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Fifth-graders win National Book Challenge with 'What We are Thankful For ...'

WORTHINGTON -- Fifth-graders Blake Rogers and Melody Veen agreed that becoming a published author feels "pretty good" as they continued to celebrate with their classmates Tuesday morning.

The students and their teacher, Sandy Ahlberg, learned Friday that their class-compiled, 40-page book, "What We are Thankful For ...," was selected as a winner in Nationwide Learning Inc.'s National Book Challenge.

For their efforts, the class received two framed certificates -- one recognizing them as a finalist and another honoring them as winners, blue ribbons for each student and a $100 check for Ahlberg.

On Tuesday morning, students voted on how to spend the money, ultimately deciding to order pizzas and watch a movie together.

The students began their book project last fall with a publishing deadline slated for late October. Each was tasked with writing a story describing who and what they are thankful for, illustrating their story and selecting the font for the book's text. Four photos -- two depicting students in the class and two showing their classroom's décor -- were selected for the book's cover.

"It was a good experience for the kids," Ahlberg said. "It taught them how to write well, edit, illustrate and to think about what they're thankful for -- that was the nicest thing."

Rogers used his one-page space to explain why he is thankful for his parents and older brother. His story told of his parents taking him on vacation to Rapid City, S.D., where they visited "all the cool places" like Bear Country U.S.A., Reptile Gardens and Mount Rushmore. He also explained that he was thankful for his older brother because "he always plays with me when I'm bored."

Mariella Ramirez said her story detailed why she is thankful for her parents, brothers and sisters.

"I feel thankful for my parents because they love me," she said.

Ramirez, who joined school late in the process of compiling the book, had to work hard to catch up to the work done by her classmates. Because of her love for writing, she said it wasn't difficult to do.

Writing a story was also a favorite for Veen, who used her space to write about her mother, aunt and godmother.

"My mom helps me with a lot of things and teaches me to make good choices," Veen said. "Then my aunt helps me understand my math homework.

"My godmom is really older than me, but she still cares to play with me," she added.

The winning book will become a sample publication for Nationwide Learning Inc., and will be sent to schools that enter the contest next year. In addition, photos of the book's cover may be used in literature the company uses in promoting its service.

This was the first time Ahlberg and her students have entered a book contest. She was impressed with the project and said the students learned a lot.

"Binding a book bound us together," she added.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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