For Florida newcomer Roy Eberhardt, it's just one thing after another. If Roy weren't the new kid in school — again — then a bully named Dana Matherson wouldn't have smashed Roy's face against the school-bus window. And then he wouldn't have met tough-talking Beatrice and her stepbrother, the mischievous runaway Mullet Fingers. And then he wouldn't have discovered the miniature owls that live underneath a construction site for Mother Paula's All-American Pancake House. And then ... What happens to Roy in Carl Hiaasen's Newbery Award-winning comic novel Hoot is grist for the Orlando Sentinel's eighth annual One Book, One Community campaign.
The drive, beginning today and running through May 17, uses Hoot, Hiaasen's first book for young readers, as the focus of a community-wide reading program and writing contest meant to persuade children and the grown-ups in their lives to read the same book.
In Hoot, the plight of the burrow owls becomes the catalyst to help Roy on his journey to adulthood — and the owls come off pretty well, too.
There also is a writing contest, which is open both to kids and to adults. The idea is to write a scene about Mullet Fingers' Florida. At the end of Hiaasen's novel, Mullet Fingers is still on the loose and prowling the swamps around Coconut Cove. To enter, write 100 words or less about a day in the life of Mullet Fingers, including these three words: escape, pancake and cause.
The deadline for writing contest entries is May 15.
In addition to the writing contest, this year's drive will include:
•Companion curriculum provided to schools by the Sentinel's Newspapers in Education program.
•An essay contest for teachers in which they and their students (up to 40 people) can win a trip to Walt Disney World.
•Read-alouds April 23 in classrooms across Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Lake and Volusia counties.
•Readings and "read-ins" in schools, libraries and bookstores.
Contest information is online today at nieonline.com/orlando/onebook/index.cfm.
Since it began in 2002, One Book, One Community has featured such favorites as Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie, Louis Sachar's Holes and E.B. White's Charlotte's Web. The Sentinel program is the first in the country to focus on children's books.
Linked to this story are the winners of the 2008 writing contest, which spun off 'The Cricket in Times Square' by George Selden. Writers were asked to use the words "newspaper," "song" and "fortune" in entries of 100 words or less.
Elizabeth Maupin can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5426. Read her Attention Must Be Paid blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/Attention and her Arts & Letters blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/ArtsandLetters.