Winners' Circle - Debra Chartoff

December 17, 2016

Welcome to the Winner's Circle where we celebrate the success of our ICL students. Today we host a contest winner for the first time! Give a big cheer for the winner of the Holiday Story Contest, Debra Chartoff!

Which ICL contest did you enter?

ICL Holiday Story

How many writing contests have you entered?


What's the name of your story and what is it about?

Nouh’s Ramadan Race

Nouh’s Ramadan Race is a story about a Muslim boy who is determined to follow the Islamic traditions of fasting, prayer, and sacrifice during Ramadan. When his cousin arrives for the holiday, the boys challenge each other. Who will have more willpower to refrain from eating and drinking from dawn until dusk for the holy month? The countdown turns into a race of hunger, thirst, and temptation as Nouh struggles to keep his religious commitment.

What inspired your winning entry?

Curiosity about learning another religion was my inspiration for my story about Ramadan, but more importantly, was the person who shared his beliefs and culture with me. Several years ago, I met Noah Ali Alrajab while he was a student at Western Kentucky University. Born in Saudi Arabia into an Islamic-practicing family, Noah became our family friend. Although I knew some things about Islam, the more time I spent with Noah, the more curious I became about the Muslim faith, culture, and traditions. In addition to my own research, Noah graciously shared his personal beliefs and family customs about holidays and everyday life. Over time, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting two of his brothers, cousins, and friends. I wrote the story to bring awareness about the Muslim culture to young readers.

How has entering this contest helped your writing?

By sticking to a low word count for the contest, it has reinforced my awareness that every word matters. I had to cut over 350 words from the original manuscript which I considered ‘almost finished’ in order to enter. It gave me the confidence in knowing that by deleting the boring and unnecessary, a stronger manuscript will emerge. Less is more.

Are you a full-time writer?


How long have you been writing?

8 years

What will you do with your piece now that it's been recognized?

My plan is to continue seeking publication for this story in a picture book format through traditional publishing.

Any fun plans for the prize money?

I’m excited to split the prize money with Noah, for without his sharing, there would be no story. Then I’ll pay my membership dues for SCBWI and Women Who Write! With the remainder, I hope to celebrate by going to dinner with my family when the four of us will be together at Christmas.

What do you do when you're feeling discouraged or blocked? Do you have any tips for your fellow writers?

When I feel discouraged about writing, I go walking or biking! Everyone has to discover his or her “out”, but for me, being outside in the fresh air, listening to the birds sing, and watching the clouds move bring refreshment and renewal. Taking a step away and reevaluating the purpose for your writing piece may bring new ideas and encouragement. If you don’t enjoy it, then no one else will.

If you could go to the yard sale of any character in the history of children's literature, whose would you go to, and what would you buy?

If I could go to the yard sale, I would buy the tree in the Magic Tree House books so I could be whisked away on new adventures of exploration and discovery.

Anything else you'd like to share?

I’d like to thank ICL for hosting contests throughout the year and offering opportunities for writers to be awarded publication success.


kevin morales
October 21, 2017

congratulations, hope you and Hank are well.

December 17, 2016

You are an inspiration. Your love and appreciation for culture and people is beautiful.

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