In the world of storytelling, there are moments when a tale captures the imagination. Today, we are excited to bring you the incredible achievement of Leah Ngoga, a past student from Woodland Star, whose story made waves in the Royal Mint Museum short story competition of 2023.

Royal Mint Museum Short Story Competition

The competition, now in its third year, offers primary school pupils aged 8 to 11 the chance to win £5000 for their school library and to have their story brought to life with professional illustrations. Pupils are invited to submit 500 word stories to showcase their skills.

Among nearly 700 stories submitted this year, Leah’s story stood out, securing her the runner-up prize. Her story was also noticed by one of the judges, Onjali Q. Rauf, a renowned author and advocate for children’s literature who highlighted:

“This was such a brilliant and insightful story, upending the low expectations of othered, non-European nations, as created by racist viewpoints and wider society for us all as children. The fact it is a true story and that Leah’s experiences are rooted in a real moment or self-awareness, makes this an incredibly brave and honest story to forge and share.”

The 2023 edition of the competition was inspired by the 75th anniversary of the arrival of Empire Windrush and pupils were asked to write about the theme of Crossing Continents. Below is Leah’s story in which Woodland Star proudly plays a starring role!

Leah’s Story

“Leah, have you finished packing yet? It’s nearly time to go,” called her mother from the bottom of the stairs. “Nearly”, Leah lied. Hastily, Leah shut the lid of her lip balm. She had been so busy making sure she looked nice that she’d forgotten the time.  

She stuffed the rest of her belongings into her suitcase. Even though she’d never been to Kenya, she thought that the people there who spoke a different language and were from Africa would learn a lot from her. She grabbed her suitcase, dashed down the stairs and jumped into the waiting taxi. In that very moment, she felt ready for anything.

The plane journey was long as they crossed continents into Africa (8 hours in fact) followed by two taxi drives. Finally, Leah and her family slumbered off to their rooms in their new house to have a rest. She heard no more until BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Leah slapped her alarm. 

It was her first official day in Kenya and her first day in school and she was ready to show everyone how much she knew and where she had come from. At school, the headmistress showed Leah and her parents around the school before taking them to Leah’s new classroom just in time for break. After hugging and kissing her parents, Leah ran off confidently towards the children to try to make friends. 

“I’m reading the 7th Harry Potter book”, she said proudly, thinking this was impressive for an 8 year old. “Ah yes, but can you read it in Kiswahili?” responded a cheeky looking boy. “Er, no” she mumbled, turning scarlet.

Classes started and Leah was surprised that they took place in an outdoor classroom. “I wonder if they have writing paper”, she thought naively, wondering if they would write on the ground. The teacher distributed tablets. They learned about tsunamis in Asia and the children even interviewed one teacher in the school who had been in Sri Lanka during the disaster. “This is amazing”, thought Leah as she started to think her experiences were a little small in comparison. 

Next came lunch break. After a surprisingly delicious meal of ugali, meat and chapattis, Leah wandered off to find someone to play with. All her classmates were high up in a tree that she could barely see the top of. She tried to climb it but did not have any grip so slipped landing on her bottom. Expecting everyone to laugh, two boys instead pulled her up and asked if she was ok. She had the best time high up in the trees as she admired the view and could spot the Columbus monkeys jumping from branch to branch. In that moment, she admitted that she was not the best at everything as she had thought. In fact, she knew she had lots to learn. She was glad that she would be accompanied by the most wonderful friends and was excited about her adventures to come.        

Based on a true story.

Exploring Imagination

Leah’s achievement highlights the possibilities that arise when young minds are encouraged to explore their imagination and put pen to paper. The Woodland Star community couldn’t be prouder of Leah’s award.

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