Winners of 9th annual Helen Stein Shack Picture Book Contest honored at...

Winners of 9th annual Helen Stein Shack Picture Book Contest honored at awards ceremony

A creative writing and drawing contest that started back in 2014 at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket is still going strong in 2023. 

Each year, those in grades 7 to 12 who reside in the Three Village Central School District let their imaginations flow and create an original picture book for children in hopes of winning this esteemed prize. 

On April 24, Emma Clark Library board members and staff, the family of the late Helen Stein Shack, local elected officials, representatives from the Three Village Central School District and The Stony Brook School, and guests from the community gathered at the Library to honor the winners of the ninth annual Helen Stein Shack Picture Book Awards.

First prize in the Grades 7 to 9 category was awarded to Julia Hou, a 9th grader at  Gelinas Junior High School for her children’s book titled Boston Santa while Celia Gordon, a homeschooled 11th grader, captured first prize in the Grades 10 to 12 category for her book Sleeping Till Spring.

Caroline Qian, an 8th grader at Gelinas Junior High School, won second prize for her children’s book Cutie the Duck in the Grades 7 to 9 category and Amelia Grant, a 12th grader at The Stony Brook School, snagged second prize in the Grades 10 to 12 category for her book Lily’s Snowman.

Library Director Ted Gutmann, along with the family of the late Helen Stein Shack, presented all of the winners’ books, bound and added to the Library’s Local Focus Collection, along with $400 checks to first prize winners and $100 checks for second prize winners.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, Brookhaven Town Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich, Brookhaven Town Clerk Kevin LaValle (representing Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine), and staff members from NYS Senator Anthony Palumbo and NYS Assemblyman Ed Flood’s office were all in attendance to present certificates to the four authors.

Addressing the winners, Leg. Hahn remarked, “You clearly have talent and that’s what storytelling is…it’s sharing what’s in your heart for others to enjoy and learn from.” 

Councilmember Kornreich told all of the authors what he enjoyed the most about each book and added, “Art is a powerful language … I’m sure all of you will one day have the power to change people’s hearts and change people’s minds and to change the world.”

Town Clerk LaValle added, “It’s amazing what you did. You should be so proud of yourselves.”

Library Board President Christopher Fletcher, Vice President Carol Leister, Treasurer David Douglas, and Trustee Deborah Blair along with Three Village Central School District Trustee Jennifer Solomon, Superintendent Kevin Scanlon, Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services Brian Biscari, Gelinas Junior High School Principal Corinne Keane, Gelinas Junior High English Chair Michelle Hanczor and the Assistant Head of School at The Stony Brook School, Will Lingle were in attendance to congratulate the winners.

Guests enjoyed special treats donated by The Bite Size Bake Shop, a local Three Village-owned business.  Library teen volunteer Jack Dennehy photographed the event.

Library Director Gutmann expressed gratitude to the children of the late Mrs. Shack, who cover the cost of the awards as a tribute to their mother and her commitment to passing along the importance and joy of reading for generations to come. “We appreciate the support of all the family [of Helen Stein Shack] for their generosity in establishing this endowment and for their encouragement of literacy in our community,” he said.

In light of the fact that all of the winners were female this year, Sherry Cleary, one of the daughters of the late Helen Stein Shack, spoke of her mother, not just a mom, grandmother, or teacher, but as a woman:

“She was an amazing woman when being an amazing woman was not encouraged and not acknowledged and not a thing, she came up in an era where women had a lack of opportunities. She was brave, gutsy and really looked convention in the eye, in the face, and decided to do what was in her heart and in her soul. I leave you with that. Be brave. Be gutsy. You already are because you put yourselves out there and did this amazing work.”

See more photos from the event online at