – but if they could share what they have ‘seen,’ can you imagine the stories that they could tell?  I’m only a so-so sci fi fan, but this was really well done.  The tech details were explained enough to be intriguing but were not bogged down in technicalities.  I can completely see how this book would be interesting for the 10-14 year-olds it’s geared towards.

The life lessons learned were quite valuable, too.  Jennifer had only a face-value faith at the beginning of the story, and her brother had his own set of issues, but through time, friends, and circumstances, they began to make their faith their own.  Just as importantly, they saw the value of it – and were willing to put themselves on the line to protect it.  By the end of the story Jennifer is showing the reader just how important it is not to compromise on one’s values.  We need more of these examples in our culture today!

The plot was full of adventure, with those life lessons mingled in.  I think that this unique combination would be action-packed enough for a tween boy but touchy-feely enough for a girl of the same age, and that brings us to another important point.  

The Machine comes with valuable information for families tucked in at the end.  This is a great feature – just because our kids can read on their own doesn’t mean that they have to.  This would make a fun read-aloud for the whole family or as a starting place for a wonderful family discussion.

The only aspect of this story that I was not thrilled about was the crush that one character has on another.  While nothing is discussed beyond whether ‘to-date-or-not-to-date’ and flirtatious looks, I just don’t think that the story had to go there.  Do we really need to have our ten-year-olds debating the merits of dating?  Or is this the perfect way to talk about it in a safe, fun way?  I don’t know – my kids aren’t that old yet, and so for now, we just don’t go there.

All in all, The Machine is a zany, comical, adventurous novel that teaches great lessons at the same time.  It’s a keeper.

I received a free copy of The Machine in exchange for an honest review.

“Invasion” by Jon S. Lewis

Colt McAlister moves in with his grandpa after his parents’ fatal accident,, but he soon finds that life in Arizona is even different than he expects.  Suddenly nothing is what it seems – from motorcycles that fly to supposed alien invasions.  With his best friends in tow, he struggles to solve the mystery of his parents’ accident and to find the truth behind Trident Biotech.  Is this worldwide leader of electronics really manned by a group of aliens – and if so, can Colt stop them from killing all human life on Earth?

This book is surprisingly well written.  The fantasy elements are detailed and complete, creating an entirely new world inside the story.  The plot built in intensity and culminated in a series of events that perfectly resolved the issues of this story and opened possibilities for the next book (which I can’t wait to read).

With the main character being a sixteen-year-old boy and the massive amounts of hand-to-hand combat, technical details, and just plain gross stuff, this book will thrill teen boys.

That aside, I did have one problem with this story.  As a Christian fiction book, it is definitely heavy on the fiction and light on the Christian.  Colt does know Christians and attends church, but he is not a believer himself, and none of them try to explain anything to him.  The alien aspect of the book is woven so seamlessly into history and the details of the story that it may be confusing for some people who wonder what the Bible says about aliens.  Having a disclosure-type statement somewhere in the book may clarify these issues for those people who are not clear on what the Bible has to say bout them.

I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.

“Diary of a Teenage Girl: Becoming Me” by Melody Carlson

Diary of a Teenage Girl Series, Caitlin #1: Becoming Me   -     
        By: Melody Carlson
Sixteen-year-old Caitlin O’Conner seems like your stereotypical “good-girl.”  But are appearances always true?  Caitlin’s experiences may surprise you.  With separated parents, a a sudden ‘in’ with the popular crowd, invitations to unsupervised parties and dates with the most sought-after boys in school, Caitlin has a myriad of choices to make.  
Chronicling a full semester of Caitlin’s life, this book walks the reader through many decisions and their consequences facing teens today – including faith, trust, popularity, the value of money, purity, alcohol, and divorce.  Honest but not graphic, this book forces the reader to question her own stance on these important issues.  
Carlson describes Caitlin as a sincere, somewhat shallow, but basically typical teen from today.  She gets good grades, has a solid friendship, and has the strong support of her family behind her, and yet she is seriously tempted by many things on which her footing was previously stable.  Carlson shows how simple it is to allow our convictions to be swallowed up by our circumstances – and for that, this is a must-read for teen girls today.  
To read an excerpt from Diary of a Teenage Girl:  Becoming Me, click here.
I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for an honest review.

“Anomaly” by Krista McGee

Thalli has fifteen minutes and twenty-three seconds left to live. The toxic gas that will complete her annihilation is invading her bloodstream. But she is not afraid.

Decades before Thalli’s birth, the world ended in a nuclear war. But life went on deep underground, thanks to a handful of scientists known as The Ten. Since then, they have genetically engineered humans to be free from emotions in the hopes that war won’t threaten their lives again.
But Thalli was born with the ability to feel emotions and a sense of curiosity she can barely contain. She has survived so far thanks to her ability to hide those differences. But Thalli’s secret is discovered when she is overwhelmed by the emotion in an ancient piece of music.
She is quickly scheduled for annihilation, but her childhood friend, Berk, convinces The Ten to postpone her death and study her instead. While in the scientists’ Pod, Thalli and Berk form a dangerous alliance, one strictly forbidden by the constant surveillance in the pods.
As her life ticks away, she hears rumors of someone called the Designer—someone even more powerful than The Ten. What’s more, the parts of her that have always been an anomaly could in fact be part of a much larger plan. And the parts of her that she has always guarded could be the answer she’s been looking for all along.
Thalli must sort out what to believe and who she can trust, before her time runs out . . .
I absolutely loved the last Krista McGee novel that I read, so I was a bit disappointed with the opening of this one.  The premise feels very much like Lois Lowry’s The Giver or even Ted Dekker’s Mortal series.  You know, planned community in which all emotion and sensual information is erased and science rules …
except that’s where the similarity ends.  
Anomaly focuses less on the main character’s rebellion of the ruling scientific regime and more on each person’s innate longing to know our Creator.  McGee has crafted an intense blend of science and faith that will fascinate even the most reluctant science fiction or fantasy reader.  Anomaly is both and neither at the same time – because while the premise may be futuristic and technological, truth resounds within its pages.

  • We are created to Love.
  • We are planned with a purpose.
  • We are not all the same – and those differences are in accordance to the above purpose.
  • We are not meant to be in control, and rather than being scary, this can be a freeing discovery.

Anomaly is a perfect teen read.  It would make a fantastic book club book or discussion diving board for those angst-filled teen years when one is trying to figure out one’s purpose, place, and how to live with zits.  

That early similarity to The Giver?  It remains, lingering in the background, throughout the major action in the plot – but McGee ultimately does it better.  Not only does she add depth and meaning where it was missing in the first, but she throws in a surprise twist that totally blindsided me – and will have me scanning the newly-released book lists in watch for the sequel.

If you want to read other reviews from this blog hop, click here.  You can purchase your own copy here.
When Krista McGee isn’t living in fictional worlds of her own creation, she lives in Tampa and spends her days as a wife, mom, teacher, and coffee snob. She is also the author of “Anomaly”, “First Date”, “Starring Me”, and “Right Where I Belong”. 
Connect with Krista at http://www.kristamcgeebooks.com.
I received a free copy of Anomaly from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

“Dark Halo” by Shannon Dittemore

I’ve always enjoyed a good sci fi story.  
In the past my favorite have been time travel stories.  There’s just something about the idea of people being able to visit the Wild West or the Revolution or go back to make a difference somewhere that’s always fascinated me.
Dark Halo, Angel Eyes Series #3   -     
        By: Shannon Dittemore
My new sci fi favorite isn’t about time travel, though, but realm travel.  It’s the third and final installment in the Angel Eyes series, and it’s a fascinating look at what might happen if we had the eyes of angels – if we could see those heavenly bodies that God promises are all around us.

If we could see that, what might it look like?  What sort of spiritual battles are being waged all around us that we might never see?  I feel sure that theologians have whole parties where they debate that question, but Dittemore put an even more interesting spin on it – she made the sole human owner of that special vision a teenage girl in love with the orphan charge of an angel.

Doesn’t get much more exciting – except when that handsome charge has been kidnapped by Satan, and that beautiful all-seeing girl decides to go get him back.

That’s the premise of this story, and is a wonderful read.  I couldn’t put it down – I was completely drawn into the spiritual battle between demon Damien and the angels surrounding Stratus.  There was an extra layer of sub-plots in this book that weren’t present in the first, showing just how skillful a writer Dittemore is and just how well-planned the entire series is.

I think this series would make a great teen book club choice.  Obviously it’s more than one book, but it’s important to read all three to get the full scope of just who angels are and who we are in turn. I think that there are great debating options that arise from this plot and the potential to go back to the Bible and research just what it says about angels and their duties is huge.  In-depth discussions could really spring from this book.

Throughout the entire book, Dittemore’s writing style and ideas reminded me of Ted Dekker’s Circle series.  Not in any way has she incorporated his ideas, but her translation of the spiritual into a physical outcome is an idea that Dekker has used.  If Dittemore keeps this up, she’ll definitely be rivaling Dekker for the top sci spots on the best seller’s lists.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

“Angel Eyes” by Shannon Dittemore

About the book:

Once you’ve seen, you can’t unsee. Everything changes when you’ve looked at the world through . . .Angel Eyes.

Brielle went to the city to chase her dreams and found tragedy instead. She’s come home to shabby little Stratus, Oregon, to live with her grief and her guilt . . . and the incredible, numbing cold she can’t seem to shake.

Jake’s the new guy at school. The boy next door with burning hands and an unbelievable gift that targets him for corruption.

Something more than fate has brought them together. An evil bigger than both of them lurks in the shadows nearby, hiding in plain sight. Two angels stand guard, unsure what’s going to happen. And a beauty brighter than Jake or Brielle has ever seen is calling them to join the battle in a realm where all human choices start.

A realm that only angels and demons-and Brielle-can perceive.

Angel Eyes is the kind of Christian book that our young adults will be excited to read.  It’s action-packed, full of mystery, and not blind to the emotional drama experienced by teens every day.  A reader of Angel Eyes will see that it’s okay to have doubts and questions – it’s okay not to have all the answers – and that that’s when faith steps in – and you don’t have to understand that perfectly, either.  

Brielle is the perfect main character.  She’s attractive, draws your sympathy, and you want to cheer her on to greatness, yet she has a problem that she can’t solve.  Because she is so much like the girl next door, you can identify with her, and that makes all the difference in this story.  Like Brielle, so many of us are so completely self-absorbed as teenagers that we don’t notice the spiritual aspect of our world, and that’s the beauty of this book – it opens our eyes to the possibilities that could be happening all around us.  

I’m not saying that an angel’s going to toss you his halo tomorrow, but we do know that there are battles being waged for us, all around us, that we cannot see.  This is my very favorite aspect of Angel Eyes: that it reminds us that our world doesn’t stop with what we can see; it only begins there.  

I cannot wait for the next installment in this series.  Angels, demons, secrets, mysteries, faith, relics, romance, real life?  Yes, please.

I received a free copy of Angel Eyes in exchange for an honest review.

You can read other reviews on this bloggy tour here.

Shannon is a wife and mother. A sister. A daughter. A friend. She was raised in Northern California by her parents-pastors of their local church and constant figures of inspiration.

As a youth, Shannon traveled with an award-winning performing arts team, excelling on stage and in the classroom. As a young adult, she attended Portland Bible College, continued acting, and worked with an outreach team targeting inner-city kids in the Portland-Metropolitan area.

It was in Portland that she met her husband, Matt. They were married in 2002. Soon after, they took the reins of the youth ministry at Living Way Community Church in Roseville, California where they continue to serve in that capacity. In October of 2004, their son Justus was born, followed by their daughter Jazlyn, born in 2008. 


Find out more at www.shannondittemore.com.

New Comic Book Action in Novel Form by Jon S. Lewis

Colt McAlister, 16-year-old surfer dude extraordinaire, still can’t believe that his parents are dead.  Murdered for exposing a biotechinical company’s plans to take over Earth, Colt moved in with his grandfather in Arizona and made friends with the son of the most successful alien-fighting force on the planet.  He also reconnected with his lifelong friend Danielle, a computer genius, and together the trio has been tapped to attend the CHAOS military academy in the hopes of saving Earth from the alien forces struggling to take over.  A friendly CHAOS agent informs Colt of a plot against his life, however, and it appears that the good guys have initiated it.  With both the aliens and the humans gunning for Colt, who can he trust?  Can he stay alive long enough to save the planet?

Written in the same fast-paced style as Invasion, readers will be amazed at Colt’s new revelations throughout Alienation. Beginning shortly after Invasion ended, Lewis gets new readers to the CHAOS series up to speed in the first chapter.  The readers are kept on their toes throughout this intergalatic thriller as Colt struggles to battle aliens and robots alike – while learning who his true friends are.

Colt McAlister makes a wonderful hero – he’s honest, strong, and caring.  His moral code appears to be developing, however, and he’s still learning where his faith and values lie.  For teens who are searching for more information about God or the Bible’s take on alien life form, this book will not provide any information.  For a teen who is looking for a wild ride through a fantasy world, however, Alienation delivers.

Lewis is an expert fantasy craftsman, and his comic book history comes to the fore in the CHAOS novels.  By weaving together historical detail with technological advancements, Lewis makes even the shape-shifting Thule realistic.  Not since the world of Harry Potter have I read a fantasy book with such complete attention to detail.  I cannot wait to read the next installment in this series – but don’t take my word for it.  Read other reviews here.

To download the first chapter of Alienation, visit the website.

You can buy this book today here.

Jon S. Lewis is the coauthor of the Grey Griffins trilogy (over 500,000 books in print) and the upcoming Grey Griffins Clockwork Chronicles. He also writes for the DC COMICS family of publishers. He resides with his family in Arizona. 

The invasion was only the beginning! Jon Lewis is celebrating the next adventure in his fast-paced C.H.A.O.S. series with an explosive giveaway!

One thrill-seeker will receive:

  • iPad2 with Wi-Fi
  • Copies of the C.H.A.O.S. novels, Invasion and Alienation

I received a free copy of Alienation from the LitFuse Group in exchange for an honest review.