Stories For Survival 2021 – Children’s Shortlist

Congratulations to our five shortlisted writers. The winner will be announced at our Awards evening at the Royal Geographical Society on Thursday 18th November:


1. Zunairah Fatima

A really intriguing account that is deeply personal but not sentimental – a difficult trick to pull off. Some arresting, vivid observations, particularly the line about the eyes of the girl with braids.

It wasn’t fair

A world without fairness was what Bangladesh was in my seven-year-old eyes.

I hopped into the grey Toyota beside my grandma, who was fussing over me for not drinking water. Beside her sat my mom, and in the front seat sat dad and the driver. We were going to my grandfather’s grave, to pay respect and read duas. I’ve never met him. He died long ago, but he might’ve lived longer if he didn’t smoke.

We drove out of the parking and little street, driving through other streets and into the main roads. I stared under a red footbridge. A group of scrawny children sat huddled together, staring up to the sky. Mom noticed me looking, and slapped my hand.

“Don’t stare.”

“Sorry.” I looked down, wondering how somebody could sleep with eyes open.

The car stopped, and the usual honking started.

A girl with braids knocked on my window. The car started to move, but she kept knocking, asking if she could have some money. The driver told her to scram, but she kept knocking. Her sad eyes were big and brown like mine. For a second I saw me in her before the car rolled away.

I wish I gave her the money, it wasn’t fair.

After another long traffic and crisscrosses, we drove into a tiny street. Exiting the street, we reached the mosque. I looked back, seeing graves barricaded with poor fences. I asked mom why they looked so poor in comparison to the marble graves. She said their families couldn’t pay for anything fine, and some were without family. I watched the graves as I walked to my grandfather’s. It wasn’t fair.

A really intriguing account that is deeply personal but not sentimental – a difficult trick to pull off. Some arresting, vivid observations, particularly the line about the eyes of the girl with braids.


2. Stephanie Farrell

A heartbreaking, simple idea with a chillingly disturbing message

Are they mythical?

The date is Wednesday 18th June 2121 and I’ve just come home from school.

Today we have been learning about Polar Bears. I’ve never heard of these animals before and at first, I thought they were mythical just like the unicorn. Our homework was to research them.

So, when I got home, I asked my great grandma if she has ever heard of them and she told me not only had she heard of them but saw them once in a zoo in America.

She described how they were amazing creatures, so beautiful and tall. She pulled out her photo album and showed me the pictures of her with them. I couldn’t believe my eyes. What happed?

She told me how people use to drive everywhere, they had become so lazy that they couldn’t even walk to the corner shop. People didn’t do enough in the way of Recycling or saving electricity. People bought way too much food and didn’t eat it all so there was tonnes of waste. They just didn’t do enough to stop climate change.

Our voices were too small she continued, no one listened. Then she told me of all the other animals we have lost. The panda, Gorilla, Rhino, Giant tortoise, Tiger, Blue Whale, Orang-utan, Jaguar, Chimpanzee, Elephant…. the list went on. I wish I could go back in time 100 years and do more to prevent this happening.


3. Saphira Torrens

A real clever essay, laying bare the way our small, selfish needs impact the world

Without the 3,500

We stepped out of the car and a swarm of bloodthirsty insects descended upon us. Before I knew it, itchy welts covered my skin. Mosquitoes. The most irritating creature on this planet. Flying in dense swarms, they suck your blood to feed their young. Their bites kill more than 1 million each year by infecting your blood with terrible illnesses. Zika. Malaria. Yellow Fever. Diseases that, if they don’t kill you, will sap your youth and strength.

What would happen if all those pesky mosquitoes just vanished? It would be wonderful! . . . Right? Well, maybe for humans, but not animals.  Frogs, lizards, bats, and dragonflies all depend on mosquitoes as a food source. Without mosquitoes, these and other animals would die. Still, they might eventually adapt and find another source of food. Meanwhile, we might notice that the world is less beautiful. Mosquitoes are uniquely positioned as the sole pollinator of wild orchids. Without mosquitoes, the iridescent whirr of a dragonfly’s wings might become a rare wonder and the summer symphony of frogs on the lake would be reduced to a sorrowful solo. So the question remains: Would the world be better off without mosquitoes?

Out of 3,500 species of mosquitoes, only 200 species feed on humans. The remaining 3,300 species flying about eat nectar, honeydew, and plant sap. No mosquitoes would mean that summer vacations ruined by painful, itchy bites disappear – but do you think that convenience is worth the price that it would cost the rest of the animal kingdom? Until we can target only those mosquitoes that carry diseases or feed on humans, maybe it would be better to bear with this tiresome insect.


4. Clara Fink

I love this poem. It’s so simple in form, and playful in language, but conveys such strength of feeling, like a longform haiku. You get a real sense of Clara’s love of language and ideas. I love the triumphant ending.

Sloth Smart: A World without prejudice

I´m secretly smart.

Nobody knew.

I was crazy, a daisy.

But only SECRETLY smart.

I’m funny, a bunny.

But SECRETLY smart.

I wanted them to know,

I could put on a brainy show.

So I made a book,

About sloths.

And ironically,

I was slow to make it.

But I was still smart,

Except this time,

Everyone knew.


5. Victoria Lim

A really clever idea, putting the reader into the mind of a pangolin to deliver an almost unbearably poignant message.

A World Without Pangolins

Dear insolent, big creatures,

I hope you are reading this. In the modern era of today, many things have changed. I am one of the many species affected by the arrival of your creature.

Do you know how it feels when your whole world collapses in a blink of an eye, when it gets overpopulated with another type of species?

My species used to live happily in Singapore. Now, we live our lives in trepidation daily. The number of living relatives have dwindled over the years, and I fear that I may be the next to go. I fear that I may end up just like my fellow friends, nothing but a legend, passed on through stories told by my perpetrators to their kins.

Our fear may never have started if you had just left us alone. But no, you couldn’t! Everything that my species, and multiple other species, have left, is everything you have not taken from us.

I am trafficked by the thousands for my scales, which are boiled off my body for use in traditional medicine; for my meat, which is a high-end delicacy in many different countries; and for my blood, which is seen as a healing tonic.

When can this ever end? I do not want to live as a hunted animal for the rest of my life! I’m protected by national and international laws, but yet, there is still a  growing international illegal trade in pangolins.

Yes, I am just a small scaly-skinned mammal. Yes, I am just one in the 8.7 million animal species in this world—seemingly insignificant as a speck of dust in this larger universe. Yes, I am just a pangolin. But a world without me is one that I cannot bear to imagine.

Your hunted friend, the pangolin


All entries will be published online when the competition concludes.