Writers comment on teen work
Hely relaxing on a hillside.

For 2009, the winners of the Family Travel Forum Teen Travel Writing Scholarship were selected by professional writers and editors from the Society of American Travel Writers. They chose Kassandra Caudell’s essay “The Pennsylvania Hills” as the Third Place Winner.

What follows are comments from these esteemed judges about Kassandra’s work. The travelBIGO team thought that the whole community could learn something from what they had to say about a specific work.  Their comments follow:

From Michael Verdon, Editor, Boating World Magazine:

“Hi Kassandra, you’ll probably get feedback from several other judges who also recognized the strength of the piece. Nice job. I like the fact that you didn’t have to go to Europe to find yourself, but instead found yourself in the hills of Pennsylvania through your extended family. Loved the picture reference of your great-grandmother. Very poignant. You really painted an exceptional and sympathetic portrait of Graysville. Great job.”

From John Macdonald, Travel Editor Emeritus, Seattle Times:

“When dour expectations turn delightful, there’s a story.  At a dreaded family reunion, the writer went with the flow to find fascinating facts about her family — facts and personalities that turned to pride.  Writer begins with an incident about using eggshells to measure milk, sets the fuller scene, then takes the reader with her on the journey through family time.”

More Comments from SATW Judges

From Kit Bernardi, Freelance Travel Writer:

“This was a joy to read, full of surprises and heart stirring emotions. Your lede was as good as they get and hooked me in instantly. I especially love the simple beauty discovered in learning ‘to measure milk in a half an eggshell…’ and that a teen realized that ‘…family reunions had possibility.’  The connection of the land’s typography to her great grandmother’s adventurous and colorful personality illustrated through vivid descriptions of the Pennsylvania rolling landscape works very well to tell us both about her spirited great grandmother IdaMae and the extended family connections, particularly between the grandmother and her younger sister. Kassandra gives her grandmother a larger-than-life quality akin to a tall tales character and conveys mysterious country folk know-how (e.g. the farm animals body build with the front legs shorter than the back so they can stand on a at a tilt). All this puts the reader right in the historic hills wandering among the tombstones, rolling dough and riffling through old photos.

“Kassandra doesn’t mask her dislike at spending time with ‘dull old people,’ a typical teen response. I liked her honesty about this. But she lets her stomach win her heart as the smells from the hall remind her that dull old people can cook gooseberry muffins and ‘Blue Boy Bait.’  Sentence syntax and length variation affective. The beauty of this essay is in the simple language telling of simple acts of daily life and the teen’s realization that they are what life is about, no matter what generation you are part of — the acts of kneading dough, measuring milk in an eggshell, listening to elders tell stories of times and people passed and watching crawfish squirm, perhaps in the same spot as IdaMae ‘… wondering at what life had to offer.’ This wondering spans generations and is a question we as humans ask despite our age and experience.

“Recommendation: Lose the last sentence. End the essay right there, with Kassandra and her sister on the bridge observing the same critters IdaMae may have on a bridge (a strong image for this essay about bridging generations). It is the spot where the characters and the reader unite, where the past, present and future culminate in a single simple act.”

To see more general judge’s comments on what makes an travel essay a winner, read the thoughts of Roger Rapoport, the publisher of RDR Books, in Professional Editor Shares Tips On What Makes a Great Essay.

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