Ellen Nelson says her late father was her inspiration

by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Lakeridge High School junior Ellen Nelson learned on Monday that her entry, dedicated to her late father, took second place in the National Book Contest.Many books begin with a dedication to a loved one, so Ellen Nelson decided it was just the right way to begin a book-inspired song — and she knew just who to honor.

Ellen chose her father, Jim Nelson, who died of a rare form of cancer five years ago. “I miss holding your hand,” are the first words of the tender composition rendered more beautiful still with her sonorous voice and plaintive piano chords.

Her veneration of her father is intermingled with references to a book in her piece, “Where’s the Healing in the World Today? (When Brains Melt),” and that combination has earned the Lakeridge High School junior second place out of 2,000 entrants in the National Teen Reading REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - 'Where's the Healing in the World Today? (When Brains Melt)' is available on YouTube at

The contest, which challenged teens to create a work involving the science-fiction novel “The Healers,” awarded Ellen $3,000 to be split 50-50 with her school, community or library.

“I don’t know what to say,” Ellen said after learning of her accomplishment Monday. “It’s so exciting. I’m so happy.”

Her friend of 11 years, Lakeridge junior Monica Holliday, says she thinks it’s awesome that Ellen is being lauded.

“I think she really deserves it,” Holliday says. “She’s been through a lot. She’s just beautiful.”

Ellen is 16 years old, but she has already been through a lot. Her pain is clear in her song, which includes the line, “When brains melt and hearts break and the world changes in many ways.”

Her mother suffered from breast cancer at the same time her father was ailing, and her two siblings were suffering from major illnesses, though her mom and siblings pulled through. Just in the past two years, Ellen’s had her tonsils removed (scared it would change her voice) and her leg broken in two places.

But through it all, she found courage, which is plain from a line in toward the end of her song: “Stand tall and just stand strong.”

Ellen’s mother, Karen Nelson, says neighbors, church members and the Lakeridge community have been crucial in supporting the family, and says music also has been a balm for her daughter’s wounds.

Knowing how much Ellen loves sharing her music at church, Nelson showed her an ad in The Lake Oswego Review for the National Teen Reading Contest. She says she knew her daughter would do well in the contest.

“I just knew, because I’ve seen her songs in the past, and I’ve seen just her feelings, her deep thoughts come through, and I thought this would really help her,” Karen says.

Ellen says she related to a character in “The Healers” who also had lost her father and had to learn to focus on positive memories to avoid being overwhelmed with sadness.

For the contest, young, imaginative minds read free copies of “The Healers,” author Donna Labermeier’s first book in a trilogy centering on the lives of three teens with magical healing powers who spread messages of anti-bullying, helping others and trusting yourself.

The idea behind the contest is not only to fight for teen literacy, but also to help teens gain self-esteem and empowerment through supporting their schools and being celebrated for their creativity. Options abound for the two categories of entrants (grades 6-8 and 9-12), including writing, art, music and video.

Three students per category were chosen from 19 finalists. One of the finalists, Joshua Evans, also hails from the Beaver State; he lives in Tigard.

“If I can make a small difference and get even one child to love reading, then it’s all worth it,” Labermeier says.

Hear it

Ellen Nelson's song is on YouTube at

By Jillian Daley
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