Stillwater News Press

February 9, 2014

'You've got a friend in me'

Sangre Ridge students win magazine's essay contest

By Elizabeth Keys
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — In a world where little girls grow up too fast, American Girl dolls, and the magazine they inspired, celebrate childhood. Pleasant Rowland founded the company in Wisconsin to bring educational products to children with a focus to keep girls — “girls” — a little while longer. The magazine developed as an age-appropriate alternative to popular teen magazines which often pressure girls to grow up too quickly.

For their 20th anniversary, the magazine staff sponsored a contest where they challenged girls to write an essay about friendship. The contest caught the attention of Sangre Ridge Elementary students Emma Castro and Isabel Camara, two 10-year-old friends who bonded together, along with their mothers, Heidi Castro and Anna Camara, through tragic circumstances.

Isabel’s dad died from cancer when she was in the first grade. Through the family crisis, she struggled in the day-to-day routine at school. Emma extended a helping hand to Isabel who was in her first grade class.  Emma's mother reached out to Isabel's mother, too. Shortly after, Emma’s dad faced a diagnosis with cancer and the two families became even closer.

Isabel said she didn’t remember having anyone to talk to about her dad’s death. When Emma’s family was challenged in a bout with cancer, she knew what it was like.

“She knows how it feels,” Emma said. “It feels sad.”

When Emma’s parents traveled for treatments, the girls played and talked, watching their favorite movies. Isabel comforted Emma  through the ordeal.

“She said he would be better soon, even when she didn’t know,” Emma said. “She knew what I needed to hear and she said it.”

Emma’s dad is now cancer-free and Emma is grateful to Isabel, the girl who tried to help even when her own heart was hurting so badly.

The story of their friendship written in their own words captured first prize in the American Girl essay contest.

Thousands of girls across the globe entered the All-about-Friends Cover Contest which included a trip to Chicago with a stay in a fancy hotel, new dolls, rides in limousines, clothes shopping, and a final photo shoot for the anniversary issue cover. Both of the girls’ mothers joined in the fun of the winning contest entry.

“The entries poured in — and the staff read every single friendship story,” said Barbara Stretchberry, American Girl Magazine editor. “Our staff agreed that Emma and Isabel were the perfect example of a true friendship.”

Each contest entry had to describe their friendship in one sentence with Emma and Isabel writing “a rainbow can only be made out of the end of a storm, just like our friendship.”

For both girls their friendship was like sunshine breaking through the clouds with the hope of a rainbow. Their friendship continues in the fifth grade now, and like most friends, the two girls have plenty in common.  They enjoy making commercials for movies they’ve invented. They both love shopping and swimming. Isabel said that no matter what’s going on in their lives “I know Emma’s always there.”

Although tragedy brought the girls together, they stayed friends because they “crack each other up.” Whether two friends are laughing their heads off or watching out for each other, one thing is always true . . . “having a good friend is like getting an awesome gift every single day,” said Isabel. With all the contest prizes and attention, the pair said their favorite part of the adventure was “being with my best friend.”