Palo Alto Weekly 21st Annual Short Story Contest
First Place Child

The Gift

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.

--Sue Dremann

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.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.


Sign-up now for 5K Run/Walk, 10k Run, Half Marathon

The 39th annual Moonlight Run and Walk is Friday evening, September 29. Join us under the light of the full Harvest Moon on a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon. Complete your race in person or virtually. Proceeds from the race go to the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund, benefiting local nonprofits that serve families and children in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.