Just last weekend, the Friends of Omaha Public Library recognized 12 local students in grades five through eight for their excellence in creative writing as part of the annual Virginia Frank Memorial Writing Contest. Area youth submitted original works of fiction featuring a character from a book they read and enjoyed.
Writers had the choice to either expand on the original work or take the characters on a completely new adventure. Two hundred and thirty-four stories were read by a group of educators, and three from each grade were selected as winners, which can now be seen on the Omaha Public Library’s website, omahalibrary.org.
The contest, now in its 16th year, is named in honor of longtime Friends of Omaha Public Library volunteer and Omaha educator Virginia Frank. Frank grew up in Omaha and taught English literature and creative writing at the University of Nebraska at Omaha for 38 years. The passion she had for young people is celebrated during this annual campaign designed to encourage students to explore and develop their creative writing talents.
Creative writing plays an important role in literacy development, and yet, it doesn’t always get the time and attention it deserves in cultures that value expository writing.
The benefits of creative writing are bountiful. In a letter to the editor of Education Week, English teacher Mike Miller pointed out that, “Creative writers ... are better able to see issues from multiple perspectives because they write from viewpoints different from their own, and they often arrive at more sophisticated conclusions than those students who write nonfiction essays only from their personal experience.”
Founder and executive director of Writopia Lab, an organization that runs creative workshops for young writers, Rebecca Wallace-Segall wrote, “In our work, we’re reminded again and again that fiction writing is as important as any other genre for children and teens as they learn to write.
“It not only provides them with a safe space to make sense of the human dynamics around them, but it teaches them writing at the highest level, going beyond lucidity into the realm of literary tension, and then further into humor, narrative complexity, abstraction and metaphor.”
Through creative writing, children and teens are also provided with the opportunity to indulge their imaginations, develop their voices and explore issues as a way to better understand and cope with them. They learn to organize their ideas and develop persuasive arguments.
So, how do we encourage young people to write creatively? As a longtime reader and occasional writer, I’ve always found Stephen King’s recommendation from his book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” to be inspirational: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
Reading and writing go hand-in-hand, so finding books that pique one’s curiosity is a must! The Omaha Public Library can help with recommendations, or one can request a custom book list just for them.
It’s also important to look for opportunities to practice skills. The Teen Creative Writing Club at Benson Branch welcomes writers ages 12 to 18, and sharpens creativity and writing skills through fun prompts and exercises. It’s also a great opportunity to share work with peers and get valuable feedback.
If today’s young writers keep trying, we hope to see their stories make their way from being featured on the library’s website, to being checked out by library patrons.
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Free Comic Book Day is the first Saturday in May when participating comic book shops across North America and around the world give away comic books for free to anyone who comes into their stores. Local stores participating include Legend Comics & Coffee, 5207 Leavenworth St.; Krypton Comics, 2819 S. 125th Ave., Ste. 261, Dragon's Lair, 2311 N. 90th St. and 5022 S. 153rd St.; and Ground Zero Hobby, 5710 S. 77th St. and 794 Fort Crook Road South in Bellevue. Each location will have a host of events and special guests. More. The Council Bluffs Library, 400 Willow Ave., will celebrate Free Comic Book Day from 1 to 3 p.m.
Head to South Omaha on Saturday morning as floats and marching bands fill 24th Street. The annual Cinco de Mayo parade begins at 10 a.m. at 24th and D Streets and extends to 24th and L Streets. More.
Bring your own kite to the La Vista Soccer Complex, 7346 S. 66th St., on Sunday and join in the fun of the La Vista Spring Kite Festival. The free event will go from noon to 4 p.m. Kids can bring a bag of candy for the candy drop. More.
On Saturday (May the Fourth be with you!), come to the Omaha Public Library to celebrate everything Star Wars (and Free Comic Book Day). The Saddlebrook Library, 14850 Laurel Ave., will host a party from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. The Abrahams Library, 5111 N. 90th St., will host a special "Star Wars" edition of Lego Club from 11 a.m. to noon. The Sorensen Library, 4808 Cass St., will host a "Star Wars" party from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Florence Library, 2920 Bondesson St., will host a Free Comic Book Day button-making party from 2 to 4 p.m.
May the 4th be with you. Hummel Park Nature Center will host a "Star Wars" and stargazing night Saturday from 7:30 to 9 p.m. The event is free but registration is required. The night will include fun activities and stargazing suited for Jedis of all ages. Hummel Park Nature Center is at 3033 Hummel Road. More.
Full contact equestrian jousting, a half-dozen live stage performance locations, more than 200 costumed characters, hands-on activities, make-and-take crafts and many one-of-a-kind artisans await you at the 11th annual Renaissance Festival of Nebraska. The event will take place Saturday and Sunday at the Bellevue Berry Farm, 11001 S. 48th St. in Papillion. This weekend’s theme is “Magic & Majestics.” The event will also take place May 11 and 12, with a “Celtic Celebration” theme. Cost is $13 in advance for those ages 13 and older and $8 for children ages 3 to 12. Cost is $1 more when purchased at the door. For more information, click here.
Hy-Vee will have a springtime Touch-A-Truck event Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the 2323 W. Broadway, Council Bluffs location. The event will have a dump truck, cement truck, police car and more.
The Union Pacific Museum will host a “Sounds of the Railroad” family night Friday from 5:30 to 8 p.m. The free event will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad. Meet a sound scientist, check out model trains, go on an audio scavenger hunt and more. The museum is at 200 Pearl St. in Council Bluffs. More.
The Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum will celebrate National Space Day on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event will feature Dr. Jennifer Levasseur from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum who will talk about space imagery and how space photography technology has changed over the years. There will also be a special Jedi training class presented by Husker Saber Academy for kids ages 6 and up. More.
On Saturday, check out a bike rodeo from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Blair Police Department, 1730 Lincoln St. There will be a safety obstacle course, games, snacks and more. Additionally, the Kelly Smith Memorial Bike Rodeo will take place Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Bike Rack, 14510 Eagle Run Drive. The free event will include a kids bike rodeo obstacle course, free bike helmets to the first 150 kids (up to age 14), a bike raffle, free safety checks, NoWear BMX stunt team performances and free Jimmy Johns sandwiches while supplies last. More.
On Thursday at 10:15 a.m., come to the Benson Library, 6015 Binney St., for a family storytime with Kids on the Block puppets. The series introduces children to those with special needs and differently-abled people through puppet plays and question-and-answer sessions. The show is good for kids through age 5. More.
Families of children with severe medical conditions are invited to Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St., on Sunday to view the exhibit “Dinosaur UpROAR.” The event will start at 1 a.m. Staff will show kids around the exhibit and then they’ll be able to roam the gardens and meet members from the Omaha Police Department’s specialty units. The event is offered through the Kids and Cops program through the Omaha Police Officers Association. To attend, email Katie.email@example.com. More.
On Saturday, head to Hitchcock Nature Center, 27792 Ski Hill Loop in Honey Creek, Iowa, from 9 a.m. to to 1 p.m. for a mystery cache event. Learn how to use a GPS unit and then hit the trails to seek out caches and solve puzzles. The all-ages event will include teams of up to eight people. Cost is $5 per person. No pre-registration is required. More.
Omaha is home to more than 200 parks, and many include playgrounds, trails and other attractions. Check out the list here, and explore a new park with your kids.
The Omaha metro area has several indoor play areas for families to enjoy. They include Pump It Up, Backyard Playworld and BounceU in Omaha, and Jumpin Jax in Papillion. Oak View Mall and Westroads Mall also have fun indoor play areas. Check out Approach Climbing Gym at 4923 S. 72nd St. It offers day passes, instructional classes, youth programs and more. Several local gymnastic places also have open gym time, including Metro Stars Gymnastics, Premier Gymnastics, Airborne Academy, Go! Kids Gym and Kid's Body Shop. Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, 28500 W. Park Highway in Ashland, Nebraska, features an on-site indoor activity center.
Take an afternoon to go roller skating with your kids. You can laugh at each other while you fall down again and again. Check out Skate City, 1220 S. Fort Crook Road in Bellevue.
Do Space, Omaha's community tech space, is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Plus it's free. Check out five things to do at Do Space here.
There are tons of organizations that host weekday and weekend storytimes.
Come to an “Out & About Storytime” at Do Space, 7205 Dodge St., Friday at 10:30 a.m. Kids will hear stories and enjoy Do Space’s high-tech children’s area. More. Other storytimes include Barnes and Noble (Oak View and Crossroads), Pottery Barn Kids, Leader Reader at the Omaha Children's Museum, the Omaha Public Library branches, the Gretna Public Library, the Bellevue Public Library, the La Vista Public Library, the Sump Memorial Library in Papillion, the Baright Public Library in Ralston and the Plattsmouth Public Library.
Are your kids animal lovers? If so, there are several ways they can help the animals at the Nebraska Humane Society, including reading to them during adoption hours. Check out more fun ways here.
The Omaha, Bellevue and Council Bluffs Public Libraries are currently offering free day passes to Fontenelle Forest. Each pass admits two adults and children from their household. More information can be found at each library.
Community centers offer something for every member of your family — from infants to senior citizens. For a full list of community centers, click here.
Several area organizations host craft time for children every weekend. Kids can create a free craft Saturday at Lakeshore Learning Store from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Finally, kids 3 and older can make paper flowers for mom Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon with the Michaels Kids Club. Sign up online or drop in. The cost ranges from $2 to $5 per project, supplies included.
The Ralston Arena offers public ice skating for $5, with free ice skate rental. The Motto McLean Ice Arena inside Hitchcock Park near 45th and Q Streets offers Family Skate time Sunday from 4 to 6:15 p.m.
We put together a list of must-see spots across the state. How many of these destinations can you cross off your Cornhusker bucket list?