Reading and Writing » FOCAL


FOCAL (Friends of Children and Literature) is a support group for the Children's Literature Department of the Central Los Angeles Public Library.

Students are invited to enter the annual FOCAL (Friends of Children and Literature) Essay Contest by writing an essay about this book, with a deadline in August each year. They can enter on their own or ask their English or History teacher about it. The three essay winners will meet the author and receive an autographed copy of the book at the awards luncheon in September (except during the pandemic years).

Annual Book Award

The annual FOCAL Award is given to a children's book, grades 3-8, with California content.

  • 2021 winner: Biddy Mason Speaks Up by Arisa White

Biddy Mason Speaks Up

  • 2020 winner: Todos Iguales: Un Corrido de Lemon Grove (All Equal: A Ballad of Lemon Grove) by Christy Hale

Todos Igulaes - All Equal

Watch a conversation with the author/illustrator.

  • 2019 winner: Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee

Chef Roy Choi

  • 2018 winner: Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh by Uma Krishaswami

Step Up to the Plate, Maria Sing

  • 2017 winner: Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko

Chasing Secrets

  • 2016 winner: Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain by Russell Freedman

Angel Island  Gateway to Gold Mountain

  • 2015 winner: Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

Separate is Never Equal

  • 2014 winner: The Tree Lady: the True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins

The Tree Lady  the True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever

  • 2013 winner: One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

One Crazy Summer

  • 2012 winner: One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street by Joanne Rocklin

One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street

See full list with descriptions.

We encourage families to seek out these books. You can find them at the L.A. Central Library and other libraries, and you can buy them from commercial book sellers as well.

Focal Award Ceremony

An award ceremony is held for the essay contest winners. They each receive an autographed copy of the award-winning book and have an opportunity to read their essays aloud.

From 2007 to 2013, students from Palms were invited to prepare the centerpieces for the luncheon.

Photos: the Award Ceremony program, centerpieces on the table, how they were prepared, and a closeup of one amazing orange tree.

FOCAL 2012 Award Ceremony

Annual Essay Contest

Submission Deadline: August 2023

Winners notified: August 2023

Awards Luncheon: September 2023

The FOCAL Essay Contest, held annually in the Spring semester, is a writing contest for students. Three winners get to join the FOCAL Award author at the award luncheon, held in the fall. They will each receive a signed copy of the award-winning book as well.

Participating students read the winning book, then write essays, no longer than 300 words, to tell the judges their reaction to the book, something about a character or scene that stuck with them, and what it would mean to them to meet the author.

Contest Rules

Entries must use the official entry form, which you can download below. Your English or History teacher may have copies too, and there may be copies in the Library.

You can submit the contest entry yourself, or teachers may submit a limited number on behalf of students. See the Contest Form for details.

Among the contest rules:

  • Entries must be postmarked by the deadline shown above, with the completed entry form.
  • Entries must be typed or computer printed on clean, white, 8.5" x 11" paper, in 12-point font.
  • Type the word count on a separate line at the end.
  • No more than 3 essays may be submitted by a teacher from any one classroom, but students can mail in their own application.
  • You can't win if your entry has spelling, punctuation, or grammar mistakes.

See the Contest Form and the FOCAL website for the full rules.

In Memory of Caroline Gill

Caroline Gill, President of FOCAL for many years, was the Palms Middle School Librarian from 1988 to 2011, and the Librarian at Venice High School until 2018. Her devotion to children's literature and children's literacy was legendary. Generations of Palms students benefited from her presence. She passed away in May 2022, but our community will always remember her passionate devotion to her work and her genuine friendship with everyone she met.

Caroline Gill photos