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Civic Impact

Western PA breeds championship quarterbacks -- and story tellers

To the names of quarterbacks Joe Namath, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana, how about adding Haruka Doi and Cricket Branstrom?
Haruka, from Pt. Breeze, and Cricket, from Warren County (next to Erie), could be the latest editions to a western Pennsylvania hall of fame – if we get one for seven-year-old storytellers.
The pair won places in the national PBS KIDS GO! Writers Contest for 2013 – the second year in a row that WQED's locally run competition has spawned two winners countrywide.
Of all the public television-run contests, WQED's is one of the biggest, covering not only the western part of the state but eastern Ohio and all of West Virginia. A record 1,700 entries were received, and WQED, Pittsburgh Public Schools and sponsor EQT picked out three winners each in grades K-3. Haruka's story, the top winner for second grade, is the first WQED winner of first place nationally, earning her an iPad Mini.
Her story, "Willie and Hannah," tells the tale of Willie, a baby woodpecker, and Hannah the adult red-tailed hawk. "They become really good friends when they meet," Haruka says. "Hannah is partly a mother to Willie because his real parents are not here."
Hannah supplies Willie with many types of berries, but, being a baby, Willie becomes picky and likes only one variety – and he doesn't thank Hannah. She becomes mad and leaves Willie alone, which makes him so angry he jumps out of the nest, only to be attacked by a mink. Hannah hears his cries and comes to the rescue. Willie has learned his lesson – he won't be selfish again. Hannah leads him to the place where he can find all his favorite berries.
A standout feature of Haruka's story are the torn-paper collages with which she has illustrated each page, using the bright colors of magazines to create unique accompanying artwork.
"We were just kind of surprised as we watched her writing stories," says Haruka's father Yohei, who with mother Kazu came here from Japan a year before their daughter was born. "For her, this is normal. For us, it is amazing. She is constantly reading and borrowing books from libraries. She goes through book after book. This is her first major attempt at writing a story."
Haruka's homeroom teacher and principal at Pittsburgh Colfax worked with her on the project, says Yohei. "It really led her in the right direction and got her off the ground."
Cricket Branstrom, who earned third-place among first-grade winners nationally, wrote "Little Possom's Adventure," illustrated with watercolors. Josephine the baby possum is lost in the pine forest after she returns to find her mother. She asks many animals – a raccoon, bear, deer, bobcat, rabbit, eagle and more – how she can find her way home. "They all took her to the next animal and the bobcat takes her home," Cricket explains.
"Then her mom says it was just a dream. But Josephine grinned because she knew it was real."
"I think this contest has truly encouraged her to follow her dreams," says Cricket's mother, Carilee Branstrom. "She's told us she's wanted to be an author and illustrator when she grows up."
Haruka Doi shares Cricket's plans – sort of: When she grows up, Haruka says, she wants to be "a little bit a writer and a little bit a soccer player."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: WQED
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