Palo Alto Weekly 21st Annual Short Story
First Place Child
| About Anna Caltabiano
In "The Gift," Anna Caltabiano's prize-winning story, a shy girl named Emma can't muster inspiration for her diary from her seemingly lackluster life. But when her great-grandmother's spirit appears, she directs Emma to a series of symbols written in the back of the diary she gave to the girl.
Tucked away in a forest cottage, a set of bottles marked with identical symbols are filled with magical liquids that evoke the scent of her great-grandmother's perfume. The scent inspires the courage locked away in Emma's heart.
"She was like the courage in my heart <0x2014> like a fire blazing never-ending in my heart. I wanted to remember my feelings about her <0x2014> that's why I wrote a book about her. Afterwards, I felt like I would never forget her," Caltabiano, a 10-year-old Challenger School fourth-grader said of her great-grandmother, who died a few years ago.
"The Gift" was written as part of the Young Authors project at Challenger School, and it was personally transformational, she said.
"It has given me the hope that I can write anything on paper and it would never be wrong."
Caltabiano said she wrote the story because her great-grandmother often encouraged her to express her feelings through writing. In addition to writing self-exploratory fiction, she writes about animals and fantasy. But her particular interest is in the transformational experiences that shape other peoples' lives, she said.
An avid reader, she enjoys fantasies, fiction, science fiction and biographies -- and, of course, published diaries. She has read every diary available in the public library.
Her favorite? Marie Antoinette's.
When she isn't reading, playing tennis or acting (she is in the Palo Alto Children's Theatre production of Godspell, opening Dec. 8), Caltabiano enjoys playing with her two pet hermit crabs.
"I put them in a plastic ball, and they move around the house," she said.
I dedicate this book to my great grandmother because she inspired me to write down my feelings
Emma loved to read, where she could be anyone but herself. She had no close friends because she thought nobody liked her. That day, as she did on most weekends, Emma was in the cramped attic reading the book " The Wizard of Oz ." Beside her was the diary her great grandmother gave her before she died. The diary had soft, fluffy leopard skin on the cover and back. Emma thought it was very pretty but she didn't want to use up all the pages yet.
Suddenly, she heard a faint tap, tap. She quickly went to the small window overlooking the big yard and saw nothing. Just as she was about to sit down again she heard the tap, tap, again, but louder this time. Emma went to the window again, opened it wide, and peered outside. She heard a lovely, faint, voice singing softly outside the window. For a moment Emma was struck with astonishment. Emma realized she had heard this voice before. Then it struck her, yes, it was her great grandmother's voice. Out of nowhere, white smoke began to come inside the small attic. When the white smoke cleared, standing besides Emma was her great grandmother! She wore a long beautiful black lace gown that hid her legs completely. Emma whispered, "It couldn't be.....but how?"
"Why Emma, you have grown so tall. You're nine now, aren't you?"
"Yes," Emma stammered quietly. She was frightened and shy, for she thought her great grandmother had past away and also she hadn't met her in at least a year. Emma's great grandmother picked up the diary.
"Have you noticed the symbols?" she asked.
"What symbols?" Emma asked. Her great grandmother flipped to the back of the diary and showed her the symbols 'X?' .
"You will need them," she said. Before Emma could ask what she meant, her great grandmother disappeared. From that day on, Emma pondered over the question, "Why will I ever need the symbols?"
Four years later, when Emma's 13 th birthday party just finished and all the guests had left, Emma's mother gave her a pink box. Inside the box was her great grandmother's will. It said that her great grandmother left her a little cottage in Evergreen Pine Forest. Emma was very eager to see the cottage, so she asked her mother if she could go see the cottage, and her mother said, "Yes." It was a very short walk and she arrived in a few minutes.
The log cottage was very small, it had only one room. Inside, there was a bed, a bathroom, bookshelves, and a shelve with colored liquid in bottles. When she looked closely at the bottles of liquid, she saw various symbols. Suddenly, she remembered the diary. "Didn't they have the same symbols?" she asked herself. She quickly ran home and got her diary, which was still empty, and ran back to the cottage. Emma checked twice, and the symbols matched exactly. She heard a little voice in her head that said to mix the colored liquids so she did just that. A little while later, white smoke filled the cottage. It looked like the same white smoke from when she was nine. When Emma smelled the smoke, it smelled just like her great grandmother's perfume. Suddenly, she felt her heart fill with courage and hope. She felt exhilarated, and that it was time to write in her diary. She now knew that her feelings and thoughts were so important, she had to write them down. As she read the words she wrote, a new sense of confidence swelled within her heart. She realized that those who do not treasure their own thoughts and feelings will never have courage in themselves.