The winners of the 2023 Wicked Writers: Be The Change writing competition, a collaboration between the National Literacy Trust and the stage musical Wicked, as part of its Wicked Active Learning cultural and social education programme, have been announced. From climate change to clean water, food banks to football, children across the UK have made their voices heard about the things they would like to change for the better in society.
The judging panel was made up of Sharna Jackson, award-winning author of High-Rise Mystery, Mark Curry, Wicked cast member and former ‘Blue Peter’ presenter, Michael McCabe, Executive Producer of Wicked in the UK, and Jonathan Douglas, CEO of the National Literacy Trust.
9-11 age group: winner and runner-up
"I will not lie down and watch trees fall to the ground, I will stand up and fight until things are put right."
The winner in the 9-11 age group is Amélie Arumugum, 10, from Powell Corderoy School in Dorking, who wrote an inspiring essay on deforestation and how humans can change their behaviour to protect the planet. The judges described Amélie Arumugum’s winning entry in the 9-11 age group as “an exceptional piece of writing. A very well crafted, well researched piece which utilises emotional and intellectual appeal and includes a strong call to action.”
After hearing about her win, Amélie said, “I was overjoyed. Out of all the participants across the UK, many of whom were older than me, I had won! I am so excited to see Wicked with all my classmates and since the title of the competition was 'Be the Change' I think everyone should not just write about positive changes but make them too!"
Amélie’s teacher, Naomi Keating, added, “This competition was a great opportunity for our children to showcase their writing skills while writing something they feel personally passionate about. We are so thrilled that Amélie has been chosen as a winner as not only is she a phenomenal writer, she truly cares about the environment, sustainability and preventing deforestation which came through so clearly in her entry. The author workshop was fantastic, and Sharna was brilliant. The children were buzzing afterwards and were all thrilled to get her autograph!”
"Sign Language is more than powerful because our hands are like superpowers, magically expressing joy and fun."
Natalia Hrickova, 10, from Thomas Deacon Academy Junior School in Peterborough, is the runner up in the 9-11 age group, and her experience as a deaf student fuelled an inspiring and persuasive argument for British Sign Language to become a mandatory lesson in school.
Explaining why 10-year-old Natalia was chosen as the runner-up of her age group, the judges said, “It was a very emotional piece, speaking from the heart. Natalia tells us that our “hands are like superpowers” and asks us to all learn sign language as a call to action.”
Natalia hopes to keep inspiring others, telling us, "Being a runner up in this competition has made me feel so proud. It has given me confidence and demonstrated that deaf people can do anything. I hope my success will encourage others to learn BSL and inspire other deaf children and young people to go after their dreams."
11-14 age group: winner and runner-up
"It is unfathomable to think that we all sleep peacefully each night whilst they are silently suffering."
The winner in the 11-14 age group is Hannah Firth, 14, from Trinity Academy in Halifax, whose essay on protecting and supporting refugees moved and inspired the judging panel. The judges explained why they chose Hannah's piece as the winner, saying, “This piece commanded our attention from its first words, engaging us on both a societal and personal level. The writing is highly effective, with a variety of styles deployed, emotive and fact driven. It’s highly persuasive, conveying deep personal pain about injustice.”
Hannah was delighted to have won, saying, “I feel incredibly lucky to have won the 'Be the Change' competition! I wanted people to read my piece and feel something, be moved and see refugees not just as statistics but as individuals who need our support. I spent a long time editing and re-drafting my piece of writing due to my dyslexia as if I wanted people to care about my chosen topic, I realised I needed to show how much effort I was willing to put in too. I even conducted research online to ensure my writing was accurate.”
Hannah's teacher, Bethany Deighton, spoke to Hannah's caring nature, saying, "She was inspired to write about Refugees after studying Benjamin Zephaniah's Refugee Boy as part of our curriculum, in which we also explored global news coverage to understand how literature sheds light on real-world issues. Her compassionate nature really came to light as we discussed the dangers refugees place themselves in, in order to seek refuge and the daily struggles they encounter even once they have reached this milestone. This competition confirmed what we, as teachers, already know: we have the best job, spending 6 hours a day nurturing the minds of empathetic, compassionate and responsible young people!. The workshop was FANTASTIC! The students absolutely loved it and Sharna herself. It was pitched perfectly and she had such an engaging presence. Afterwards, the students all asked me to email our librarian to check if we had any of her books in our library!"
"I stopped going to training, stopped playing in matches, stopped enjoying football all together."
Ella Barker-Garrod, 13, from Ringwood School in Hampshire, was the close runner-up, and she used her entry to highlight inequality in women’s sports, calling for an end to sexism. The judges' feedback on her entry explained, “The powerful thing was the personal story, which was so compelling, alongside a systemic analysis of injustice within the sports system. The two are locked together to create a strong and compelling narrative. Ella brought to our attention that we are still not aware enough of women in sport and how important it is for girls to play sport. The personal story at front and centre, and there is a courage in relation to the personal experience.”
Ella was delighted to be named runner-up for her age group, saying, “I entered this competition because I enjoy writing and find it is a relaxing way to release my creativity. I love sharing my ideas and hope to inspire others.”
Writing for change
Tim Judge, Head of School Programmes at the National Literacy Trust, said, “The huge variety of issues facing children has been a real eye-opener. Many children who entered had experienced some form of social injustice in their own life, from accessibility issues, through to gender inequality. The competition has been a successful exercise in showing children how they can use their literacy skills to amplify their voice and raise awareness about issues important to them.”
Michael McCabe, Executive Producer of Wicked added, “We are proud to have provided this platform for young people to find their voices through writing about the issues that matter to them. With concerns for the planet, a plea for us all to learn sign language, ongoing sexism and inequality in sport, and the inhumane treatment of refugees, these four incredible pieces of writing inspired us all.”
Sharna Jackson also commented, "It was a real pleasure to judge this competition, and to host a workshop as part of the prize! Speaking with the winners and their classmates during the workshops has demonstrated just how important it is to provide children with a platform for them to raise awareness about issues close to their hearts. The wide range of subjects featured in the competition entries demonstrates the variety of challenges facing schoolchildren from different backgrounds across the UK and gives a valuable insight for how we can better shape the future for this next generation. I hope everyone who entered continues to use what they have learnt to fight for social justice!”
Amélie’s and Hannah’s schools have both received class trips to see Wicked and workshops with Sharna Jackson, in which they will learn more about writing compelling stories and arguments, and how to use their voice to champion social justice, whilst the runners-up have also received class trips to see Wicked, and will be delivered a bundle of brand-new books for their class.